Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Now that Someone Else's Ass is In the Hot Seat, Ravenstahl Thinks the Ethics Board is a Damn Fine Idea

The Post-Gazette has been very busy today, constantly expanding their coverage Pittsburgh City Councilmember Twanda Carlisle's indictment on a number of criminal charges. They have posted a PDF file of the original criminal complaint, which details all of the offenses that Ms. Carlisle is charged with. The final tally looks like three charges of theft by deception, another three charges for criminal conspiracy, three charges of state Ethics Act violations, five Election Code offenses, and three charges of failing to file required financial disclosures. They have also provided a link to a number of audio files, including one which features some comments made by Interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

The really remarkable portion of Mr. Ravenstahl's comments concern his sudden interest in the City's long-dormant Ethics Board:

I've instructed my staff this morning to ensure that the Ethics Board meets, uh, as early as next week, uh, to deal with this issue and any others that come up in city government 'cause we want to ensure that this type of activity isn't taking place...

... in fact the Ethics Board has not met in, in well over a decade... rather than reflecting on why it hasn't met, ah, it's important to, to make sure that it does meet, and, uh, and, we will do so like I said as early as next week...
Forgive me for being underwhelmed by Mr. Ravenstahl suddenly finding religion when it comes to the City Ethics Board. Especially since he has done a simply astonishing amount of foot-dragging on this issue, particularly when his own fat was in the fire for a variety of ethical fumbles.

In early February, after a report by WTAE reporter Bob Mayo hit the airwaves, things descended into a farcical sequence of political one-upsmanship. Noting that the Ravenstahl administration had done nothing to reconvene the Ethics Board, City Councilmember (and then-mayoral candidate) Bill Peduto went ahead and scheduled his own meeting with the panel. The interim mayor's lackeys responded by suddenly scheduling their own meeting with the board members a few hours before Peduto's meeting was to take place. And then -- having denounced Mr. Peduto's effort as "political" and doing a fair job of upstaging him -- the Ravenstahl administration announced that its meeting of the Ethics Board failed when the body was unable to muster a majority of its members.

At that time, when the most prominent ethical lapses in city government were of the interim mayor's own making, many of us wondered just how hard the Ravenstahl administration had worked to establish a quorum of board members at this meeting. Indeed, the most rampant speculation was just how hard the administration had had to work to prevent a quorum from being formed.

But now that the focus is on Ms. Carlisle and mayoral politics have been rendered moot by Mr. Peduto withdrawing from the race, Mr. Ravenstahl suddenly thinks that it's high time for us to reconstitute our Ethics Board. Pardon me for being cynical, but I really don't imagine that he would have been so anxious to take this step if he was still facing any opposition in the May primary election.

Also interesting is the interim mayor's perspective on just what next week's meeting of the Ethics Board will focus upon:
I think the initial meeting will be to determine what, uh, the Ethics Board role will be, and then, uh, and then move forward from there.
In other words, the board is going to meet to figure out just why in the hell they even exist in the first place, make sure that everyone knows how to find their way to the right conference room, and record all of the members' coffee and doughnut preferences. After all of those essentials are taken care of, it rather sounds like they will then get cracking to work out a means by which they can begin planning the process by which they will continue to meet in an effort to determine their plans to decide on their proposals for holding further meetings. In other words, there are simply no indications that the Ethics Board is actually going to do anything, and there is every reason to worry that this meeting is being held for display purposes only.

All that being said, once the Ethics Board finds its feet, there may be some reason for hope. It is designed to function as an independent body, and it is not constrained in any way by the wants and desires of the sitting mayoral administration. It is free to focus on any issues that it chooses, and could even -- dare we dream? -- decide to examine some of Mr. Ravenstahl's more notable ethically-questionable decisions.

It's not much to hope for, I know. But at this stage, it's just about all we got.

12 comments:

EdHeath said...

Forgive me for being dense; does Luke still need to appoint someone to the board? I forget why, but isn't O'Connor's appointment no longer on the board? Wouldn't that go a fair way towards making sure there would be a quorum for the board? Does Luke want there to be a quorum?

The Burgher said...

The ethics board is like fight club.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this actually pretty brave of Lukey? Didn't he approve these expenses as council president? Didn't Judge Tom Flarety sign these checks?

Char said...

If the Ethics Board is designed to function independently, maybe a first step would be getting their own phone number:

http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/mayor/BAC/bac_pages/ethics_hearing.html

If you'll note .... The Ethics Board has a page on the city's site, but it's under the heading of the Mayor's Office. And further, the phone number listed for the board is actually Luke's office.

Like I said .... maybe they could start by getting their own phone.

Char said...

Lets try the link again:

http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/mayor/BAC/bac_pages/ethics_hearing.html

Smitty said...

Fight Club..with Brad Pitt as Luke and Edward Norton as Bill P

Matt H said...

How long will you use "interim mayor" for?

Until the primary or general election?

Anonymous said...

Lukey is no Brad Pitt.

Having made this important point, I'd like to make another obvious point: why in hell are we referred to the Mayor's Office to contact the Ethics Board??? Reeks of impropriety. If we try to contact any other board or commission, are we directed to Lukey's office?

Richmond K. Turner said...

How long will you use "interim mayor" for?

Until he wins the general election and is sworn in as our full-fleged mayor. Until then, he's still serving in an interim capacity.

It's not a personal dig. It's just a fact.

EdHeath said...

From the Busman's Holiday: "Even though David Scott--the only attorney named to the panel--resigned around the end of 2006, Bob O'Connor's appointment still hasn't been replaced."
'far as I know that's still the case. Another member (Buechal?) is apparently out of town most of the time on a fellowship; still maybe Twanda Carlisle's office can come up with some travel expenses. If the Mayor, interim or otherwise, is serious about the ethics cabal, he should fill the vacancy.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Luke's campaign can cover travel expenses? I mean, they're already reimbursing him for his $1,500 suit and travel to NY...assuming he ever did reimburse that billionaire...

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