There is a heck of a lot for me to catch up on. I haven't even begun to really examine all of the implications of the mini-massacre that took place in Interim Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office last week, but there seems to be no end to the blog posts that are buried in that event. A fantastic sampling of the available topics so far can be found over at the Burgh Report, starting when the story first broke, and then continuing with some analysis of what might have led to these firings at the highest reaches of the mayoral administration. But the best developments have come about more recently, as problems with the now-dismissed workers' new positions became more clear. Herr Burgher finally reaches the disturbingly non-surprising conclusion that the interim mayor has, yet again, lied to the media about the entire situation.
It's pretty weak when you can't even fire someone without screwing it up.
Meanwhile, The Pittsburgh Comet has been going great guns during my extended absence, including (but in no way limited to) and excellent post yesterday about former mayoral candidate Bill Peduto's first post-pullout attempt to reform the city government from within by focusing on street paving. In a classically Pittsburgh moment of "plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose", Mr. Peduto managed not only to have his idea stolen by Mr. Ravenstahl, but allowed the specifics of Mr. Ravenstahl plans -- in this case, to institute some kind undefined "pavement management system" -- to go unspoken.
Once again, Mr. Peduto has attempted to put forward a concrete (pardon the pun) suggestion to make city government run better. Once again, the incumbent interim mayor bested him by saying that he planned to do something similar. Once again, the details of the interim mayor's proposal amount to little more than a soundbite and press release. Once again, the specifics are promised at some undefined point in the future. And once again, the story will essentially die on its own, and these details will never see the light of day in our public media.
As Skip over at Three Rivers Fishing Report has noted, all of this strikes a familiar chord. It sounds a great deal like the "full details" of the interim mayor's property tax abatement plan, which were promised nearly two months ago, but which still can't be found in any local news source. The Post-Gazette is still paying some attention to the story. There are apparently some public hearing going on in City Council about it. But -- in a continuation of this recurring pattern -- the public is still largely out of the loop and has no access to the "full details" of this plan.
In fact, those who might have missed an obscure little graphic accessible from a link in a February Post-Gazette article [hat-tip to commenter Rich Lord], and who haven't read the comments that Matt Hogue left in response to an earlier post here at the People's Republic, still don't even know which specific neighborhoods are targeted by the interim mayor's abatement plan. Attentive Post-Gazette readers currently have more knowledge of how tax abatement works in Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia than they have about what is being proposed for our own city. Supporters of the interim mayor may wish to blame the local media for failing to report these details. I rather suspect, however, that these "full details" haven't been released for publication. Clearly, the press in hungry to report on property tax abatement, or they wouldn't be focusing on how its done in other cities.
But this recurring pattern of grandiose generalities accompanied by a lack of specific details is not what really caught my eye as I was digesting The Pittsburgh Comet early this morning. Instead, I was drawn to something found in one of the Post-Gazette items that The Comet linked to in his post.
Buried deep within a post on the Post-Gazette's Early Returns blog, under the heading, "Kicking asphalt", was the following quote from an email sent out by Mr. Peduto's not-a-campaign staff:
On Wednesday City Council will be voting to change the way streets are selected for resurfacing. In the 1990s, Pittsburgh spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to conduct an engineering study of our streets. Several factors -- including composition, type of surface, amount of traffic, speed limit -- were analyzed, and a rating system, along with the needed software system, was created so that politics would be taken out of the process. Unfortunately, that system has been scrapped, and instead we are left with politicians deciding whose street gets paved and whose street does not get paved. Although this is a small part of a much larger problem, it is symbolic of the politics as usual that guides city hall.Well, Mr. Peduto, let's take a closer look at what you are saying here. I certainly am "tired of the old way of doing things in Pittsburgh". I'm totally consumed with a desire to "do something about it TODAY". In fact, I really would love to do something about it, and not just today but also in a few weeks from now. My big plan for the current month, if you must know, was to try to do something about it on May 15th, when I was going to cast my vote in the mayoral primary. Hell, I was even willing to change my registration (temporarily) to Democrat just for the chance to vote for your sorry ass. But then you pulled out of the race and denied me and every other Pittsburgh voter that opportunity.
If you are tired of the old way of doing things in Pittsburgh, then do something about it TODAY!
Email City Council and the Mayor, and tell them you demand that we reinstall the Paving Management System. Let them know that you support a government that is fair, equal, and transparent. Tell them that you will be watching on Wednesday and that you expect them to support legislation to reinstall this system.
And so now you want me to get all up in arms, pick up my pitchfork and a flame-lit torch, and storm the barricades for real change here in Pittsburgh. You want me to make a meaningful difference to my city by demanding -- wait, what was that again? Oh yeah -- better data-driven pavement management! Hell, yeah, brother! Fight the oppressors! Nothing gets me fired up like the failure to properly utilize an objective evidence-based process for better determining the condition and needs of streets with respect to the application of new paving surfaces. That, my friends, is the kind of war cry that will shake even the most cynical Pittsburghers out of their stupor and have them take to the streets. Better pavement management systems now!
Don't misunderstand me. While I am certainly making fun of Mr. Peduto for choosing pavement management as the inaugural issue for his new "Progress for Pittsburgh" group (and having his idea stolen by Mr. Ravenstahl to boot), I do see his point. Political paving is clearly going on, and the needs of non-connected city residents are being overlooked. With such a limited paving budget, we would obviously be best served by prioritizing various projects based on some objective criteria. I certainly want to see city government become more data driven and less influenced by infantile Democratic-party politics.
But I'm old-fashioned. I wanted to see this kind of thing come about in the traditional manner. I wanted to throw the hacks out of the mayor's office and install somebody who would institute this kind of objective pavement management system as a matter of course. I do not, however, particularly care to expend large amounts of my focus and energy on just this one specific, rather tiny, little issue. I was looking for wholesale change, not incremental efforts that are destined to fail just as spectacularly as your now-defunct mayoral campaign.
In short, if you couldn't get Pittsburghers fired up over a big issue such as who should lead city government for the next few years, I'm frankly amazed that you expect to get them fired up over every last bit of bureaucratic minutiae that comes down the pike. You weren't all that willing to fight the big fight for us. So perhaps you shouldn't expect the rest of us to come out and fight these meaningless little battles for you.