What Fresh Hell Is This?

September 15, 2005

Of Rats and Slots (and Stun Guns)


I just cannot watch any more of that cyborg's Supreme Court confirmation hearing and since Kathy Griffin's "My Life on the D-list" is not yet broadcast 24 hours a day on Bravo, that's led me to spending a few hours with Pittsburgh's City Council (via the CITY channel).

While 2 Political Junkies is a political blog (duh!) actually watching the broadcast of the city council meetings really is going above and beyond the call of most political junkies if only because you might stumble across one of those perennial losers candidate's umpteenth 3 minute speech as to why you should vote for them during the public comments portion of the meetings. There should be a warning flashed across the screen that viewing may cause bleeding from the eyes and ears.

And the rest is often pretty dry stuff.

But yesterday's meeting did produce a few fireworks.

Pittsburgh has a rat problem. As a recent editorial in the Post-Gazette editorial noted:

In 2003, the city had budgeted for six rodent control officers, but those positions were eliminated when the crunch came.

Since then, stop-gap measures have been a notable failure. The Allegheny County Health Department recently gave free training in rodent control to six city workers, but only one ended up being certified by the state Department of Agriculture. As it stands, the city now makes no effort to control rodents in public spaces and the buildings and lots it owns.

What to do? Well, Councilman Doug Shields proposed shifting $30,000 worth of unused funds in the Office of Municipal Investigations budget to hire a private company to handle the rodent problem.

Sounds good, right?

The problem came in when Councilman James Motznik argued that the matter should be considered next week. As the P-G put it Shields and Motznik then "bared their teeth in a minutes-long shouting match."

What was highly amusing was when Shields proceeded to read the transcripts from moments earlier in the meeting to use Motznik's own words against him. That same day Motznik had chewed out two city workers claiming that they were failing to serve the public and putting up roadblocks instead of helping them.

That's when Motznik really went ballistic, repeatedly yelling, "What bill are we on now!" as his own criticisms were used against him. Shields and Motznik then each claimed the other was playing games.

When Shields and Motznik weren't enraged engaged, Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle said that she gets 50 calls a week complaining about rats and Councilman Bill Peduto said that waiting any longer on the rodent problem would be "ludicrous" and "ridiculous."

So why all the fireworks over shifting money now rather than in a week? The P-G claims it's because there's a "flurry of behind-the-scenes finger pointing regarding its spending," that 'Motznik later said Shields "wants to grab his money for rodent control so he can vote 'no' next week" on other budget transfers' and that:

The hallway outside council chamber is abuzz with talk of which members are over budget. An itemization of spending by each was not immediately available.

Council members are sensitive to charges of overspending, since most are considered candidates to succeed Eugene Ricciardi as council president.

Shields, Carlisle and Peduto all voted in favor of the shift, with Motznik voting 'no' and two members out of the room and one absent.


When they weren't busy discussing our furry fanged friends, they also discussed such mundane matters as whether the city should OWN casinos (covered nicely at Pittsblog's "The Horror, The Horror" post) and when the police should be authorized with tasering citizens.


The stun gun topic came up in the "Post Agenda." While the questioning of Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. about when and how much force should be used during group protests was somewhat monotonous, it might not have been so much so if McNeilly hadn't "declined to release those policies, saying sophisticated anarchist groups might use them against police."

Let's just say that apparently the greatest threat to the police seems to be "the Internet." McNeilly repeatedly claimed that Internet communication led to a level of organization among protesters that is dangerous.

Peduto brought in David Meieran, a civil liberties activist, and Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizens Police Review Board, for some much needed balance to the presentation.

Pittinger noted that, "police departments in some other cities post use-of-force policies on the Internet" and said, "Tell us what the rules are. That's just fair play."

Meieran who was presented as having some expertise on tasers said, "It's only a matter of time before someone is killed by a taser." He further went on to comment that the larger problem was the "criminalization of dissent" in this country.


Shawn said...

So, the gist of that city council meeting is that Motznik is a clueless hack?

mstarr said...

My question is, with all of this debate about money for rodent control, why is there no debate about what methods to use? $30,000 can buy a whole hell of a lot of toxic chemicals. Where, how and how often, and in what quantites will they be applied? Do they pose a risk to other plant and animal life, to children or to pets? Or do we just blindly trust a chemical company to be named later to drench our city in biocides?

Anonymous said...

I think the news here is that council is over budget. How can that be???? Motznik is joined by eight other clueless hacks.