What Fresh Hell Is This?

June 7, 2006

Pittsburgh City Council and the Elephant in the Room

"I don't need to worry about other council members and their spending."
That statement was made yesterday in a Pittsburgh City Council meeting by District 3 Councilman Jeff Koch. Unfortunately, Koch was not alone in expressing that sentiment. It was echoed in one form or another by other council members when it came to continuing criticisms of an amendment to create more accountably and transparency in council spending sponsored by District 8 Councilman Bill Peduto and District 5 Councilman Doug Shields.

Others suggested that they were only accountable to the voters in their districts, seemingly forgetting that all city residents pay for the budgets of their offices.

Certainly it is the responsibility of council members to concern themselves with all spending -- that is their job. And to somehow try to equate authorizing CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) monies with handing out popcorn to constituents in a park when the former is vetted and voted on by all council members and the latter is not is ridiculous. It's particularly galling when you brag in the media that the walking around money (WAMs) that you've spent has made campaign supporters out of non supporters (as District 4 Councilman Jim Motznik did here).

And, speaking of the media: let's do. Charges were made that some council members are only concerned with getting good press and that the whole issue of Council spending was more media driven than not.

Addressing the former, it should be noted that the same day that Bill Peduto appeared on Honsberger Live, District 1 Council President Luke Ravenstahl was busy having a letter to the editor published in the Post-Gazette "defending" his bill against the Peduto/Shields amendment. And a tip to Motznik: you're probably not going to get on a show anytime soon when you repeatedly refer to the host in a council meeting as "Fat Freddie." Also, Honsberger was not the only show to play clips on the radio of District 6 Councilwoman Tonya Payne which led to the Peduto appearance on Fred's TV show. They could also be heard on the local programming portion of NPR.

And if some council members truly believe that the interest in their spending habits is "media driven," they do so at their own peril. Plenty of people who usually have only a passing interest in anything that City Council does are now extremely interested in how Council spends their -- "their" meaning the people's -- money.

As regards to the issue brought up in public comments where it was stated that Tonya Payne did not personally attack anyone last week, while there's no official transcript that I know of, here's some of her comments from my own notes:

"This is crap to me...I'm calling your behavior 'crap'."

"...not one council person trying to trump another..."

"...not one council person trying to look like the reformer of the city..."

"...you think the rest of us aren't bright enough to sit in a room with you and come up with real reform."

"Look at me: I'm the biggest, and the baddest, and the brightest."

The personal criticisms continued yesterday with Motznik, Ravenstahl, and District 7 Councilman Len Bodack all using some form of the phrases "political posturing" and "political grandstanding" when referring to Peduto and Shields and their amendment.

And all this to defend what? The "right" to have walking around money? Motznik even went so far as to suggest that if only Shields would use WAMs, less people would use heroin in his district. Christ!

Bodack's (good) call for invoices to be put online is being done, but somehow, that escaped any criticism of being "political."

It must be noted that at no time did Tonya Payne actually defend WAMs. She seemed to be more upset that she was not included in with the writing of the bill and the amendment. Her take continues to be that all nine council members should work for reform together and also that she was receiving calls with racist overtones lumping her in with misusing taxpayer money. (It probably does not help that twice in as many weeks her fellow councilmen have confused her by name with District 9 Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle -- something that they never seem to do with each other.)

Legislation, however, does not get written by a legislative body en masse. But, it's also good legislative practice for legislatures to try to drum up support for a bill or amendment prior to submitting it -- something that Peduto has acknowledged.

Who else called for all nine members to work together? That brings us back to the title of this piece. Twanda Carlisle glommed on to Payne's call for unity at the same time that she claimed special circumstances in that, "Some districts are totally different than other districts. Mine, in particular, is."

As everyone knows by now, all the calls for reform were sparked by Carlisle's spending nearly $30,000 for an extremely questionable report. The real pity is not the report itself, but that there was nothing illegal about her spending that money on a report which was little more than a copy of a prior report and that the money for that report went to a man that lives with her mother and who has a degree from a diploma mill.

For Carlisle to defend WAMs by saying that she's serving her district and claiming that the money that she spends benefits her district just shows how bad WAMs are and why they have no place in government.


Forouzan said...

Citizens of Pittsburgh: get your nickels out & send them to council members, ask them to buy a clue.

It is unfathomable to me that in this climate of voter outrage, spawned by the legislature's pay raise, our city council members are so out of it.

Can they be so bereft of brains? It defies the imagination.

Let's keep it in mind when they're up for re-election next year. I'm not saying we need a bunch of Einsteins on council, but members with more brains than Francis the Talking Mule would be nice.

Maria, great job as usual.


Shawn said...

This issue seems to be breaking along class lines. Councilmen Peduto and Shields represent the most affluent parts of the city and have been the ones who've pushed for more spending oversight. Those who represent more "blue collar" districts (e.g. Councilman Motznik) have been more, er, reluctant to see this sort oversight become a reality.

To me, this is one more reminder that "the machine" is not dead. But in order to keep "the machine" happy, one has to feed it. Discretionary spending is one way to do that.They Paynes and Motznkis of the world don't lack brains. On the contrary, they recognize that "the machine" got them elected in the first place and are now doing what they can to protect it.

Mark Rauterkus said...

They all stink. And, Payne was the worst -- "crap" included.

Then Peduto went and gave an apology. For what???

So sad.

What floored me was how there were nine members of council sitting at the meeting. Then Payne said, 'Let's all sit down and do real reform.' (not exact quote) ... Say what??? They all were there at the table then. Payne gives a senseless lecture about how they all need to act as one -- but they were all there to act as one. DUHHH...

Payne even said that they could NOT reform themselves. A person like that isn't fit for office.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to take you guys seriously after having so staunchly supported Tonya Payne for city council. Sala Udin was/is an ass and deserved to be defeated, but honestly, Payne wasn't the answer. She isn't the brightest bulb in the tree, ya know.