What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 2, 2007

City Controller Candidate, Michael Lamb

Recently, I had a chance to chat with City Council President Doug Shields on the race for City Controller. I didn't plan it, it just sort of happened. We were talking about Bill Peduto's withdrawal from the mayoral primary and the conversation turned to the Controller race. So it seems only fair to talk to some other candidates for that position.

Seems only fair. And balanced.

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with current Prothonotary and candidate for the office of City Controller, Michael Lamb. We met at the Starbucks near the Whole Foods on the eastside of town. The coffee, over-priced and bland. The music shifted in that inexorably Starbucks sort of way from a random Brandenburg to Paul Desmond in 5/4. Lamb in a crisp blue shirt, Lamb's campaign manager Doug and I dressed far more casually.

Starting with the same question I posed to Shields, I asked how his campaign was going. Understandably (though that's certainly not a criticism) he said it's "going well." and that the grassroots networking stuff is "firing on all cylinders."

When I asked how he defined "grassroots" that's when the interview took off.

A little backstory is probably necessary here. The previous mayoral primary race (the one that took place waaaay back in 2005) the top three candidates were, Bob O'Connor, Bill Peduto and Michael Lamb in that order. If my memory serves, O'Connor garnered about half the votes, and Peduto and Lamb (more or less) split the remaning half, with Peduto getting a larger share.

So coming in third in that race, in one way or another, he's building on the positives and negatives of that race.

For instance, on one hand he's looking to raise his profile in those sections of the city where he didn't do too well in 2005 (namely those places where O'Connor did very well, like Lincoln Place and Observatory Hill)). On the other, he says he has a greater name recognition because of his participation in the 2005 primary. There's no need for a "learning curve" either for a city-wide race, either. He's got his voter ID database chugging along and just (in a sense) picked up where he left off two years ago.

Additionally with Peduto pulling out of the race, there's some more attention to be paid to the City Controller race.

I asked him the next general set of questions: Assuming everything goes his way and he is elected City Controller, what's he going to do once he gets there? First off, he said, there has to be a "cultural change" in the City Controllers office because right now, it's "dysfunctional" (his term). For instance the office is mandated to do a periodical fiscal and performance audits and they haven't been delivered on time in a long time. When asked how the office is able to get away with it, he smiled and answered, "That's a good question."

Lamb said that he was in a similar position when he took over the Prothonotary's office a number of years ago. He said that when he arrived that office was in "a general malaise" working with what amounted to 19th century technology - books and pens. He updated the office to computers and overcame the internal resistance to change. He said that his experience at the Prothonotary's office would help him at the City Controller's office.

That's an internal - but what about the rest of the city?

The biggest issue of all, the city's distressed status. The budget doesn't do anyting, he said, to address the distressed status of the city. Unless things change, he added, we're going to be right back here now in three years. The Controller's office could, he said, put together real numbers showing a clearer picture of the city's finances. It's a necessary step.


Anonymous said...

Lamb has a solid history of institutional reform; Pecora has a solid history of malaise; Shields has a solid history of rambling about his former alliance with Bob O'Connor - as there will be no opportunity to board up windows and Redd up litter, it's not clear what Shields will be bringing to the table.

Anonymous said...

shields was finance chair on council, which i'm sure gave him insight on how city finances work or don't work in the 'burgh's case. I'm not sure that the pro's office would give you that. It's an office that files legal paperwork, right??

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Legal Paperwork. Shields has been working on the city budget for years and helped past the first balanced budget in a long time. That's something. Lambs big deal is that he turned his elected position into an appointed position. I guess, less democracy is his thing. I still don't see that as a big positive. Maybe next he will fix those dog licenses he always complained about during the mayor's race.

Patrick said...

Actually, every budget the city passed was balanced - it HAD to be by law. In the past, they had to resort to one-time fixes (like selling the Water Authority, among others) to overcome the likelyhood of going into the red - not real solutions to the city's revenue shortfalls and rising expeditures.

Shields has been "studying" all those budgets? Good for him - too bad he and his former boss didn't make the tough decisions years ago that could have saved us from Act 47 and the oversight board.

And Lamb didn't make the Prothonotary appointed instead of elected - the voters did that, via a referendum.

Lamb DID run the pro's office when it was streamlined and computerized (filings are done electronically now, dramatically reducing the amount of legal paperwork) - and all that while it was an elected position.

Anonymous said...

i think they already have computers in the controller's office, so then what would lamb bring to the position??

Smitty said...

people who know how to use them!!!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Smitty. I have to believe we could do much worse than someone with a graduate degree from CMU with a finance concentration to be in change of our city finances! (Which Michael Lamb has). Also, all Doug Shields does is exploit his previous relationship with Mayor O'Connor. I am sure Doug is a nice enough guy, but without a BA, I am not completely ready to put the fate of a basically bankrupt city in his hands. I also am honestly a bit put off when he seems to be trying to trick people into thinking he is an attorney by always talking about the "deals" he worked on at Reed Smith at these public forums. Maybe that says something about me, but then again, maybe what it really tells you is something about Shields.

The Burgher said...

Shields was a paralegal.

Seriously, if this race is about qualifications, then Lamb will win.

Bram Reichbaum said...

I sort of suspect Michael Lamb doesn't want to say the word "Prothonatary" too much. But if what he says about his tenure at the Office of the Prothonotary is true -- and it hasn't been challenged yet -- he should positively be campaigning as Michael the Prothonatator.

Anonymous said...

i thought you tried to trick people into "not" thinking you're an attorney..;-) not to disparge higher learning in anyway, i'm a big fan of it and have indulged in it myself but there are plenty of BA degrees behind shoddy public policies.

Smitty said...

I also was misled by Shields and for years believed he was an atty when serving as O'Connor chief of staff.I only discovered he wasn't when reviewing council in 2006 to see who besides Luke had college degrees.

Anonymous said...

As for the budget - the administration creates the budget, council's budget analyst critiques it, and councilmembers rubberstamp, unless a special interest group directs their attention to a particular item of concern. Doug didn't do squat, hell, he didn't even notice that Marlene Cassidy is STILL making $70,000/yr. to file her nails under the '07 budget.

As for the controller's office - it's well known that you could cut their staff in 1/2 and their output would be the same. Shields doesn't have the balls or the know-how to pull it off, Lamb does.

Anonymous said...

You believed a lawyer took a staff position on council? smitty, you been drunk for the last decade? council staff makes like 30k.
And I think Council and the Council budget office do have something to do with the budget. They have the same power of the purse that congress has. Although I would say plenty of councils have rubber stamped terrible budgets over the years.
Lamb is a tool of Onorato's power consolidation, that's why he lead the row office reform campaign. Power consolidation is bad as we have seen on the federal level.

Anonymous said...

let's look at it this way: who do the various candidates align theirselves with. Doug was with Bob but is now his own man. Pakora is tied up w/ flaherty and lamb is a danny o/murphy? man. hmmm....discuss among yourselves.