Thursday, May 24, 2007

We win? redux and more

It looks like to me, per the Pa House website daily report, that SB 218 passed. Of course, I believe it did last year, but Ed Rendell had vetoed it, because its timing would have hurt cities. Now it is here in the spring, and cities have more than six months to prepare.

I have been thinking about the district office thing in district 7. Most council persons do not have a district office, and you can see why. Pittsburgh is a compact city, so a district office is perhaps a poor way to spend discretionary council funds. Still, I interned in federal level congressional offices, and there I came to appreciate district offices.

I have a compromise suggestion, maybe one of many, that may not be feasible or legal, and would require various parties to come on board. In this day and age of mobile offices, you could set someone up with a laptop in a wireless hot spot a couple of evenings a week as a part time district office. A possible venue would be Crazy Mocha, with the owner’s permission, of course (The claustrophobic Union Project would work for a couple *more* nights a week). This person could talk to “walkover” constituents, fill out and electronically file forms for them, and send emails as if from a councilman’s office (in this case Dr. Dowd’s office) to various city agencies as needed, with promises of follow up. You could pay this person as a 1099 subcontractor and possibly kick some money Crazy Mocha’s way for the use of a table (if the possible increased business wasn’t enough). You'd want detailed timesheets, such as the names of people who asked for help. Evening hours would not be convenient for everyone, but they would be convenient for people who in fact usually don’t have the option to visit a councilman’s office. Now, I would apply for (bid on?) this job myself (I can always use a few extra bucks), but I anticipate/hope to be doing taxes from January to mid-April next year. I can see Dr. Dowd assigning the job to a staffer or more likely doing it himself. But hey, if someone wants to bid it out after April fifteenth, you know where to find me (I can be bought for … say 11 bucks an hour).

Maybe this plan would catch on and all sorts of council persons would have to have caffeine fueled evening hours in dimly lit coffee houses. The comparison to the committee man who hangs out in a diner/luncheonette and trades favors for bribes is, perhaps, inevitable.

I guess you can’t help but have noticed email-gate. I am referring, of course, to the Mayor’s silly email to City Council’s President, covered including header and all(?) at the Burgh Report. Good access. I was instantly reminded of Dave Barry’s May 6 NYTimes review of the book “Send”. I think anyone can read the review at, but in case I’m wrong, I’ll *refrain* from printing the whole thing here. Meanwhile, I think the Burgosphere should pool it’s collective advertising pennies and send the Mayor a copy. Or perhaps a council person could use some of that discretionary money to do the Mayor a favor and get him a copy. This is my contribution: (

Update: sodmeone else printed the Dave Barry Review here: (
it is quite funny.


Char said...

Twanda is the Bookmobile lady. Maybe she has a copy Luke can borrow.

PaulBurr said...

"A possible venue would be Crazy Mocha, with the owner’s permission, of course (The claustrophobic Union Project would work for a couple *more* nights a week)".

This is a great idea. It will keep the old timers and working people
who supported LenBodack from ever asking for services. I can see it now, a little tiny old woman having trouble with the water department
walks in and orders a specialty coffee... All of my writing about bringing people together, all for naught.

EdHeath said...

Well, Paul, where would you suggest, given three constraints, a) a public place, b) wireless internet and c) no rent? Oh yeah, and proximity to the district. The library is an obvious possibility (I am assuming the Lawrenceville branch has wireless), but I don't know that they would want the noise or to be associated with a particular politician.
And I don’t think there is a rule that old timers and working people can *not* come in Crazy Mocha. There's no loud music and I don't know that the employees are rude. If I am working on my old Pismo, drinking a large decaf, and someone walks in and sits at my table and chats about their water bill, and I send an email, who's to say anything about that?
I mean, there are issues, a fair number; and if I could even get this idea noticed I don’t know that it is feasible or legal. And I understand the importance of reaching out to and meeting people in places where they are comfortable. But I’m not saying let’s hold meetings at some dance club in the strip. I’m saying let’s look for places in the district for a councilman to be available. I understand Councilman Bodack’s people did not just stay in their district office or the downtown office, they were out during the days meeting with people, apparently regularly. Once he is in office (assuming a win in November), I would encourage (then) Councilman Dowd’s people to do something similar, obviously.

Paul Burr said...

I think there is a certain decorum necessary. An image associated with government that at least gives one the impression that government is separate from and operating outside the influence of commercial establishments, of businesses.

Of course in the old days you could buy votes with shots of whiskey, but the politicians never openly set up shop in bars to win votes with free liquor, at least not openly. I think having an office should be mandatory for every councilman. I like the idea of using the wifi but doing anything public in the context of a business leaves the constituents suspicious of the connection between the politician and the company he picks to establish a presence in. With all the available URA housing it should be easy to pick a vacant house and have it rehabbed inexpensively, maybe using voulunteers, as a community project that would build a feeling of civic pride. This would be very cost effective. Keep the government separate from businesses...and from religion.

A few years ago I entered the Lawrenceville Library to find a flyer advertising the sale of a house in Lawrenceville taped to the inside door. I complained to a young librarian who led me to the head librarian, an older and wiser woman. After registering my disapproval and pointing out that in my view a Library is like a church, a sacred place of free learning that shouldn't be tainted by commercialism we learned that the younger librarian had put up the print out for a friend. The head librarian told her to take it down then apologized. She smiled and thanked me for sharing views similar to her own. Libraries have their own culture, etiquettes and traditions that should be preserved. Remember how not speaking loudly in them showed respect for fellow readers and gave them an almost church like quality?
So too government and its offices.

Not long ago a resident of District 7 could visit Councilman Bodack Sr.'s office and have certain paperwork, applications, PENDOT forms hand carried to Harrisburg and back. This was a great service that cut down on bureaucracy, inconvenience, and time being wasted. Today, with computerization of PENDOT services you can renew,change and add all sorts of things to your applications, and renew licenses with a few key strokes. Walking into local government offices adds to the sense of civility, officialness propriety. Maybe I sound like Mr. Smith talking about the sacred halls of congress. I do think that keeping these spaces and having them at leaset seem official and somewhat formal adds alot to the trust people place in the system. What you have proposed, although well meaning is like going to church in shorts and flip flops.

Paul Burr said...

I wanted to say something about "local" businesses. Taking the 9th Ward as an example, the majority of residents frequent stores that offer inexpensive food and services
that are patronized because they are conveniently located near their homes.
Now most of the new stores opening here are best described as "culture-centric" shops. They are boutiques, art galleries,restaurants etc. that most residents have little understanding of or need for. These shops generally cater to the few residents,(but mostly visitors) who have interest in them as reflections of their chosen culture and lifestyle. I'm not judging anyone, nor will I find fault with anyone's religion, but the prices are too high for the average resident to afford and the items sold are as foreign to them as icons and doo-dads from the culture of the "Moon People". Thats ok, but truthfully most people in the 9th ward go up street for a pack of cigarettes, the bank, the beauty shop or to buy a pizza and lottery tickets. Most of these needs were met at Starr's Discount until the building caved in. Sadly there was no fund raising effort amongst community members to rebuild it.A great inconvenience loosing Starrs!

I'm not saying that this won't change. The Haight-Asbury changed in the late 60s, but for now,
the other shops, the cultural ones are as good as empty store rooms to most people.

I was in a local gallery (near Crazy Mocha) who's exhibit of giant water bug sculptures prompted a local woman to stick her head in the door and ask "Are you the new bug exterminating business"? Pointing to the sign showing a friendly, smiling goat, hanging above "...that beatnik coffee shop" an older resident asked, "Whats a Crazy Mocha"? "What do they sell"? Goats?

EdHeath said...

Hmm. I don’t know, the suggestion in your first post has real merit. I don’t think a residential property, but there might be an empty store front (I wonder about zoning issues). If volunteers wanted to rehab it, if local vendors wanted to donate supplies and if the landlord was willing to let it be used for some period of time at a low rent in return for it being rehabbed. I don’t think you need to worry about wireless at that point, if you get the utilities in you can have wired Ethernet off a router. The rent would have to be real low, though, because I think in this Act 47 day and age council needs to curtail its discretionary spending. And I suspect Dr. Dowd is going to want much of what ever discretionary money he gets for studies and other research material.

Understand, I am just making suggestions here, I don’t know if anyone (besides you) is paying attention or agrees or cares.

Do you really think its possible or even desirable to turn the clock back on a neighborhood? I mean, I have my anachronistic leanings at times, but I think the important thing is to try to choose how and where the future goes. I always remember a sitcom where one character was bemoaning the loss of the civility he remembered (or was told about) in the fifties. His wife reminded him that the fifties also had Polio, segregation and McCarthyism.

I certainly believe in the place of decorum, but I try to look at the practical. I would hate to sacrifice results because someone violated my sense of what the form should be. If the mission of a particular part of government, like a councilman’s constituent specialist (if there is such a thing), is to help people, then that person needs to be as accessible as possible. Especially in a democracy, we don’t the helpers in government to be in some kind of church-like place, with etiquettes and traditions. I would think there would be a real danger of that place seeming too intimidating, kind of how you described Crazy Mocha from the little old lady’s perspective. You don’t want constituents to feel that they have to dress in a suit to go to the councilman’s office, you want them to feel like they could wear flip flops there, because you want to maximize the help they can get.

Paul Burr said...

I think that Mr. Ferlo's office offers a good template for anappropriate neighborhood presence that works. It isn't as formal as his predecessor's office was yet, its an efficient and up to date operation.
His staff seems to do a good job with constituent relations. As a state senator his budget might be larger than a city council persons. I am surprised that with over 18,000 vacant properties held by the URA, that there isn't a single property in each of the council districts that isn't suitable for a district office in "move in" condition. Rather than letting the councilmen or women find their own offices to rent let the city find appropriate space and secure it. Certainly theres unused space in recreation centers, fire stations, that could be utilized. Would you agree?

EdHeath said...

I’m not sure about firehouses, a councilman might have to vote against the union someday. And any URA properties in ready to move in condition should probably have paying tenants or buyers moving in. On the other hand, I think recreation centers might well be a possibility. Given what are probably regularly schedules for use, it should be possible to shoehorn a councilman’s staffer in. It’s not a marble building downtown, but it might be a good, approachable place for a constituent to get help. And it would be an easier place to get a printer into that Crazy Mocha (if someone needs a city, county, state or federal form). Of course, it may be that this sort of thing is already happening.
Of course, we have to wait six months to see if (possible) councilman Dowd is interested at all in this.