Wednesday, May 14, 2008

4 plus or minus 1

So I was bad about posting last week, partly because we had people coming to visit, my sister in law and family, including a four year old. He was almost everything I expected, but when his 23ish uncle and I had to watch him for about two and a half hours, it went surprisingly smoothly. Not so much when, on his birthday on Monday, someone in the morning unwisely mentioned he would get cake later (I honestly don’t know who). He then decided he wanted cake for breakfast, and was inconsolable for a good (or rather bad) hour. During the visit he flailed considerably, jumped repeatedly on a bean bag chair, repeatedly ran into an air mattress propped up against the wall, but only suffered one boo boo running into the air mattress at its edge and slamming into the wall beside it. For all his running and flailing, he never kicked any of the electronics. And I think the Chinchilla survived intact; she was probably more pissed that we are out of bananas.

We’ve all, by now, probably heard about the four City Council members clever maneuver of walking out of Council when the issue of their own payment for a lawyer in the LED sign affair came up. This was done because the Law Department issued an opinion that the four should not even discuss payment, much less vote on it, since it represented a conflict of interest. Mind you, the Mayor accepts tickets to charity events and then discusses City business with the companies that donated tens of thousands of dollars on his behalf at the event (hell, he brags about how he was working then), but that is not seen as a conflict of interest. The City Law department needs to grow up, they need to start behaving like adults. The issue in question with the four had extraordinary circumstances. The City Solicitor told the Council persons he could not represent them, because he had a conflict of interest. The Council persons did not receive any benefit from taking this action, they were simply trying to compel the City and Lamar to follow the rules.

Now, you can ask whether the four should have joined Dr Dowd’s suit. You can say that if they were going to do that, they should have done so as he did, as private citizens. But you can also say that if they hadn’t joined the suit, that Lamar might have pressured the Zoning Board to ignore Dr Dowd, or simply to rule against him, forcing him to take the matter to Common Pleas (where it ended up anyway).

When I first wrote about Dr Dowd in January of last year, I believe I wrote that politicians always break your heart, because they are human and almost always have to take some action you disagree with. Certainly some commenters are complaining about Dr Dowd’s vote yesterday, including me. But then some commenters have always been against Dr Dowd, because they preferred Len Bodack or they didn’t like Dr Dowd’s performance on the School Board. Dr Dowd, along with Jim Motnik, asked for the opinion from the Law Department. This is the second time I know that Dr Dowd has asked for an opinion for the Law Department, although in fact he may have asked for many tht I never caught. But the first time I knew of was when he asked for an opinion about the LED sign, and that took weeks. In fact, I think it only arrived after Dr Dowd had filed his appeal. If Dr Dowd had waited for the opinion, he probably would have been too late with the appeal.

This city’s elected officials have had a tenuous relationship with ethics. Between the hostile reaction to Bill Peduto’s campaign finance reform legislation and the Mayor’s antics, the one issue the Law Department has reacted swiftly on is whether the four Council persons have a conflict of interest in getting their legal bill paid, on an issue the Law Department should have handled themselves months ago. Evidently Dr Dowd is still prepared to take the Law Department seriously, even though I can’t imagine anyone else does. I myself had characterized George Specter (who I am sure is a perfectly nice guy) as similar to the lawyer Ted on Scrubs, and I am thinking he is sliding back into that role. Dr Dowd needs to decide if he believes the Law Department is still acting in good faith in rendering its opinions, or if it is simply taking direction from the Mayor’s office.


Char said...


Dowd's suit was going to be tossed on a technicality. Because, as a private citizen who did NOT live Downtown, he had no standing. The only way the four who filed would have had standing was to have filed as they did .... as City Councilmen.

EdHeath said...

That's interesting, Char, but I am a little confused. FIrst, I assume we are talking about the Zoning Board, which was the place Dowd was appealing to. They could have their own rules of standing, and anyway I am not a lawyer and don't know that much about standing. But I could see where Tonya Payne's being a council person whose district includes downtown could give her standing, but not the other four. Not that I am disputing what you are saying. I just wonder if the Ravenstahl administration made a calculated decision that once a majority of Council was in on the appeal they needed to fold. This thing has taken a twisted and weird path, and evidently its not done wandering yet.

Char said...

I was told the "Dowd technicality" thing by someone in city govt who is most likely 100% in the know regarding this matter.

And as for your point regarding Tonya and maybe she's the only councilperson with standing because it's her district ....

I think that's probably not true because, while each councilperson is elected from different districts, they all have a legal charge to legislate for the city as a whole. Otherwise, how could Tonya vote for, much less sponsor a bill for something related to only Squirrel Hill, for instance.

Which is what they all regularly do.

EdHeath said...

I figured you had to have an inside type of source, that's why I said I didn't dispute what you said, just that I thought people would disagree with the decision. Just like people (at least in the Burgosphere) are disagreeing with the Law Department's opinion on the "four's" conflict of interest.
And just a wee point, I was talking strictly about Pat Dowd's standing to appeal the LED sign downtown to the Zoning Board, which is separate from his or Tonya Payne's legislating in Council for Squirrel Hill or the Southside or anywhere. I would expect as a matter of politeness, Council members would defer to the representative from a particular district, but maybe not.
As Pat Dowd apparently said, Council should be legislating, not litigating.