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Going Through the Motions

We attend city council meetings so you don’t have to

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With Independence Day looming and that warm tingly feeling of national togetherness in the air, City Councilor Bill Peduto did something July 2 that was a bit surprising. The progressive Democrat introduced a resolution to support a White House initiative.

“It’s a revolutionary day,” quipped Council President Doug Shields.
It’s not that surprising that Peduto started the effort for the city to apply for the “Preserve America” initiative. Although the phrase sounds like a Bush administration code name for a policy to invade a foreign country or ban abortion, it’s actually a program to encourage historic preservation.

The federal program, which started in 2003, offers individual grants up to $150,000 out a pool of about $5 million in funding. Pennsylvania communities like Harrisburg, Gettysburg and Philadelphia are among the 500 communities to enroll so far.

“If we’re accepted into this program, it will allow neighborhood organizations to apply for federal grants for historic restoration,” says Peduto. For Pittsburgh to be named a Preserve America community, Peduto says groups need to send support letters to the organization (www.preserveamerica.org).

According to Preserve America’s Web site, the program “does not fund bricks-and-mortar projects, but rather complements the Save America’s Treasures grant program by helping local communities develop sustainable resource-management strategies and sound business practices for the continued preservation and use of heritage assets.”

Police promotions questioned

A June 28 public hearing on Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s decision to promote three officers with allegations of domestic abuse packed council chambers with 150 people.

Much of the testimony seemed aimed at educating the mayor — who did not attend — about the broader context of violence against women. Marlo Svidron, of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, for example, noted that rape victims have a “strong desire for justice,” and that promoting officers tainted by accusations of domestic violence could have “chilling effects” on women all across the city.

Many speakers seemed to take pains not to demonize the officers in question, but instead raised larger questions about the process that promoted them. National Organization for Women member Phyllis Wetherby noted that a federal consent decree once required female officers to make up 50 percent of new hires. But after that decree was abolished in 1991, “It has been all downhill.” Female officers make up 20 percent of the current force — but 40 percent of the officers leaving it. Like several other speakers, Wetherby invoked the spirit of recently deceased Commander Gwen Eliot, who was widely regarded as an advocate for women’s issues on the police force.

“Commander Eliot is not cold in her grave,” Wetherby said softly, “and it has come to this.”

A handful of speakers — including the recording secretary of the FOP and the sister of former mayoral spokesperson Dick Skrinjar — spoke in the officers’ defense. Noting that the officers had never been convicted of wrongdoing, the FOP’s Charles Hanlon pled with the audience to “give these men the opportunity [to] show you that they can do these jobs.”

It’s not clear they’ll have any choice. Jeanne Clark, a member of the National Organization for Women’s state board, called the promotions “appalling” and “insulting,” and suggested that council could revoke the promotions on its own: “You’ve got the ability to make these promotions not happen.” That assertion was later disputed by Michele Cunko, a former member of the city’s Civil Service Commission; Cunko said that Ravenstahl had the power to pass over the officers for promotion — something Ravenstahl has suggested he could not do — but added that council had no say in the matter at all.

Even so, Clark warned, “The FOP is not the only group who can sue.”

Upcoming Public Hearings

Next Tue., July 10, council will hold a public hearing about one of the most important issues facing the city’s future: the licensing of cats. Look for lots of going off topic and general grandstanding fun.
On Wed., July 11, a public hearing will get input on lame-duck Councilor Jeff Koch’s plan to limit the number of bars on the already tavern-saturated South Side.

Quote of the Week:
“This is one of the few times we’ve ever been confused for one another, Jim.” — Peduto after Shields inadvertently referred to him as “Mr. Motznik.” It’s unclear whether Peduto thought the rare misstep was due to his full head of hair versus Motznik’s lack thereof or because the two are rarely on the same side of most political debates.

Chris Potter contributed to this report

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