Monday, May 10, 2004

[Parks] Fw: Sinking or Swimming?

From: rnbphoto7

From: Charles J McCollester
To: Gene Ricciardi ; Sala Udin

Dear Gene and Sala:
I'd appreciate it if you would share this with your colleagues. It was submitted to the P-G. It is in both text and attachment forms.
Charles McCollester

The issue of the pools, recreation and senior citizen centers is finally coming to a boil. The manifest unfairness and brutality of their closings last summer struck at the heart of the city's relationship to its resident workers and their neighborhoods. The very services that impact most directly the ability of the neighborhoods to
provide viable places to raise a new generation of Pittsburghers were not simply cut back proportionately, they were eradicated. This is a family survival issue.

Insult was then added to injury when duly elected officials were supplanted by not one, but two state-appointed commissions descending on Pittsburgh accompanied by the audible sharpening of knives as they informed the long-suffering residents that they need to tighten their belt and trim the fat. One of the commissions in a noble gesture of solidarity with the pain of our fair city will be reimbursed close to
a million dollars to tell us about our need to make further sacrifices. That million could fund all the pools for this summer. With governmental responsibility divided, the stage is set for a vigorous round of finger pointing instead of action while the Burgh sinks.

The central issue is how to adequately fund the city services of the City of Pittsburgh by developing funding streams that are not cut out of the hide of the resident and small to medium-sized local businessperson who presently bears the bulk of the burden. This can be done in three ways: extending the business privilege tax to the large presently-exempt corporations, banks and utilities; negotiating
reimbursement from the large ?non-profits? like hospitals and universities for services provided (while continuing exemption for churches and small non-profits); getting some fair sharing of the burden by the two-thirds of Pittsburgh's workers who live outside the city and pay very little for its wear and tear. Reform should neither be at the cost of our police and fire protection, nor decent union contracts for city workers who are nearly all residents. Reform should not be done on the backs of the children and elderly, nor should it undermine the health and safety of our citizens.

Much hope is being expended on the efforts of private generosity to mitigate the situation for the coming summer. The Elsie Hillman-Salah Udin initiative is one such worthy effort; the more apparently grassroots effort, Save Our Summer, is another. While these initiatives should be recognized and encouraged, they in no way should
be seen as a vehicle for the abrogation of either public input or responsibility. These pools, recreation centers, and senior centers are extremely valuable taxpayer-owned properties. They represent, with our great public parks, greenways and libraries, an important part of our historic legacy as Pittsburghers. There is a real danger that these building blocks of our common wealth as residents will be grabbed by private interests.

What is most distressing is the lack of public input. Unfortunately, this follows a longstanding Pittsburgh tradition that has ill-served us in the past. What we need is a public - private - community partnership to keep all the pools, recreation centers and senior centers open; every one of them for at least one year. We don't need another unelected group to make strategic decisions about what recreation the city of Pittsburgh is offering and where. Why ten pools? Why these ten? Who decided the winners and losers? The southern third of the city looks especially hard hit. What public process decided this? It is past time for City Council to exhibit some serious
interest in their responsibility as our elected representatives and fight for the preservation of these critical family and neighborhood assets.

We should invite all concerned citizens and neighborhood organizations interested in setting up Pool and Centers Committees to assist in the operation and promotion of the facilities in close coordination with city workers and their elected representatives. We need to honor union contracts as well as demonstrate respect for the knowledge and skill of city workers especially in the areas of safety, sanitation and maintenance.

In Philadelphia, when about twenty percent of the pools were deemed no longer viable, they were offered to neighborhood groups with assistance to take them over.

The critical failing of the former Pittsburgh pools system were the unreasonable barriers to access erected by a ridiculously bureaucratic and centralized system of passes and metal tokens. To operate efficiently each pool must control its own access and collect day fees from users - both resident and non-resident. Each pool must be allowed to retain the bulk of revenue it earns for its own maintenance and renovation. The pools should be understood as regional assets that can attract people from surrounding towns. We need maps to show people where the pools are and what parking or public transportation is available to access them.

Last summer's punishing of city families for the mismanagement of the city's affairs by the rich and the powerful was reprehensible. As the second summer approaches with our youth on the streets and old folks without a place to go, the whole mess is compounded by the proliferation of new imposed, unelected governmental structures that dilute both authority and responsibility. We need more participation,
democracy and accountability -- not less.

Pittsburghers unite! It is time to fight for our city.

Charles McCollester is a resident of Mt. Washington, professor of
employment relations and the director of the Labor Center at Indiana
University of Pennsylvania.

No comments: