Monday, September 27, 2004

Back and forth with Charles McCollester

I am NOT going back and forth with Mr. McCollester. He is doing the heavy lifting and pitching ideas to the PG and Jim Roddey -- in public. Here is some of the recent rumblings that arrived in my inbox.

On Labor Day the Post-Gazette printed my Op-Ed entitled "Assault on City Workers" (attached). Jim Roddey followed with a very nasty and personal attack (see P-G, Sept. 13). As of this moment the Post-Gazette has decided not to print my "Reply to a Rebuttal"(attached and following), but I'd like your help in distributing it to those who might be interested.

Charlie McCollester

Response to a Rebuttal

Issues raised by Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority board member Jim Roddey

Leaving aside the gratuitous personal attacks, I'd like to respond to the points raised in Mr. Roddey's rebuttal article:

As anyone who has read my articles in the Post-Gazette over the last several years on Pittsburgh's financial crisis knows, I have been extremely critical of Mayor Murphy's development priorities, fiscal management in relation to Tax Increment Financing, and the brutal across-the-board closing of pools, recreation and senior centers.

That was phase one of the squeeze; phase two is upon us. The problem with Mr. Roddey's characterization of future recommendations from the ICA calling for a fairer sharing of the tax burden is twofold: First, they are in the future and therefore somewhat ill-defined and second, they must pass through a Republican controlled legislature. That is not to excuse Democratic complicity with the present situation. In a previous article I criticized Democratic legislators for failing to come to the aid of a city that has been very loyal to the party over the past seventy years.

As far as participation in the process goes, I interviewed a half dozen city unions about their experience with the Act 47 Recovery Team for the article. Their experiences ranged from little or no contact to a one-sided pushing of an agenda of privatization and cuts without serious bargaining or listening to either a critique of their assumptions or a presentation of union generated alternatives.

The city mechanics are a case in point. I personally attended the very first meeting of the ICA and my impression was that the entire process would have been much more under wraps if there were not a very vocal group of activists as well as the media demanding transparency.

The elimination of Pittsburgh City Cable certainly doesn't indicate any great concern for public access to the deliberations and concerns of the city's elected representatives.

As far as cuts either executed or proposed for police and firefighters, it's hard to see how public safety has not been materially affected. The whole thrust of the Firefighters referendum is to assert performance standards over mechanistic cost reduction. They want a guarantee that residents will be effectively served in any reorganization. Talking with firefighters in our local station, they were acutely concerned about an imposed plan that would undermine
their ability to serve the neighborhoods.

As to Mr. Roddey?s assertion that he never called for the elimination of City Council, the Tribune-Review on March 31, 2004 reported that the state oversight board is looking at dissolving Pittsburgh's government -- including eliminating the mayor's office and City Council -- as a way to solve the city's financial woes.

The May 15 edition of the Post-Gazette pinpointed Mr. Roddey's leading role: A March 31 draft of the oversight board?s recommendation, authored by board member and former Allegheny County Chief Executive Jim Roddey, urged the Legislature to dissolve the mayor's office and City Council and replace them with a part-time council and a city manager.

While I have urged City Council to get more backbone in their resistance to repeated violations of democratic legitimacy, I deeply respect their position as the elected representatives closest to the people, neighborhoods and workers of the city during this time of crisis.

As to my students receiving a very biased view of how communities prosper, I must respond that I have spent 25 years arguing that the preservation and modernization of our region's manufacturing base was critical to the region's economic health. The turning away from an understanding of how wealth is created and the importance of productive labor by people who grow, build and make things by much of our political and economic leadership has been one cause of our region's collapse.

I once admired Mr. Roddey for his early championing of MAGLEV, but lost a lot of respect for him when he declared the project dead in the course of his last campaign for county executive - apparently to gain a few not-in-my-backyard suburban votes. I continue to believe that the innovative work being done at the MAGLEV facility in McKeesport remains the best hope for a renewal of manufacturing in our region.

We cannot shop, gamble or entertain our way to sustainable prosperity. Investment in production and wealth creation is essential for the long-range survival of both our region and the nation. We also cannot strip our urban areas of essential services and amenities and expect them to prosper. The workers and residents of the City of Pittsburgh are ill served by the present undemocratic and unfair process. Mr. Roddey needs to take responsibility for his positions and not try to deflect legitimate criticism by personal attacks.

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