Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Lame-duck mayor should "Lay the Shovel Down!" Rather he says next 5 months to be 'very active'

Lame-duck mayor says next 5 months to be 'very active'Murphy isn't slowing down

Perhaps because he's wielded so many ceremonial shovels, Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy took the lead at last week's groundbreaking ceremony for a new parking garage near PNC Park.

The message is clear: It is time to lay the shovel down.

Murphy and the others on Grant Street have dug a huge hole for the city. The city is in a massive mess. More digging isn't going to fix our debt, our community, nor our spirits.

The most important things in life are not things. Murphy's dirt and shovels have proven to be a big burden. That burden is going to be around for generations to come.

The parking garage to be built is too big and won't allow for easy entry and exit. We need to have the parking garages be with a mixed use. Are there apartments on top? Are there vegitative roofs?

Years ago I asked that the Steelers and UPMC Sports Medicine move back to the North Side, in the areas around the stadiums. They could have built a set of parking garages that serviced the city and also had tops that included medical offices and practice fields.

In Georgetown, the DC campus has a football field that is on the top of a parking garage. The team practices on the rooftop.

Consider the setting should the team be able to practice on the roof, with one or two fields as grass and a couple others as artificial turf. Some could have a bubble for the colder months. The team would be visible from Mt. Washington.

UPMC's rehab patients would be able to hobble to the North side facility, park in the garages and take elevators to the right floor. UPMC would have great visibility from the blimps on game days too.

Hey Tom, "Lay the shovel down."


Anonymous said...

Lame-duck mayor says next 5 months to be 'very active'
Murphy isn't slowing down

Tuesday, July 26, 2005
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Perhaps because he's wielded so many ceremonial shovels, Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy took the lead at last week's groundbreaking ceremony for a new parking garage near PNC Park.

Tom Murphy
As Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and assorted council members and state officials dug into a symbolic pile of dirt atop an asphalt expanse, it was Murphy whose count -- "One, two, three!" -- told them when to heave the earth.

Maybe it was justice, because Murphy has driven the effort to develop the North Shore. But on another level, it was a signal that this mayor, whose third and final term ends with this year, isn't done leading.

There have been many such signals, from a bond refinancing to the work of a gambling task force to last week's revelation that the mayor would like to start a new phase of the Oak Hill housing development, pronto. Those and other moves have raised the question: How many things should a lame-duck mayor start?

"It all depends on what it is," said Bob O'Connor, the Democratic mayoral nominee. "If it needs to be done right away, OK. But if it's not a rush, I'm not so sure."

"Just because I didn't run for office again, the activities of the city don't stop," Murphy said. "The next five months will be very active."

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There are no rules on how transitions work, said Jim Roddey, who has been involved in three of them at the county level -- as a transition team member in 1995, incoming chief executive in 1999 and outgoing executive in 2003.

In 2003, his administration "ran the government as if we were going to run it for 20 years," he said, but got Onorato's input into his last budget.

"If it were me, I don't want to see Mayor Murphy doing any refinancing or anything," Roddey said. "He should leave that to the incoming mayor, because the city hasn't demonstrated that they're whizzes at finance."

Any year-end financial moves Murphy makes likely will be scrutinized by City Council, especially finance chairman Doug Shields, a former aide to O'Connor.

Shields voted against a $198 million debt refinancing that Murphy engineered in April, offering what he said was a cheaper alternative. Council passed the refinancing anyway, because members were eager to use $6.5 million in savings to pave streets and fix infrastructure in their districts.

The refinancing "cast into stone the options of the next mayor, simple as that," said Shields recently. "It's inappropriate."

Shields may get another opportunity to battle a Murphy-backed refinancing.

The Sports & Exhibition Authority, some of whose board members Murphy appoints, hopes to refinance more than $7 million in debt and use savings to pay bills. The city and county councils would have to sign off, as both governments are guarantors of some of the authority's debt.

Other mayor-appointed authorities can make financial moves without council scrutiny. The Pittsburgh Parking Authority, for instance, borrowed $50 million last month to cover several years of maintenance and improvement costs.

Any effort to advance the Oak Hill project could involve millions of dollars in public money. The first phase of the Hill District housing community cost $84.5 million, of which $27 million came from the Pittsburgh Housing Authority and $5.2 million came from the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Murphy is undaunted.

"Oak Hill, which we're trying to move forward, is a 10-year commitment to the residents of the Hill District," he said Thursday.

O'Connor said he hasn't seen Murphy's yet-to-be-unveiled Oak Hill plans, and couldn't comment. Shields and other council members have said they want to scrutinize the complete financial package before committing city money to the project.

Some politicians like to control such projects because they involve lucrative contracts for professional services and construction management -- the kinds of plums many top campaign contributors clamor for.

Republican mayoral nominee Joseph Weinroth said he had no objection to Murphy starting work on Oak Hill, but he opposed the mayor's efforts to affect the future of gambling in Pittsburgh.

A June decision by the state Supreme Court gave municipalities the right to use zoning rules to regulate the location of new casinos. Murphy's Planning Department is working on proposed zoning rules now that may go before council in the fall.

"I think that's something that the next elected mayor should work on, considering it will have such a great impact on the future of Pittsburgh," said Weinroth.

Murphy hasn't shied away from making appointments that would extend well into the next mayor's term. For example, in April, the URA signed a contract with Executive Director Jerome Dettore that lasts through 2006. And this month, Murphy reappointed city Housing Authority board member Brian Parker to a term that ends in 2010.

"I don't believe the mayor should be making long-term appointments to boards," said council President Gene Ricciardi, adding, however, that Murphy "should be as committed as he was on day one."

In 1993, Murphy was in the same boat O'Connor and Weinroth are now. He was waiting out the term of Mayor Sophie Masloff, who had opted not to run again.

As mayor-to-be, Murphy initially objected to the construction of a new City Court building on First Avenue, Masloff said recently. She signed contracts with architects and builders anyway, after her staff won his grudging approval.

Masloff didn't start any other projects, or major new phases of projects.

"I didn't want, personally, to do anything because I knew I wouldn't be there to follow through," she said.

Would Murphy consider slowing down?

"No, it's not in my nature," he said, as the groundbreaking crowd scattered under the threat of rain.

"Understanding how difficult it is to get stuff started here in Pittsburgh, I would think the new administration would be very enthused," he said.

"I mean, this garage is not going to get done in my administration. It's going to get done in the next administration, and so you would think the next mayor would be excited to have a lot of ribbon-cuttings to go to."

(Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.)

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