It's not just that by making personal loyalty a sine qua non of service on a city Board, the Mayor echoes the worst traits of government at any and every level (and indirectly questions the integrity of all remaining Board and Commission members. Well done!). It's possible, in theory, to align loyalty and competence in personal appointments.
Here, though, the Mayor shows that he just doesn't care about the competence side. When the G20 leaders show up, will they find a more or less new, gleaming, recovering city - with a musty, old-style city government at its core? My earlier Oreo cookie metaphor for Pittsburgh takes on an additional life. Impressive on the outside, mushy and forgettable on the inside.
From Pittsburgh's Zoning Board of Adjustment, out go Alice Mitinger and David Toal. From Alice Mitinger's law firm website:
She is a member of the firm's Land Use, Environmental, Energy & Public Law Practice Group, which focuses on real estate development, environmental, construction and regulatory practices. Ms. Mitinger has had significant experience in zoning and land use litigation, and has appeared before municipal governing bodies and zoning hearing boards throughout Western Pennsylvania. Her appellate practice has included cases before the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the Pennsylvania Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth Courts.
David Toal has his own office, so there is no website, but he is co-author of a book on Pennsylvania zoning and land use law.
In come Kirk Burkley, a lawyer whose law firm biography praises his experience in the areas of "bankruptcy, financial restructuring and creditors’ rights," and S. Manoj Jegasothy, also a lawyer, who is an experienced trial lawyer, with cases covering the gamut of "breach of contract claims, creditors' rights for large corporations, misappropriation of trade secrets, antitrust issues, declaratory judgments, defamation, tortious interference, breach of non-compete agreements, tenure issues, and insurance disputes, as well as a myriad of personal injury issues."
In other words, on a Board whose mission is "to hear appeals to consider granting variances or special exceptions to the Zoning Ordinance," the Mayor has replaced two people with abundant relevant expertise with two people with none.
Kirk Buckley and Manoj Jegasothy may be fine people and fine lawyers, but neither one got the job because he has relevant professional experience. My informal sense is that the minefield of "ordinary" land use law is even more hazardous than is typical in Pittsburgh, for both developers and neighborhoods alike. It's a step backward for Pittsburgh to have a non-expert board that rules on zoning appeals.