The Mayor's Bad News for Pittsburgh

The little brouhaha over appointments to Pittsburgh's Stadium Authority and Zoning Board of Adjustment portends bad things for the City.

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.


Specifically:

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.

Comments

11 Responses to "The Mayor's Bad News for Pittsburgh"

EdHeath said... 6/26/2009 1:35 PM

It seems like a term limited executive of government somewhere just left office (back sometime in January). He too apparently prized loyalty over competence. But I am sure he was a great success and what ever region he presided over thrived. It would be un-American to say otherwise.

Jim Russell said... 6/26/2009 2:25 PM

I don't think the issue is competence so much as it is independence. There's plenty of competence, at least there should be, all along the process for variance requests. In most cases, city planning has made its recommendation. That's followed by the recommendation of the commission and then you have the city council ruling.

I would assume that the Board of Adjustment hears the appeal of a City Council ruling. What would worry me is using the Board of Adjustment to get around the wishes of City Council, effectively short-circuiting the process.

Infinonymous said... 6/26/2009 6:33 PM

It is not difficult to determine why Messrs. Burkley and Jegasothy were selected; the family finances of each of these less-than-prominent local lawyers are controlled by a person whose family sometimes has an interest in the decisions of the City of Pittsburgh's various boards and commissions.

Bram Reichbaum said... 6/26/2009 9:06 PM

The S.A. removal probably was about independence and vision, as was widely reported. The Z.B.A. removal I don't think had to do with that exactly, much less competence; call it having to do with priorities. The Z.B.A. is a quasi-judicial body, emphasis sometimes on the judicial.

Anonymous said... 6/27/2009 9:49 AM

"a more or less new, gleaming, recovering city - with a musty, old-style city government at its core"

Is it worth exploring the co-existence of these realities? For me, I presume that one precludes the other. But here we are.

So, yes, it's natural to say, "we have recovery DESPITE the old-style city government." But is that necessarily so? Did the trains (famously!) run on time in Mussolini's Italy despite the autocratic fascist regime, or because of same?

More broadly, given Pittsburgh's "musty, old-style" insititions and interests, perhaps a musty, old-style political regime is the only way to govern it effectively. I sure hope not. But that might be the case. I hate to draw analogies, but look at Iraq. Even if you manage to install a transparent, democratic government... is the place better off?

Similarly, let's say Ravenstahl were committed to transparency and efficiency and ending patronage and all the rest. Would he still be in office? And if he were, would he get anything done? As Chris B. has been pointing out from time to time, whatever you think of Tom Murphy... we have bike paths.

Bram Reichbaum said... 6/27/2009 6:06 PM

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.

Your "in other words" focused on the irrelevancy of these nominee's experience to zoning and land use.

My othe words would say the experience they *do* have reveals that the Mayor's vision for the Zoning Board is one that aggressively pursues the privileges of ownership among those who are large aggregators of wealth.

Bram Reichbaum said... 6/27/2009 9:35 PM

Anon 9:49 - I don't know whether transparency, efficiency, ending patronage and the rest would lead to more successful outcomes, but that's the theory and we really ought to try it one of these days. If traditional hard-nosed imperialism turns out to have been wiser in retrospect, why then maybe I'll have to become a reactionary.

Mike Madison said... 6/27/2009 11:00 PM

Bram - Which aligns the Mayor's treatment of the ZBA with his treatment of the Stadium Authority.

Anonymous said... 7/14/2009 9:59 PM

Manoj Jegasothy is an exemplary attorney whose family resides in Squirrel Hill. And, the administration should be commended for bringing diversity to the board.

Anonymous said... 7/30/2009 6:18 PM

Jim Russell said...

"I would assume that the Board of Adjustment hears the appeal of a City Council ruling. What would worry me is using the Board of Adjustment to get around the wishes of City Council, effectively short-circuiting the process."

Sorry, Jim, the ZBA hears appeals from decisions of the Zoning Administrator, not City Council. From City Council an appeal goes to the Court of Common Pleas, as does an appeal from the ZBA. The ZBA also hears applications for Special Exceptions and Variances. Expertise in land use law is useful.

Anonymous said... 4/06/2011 12:38 PM

Anonymous said...
"Manoj Jegasothy is an exemplary attorney whose family resides in Squirrel Hill. And, the administration should be commended for bringing diversity to the board."

Ah, yes. Diversity over all else, right? The color of one's skin, racial, ethnic background should trump their acutal experience...right? That's ludicrous.

That's like saying I'd rather have a bridge built by a "diverse" group of engineers, rather than a "qualified, experienced" group. Anonymous, who made this comment, and the city of Pittsburgh will never learn that if you seek excellence, diversity will follow. Then there will be no need to seek out "diversity" on everything from the zoning boards to the bar associations.

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