I've derived plenty of dark amusement from the dispute over whether to put an electronic billboard on Grant Street. But perhaps the grimmest chuckle came when Lamar Advertising, the company trying to construct the billboard, filed a lawsuit against five city councilors who filed suit to stop it, among them Bill Peduto and Patrick Dowd.
One allegation in the lawsuit insisted that the five
"developed a plot, under the auspices of their elected office, to try to have said permit revoked. Said plot included, but was not limited to, the interrogation of City Officials … , the requesting of certain privileged and non-privileged records …, and the attempt to continue their public relations campaign.”
The truth is that, between them, Dowd and Peduto probably couldn't agree on a conspiracy to brew a pot of coffee.
The latest proof of the chasm between the two is the ongoing debate over the fate of Schenley High School. Recently Peduto made waves by insisting that the Pittsburgh Public Schools find some way to avoid closing the asbestos-plagued structure.
But today Dowd, a former school board member, issued a letter which called out his fellow councilors -- including Peduto -- for helping to exacerbate the disrict's financial problems. Problems which school officials say require the building's closure.
Dowd's letter notes some of the fisal challenges that the district has faced in recent years ... and makes special mention of the fact that the city has raided school district coffers to balance its own books.
"[I]f we all aspire to be honest brokers," the letter concludes, "Council should consider how the City could contribute positively rather than negatively to the deep underlying financial issues, as well as come to terms with the difficult choices we all face."
Behind this high-minded rhetoric is a pointed political charge. The city began appropriating some of the school district's earned-income tax revenue as part of a bailout organized under the Act 47 financial recovery plan. And nobody on council supported Act 47 more strongly than ... Bill Peduto. The same Bill Peduto who has called for the district to find some means of trying to keep Schenley open. Whether Dowd intends it or not, it's not hard to see that as a bit of a shot across Peduto's bow.
"Council needs to be honest about it's role in shaping the school district's financial situation," Dowd tells City Paper. "And that history from the district's perspective may not be positive. It's not as simple as everybody thinks, and if we're going to talk about alternatives, we have them."
In any case, it's a dicey question for Peduto and his supporters. The authors of the esteemed Burgh Report, for example, have been supportive of efforts to save Schenley ... but the site also seems to regard a vote for Act 47 as an acid test of one's ability to lead. Dowd's letter, though, raises an important point: If council wanted to lead on this issue, it could be providing a lot more than nonbinding resolutions and advice.
But whichever way you come down on that question, one thing is clear: Lamar shouldn't lose any sleep over a conspiracy on the fifth floor of the City County Building.
I love Mel Packer!