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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Happy Anniversary, Lamar!

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 10:44 AM

It's not quite Valentine's Day, but city councilor Patrick Dowd is celebrating an anniversary early.

This morning, Dowd sent a letter to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl about the famous Lamar LED billboard controversy -- which, as a Dowd aide pointed out to me, celebrates its one-year anniversary tomorrow. I'd rehash the whole fiasco, but if you've read past the first sentence of this paragraph, you probably know all there is to know about it. (If you're just a glutton for punishment, you can read a bit more about this here and here and a bunch of other places beside.) 

Dowd's letter reiterates much of the legal history of this case, in which the city solicitor's office argued from both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, George Specter opined, the process Lamar used to obtain an electronic billboard Downtown was of dubious legality and should be ceased. On the other hand, Specter also noted that the process had been used previously -- and that Lamar had a good-faith reason to believe it would be followed again. So their application should be permitted. It wasn't. 

Specter, of course, had been working in the city solicitor's office back when the backdoor-approval process was first inaugurated, during the administration of former Mayor Tom Murphy. 

Lamar has continued to press for the billboard, and as Dowd's letter points out, it has used "the City Solicitor’s ambivalent legal opinion" to do so. Because of that, and because of Specter's own involvement in previous permits, Dowd wants to hire an outside attorney to represent the city. 

"I am urging you to work quickly with City Council to jointly appoint outside counsel to defend our city’s public interest in this matter," he writes.

So what? Well, the letter may do more than set the stage for the next round in this endless saga, or even sound a note of challenge in the upcoming May primary. (Dowd is likely to take Ravenstahl on.) It may also foreshadow the need to hire an outside counsel in another dispute -- an argument over a controversial gun-control measure enacted by the city.

As we noted previously, the city passed this measure to stop illegal pass-through purchases of guns ... even though the city solicitor's office publicly stated that the law probably violated the state constitution. Once again, city officials are all over the map on the legality of an action they may have to defend in court. And taxpayers will likely end up having to shell out for lawyers who AREN'T part of the whole mess.

Also, apropos of tangled personal connections, I commend to your attention this piece in the Sunday Tribune-Review. The story -- about how UPMC often deals with vendors who are represented on its own board of directors -- isn't too surprising. But it did give me a new reason to hate UPMC's advertising.

I've long been irked at UPMC's TV ads, which just string together a bunch of meaningless phrases to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about how huge UPMC is. Those ads  are made by the Paradiso Group ... which, the Trib helpfully notes, "is owned by Doug Romoff, brother of UPMC President and CEO Jeffrey Romoff."

Today's papers, meanwhile, bring us news of a lawsuit filed against the hospital giant. Like I've said a couple times, 2009 is figuring to be a tough year for UPMC's public image.

Maybe more ads will help! 

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