Wednesday, March 22, 2017

PETA marks World Water Day with demonstration in Downtown Pittsburgh

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 3:44 PM

PETA demonstration in Market Square - CP PHOTO BY REBECCA ADDISON
  • CP photo by Rebecca Addison
  • PETA demonstration in Market Square
If you walked through Market Square in Downtown Pittsburgh around lunchtime today, it was hard to miss the World Water Day demonstration held by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. With temperatures in the low 30s, two women wearing nothing but nude-toned underwear and pasties over their breasts stood under a stream of water in a makeshift shower.

The demonstration by animal-rights group PETA,was meant to send a message about the amount of water used to produce animal-food products like meat and cheese. According to language on the makeshift shower curtain, it takes 55 gallons of water to produce two slices of cheese. Another section of the curtain said one pound of beef is equal to 180 showers.

Using the naked female form in campaigns is nothing new for PETA. The organization has been criticized for sexualizing women in its campaigns before. And today, the two showering demonstrators were referred to by organizers as "bathing beauties."

"This is just an eye-catching way to get people to pay attention. Facts and figures alone don't always work," said PETA campaigner Keterina Davidson. "These are two empowered women who are willingly out here to make a statement for something they believe in."

While many onlookers and passersby were intent on ogling the women and asking if they were cold, the two activists stayed on message, as two other organizers offered literature on the impact veganism  has on the environment. According to the pamphlets, by going vegan, a person can save approximately 219,000 gallons of water per year.

"We're a little cold, but it's nothing compared to what the animals go through for meat production," said Leila Sleiman, one of the women.

Sleiman and co-demonstrator Misti Lee did get through to some passersby. Several vegans stopped by to thank them for their efforts, and others praised them for their dedication to making a statement.

"I'm impressed that they're willing to risk hypothermia," said Jennifer Pizzuto. "I have mad respect for them."

Sleiman challenged Pizzuto and others to go vegan for 30 days, but they demurred the challenge saying it was "too hard" or "too expensive." Sleiman, who says she's been vegan for 13 years, disagrees.

"I think it's easier now than it's ever been," Sleiman says. "There's so many reasons to go vegan, but for me, it was the animals and health. When I learned about factory farming, I just couldn't do it anymore. Even though you're not slaughtering the animal yourself, you're paying someone to do it."

A new incubator in Pittsburgh, FUTUREMAKERS Labs, debuts at Kelly-Strayhorn Theater

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 1:52 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Mark Simpson
If you're an artist or entrepreneur frustrated by a lack of resources and networking opportunities in Pittsburgh, a new incubator at Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, in East Liberty, might be what you're looking for. FUTUREMAKERS Labs is a 12-week incubator running from April to June that offers training, workshops and networking for Pittsburghers seeking to connect with the city's burgeoning arts and nonprofit communities, but are unsure where to start. That may sound vague, but the open-ended approach is no mistake.

On its website, the theater wrote: "KST believes that diversity of skill, thought, and identity amongst creative entrepreneurs is key to the success of any thriving city. Diverse game-changers from across various industries and disciplines are encouraged to apply to this opportunity."

City Paper caught up with FM's project coordinator Darrell Kinsel, via email, to discuss his goals and motivations for the program.

What was the inspiration for this project?

We want to continue to amplify KST's mission as a catalyst for creative expression. The incubator, created by Janera Solomon and myself, is the second of a series of programs developed by KST to expand the role of art institutions. To be relevant and responsive to community needs and to continue to identify talented creatives operating on Penn Avenue and in Pittsburgh.

What is the vision behind FUTUREMAKERS?

The vision of FUTUREMAKERS Labs is to foster creative, community-centered practice and reinforce an initiative to connect diverse creative technology and business.

Why are “incubators” important in arts communities?

Incubators provide artists and creative entrepreneurs with a distinct place and network to innovate, test and scale. It also breaks these individuals outside of traditional studio practice, which can be isolating as you are testing out new concepts.

How did you learn about the business side to art, and when did you commit to art as a career?

I learned about the entrepreneurial side of art by studying artists, producers, curators and leaders who have a larger view of how “arts and culture” naturally intersect with the real world. So nationally, there are examples such as Theaster Gates, Rick Lowe and Umberto Crenca. Some local examples of leaders that have had a direct impact on developing my view of "art as a business” are Phil Koch, Janera Solomon, Christiane Leach and Nate Mitchell.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist in Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh is a place where you can be both easily frustrated and comfortable in relation to your artistic and administrative advancements. I think that Pittsburgh artists sometimes are not fully aware of opportunities in markets that are close geographically, but very different in size and maturity. It is important to develop your skills at home, but also take the leap into other creative markets such to see audience reaction to products and services.


The deadline for FUTUREMAKERS Labs is Fri., March 24. Submit here.

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Bike-advocacy group survey says cyclists support driverless-car testing in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 12:13 PM

  • Image courtesy of Bike Pittsburgh
Predicting how drivers are going to interact with cyclists on Pittsburgh roads is a fool’s game. Some drivers will slow down, provide the legally required four feet and pass cyclists without incident. Others will honk at cyclists and scream at them to get off the road, or even act negligent and crash into cyclists. It's all part of a normal commute for urban cyclists.

Because of this unpredictability, it's not all that surprising that Pittsburgh cyclists would support taking the human element out of driving, and data recently released by Bike Pittsburgh proves it. The bike- and pedestrian-advocacy organization released a survey on March 21, showing that only about 10 percent of Bike Pittsburgh members with and without experience sharing the road with driverless cars disapprove of Pittsburgh as a testing-ground for autonomous vehicles. Moreover, about 75 percent of Bike Pittsburgh members actually approve or somewhat approve of driverless-car testing in Pittsburgh. (Somewhat ironically, a recent survey of Americans with AAA coverage showed that 75 percent of drivers were afraid of fully autonomous vehicles.)

In September 2016, Uber debuted its semi-autonomous vehicles in a highly publicized event. Since then, semi-autonomous Volvo SUVs and Ford sedans have been navigating select Pittsburgh neighborhoods, with a driver ready to take over and a technician monitoring the driverless components.

The survey compiled responses from 321 Bike Pittsburgh members and about 800 non-members. About 40 percent of members said they have interacted with a driverless car either on bike or on foot (non-members have interacted with AVs slightly less on bike, but slightly more on foot).

“While our own personal experiences riding and walking alongside AVs have been mostly positive, we believe that the introduction of these vehicles to our streets deserves a larger conversation,” said Eric Boerer, BikePGH Advocacy Director, in a press release. “As far as we know, we are the first organization collecting these stories from bicyclists and pedestrians.”

Both members and non-members also said they felt safer when interacting with an autonomous vehicle, rather than with a car controlled by a driver, even if there were still some uneasiness. "People noted the lack of road rage and aggression toward them as opposed to human drivers," said the study. "However, many were not comfortable with the dehumanization of the interaction even if it ended up being safe."

But not all reports were positive, according to the press release. While most bike-riding respondents noted driverless cars gave four feet while passing, several people cited times AVs passed them only giving a few inches. Additionally, some walking survey respondents noted driverless cars didn't stop for them while waiting to cross the street, and one respondent witnessed an AV running a red light. (It should be noted that Recode recently published a story showing that while Pittsburgh has become the epicenter of semi-autonomous vehicle testing in the U.S., the driverless cars only travel an average of 0.8 miles before human drivers have to intervene.)

Regardless, respondents of the survey want Bike Pittsburgh to support AVs; 50 percent of members and 43 percent of non-members want the bike-advocacy organization to "actively support" autonomous vehicles. Only 3 percent of members and 7 percent of non-members want them to oppose AVs.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ta-Nehisi Coates in Pittsburgh

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 3:51 PM

Ta-Nehisi Coates was a hot ticket in Oakland last night: Some 500 attendees packed a William Pitt Student Union ballroom to hear the author speak, with more in an overflow room and 100 or more folks turned away at the door. But if people came expecting him to talk about his best-selling 2015 memoir, Between the World and Me, his experiences writing Marvel's Black Panther comic, or even his high-profile journalism in The Atlantic and elsewhere, they got a bit of a surprise.

  • Photo courtesy of Nina Subin
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates
Appropriately enough, given that he was visiting as part of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series, Coates talked about himself not as a pundit, scriptwriter or adherent to any single genre or subject matter, but as a writer. In fact, he spent the first several minutes of the hour-long program talking about how writing and studying poetry back in college had shaped his craft. (He was sparked here by his introduction by University of Pittsburgh professor Yona Harvey, an old college pal from Howard University.)

And most of Coates' presentation involved his reading aloud a pair of excerpts from his work-in-progress novel. The story is set in slavery times; the hero, whose father is a slavemaster, is plotting escape with the woman he loves, a fellow slave. The passages were heavy on thoughtful dialogue and ruminations on the relationships between the enslaved persons and their white owners.

Coates is riding high these days. The talk was recorded by a PBS cameraman for future use, and the applause that greeted Coates when he took the podium was enthusiastic enough that it risked turning into a standing ovation before he'd spoken a word.

Instead, he got the standing O at the conclusion of a lively Q&A in which several aspiring writers asked him for advice on the writing life. "Cultivate a group around you of people who push you," he counseled. He also spoke of his desire not just to be "right" in a piece of writing, but to evoke an emotional response in readers. "It's not enough to be logically correct," he said. "You want people to feel it." Later, he added, "I want people to be disturbed like the literature I love disturbs me."

In response to another question, he identified James Baldwin as his favorite writer of nonfiction. (That's notable in a town that's made a surprise arthouse hit of I Am Not Your Negro, the new documentary about Baldwin.)

Coates also noted the dangers that come with the success of a book like Between the World and Me, a critical and commercial hit that's informed our discussion of issues like white privilege. The risk lies in the "external life" the book itself takes on, one that requires a lot of its author (presumably in terms of things like personal appearances and the like). "You can get lost in that external life and you can forget who you are as a writer," Coates said.

His dedication to his novel (he said his publisher gave him a deadline of this year) suggests that Coates, for his part, still remembers.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Author discusses "sex between straight white men" tomorrow at the University of Pittsburgh

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 at 4:17 PM

  • University of California, Riverside
  • Jane Ward

University of California, Riverside Professor Jane Ward visits Pitt tomorrow to discuss her highly controversial book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men.

Almost 70 years after Alfred Kinsey and his Institute gave us the Kinsey Scale, Ward’s 2015 book sheds light on how straight-identified men explain the reality of their sexual fluidity. It turns out that for a lot of the men Ward interviewed, it’s not "gay" if the gay sex you’re having reaffirms rather than challenges your masculine identity.

Tomorrow, Ward gives a lecture on her research, titled "The Tragedy of Heterosexuality," from 4-5 p.m. in the Cathedral of Learning. The lecture is presented by Pitt's Gender and Sexuality Program and is free and open to the public.

The talk takes place in Room 602. The Cathedral of Learning is located at 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

WWE Superstars visit patients at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital to serve up championship belts and smiles

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 3:53 PM

WWE's Natalya Neidhart takes a selfie with a young fan at Pittsburgh Children's Hospital Tuesday - PHOTO BY MEG FAIR
  • Photo by Meg Fair
  • WWE's Natalya Neidhart takes a selfie with a young fan at Pittsburgh Children's Hospital Tuesday
WWE’s Smackdown stars Alexa Bliss, A.J. Styles, Natalya Neidhart, Mojo Rawley and Apollo Crews took to Children’s Hospital for a midday visit to patients this afternoon. Accompanied by a horde of photograhers from local publications and a small WWE PR team, the superstars began on the lowest level in a playroom.

Styles challenged a young girl to air hockey while Neidhart chatted with a young boy who shyly showed off his writing skills and Rawley (unsuccessfully) attempted to form a band with some patients using Rock Band guitars in the room.

It felt, admittedly, voyeuristic to be among the sea of cameras that swarmed upon each interaction with lights on. When the cameras dipped back, however, the wrestlers and the kids had an opportunity to warm up to one another.

The five superstars took turns in rooms on several units. Some of the patients visited were under cancer treatment, others in the cardiology and neurology unit. Each child visited was given a child-size replica of the WWE World Heavyweight Title belt that was then passed around and signed.

Giving belts and meeting lots of kids meant that the crew wasn’t always interacting with a fan. Some of the patients had no idea who they were. One youngster exclaimed, “I don’t know what this is!” when his belt was handed to him, which was met with genuine laughter from the crew of athletes.

Bliss showed the young boy how to toss the belt over his shoulder, as it was a little too big for him.

These visits are important to current Smackdown women’s champion Alexa Bliss. When Bliss was 15, she was hospitalized for a life threatening eating disorder. During her treatment, a professional soccer team came to visit patients, including Bliss.

“I wasn’t a soccer fan, but it felt exciting to be visited,” says Bliss. “We’re not here just for the kids who know us.”

Both Natalya and Bliss suited up to enter a room for a young girl who was in isolation. With no cameras allowed, the two dipped in for one of the longer visits.

“She’s so excited to meet you girls,” said the gentleman who handed them the yellow suits to cover their clothes.

“We can’t imagine what these kids have to deal with and fight through every day, so if we can make a moment of their day brighter, we’ve done our jobs,” says Bliss.

Watching Bliss interact with patients is a fun tightrope act between her onscreen character and her real-life personality. Right now both Natayla and Bliss are heels, or villains, so it’s a total warp of the wrestling universe’s current canon to seem them interact so sweetly with children.

“When kids [who are fans] see me come in the room, they’re expecting this fiery character, but obviously I’m not going to be that. I try to be sweet while keeping it a little sassy,” she explains.

These visits are a part of most of the WWE roster’s routine, as the corporation founded Connor’s Cure, a fund through the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh dedicated to pediatric cancer research. The fund is named after Connor Michalek, a young WWE fan and Pittsburgh resident who touched the hearts of wrestlers and WWE’s corporate figures. Michalek passed away from a rare cancer, medulloblastoma, at the age of eight.

Connor’s Cure helps patients access and pay for treatment, and a recent partnership with the V Foundation for Cancer Research helps with grants for research around pediatric cancer. Stephanie McMahon, a chief brand officer of WWE and RAW’s commissioner, is also a member of Children’s board of trustees.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announces plan to provide water filters amidst lead concerns

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 5:16 PM

This week, Mayor Bill Peduto announced the city has partnered with Peoples Gas and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to invest $1 million in water filters for PWSA customers. This announcement comes amidst concerns about high lead levels in homes across the city.

"While we are working on much-needed, long-term PWSA infrastructure upgrades, as well as systematic changes to the authority's operational and financial inadequacies, this short-term solution will help keep residents safe from unsafe lead levels in their water," Peduto said in a statement.

According to the city, priority will be given to "residents whose lines test at or above 10 parts per billion for lead, those in areas where the PWSA will be doing its own lead service line replacements starting this spring, and to low-income residents."

"The Our Water Campaign is glad to hear that the Mayor's Office has secured water filters for all Pittsburgh residents. These filters are a critical first step as we work to make sure our water system remains a reliable public resource that provides everyone access to clean, lead-free water," Aly Shaw, an organizer with the Our Water Campaign, said in a statement. "We look forward to getting these filters into homes, schools and community centers as fast as possible, and making sure that residents have a seat at the table as we develop longer-term plans for meeting our City's water needs."

Last week, Pittsburgh City Councilor Deb Gross put out a call for funding to provide water filters to protect the city's children who are most vulnerable to lead exposure.

Under the mayor's plan, the filters will be offered to all homeowners in the city, but according to city spokesperson Katie O'Malley, renters will not be excluded. Details are still being worked out to ensure renters get their water filtered.

"We, as the Our Water Campaign, think that renters should be prioritized as many renters are young families and low-income residents," Shaw told Pittsburgh City Paper via email. "We're hoping to work with the mayor and PWSA as they implement this program to ensure that all residents, particularly those most impacted, are provided with filters as soon as possible."

Peoples Gas has pledged $500,000 for the program to be be matched with $250,000 each from the city and PWSA.

"The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) supports Mayor William Peduto’s free lead water filter initiative," PWSA said in a statement. "The PWSA Board of Directors is prepared to contribute $250,000 to the program through a board action at its next meeting on March 24, 2017."

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Workshop performances of new opera about police brutality continue tonight at Pittsburgh's First United Methodist Church

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 10:27 AM

Another workshop for A Gathering of Sons, commissioned by Pittsburgh Festival Opera, is tonight at this Shadyside church.

Librettist Tameka Cage Conley
  • Librettist Tameka Cage Conley

Gathering of Sons examines police brutality and racial conflict in America through the lives of a young black man, a white police officer, a pair of black parents, and their guardian angels. It was commissioned as part of the Pittsburgh Festival Opera's series Music That Matters, aiding creation of operas that speak to present-day issues.

Attendees at  workshops view selected scenes, and then engage in a discussion about the work with panels comprised of community leaders, activists and artists. Audience feedback informs development of the piece and of future programs. Workshops for the show began in December. All of the workshops are free and open to the public.

Dwayne Fulton, the minister for music at Larimer's Mt. Ararat

Baptist Church, is composer and conductor for this project. The libretto is written by Pittsburgh-based poet and playwright Tameka Cage Conley. Mark Clayton Southers, artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co., is stage director and one of the featured discussion moderators.

A Gathering of Sons follows 2015's A New Kind of Fallout, the first opera commissioned for the series, inspired by the work of famed Pittsburgh-born environmentalist Rachel Carson.

Composer Dwayne Fulton
  • Composer Dwayne Fulton
Pittsburgh Festival Opera was formerly known as Opera Theater of Pittsburgh.

Attendees at Gathering of Sons workshops can complete a short feedback form to receive a 40 percent discount on tickets to performances in the show's premiere run, June 15-July 8. 

Workshops will be held at 7 p.m. nightly at the following venues:

Fri., March 10, at First United Methodist Church, 5401 Centre Ave., Shadyside.

Wed., March 15, at Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, 810 Penn Ave., No. 600, Downtown.

Wed., March 29, at Kaufmann Auditorium, 1825 Centre Ave., Hill District.

Wed., April 12, at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh - Homewood, 7101 Hamilton Ave., Homewood.

Reservations can be made by calling 412-326-9687. or online at

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Pittsburgh affordable-housing advocates rally in East Liberty; decry public subsidies to luxury development

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 6:04 PM

Affordable-housing advocates occupying the intersection of Centre and Penn avenues in East Liberty - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Affordable-housing advocates occupying the intersection of Centre and Penn avenues in East Liberty
The completed Eastside and Bond apartment complex in East Liberty is perched directly above the MLK East Busway transit stop, and is a block from amenities like Target, Giant Eagle and a plethora of restaurants. In a sense, the apartment complex with 360 brand-new units is a perfect example of how city living can be extremely beneficial to residents of any income bracket: great public-transit access, close to grocery stores, and quality living conditions.

Unfortunately for Pittsburghers of lower- and middle-income means, living in Eastside and Bond isn’t attainable; a one-bedroom apartment there starts a $1,900 and two-bedroom units start at $2,300. And a group of affordable-housing advocates are upset about it.

On March 9, more than 60 people filled the intersection at Centre and Penn avenue, in front of Eastside and Bond, to protest the lack of affordable housing at this complex and other new luxury apartment units that have been filling the area. In addition to the 360 units at Eastside and Bond, developer Walnut Capital has recently created 555 luxury units in the area.

The advocates placed furniture in the intersection to highlight how luxury apartments are making it harder for low-income residents to find affordable places to live in and around East Liberty. The group rallied for 35 minutes in the street. Some cars honked in anger, while other drivers gave thumbs ups. Pittsburgh Police officers eventually directed traffic around the rally, and let the rally-goers exit the street when they were finished.

Alethea Sims, of the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty, says longtime East Liberty residents are leaving the neighborhood en masse, even when given a Section 8 subsidized housing voucher.

“We can take a voucher and go any place,” says Sims. “But why can’t we use that voucher here? Why aren't there mixed-income units here?”

East Liberty Development Inc. statistics from 2015 show that East Liberty had 866 subsidized units, comprising about 32 percent of the rental units in the neighborhood. This is actually one of the higher percentages of affordable-units of any Pittsburgh neighborhood. However, these stats were compiled before the completion of the 360 Eastside and Bond luxury units. Additionally, the waitlist for subsidized housing in East Liberty is incredibly long and low-income residents have to wait between two to five years to be placed.

Additionally, a February TribLive article highlighted how local tax abatements have been going to developments for years, even on projects that supply no affordable units. Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and local school districts typically grant property-tax relief to developers as incentives for new construction projects. Housing advocates at the rally pointed out that East Side and Bond, owned by Mosites Construction and Development Company, and three nearby luxury apartment complexes owned by Walnut Capital, received a combination of more than $12 million in city and school-district tax cuts.

“We put millions of dollars of public money into these buildings, without any affordable units in return” said Helen Gerhardt, of housing-advocacy group Homes For All. “That is how you get displacement.”

Even though many developers are granted local tax cuts, they are not required to build affordable units in return. Typically, developers only undertake mixed-income or affordable developments when they can secure large grants from state and/or federal governments. It’s rare for developers to build affordable units without these grants. Currently, there are only about seven such developers in the region who pursue these grants, including Action Housing and Trek Development.

Walnut Capital or Mosites didn’t return request for comment by press time.

Homes For All's Gerhardt called on developers to help East Liberty residents, instead of just focusing on profit-driven development. "These developers only care about profits," she said. "About $3.6 million of our money when to the [Eastside and Bond] development, and none of those units are affordable."

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Port Authority of Allegheny County leadership quietly shaken up, advocates ask for more transparency

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 5:15 PM

Port Authority bus picking up riders - CP PHOTO BY AARON WARNICK
  • CP photo by Aaron Warnick
  • Port Authority bus picking up riders
One Feb. 24, the Port Authority of Allegheny County board added a last-minute agenda item announcing that Port Authority CEO Ellen McLean’s contract would not be renewed past June. The item wasn’t listed in the board meeting’s initial agenda, and when McLean spoke earlier in the meeting, she didn’t mention her imminent departure. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in a story headlined “Port Authority forces out McLean, seeks executive with more transit experience,” that some board members didn’t know about this decision until the night before the Feb. 24 board meeting.

At the time, Port Authority board chair Bob Hurley wouldn’t elaborate on the decision to cut ties with McLean, only saying that the decision between the board and the CEO was “mutual.”

"This transit agency has come so far from where we were just a few short years ago, which is why I believe now is the right time for me to pass the torch to someone else," McLean said in a statement issued after the Feb. 24 meeting.

On March 3, a TribLive article stated that Hurley will likely leave the Port Authority board and his seat will be replaced by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s chief of staff Jennifer Liptak. Port Authority vice chair Jeffrey Letwin will likely step into the chair role. Allegheny County’s initial announcement of this shift came on March 3 and was at the end of a statement containing a laundry list of legislation that Fitzgerald had introduced to Allegheny County Council; there was no mention of Hurley departing the Port Authority Board.

On March 7, Fitzgerald nominated Hurley to serve on the county’s Airport Authority board. Fitzgerald says he wanted to see Hurley, who is also head of the county’s economic development team, on the Airport Authority because the county owns thousands of acres of developable land surrounding the airport. “The plan was always to move [Hurley] to the airport,” says Fitzgerald. “There is so much economic development opportunity there.”

However, Fitzgerald provided no comment on why Liptak would be joining the Port Authority board in the March 3 TribLive article, but told City Paper earlier today that he is confident in Liptak because “she does a good job wherever she is.”

Liptak, who Fitzgerald says will be leading the search for the new Port Authority CEO, has served in county government for years and offers a breadth of experience in budgeting and development, but with little official public-transit experience. But Fitzgerald says Liptak has been “involved in every transit decisions we make,” and she has “good relationships with all the stakeholders that deal with transit in the region.”

All of these big shifts with little public notice has made some advocates wary of the board-appointee process. Molly Nichols, of the public-transit-advocacy group Pittsburghers for Public Transportation, wonders why these big decisions happened so quickly and relatively quietly. She is calling for more transparency when board members are appointed.

“PPT would like to see more transparent processes for board appointments, including naming the qualifications of appointees and holding public hearings,” says Nichols. “This would give the public the opportunity to ask appointees how they plan to serve the transit riders of Allegheny County.”

This isn't the first time that Fitzgerald's handling of board appointments has come under fire. Although he has since abandoned the policy, after taking office in 2013, he required all board members to submit undated letters of resignation that Fitzgerald could activate at any time. There was also some tumult when Fitzgerald ousted PAT's former director and put his own appointees in power positions, also in 2013

Fitzgerald’s Port Authority appointees, like Liptak, don’t require any confirmation by county council or any public vetting. Hurley’s appointment does need approval by county council, but out of hundreds of Fitzgerald’s appointees, council has only failed to confirm one, a man indicted on federal embezzlement charges in 2010.

But Fitzgerald says the timing of Port Authority CEO leaving and Hurley moving boards shouldn’t be taken as upheaval at the Port Authority. He says the reason these changes were made quickly is because the authority is stable. “It is not like we have all these problems we have to make changes, it’s just the opposite,” says Fitzgerald.

In terms of increasing public participation in the appointee process, Fitzgerald believes the current system works fine as is.

“We get a lot of folks who suggest board members,” says Fitzgerald. “At the end of the day, the elected officials are given the responsibility that these agencies run well. If it doesn't run right, we are going to be the ones taking responsibility.”

This sentiment somewhat echoes a statement made by Steve Palonis, of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85, after the announcement of McLean’s departure. Palonis said in the Post-Gazette, “Rich [Fitzgerald] is the guy in charge and this is what he wants to do.”

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