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Teeing Off 

Rough questions about the mayor's golfing excursion

I would say I'm starting to feel slighted, but that would be a lie. I have long been concerned about Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's outings, but for ever-so-slightly different reasons than the city's ethics board.

See, I remember sitting in the county executive's office back in March, waiting for the mayor to show up for a meeting with Hill District residents and stakeholders to talk about equity in the development surrounding a new Penguins arena -- only to be told that Ravenstahl would be unable to attend. Days later I found out that Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle and the mayor had taken a trip to New York City on Burkle's private jet. Ah, it's good to be king -- even for a day!

Now, we're hearing reports about Ravenstahl's celebrity golf outing at the Mario Lemieux (ahem) Celebrity Invitational. Allegedly, at least half of Ravenstahl's $9,000 ticket was paid for by the Pittsburgh Penguins. And, if I heard the news correctly, our mayor was quoted as saying that this is sometimes how business gets done ... even though the Pens are supposedly not doing business with the city. Very interesting. So, which is it? Are the Pens or are they not doing business with the city?

More importantly for my interests, will the temporary transformation of my representative into "Air Burkle" and "Mayor Woods" affect his judgment when it's time to negotiate with Penguins President David Morehouse, and to give the Hill District a stake in the arena project? Will it affect his ability to secure a Community Benefits Agreement, ensuring that Hill District residents and other stakeholders have some say in developing the 28-acre arena site, and improving the neighborhood around it?

Will he be daydreaming about red-carpet treatment while we try to get our sidewalks shaped up? Should I grab my golf clubs or rent a private jet (dream on ...) in order to get a fair shake? Will our demands be whittled down and then largely dismissed by a wink and a nod, all carried out against a backdrop of blue skies and green fields?

I just want to know the odds here.

I am not qualified to judge whether Ravenstahl engaged in ethical violations. But I can say with certainty that fulfilling the needs of Hill residents, and holding the Penguins accountable as developers, is the most ethical thing he could possibly do. Especially if it is done the right way.

What's the right way? For starters, do not, under any circumstances, try to tout a grocery store as a sufficient offering for the Hill. We are trying to secure development funds, programs and services that will benefit us not just today, but for the duration of the 29.5-year Penguins lease and beyond. Obviously, a grocery store could be included, but the package must be much larger than that. And although I love Trader Joe's with all my heart and soul, the new development cannot be a specialty shop the majority of Hill residents cannot afford. (Sorry, Whole Foods.) Similarly, a concrete box filled with semi-fresh foods and inflated prices won't do either. We need something middle-of-the-road.

But the thing is, it's not something that should be determined for Hill residents but by them, especially since we will have to prioritize our needs and goals. Do we need a grocery store? Yes, I even sing about it; but there are other developments we need first. Those priorities are something we should determine on our own and with our own funds.

But far too many folks (some Hill residents included) mistakenly believe we have to rely on outsiders to do our bidding -- literally! I find that rather heinous, and I'd better see a process that is fair and transparent, led by Hill residents and stakeholders, negotiated with our best interests in mind and with a heavy emphasis on self-determination. After all, it is not a handout: It is simply our just due. And it doesn't matter to me if it happens under the banner of "Raise Your Hand!" or "One Hill," "Do the Right Thing" or "Show Us the Bling." It just needs to be set on the right path.

So, Mr. Morehouse, when are we having lunch?

Dr. Goddess Says: Fore!

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