Friday, March 7, 2014
It took one month for the 1,000-plus members of Bill Peduto's "transition team" to compile their recommendations on reshaping city government. It's now taken more than twice that long to post those recommendations on line. And at least one participant is a little tired of waiting, and now intends to post some of them on her own.
Incoming administrations often convene transition teams, which are usually made up of civic leaders and policy experts. Very often, the recommendations end up in someone's desk drawer and are never seen again. But there are exceptions: When Jim Roddey became Allegheny County's first county executive, his own transition team recommended ideas that led to the creation of the Sprout Fund, which has helped fund cultural projects around town ever since.
And Peduto -- in keeping with his campaign pledge to make government more transparent – opened the process to just about any city resident who was interested. One such resident was transit activist Helen Gerhardt, who was among the 1,059 volunteers to attend the much publicized first transition-team meeting at the University of Pittsburgh in late November. After breaking up into eight committees -- who studied everything from city ethics to parks and policing -- the volunteers reconvened in Oakland one month later, for a presentation of findings.
"Bill Peduto made a wonderfully bold move to put his campaign promises on open democracy into action by throwing open this process to anyone," says Gerhardt today. "The process was a sign of the new administration: It was quick, it was online, it was open."
But the process of making those documents available for public inspection has been none of those things, she says.
The transition team met at Pitt again on Dec. 30 to present their reports. Only highlights of those presentations were featured, due to time constraints and the limits of human endurance: Taken together, the roughly four dozen subcommittee reports ran to approximately 1,100 pages. But the full report -- which Peduto called a "blueprint" for his administration -- would be posted online, said chief-of-staff-to-be Kevin Acklin.
"You guys hit the ball out of the park," he told attendees.
That evening, Acklin told City Paper he hoped the material would be posted online for public review by the end of January. That deadline later got extended to February. When Gerhardt raised the issue on Twitter last week, Peduto policy director Matt Barron that replied that the release was "in process" and would be up "very very soon."
But this morning, Gerhardt got tired of waiting: "Several have already sent me a few Transition Team reports," she tweeted. "I'm not going to wait anymore to post: stay tuned for first report on Monday."
Gerhardt says that she's heard "mutterings," from other transition-team participants impatient to see each other's work on-line. But she says, "I'm not trying to be cynical. I really want this thing to work, and I want to actively engage this community behind what Bill is doing." Publishing the transition team reports ASAP, she says, will help "establish the structure of a new administration -- people-centered, and people-inclusive." If the administration posts them before she does, she says, "I'll go ahead and post anyway, but I'll be in cheerleading mode: 'Look at what they did!'"
Mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty says the delays in posting the reports are attributable to the logistical challenges -- like hiring new staffers -- that attend any new administration. And there's little doubt the mayor's office has been busy: Among other things, like the controversies surrounding UPMC, the mayor's office has had to contend with one of the most bitter winters in recent history.
McNulty says he expects the reports to be issued "soon," but adds, "At the same time, it's great that people are excited to see what's in [the transition team reports]. We totally understand why they want to get the jump on it" by posting material on their own.
Arguably, in fact, Peduto has scored a major political success either way -- just by generating a transition team report that at least one person actually wants to read.