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Friday, August 29, 2014

City ignores, then rejects CPRB recommendation to fire officer who was found to have violated police policies

Posted By on Fri, Aug 29, 2014 at 5:05 PM

Back in March, I wrote a story about the years of neglect foisted upon the Citizen Police Review Board, and the hopes some police accountability experts had that the Peduto administration might take civilian oversight of law enforcement more seriously than his predecessors.

And while it's probably still too early to tell exactly how seriously the CPRB will be taken by Peduto and the new yet-to-be-named permanent police chief, there's now at least one high-profile case in which the CPRB's recommendation to fire an officer who arrested a teacher outside a community meeting is being largely ignored by the city.

That case involves Dennis Henderson, who was arrested by Pittsburgh officer Jonathan Gromek outside a Community Empowerment Association meeting last summer. Henderson claims there was no apparent reason for his arrest other than commenting on Gromek's driving as he drove down the street in his cruiser, which led to a verbal confrontation that quickly escalated.

In November, based on findings from the city's Office of Municipal Investigations that Gromek had violated bureau policy, the city appeared to settle on a written reprimand as the appropriate punishment.

But the CPRB reached a very different conclusion, recommending instead that Gromek be suspended for five days pending termination for actions the review board deemed "egregious."

And while the CPRB's recommendations are not binding, the police chief or mayor are required by law to respond to the CPRB within 30 days and either accept the board's recommendations or explain why they shouldn't.

In this case, interim chief Regina McDonald didn't respond specifically to the CPRB's recommendations issued March 26 until July 8. And even though she agreed with the CPRB's finding that Gromek violated bureau policies on proper conduct and incompetency (though disagreed with their rationale without explanation), she wrote, "No action will be taken based on CPRB's findings and recommendations" beyond action the bureau has already taken based on OMI's investigation.

Asked why McDonald did not respond to the specific recommendations until over three months after she received them, police spokesperson Sonya Toler wrote, "OMI investigated and the police bureau took appropriate action." She did not elaborate. Officer Gromek is currently assigned to Zone 3.

Mayoral spokesperson Tim McNulty did not respond to an email asking how seriously the CPRB's recommendations should be taken or whether Peduto believes Gromek should continue to serve on the force.

CPRB executive director Beth Pittinger says she isn't surprised by the city's response.

"The acting chief of police is from the old school," Pittinger says, adding that the timing of CPRB investigations often comes well after the city has already made a recommendation for discipline, which happened in this case. "I think we are all anxious for a chief of police to take the reigns so we can get out of this holding pattern."

Jerome Jackson, a witness to the incident and executive director of Operation Better Block, said the rejection of civilian recommendations only worsens the community's perception of the police department.

"Unless the CPRB is taken seriously and its recommendations are taken seriously, what good is it?" he asks. "It doesn't help community-police relations."

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rivers Casino workers continue fight for union

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 2:56 PM

Employees at the Rivers Casino say their employer has been cutting its workers' hours to avoid providing them with health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, employees working 30 hours or more must receive health insurance, but those at a protest outside of the casino earlier today say management has been trying to skirt the requirement.

"Not only are they not giving workers enough hours to qualify for healthcare, those who do work 30 hours, they're reducing their hours so they don't qualify," said Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council.

Picketing outside of the Rivers Casino
  • Picketing outside of the Rivers Casino

A coalition of workers known as the Steel City Casino Workers Council has been fighting to unionize casino employees for more than a year now with the help of Unite Here, a North American labor union. Members of the council believe unionizing is the best way to ensure their hours aren't cut and to increase their wages.

"We're fighting for a fair process," said Nicole Gallagher, a casino cocktail server. "Personally, not having the protection of a union, I've been subjected to terrible intimidation."

The council claims casino management has intimidated and even fired employees to prevent them from forming a union. Last year Unite Here filed more than 30 charges of unfair labor practices against the Rivers Casino's owners but since then the casino has agreed to post flyers notifying employees of their right to unionize.

“Rivers Casino is proud to have been voted a ‘2014 Best Places to Work’ by our Team Members, and we respect their rights to choose whether to be represented by a union," casino spokesperson Jack Horner said in a statement. "So far, our Team Members have chosen to remain independent.”

The casino did not respond to questions about the alleged intimidation. But Unite Here representative Jon Scolnik says the intimidation has continued.

"What we want is for the casino to play fair," Scolnik said "They've violated labor laws and until they play fair we're going to keep doing this."

The workers were joined by employees at a casino in Philadelphia, owned in part by one of the partners in the Pittsburgh casino, who also complained of unfair treatment of workers. Union workers throughout Pittsburgh representing organizations like the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union were also there to show support.

"All of those unfair labor practices corporations are pushing to keep people from earning a living need to stop," said Tina Schreckengost, a union employee at Giant Eagle who came out to support the casino workers.

The Moth at the Byham

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 10:30 AM

At last night’s big annual The Moth Mainstage show, writer Dan Kennedy quipped that hosting the series had actually expanded his emotional range; as a suburban Southern California youth, he said, he’d grown up stuck entirely between “That’s awesome, dude” and “Dude, that kind of sucks.”

Kate Tellers
  • Kate Tellers
Making us feel something is a goal of any good art. But the directness of The Moth’s approach is particularly disarming, and effective. As listeners of the radio show or podcast — or attendees at Pittsburgh’s monthly Moth StorySLAMs — know, the idea is simply people telling true stories on stage, without notes. At its best, it feels nearly as informal as listening to a friend over drinks (even if most of those friends, as was the case last night, are professional performers).

Last night’s sold-out show (the sixth annual Moth spectacular here, co-presented by Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures) traversed as much emotional geography as any. The theme was “Don’t Look Back.”

Cole Kazdin, an Allderdice grad who’s now an Emmy-winning TV-news producer in Los Angeles, recalled that period in her life when a bizarre cheerleading accident left her with a massive concussion and both short- and long-term amnesia. (Technically, it was a “cheerleading” accident: She was playing a cheerleader in a film spoof and was thrown in the air, but not caught.) Kazdin skillfully tread the line between the terror of forgetting everything about yourself and the humor inherent therein — all mitigated, it should be said, by the fact that we knew she’d fully recovered. Best detail: The pile of sticky notes she left by her bed, each with a fact about herself she’d written down (“You are a vegetarian”) in hopes of reconstructing her memory: “It still wasn’t me. It was just information filling an empty space.”

Continue reading »

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Monday, August 25, 2014

MP3 Monday: Chris Stowe

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 6:26 PM

Chris Stowe
  • Chris Stowe

I try to say goodbye and I choke. Try to walk away and I stumble. These Macy Gray lyrics are brought to you by my last MP3 Monday as music intern. Thanks for reading.

Anywhoozle, this week's MP3 Monday comes to you from Chris Stowe, A-F Records label manager and member of White Wives and World's Scariest Police Chases. Stowe just played the release show for his new album Hollow. The album is situated somewhere in the folk spectrum between A.A. Bondy and Koji. Bottom line, if you're a fan of a haunting voice and acoustic guitar, give it a spin.


Check out "Blood Drinkers" off Hollow below for yourself.

(Download link expired, sorry!)

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Adjunct-unionization campaign moves on to Robert Morris University

Posted By on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 at 4:49 PM

The United Steelworkers, fresh from its successful bid to organize part-time faculty at Point Park University, has a new target in its sights: Robert Morris University.

Adjuncts at school's the Moon Township campus have begun circulating union cards to their colleagues, and plan to step up the campaign in the days ahead.

Teaching as an adjunct is "a hopeless situation," says James Talerico, a Robert Morris adjunct and member of the union organizing committee. "And that's why we're hoping the union can help."

Continue reading »

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sneak Preview of Doc Ellis documentary, on Aug. 26

Posted By on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 4:27 PM

nono_docellis.png

It's unquestionably the most infamous no-hitter in baseball history — the one that Pittsburgh Pirates Doc Ellis pitched while high on LSD on June 12, 1970.

Learn about this unique athletic feat and more about the life of Ellis in the new documentary film, No No: A Dockumentary. Catch a sneak preview of the film at 7 p.m. Tue., Aug. 26, at the Harris Theater. Following the screening, there will be a Q&A with director Jeffrey Radic and Dock's agent, Tom Reich.

The film returns for a week-long engagement on Sept. 5, at Regent Square.

Improv Show Includes Web Series Sneak Peek

Posted By on Fri, Aug 22, 2014 at 9:06 AM

Comedy vets Hustlebot have a show tomorrow night at Arcade Comedy Theater. The evening includes a sneak peek of the group's web series Stoners With a Time Machine.

Hustlebot
  • Hustlebot
The show, now in production locally, was a finalist in the Comedy Central Short Pilot Competition, part of the New York Television Festival.

Hustlebot, which formed in 2006, includes David Fedor, John Feightner, Larry Phillis and Joe Wichryk II.

The group is known primarily for live improv, but it's also had also had success with moving images. Hustlebot has won several awards at the Pittsburgh 48 Hour Film Festival, for instance, and won the Steeltown Film Factory Screenwriting Competition for the script for “Roll The Dice.” The completed short film of “Roll the Dice” won the People’s Choice Award at the Harmony Ridge Film Festival.

Tomorrow night’s show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5-10. The opening act is Improvatron, a local improv troupe whose eight members include Aaron Kleiber, Matt Hartman and Laurel George.

Arcade Comedy Theater is located at 811 Liberty Ave., Downtown.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Air Traffic Controller lands in Station Square tonight

Posted By on Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 4:28 PM

Air Traffic Controller
  • Photo by Rick Macomber
  • Air Traffic Controller

Air Traffic Controller plays tonight at Hard Rock Café.

The Boston-based band started with vocalist/guitarist Dave Munro sending demos back home while he was serving as an actual air traffic controller in the Navy. When his enlistment was up, he came home and started the indie-electro rock band. On tour through the end of August, the band is currently recording their third studio album with producer Bleu (Hanson, Boys Like Girls, Demi Lovato) and has released the album's first single, "The House."

The band plays tonight at Hard Rock Café with The Tragic Thrills and Circles & Squares. 8 p.m. 230 W. Station Square Drive, Station Square. $12. All ages (minors must be accompanied). 412-481-7625

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fresh Start PA challenges Gov. Corbett on education issues

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 3:34 PM

At a press conference this morning hosted by the Campaign for a Fresh Start, chairwoman Katie McGinty challenged Gov. Tom Corbett on cuts to education funding during his tenure and the recent scandal surrounding his former special adviser on higher education Ron Tomalis. Taken together, said McGinty, those two issues have created a burden for Pennsylvania taxpayers.

Tomalis announced he would step down last week after Democrats, seizing on a Post-Gazette story, began questioning what exactly Tomalis was doing to merit being paid a $139,542 salary. McGinty said the governor has been unable and unwilling to provide details regarding Tomalis' work. And while Tomalis, a former Corbett education secretary, agreed to step down, his work as an adviser reportedly will boost his state pension.

"Mr. Tomalis is costing the taxpayer a huge price," McGinty said. "So latest count he's taken out about $200,000 of the public's limited resources. And now we know that the governor has seen fit to enable Mr. Tomalis to have a 25 percent boost in his pension as well. This is a huge cost burden to tax payers."

McGinty, whose group is backing gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf and other Democratic candidates, also criticized education funding cuts that have taken place during Corbett's term. According to McGinty, 77 percent of Pennsylvania school districts will have to raise property taxes as a result of decreased funding.

Pittsburgh teachers union President Nina Esposito-Visgitis explained the impact funding cuts are having on the Pittsburgh Public School District.

"Here in Pittsburgh. where Gov. Corbett's cuts have cost our public schools over $27 million in state revenue, our teachers have been demoralized as they've been made to watch their students — many times the neediest students of all — lose valuable services and programs that our teachers know their students need to succeed," said Esposito-Visgitis.

Corbett has been dogged by the education-funding issue throughout his campaign. His administration maintains that funding reductions were prompted by a reduction in federal support.

"Over the last four years, our administration has increased the state’s investment in our public schools by $1.46 billion to now historic levels," said Corbett's lieutenant governor Jim Cawley in a July 29 press release. "It’s shameful that the teachers’ union bosses continually perpetuate a lie to put their own interests over those of the students and teachers they serve."

Education funding by the state has increased in recent years, though not nearly enough to keep pace with the decline in federal support. And critics say that Corbett takes the blame, in part by refusing to impose a state severance tax on natural-gas drilling. At this morning's press conference, for example, was Lisa Stout-Bashioum, a current school board representative in the Brentworth School District running for a seat in the state House. She said Gov. Corbett could restore funding for education by imposing a tax on natural gas companies.

"In Allegheny and Washington counties, Tom Corbett has taken more than $60 million from our students since he was elected," Stout-Bashioum said. "Tom Corbett won't tax drillers even a little bit to help our children succeed. Why? Because children aren't donors."

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Local indie comedy screens tomorrow

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 11:17 AM

The latest chance to see the new comedy Progression comes complete with an update about the indie film’s own progress.

A scene from Progression
  • A scene from "Progression"
Gab Cody and Sam Turich’s feature film set at Lawrenceville’s long-running progressive dinnner gets its second local screening tomorrow night at the Bayardstown Social Club. But the film has also been accepted at California’s 15th annual Big Bear Lake International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 19-21.

In an email, Cody writes that that’s an even bigger honor than it sounds: The festival “will show 115 films, 85 percent shorts and 15 percent feature films,” she says.

It’s the microbudget film’s first festival screening, though it had previously also screened at New York City’s venerable Anthology Film Archives.

The Bayardstown screening is at sundown tomorrow. The screening is preceded by live music from Molly Alphabet and Chet Vincent and Big Bend (who appear in the film) and Josh Verbanets. The event continues the filmmakers’ grassroots distro strategy.

Tickes are $5 for nonmembers. The event is BYOB and BYO lawnchair, though a cash bar and food trucks will be on hand. Bayardstown is located at 3008 Penn Ave., in the Strip District.

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