Friday, July 18, 2008

Desperately Seeking Sources

The County Controller (wait, don't look, can you name the County Controller?) is making news of late with his claim that if the Steelers are sold the public should get the money put into building Heinz Field back. One issue is that it was money put into the Stadium, not the team and a change in ownership of the team does not really affect who owns the stadium..... so whats the point? Then there is the question of whose money should be returned? RAD money? State money? Maybe those expensive seat licenses people paid for to help fund the stadium? It's all one of those ideas that sounds good in a press conference for sure, but how it would all work out is unclear.

At first glance I thought it was just an excuse for the County Controller to garner some name recognition, it being unlikely there was any realistic way that the public could recoup any money. Made sense to think of this as the County Controller (Mark Flaherty btw) gearing up the PR machine for a post-Onorato campaign for Allegheny County Chief Executive. What was Dan Onorato before being elected to the top job in the county? Controller of course. Remember the politics behind the election when Mark Flaherty was elected. At the time council rules forced Jim Simms to resign from his position on County Council, where he was no less than Chairman, in order to run County Controller. There was talk of various deals that was supposed to make that election a foregone conclusion. Like a lot of deals that might have worked in the past it didn't end up the way some intended and Mark Flaherty captured the Democratic Party nomination for controller and would win the post. If not for controller, I always thought Jim Simms would reemerge in local politics. He may be too smart to actually jump back in these days and the public record will detail the personal tragedies he has to deal with as well.

But back to the Steelers and their money. The news reports say there is some clause in the lease that says the county must approve a transfer of ownership. So even if it really has no claim to any actual ownership to the team, it might actually be possible to have a claim on the capital gains that will be realized when the team is sold.

The lawyers might be empowered to sort that out, or this will all be overcome by events eventually... but here is my thing. You can take a look at the Sports and Exhibition Authority website yourself. It has some minimal information there, but nothing terribly important. Is there any reason the lease between the Steelers and the SEA could not be put online for everyone to see. It would take all of a minute to scan I think. What about the agreement between the SEA and the state over how much funding it will get to support the yet to be built arena? An important document these days with the turmoil in the casino. Try and get your hands on that document and you might as well be trying to gain access to the secret archives of the Vatican.

Remember, this is a government body according to most laws. It should not be so hard to find this information. Just for fun, you can read the lease between the SEA and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Thanks to Tim (aka Carbolic) M. for sending me a copy of that contract. Why do these things need to be passed around like illicit blueprints for nuclear triggers? Another important document I have put online, the prospectus for the SEA bonds to fund the new arena which has a lot of details relevant to the public discourse these days? Again, not to be found on the SEA website. So all that neato web programming that makes it look like the SEA website is open and available to the public is mostly for show. One could argue it obfuscates more than it makes available.

To be fair, its not an issue limited to the SEA at all, although I would argue that what goes on at a lot of public authorities and special district governments is a lot more shrouded than other public entities. In the City of Pittsburgh uber-activist David Tessitor is trying to get an open government amendment on the ballot as a referendum this fall. So from the shores of the Monongahela all the way over the pond where the Guardian runs a Free Our Data series there is a long way to go with public data access. The best response I ever had to a request for a public document from a public official was "We don't have a public library for those types of things, but if you were able to fund a library for us we could make that available". I thought that was such a creative answer I didn't get mad at all, actually I laughed pretty hard.


Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

"To be fair, its not an issue limited to the SEA at all, although I would argue that what goes on at a lot of public authorities and special district governments is a lot more shrouded than other public entities."

Looking forward to that Urban Services District?

The Penguins lease agreement with the SEA is of interest to me. Whenever you get someone from One Hill *or* the Hill Faith Justice Alliance started on the topic of how they got behind the 8-ball, they frequently point RIGHT to "the day they signed the lease." Makes you think.

Friday, July 18, 2008 8:28:00 PM  

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