The tone of state budget talks hit a new low this week as the governor promised to veto a stopgap measure meant to get state funding flowing to entities facing their own fiscal cliff due to the months-long standoff over a state budget.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said a deal still seemed distant after a Wednesday meeting with Democrats and the governor. As a result, he said, Republicans would go ahead with a short-term proposal to fund schools and social services through October.

Casey Chafin / 90.5 WESA

  A day after community leaders called for an end to the violence in the city, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Police Chief Cameron McLay said Wednesday there are fewer homicides this year despite an uptick in area shootings.

“It’s not an epidemic of violence outside the norm of this city,” McLay said.

joseph a / Flickr

City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a proposal to nominate the Lawrenceville neighborhood for the National Register of Historic Places.

Councilwoman Deborah Gross said a national register status is different than historic designation through the city’s Historic Review Commission, because the former doesn’t restrict how property owners can maintain, update or renovate buildings within the district.

Officials debated in state court Wednesday whether pornographic e-mails exchanged by state employees on state computers should be released to the public.

Lawyers for the state Office of Attorney General told a panel of Commonwealth Court judges that the sought-after smutty exchanges among current and former OAG employees are not public records because they don’t document official agency activity.

“The question is: Was it sent in connection with commonwealth business?” said John Knorr III, Chief Deputy Attorney General, who argued on behalf of the office in court.

The Allegheny County Health Department received a $150,000 two-year grant from the Jefferson Foundation to expand the Live Well initiative into the Monongahela Valley. 

Thrival Festival

Low population density may account for Pittsburgh’s poor startup activity ranking by the Kauffman Foundation.  Thrill Mill CEO and Essential Pittsburgh tech startup contributor Bobby Zappala heard a speech from Kauffman representatives in which they clarified the statistics the organization uses when choosing the placements. He says startup density, which is the number of startup firms per every 100,000 residents, is pushing Pittsburgh lower since it’s already smaller than other cities. But Zappala says he believes the size issue is only temporary.

Robert Morris University / Facebook

It's hard to imagine Robert Morris University finding a better individual to fill the school's vacant presidency than Christopher Howard. The Air Force Academy and Harvard Business School graduate and Rhodes Scholar is a decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan. In 2011, President Obama named him to the National Security Education Program Board. Howard spoke to Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer from Waco, Texas and shared his plans for the future of the university.

Kiewic / Flickr

The postmaster threatened retribution, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said. 

"'You’re going to lose your job,' to one person. He said he was going to kill them, other people he’d tell, 'I'm gonna get you,'" he said.

Daniel P. Davis, regional postmaster for the U.S. Postal Service, was charged Tuesday with four counts each of intimidation of witnesses, official oppression, obstructing the administration of law or other governmental function and criminal coercion.

The Old Farmer's Almanac Turns 224

Sep 16, 2015
Sean Ray / 90.5 WESA

The Old Farmer's Almanac was first published in 1792 and has been serving up weather predictions ever since, The Almanac also offers weird facts and humorous anecdotes. But in this increasingly digital and online age, what has the Almanac done to stay relevant? Tim Clark, an editor at the Old Farmer's Almanac, shares his thoughts on this year's publication.

The state's highest auditor launched an investigation Tuesday into the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, Pittsburgh’s state-appointed financial overseer.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto requested the audit in August, asserting the ICA has illegally withheld $12.8 million in state gambling funds the city earns by hosting Rivers Casino. The ICA was established in 2004 to help Pittsburgh avoid bankruptcy. It controls millions the state gives Pittsburgh every year and can disapprove city budgets.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Black community leaders pleaded with Pittsburgh residents on Tuesday to end the gun violence that resulted in a string of deaths and injuries to local children this month.

Analyzing The "Ferguson Effect"

Sep 15, 2015
Neil Cooler / flickr

As Police Chief Cameron McLay completes his first full year in office, it is important to note exactly what he has done to improve relations between the police force and citizens, especially minorities. The so-called “Ferguson Effect” is becoming a large-scale societal movement according to David Harris, Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh. He explains McLay has done well in his first year in order to improve these relations.

David Gilkey

Free Event at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland, November 5 at 7 p.m. to feature NPR's David Greene, Yuki Noguchi

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

The City of Pittsburgh and several organizations are teaming up to get a clearer picture of the region’s commuting habits.

The “Make My Trip Count” survey aims to get a comprehensive look at how people get to work or school or any destination – be it by bike, bus, rail, foot or car.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

One school of thought in adapting to a new generation of learners is to take students out of traditional classrooms where desks point toward an instructor.

To do that, educators create a maker space where students can explore and question content.

Libraries use maker spaces, the Carnegie Science Center has a new digital fabrication lab, and Mayor Bill Peduto held a roundtable discussion on the importance of them. Entrepreneurs use them to collaborate and have access to materials they otherwise couldn’t afford on their own.

Roger W / Flickr

City and county officials got the green light to assemble a team of data experts to make local government more efficient and customer-friendly for residents, track spending and projects and create a regional data center. 


“Making sure the city and county treat their information as an asset and make that information publicly available," said Bob Gradeck, project manager for the Western Pennsylvania Regional Data Center.

Keith Srakocic / AP Images

“A whirlwind” is how Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay describes his first year in the position. McLay marked the one-year anniversary of being appointed to the post Sept. 15, 2015. 

McLay told Essential Pittsburgh he was hired with some specific objectives; Implement data-driven community-oriented policing, start to repair police-community relations, and improve moral while restoring faith in the bureau’s internal leadership systems.

McLay said he was greeted with a positive attitude when he went to a Fraternal Order of Police picnic in the city between the time he was named and his first day on the job.

A group of state House lawmakers tasked with finding a way “get to yes” on medical marijuana legalization is winding down its work. A spokeswoman for Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) said recommendations would be delivered to GOP House Majority Leader Dave Reed in the next few weeks.

The House GOP’s working group was pulled together after a medical cannabis legalization measure passed the state Senate in May.

The Zombies To Perform Hit Songs Live For The First Time

Sep 14, 2015

It has been half a century since British Invasion rock group The Zombies released their second album Odessey and Oracle, which Rolling Stone named one of the top 100 albums of all time.  The band split before the album was officially released and never toured again.  35 years later, original members Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone reunited to play the material that never had a chance to be heard live, and the music is coming to Pittsburgh this fall.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Braddock Mayor John Fetterman announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate during a mid-day house party Monday.

“I would never pander to you by saying that I alone can fundamentally change Washington D.C. anymore than I could bring back the 14 furniture stores that Braddock once had,” he said,” But what I can promise you is that I will fight in a principled, collaborative way that my 14 years of service here in Braddock demonstrates.”

In August 2011, heavy rains triggered a flash flood on Washington Boulevard in the Highland Park neighborhood, killing four. Kimberly Griffith, 46, and her two daughters, Breanna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, died as the water rose above their car roof. Mary Saflin, 72, was swept away by rising water. City Council is expected Tuesday to approve a settlement for the victims' estates.

The payments total $375,000 for the two families. Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority reached a settlement with the families in July 2014.

Spend your weekends watching Bulgarian dancers perform at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, zebras grazing at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and resident artists singing at the Pittsburgh Opera -- all for free.

From Sept. 18 through Oct. 11, several of the region’s “cultural assets” will be participating in an annual free admissions program to  thank the community for its continued support of the arts and led by the Regional Asset District, or RAD.

allenran917 / Flickr

  Martha Isler, chairperson of the Pittsburgh Shade Tree Commission, has seen it all. 

Forgotten trees. Unwanted trees. Trees damaged by ill-advised pruning schedules. Trees poisoned by street salt. Someone once cut down a single tree to steal the bicycle it was chained to.

You can't just plant them and forget them, she said.

"Maintaining the health of those trees, that’s very important to us,” she said.

Alberto G / flickr

Throughout Pennsylvania parents of elementary and middle school students are opening their mailboxes today to find standardized test scores for their children and their schools that are much lower than they were last year.  The drop has been nearly unanimously attributed to a more difficult set of tests that are more closely linked to Pennsylvania’s Common Core standards than they have been in the past.

“I would caution any parent from over interpreting these scores…this is a new baseline,” Heidi Ondek, Superintendent, Quaker Valley School District said.  “It may take years before this is a reliable enough measure to base too much on instructionally.”

Matylda Czarnecka / Flickr

Last summer, officials indicted cybercriminal Evgeny Bogachev on charges he used two malicious computer programs to steal roughly $100 million since 2011.

To combat the growing risk of financial cyberattacks, the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities has created a task force to inform banking and financial institutions in the state about preventative measures, according to Ed Novak, department press secretary.

“What we’ve done is create a website on cybersecurity,” Novak said. “And on the website, if you’re ... a bank, or you’re a mortgage broker or you’re an investment firm, we have a list of ... industry and regulatory best practices.”

Kevin Hagen / AP Photo

The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office received a $254,437 grant to process previously untested sexual assault kits.

That money will go towards testing 160 kits the medical examiner’s office has backlogged and about 400 additional kits at police stations, hospitals and other facilities in the county.

KOMUnews / Flickr

  City officials aren’t collecting fines for false burglar and fire alarms despite state laws and city codes that require penalties after at least the fourth and second respective false alarm is received from the same building.

Birmingham Arts Partnership Visits Pittsburgh

Sep 11, 2015

Representatives from the Birmingham Arts Partnership from Birmingham, England are visiting Pittsburgh this week to take a look at how the steel city positions the arts to benefit the community.

Anna Williams, finance director for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, told Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer why the group chose Pittsburgh as one stop on their trip across America.

“I think Pittsburgh has many similarities to Birmingham,” Williams said. The two cities, despite being an ocean away, are comparable in size, both have an industrial past and both now have most of their economy in universities and the medical industry.

City of Asylum Pittsburgh will present its 11th annual Jazz Poetry Concert at 7:45 p.m. Saturday near the National Aviary in West Park.

The event will be free to the public, and critically acclaimed Pakistani poet and human rights activist Harris Khalique will read poetry to jazz music.

Khalique will read in the Urdu language, a language spoken in Pakistan, and English translations will be available.

Other artists will be reading their poetry during the concert as well.

Flight 93 Memorial Grows on 14th Anniversary

Sep 11, 2015
Katie Blackley / 90.5 FM WESA

The mother of Flight 93 victim Deora Bodley walked through the new visitor center this week before the public was invited in and described it as a “very moving rendition of the story of what happened September 11th.”   

Debby Borza’s daughter Deora was a college student on September 11, 2001.  She was traveling back home to San Francisco from New Jersey where she had been visiting friends, when the plane was hijacked as part of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.