Noah Brode


 

Seeking to trim the fat off of the city's corpulent healthcare liability, Pittsburgh City Council gave preliminary approval to a bill that would launch an audit of the validity of all dependents enrolled in the city's health insurance plan.

At its committee meeting Wednesday, Council approved the $55,000 contract with a private firm in an 8-1 vote, the only "nay" coming from Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess.

Rachel R. Grozanick / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is working to snag $9.25 million in state grants for two major new projects in Downtown and the East End, as well as for two smaller developments in Oakland and the West End.

On Tuesday, the URA submitted to city council legislation that would allow the agency to apply for the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grants from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's budget office. The Corbett administration has already confirmed that the grants will be awarded if the enabling legislation passes council.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke at Duquesne University Tuesday afternoon on topics ranging from his childhood in segregated Georgia to his 22-year tenure on the nation's highest court.

Thomas is the only black justice to serve on the Supreme Court after Thurgood Marshall. Thomas filled Marshall's vacated position on the bench.

Born in Pin Point, Ga. in 1948, Thomas said he grew up in a poor black community, but he was pushed toward academic success by his grandfather and the nuns at his Catholic school.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O'Connor introduced a bill Tuesday to repeal a 1995 law that set up a special "imprest fund" from which the mayor could withdraw up to $10,000 at a time for travel expenses.

O'Connor said he is not suggesting that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl or any other city leader used the fund illegitimately. Rather, he said his legislation simply requires the mayor to file for travel expenses via the same process used by all other city employees.

Allegheny County has reported to the state government on the reforms it has implemented at the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center following a Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) investigation into the alleged physical abuse of a child inmate in January.

Now the county must wait at least a few days for the DPW to rule on the status of the Shuman Center's license as a juvenile detention facility.

The license could be downgraded to a provisional status or the inmates could even be transferred, according to DPW spokeswoman Donna Morgan.

Citing the high number of establishments that subvert the city's higher liquor license fees by simply transferring licenses in from other municipalities, Pittsburgh City Council members said they're crafting legislation to substantially increase the city's license transfer fee.

At its Wednesday meeting, Council ordered a post agenda meeting to discuss the issue with experts. If passed, such legislation might either stem Pittsburgh's rising number of liquor licenses by discouraging transfers or serve to help fill the city's coffers.

90.5 WESA's Weekend Edition host Noah Brode takes a closer look at some interesting events going on in the Pittsburgh area this weekend:

Pittsburgh City Council unanimously approved a $7.2 million bill to purchase new police vehicles and other additions to the city fleet, setting up the legislation for a final vote next week.

For the Bureau of Police, the list includes 31 new patrol cars, 12 new police motorcycles, nine unmarked cars and four K-9 vehicles.

Noah Brode/90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council has given preliminary approval to legislation that would divert an administrative fee for off-duty police details into a special trust fund, cleaning up a process that led to the February slush fund scandal and the ouster of Police Chief Nathan Harper.

Under a bill from Council President Darlene Harris, the city would finally codify a fee to companies that hire Pittsburgh police officers for special event duties.

The Allegheny County Council voted on Tuesday night to nix a few controversial changes that a county governing board had made to the property assessment appeals process.

The Board of Property Assessment and Review (BPAR) had changed its regulations in mid-March to allow only attorneys to represent property owners appealing reassessments, rather than certified appraisers, realtors and other professionals.

Real estate professionals came out in force Tuesday to denounce the BPAR revisions.

As Pittsburgh continues to grapple with hundreds of millions of dollars in unfunded health care liability for current and former city employees, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration has introduced a bill that would hire a private firm to investigate the eligibility of employees' and retirees' dependents.

The proposed $55,000 contract with HMS Employer Solutions of Texas would allow the company "to conduct an eligibility audit of all employee and retiree dependents enrolled in the City's healthcare program."

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb withdrew from the city's mayoral race Monday, instead opting to endorse former Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner.

With five Democrats vying for the party's nomination before today's announcement, Lamb cited the need for clarity in a race that has been "muddied" since the March withdrawal of incumbent mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

"I don't want the conversation for our next leader to be generalities," said Lamb. "We need a real dialog to ensure we get the best possible candidate for the job."

Wednesday is National Walking Day, and organizers in Pittsburgh are hoping to get people in the good habit of taking a daily constitutional as warmer spring weather begins in the region.

Sandy McCurdy, board member of the American Heart Association, said walking is the easiest way to reduce one's risk for heart disease and stroke — two diseases that account for a combined 870,000 deaths in the United States each year.

Pittsburgh City Council has given preliminary approval to legislation that sets up an account for a bike-share program in the city slated for 2014, although no city funds would be used for the $3 million initiative.

The committee vote Wednesday advanced two bills regarding "Pittsburgh Bike Share" to a full Council vote on Tuesday, where final approval is expected.

People may soon be able to charge purchases to their personal accounts with the tips of their fingers, thanks to a new invention from four students at Carnegie Mellon University.

Brian Groudan, Kelly Lau-Kee, Umang Patel and Christian Reyes came together in their senior year to create PayTango, a new technology that identifies a person's fingerprint for use as a human debit card.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Citing his long record of public service, a local state senator and four labor unions endorsed former Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner for the Pittsburgh mayoral race.

On the steps of the City-County Building on Grant Street Wednesday morning, State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) announced his support for Wagner. Ferlo had filed nominating papers for the mayoral race but withdrew less than a week later.

Pittsburgh City Council District 7

The Pittsburgh Planning Commission is reviewing legislation that would create incentives for communications companies to conceal cell phone towers and antennas within regular urban structures.

A Pittsburgh resident originally proposed the idea to District 7 Councilman Patrick Dowd, who introduced the measure to Council on Tuesday.

District 7 communications manager Nathaniel Hanson said the legislation would encourage companies to hide their new antennas within the most workaday buildings and objects.

The National Map, U.S. Geological Survey

A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) delineates how the construction of new roads and pipelines for Marcellus Shale natural gas development and other energy industries can mince up local forests, leading to smaller ecosystems and limiting wildlife.

Using aerial imagery, USGS researchers found that developers laid 140 miles of new roads and eight miles of new pipelines for the sake of 647 Marcellus Shale gas wells drilled in Allegheny County from 2004 to 2010.

Hunters killed roughly 343,110 deer in Pennsylvania during the 2012-2013 season, according to the state's Game Commission, a yearly increase of about 2 percent.

That includes roughly 133,860 antlered deer and 209,250 antlerless deer, both increases over the previous season.

Joe Neville, director of information and education for the Game Commission, said the numbers are on track with his agency's annual goal of harvesting about one-third of the state's population of roughly one million deer.

Noah Brode/90.5 WESA

It was one year ago today that the North Shore Connector light rail line began taking passengers under the Allegheny River.

90.5 WESA Weekend Watch

Mar 23, 2013

Saturday, March 30:

First, the downtown gallery “Space” is hosting a reading entitled “Mean Girls” tonight at 7:00. The readings are meant to raise awareness and increase discussion of the problem of bullying among teenage girls, and the literature works in tandem with an ongoing art exhibit of the same name.  Tonight’s readings begin at 7:00 at the “Space” gallery on Liberty Avenue downtown.

A new Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization has been created to independently certify companies that develop shale natural gas based on their adherence to 15 pollution control standards.

The Center for Sustainable Shale Development was created with funding and input from southwestern Pennsylvania foundations, gas companies and environmental groups.

"Unusual bedfellows in this day and age, to be sure," said Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments.

With a special board vote on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) finalized new contract agreements with roughly 6,000 educators and 400 coaches across its network of 14 state-owned universities, ending a saga of negotiations lasting nearly two years.

The employees had been working without contracts since midway through 2011. In the autumn of 2012, the union authorized a strike, but no action was taken.

Two bills up for full votes in the state legislature would prevent municipalities from challenging the tax-exempt statuses of nonprofit organizations by transferring that power to the General Assembly.

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution condemning Senate Bill 4 and its counterpart, House Bill 724. The former is up for a Senate vote on Wednesday.

Because the bill would change the state constitution, it would need to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by a voter referendum.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Local leaders in business and politics highlighted the recent successes of downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday as the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) released its annual report for 2012.

For one, Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he's happy with several new developments in the Golden Triangle, including a new skyscraper currently being built by PNC Bank and the revamped Market Square. He said some people were skeptical of the Market Square renovation at first.

"Now, they're (angry) that they can't get in for lunch or dinner," Ravenstahl said.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has threatened to fire a police detective who allegedly placed a stun gun against the neck of a man who fell down before he was arrested for public drunkenness on Saturday.

Detective Frank Rende was working an off-duty security detail on the South Side during Saturday's St. Patrick's Day weekend festivities when the incident occurred.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said tests show the stun gun wasn't fired, which supports Rende's version of the incident as spelled out in a criminal complaint against 27-year-old Mark Keyser.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh officials gathered outside Colteryahn Dairy in Carrick on Monday to announce a $50,000 study of redevelopment options for the 1600 block of Brownsville Road.

The four- to six-month study of the so-called "Dairy District" by Desmone Architects is meant to attract private investment, said Stephen Glassman, president of the Design Center, which is funding the research along with the city and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.  

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

There are now seven candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Pittsburgh Mayor.

Joining Bill Peduto and Michael Lamb, who have been running for months, are State Senator Jim Ferlo, State Representative Jake Wheatley, City Council President Darlene Harris, Community Activist A.J. Richardson and former Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner. 

Wagner filed his nominating petitions two-and-a-half hours before Tuesday’s deadline.

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Monday he won't nominate a new, full-time police chief before he leaves his post at year's end, instead leaving that decision to his mayoral successor.

It appears acting chief Regina McDonald, who assumed command after former chief Nathan Harper's forced resignation last month, will continue on an interim basis at least until the first months of 2014.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

Biking advocates gathered in Bakery Square on Monday to announce plans for a bike-share system to start in Pittsburgh next year that would feature 500 bicycles stationed at 50 special bike docks across the city.

Slated for a spring or summer 2014 opening, a subscriber could choose a short-term membership of one day or a long-term plan of one year. The user can then check out one of the sturdy bikes from one docking station and deposit it at any of the other 49 destinations.

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