Notes on the (troubling) state of things

Notes on the (troubling) state of things

The City of Pittsburgh real-estate manager sold himself an under-priced tax-delinquent home — effectively becoming the seller and the buyer, the Post-Gazette reports.

At least one other prospective bidder, an Upper St. Clair duo, appears to have been shut out of the process. And that short-circuited a required public auction, the newspaper says.

The sales price was $2,500 for the Beechview house and property; the shut-out duo says it was prepared to pay up to $40,000.

It smacks of a clear conflict of interest, despite the fact that an internal city investigation cleared the city official. The city says it might take another look-see.

Sound public policy demands fairness and transparency. If any public processes are rigged, or even appear to be rigged, the public can have no trust in the processes.

Here’s to a planned city controller audit disinfecting this process.

Speaking of public policy and public trust, the Duquesne City School District, operating in state receivership, paid out $300,000 last year to settle negligence claims involving a teacher aide’s sexual abuse of a 9-year-old girl.

The P-G reports the school board did not have to authorize settlement. Neither is the settlement noted in any of the state receiver’s business meeting minutes.

The newspaper reports that district Solicitor William Andrews said a resolution (to approve the settlement) does not appear in the minutes because the district’s insurer paid its share of the settlement, not the district itself.

Conveniently, missing from the solicitor’s rationale is one pertinent fact – this is a public school district expending public resources. After all, taxpayers footed the bill for the insurance policy, did they not?

State receivership should absolve neither the state nor the district from being transparent.

Here we go again? The Irish Times first reported that Ireland’s Aer Lingus airline is considering Pittsburgh for a nonstop flight to Dublin.

Which, given the proclivity of corporate wealthfare being handed out by the Allegheny County Airport Authority, forces this question:

How much public money will be thrown at the Irish carrier to “win” the route and extend the authority’s string of paid “progress”?

By the way, Aer Lingus is owned by the same company that owns British Airways. Oh, and the former posted an operating profit of just more than $120 million (104 million euros) for the six months ended June 30, nearly double the same period last year.

By all means, let’s open the public purse, right?

In other airline news, American Airlines says that, come Dec. 18, it will end its daily nonstop flights between Pittsburgh and Boston. JetBlue and Delta will continue to offer their nonstop daily services.

American says poor demand no longer justifies its Pittsburgh-Boston flights. What, the Airport Authority didn’t offer to subsidize the route?

For anyone who thought the perversion of taxpayer-funded stadiums for the barons of sport had abated, witness what’s going on in Seattle and Safeco Field, home to baseball’s Mariners.

Government there is mulling whether to pour hundreds of millions of dollars for upgrades to the 19-year-old facility. Among the publicly financed amenities being sought – a four-slice toaster for the American League franchise clubhouse priced at $501.

Then there’s $50,000 for new furniture for each of the ballpark’s 60 luxury suites.

And let’s not forget adding on to a parking garage with a per space cost of up to $100,000.

As Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat (who detailed the aforementioned numbers in an Aug. 3 column) put it:

“Look, the public owns this stadium. So like it or not, we have an interest in helping fix it up. It’s one reason that subsidizing sports billionaires is such an unending sucker’s bet. Once they lure you, you’re on the hook for good.”

By the way, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Heinz Field, built with hundreds of millions of snookered taxpayer dollars, are 17 years old.

Stay tuned.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).