Says the contrarian, Part 1 …

Says the contrarian, Part 1 …

So close to the vest was the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins were secretly negotiating with a storied Boston sports and entertainment mogul to purchase the NHL franchise that no local media broke the story. That cap feather goes to an intrepid Wall Street Journal reporter.

But the dealing raises an important public policy issue:

Considering public money – gambling proceeds, in part — is being used to pay off the construction bonds for what now is known as PPG Paints Arena, and considering the franchise was handed development rights to the old Civic Arena site, gratis, the public should have been made aware of what was going on.

And at the outset, not when the deal — valued at something not far south of $1 billion – was pretty much signed, sealed and delivered by the buyer and seller. (The National Hockey League still must sign off on the sale but that’s pretty much considered pro forma).

The same public that has much skin in this game – from forced ownership of the Penguins’ arena to being turned into venture capitalists by yet another tony baron of sport, not to forget yet another big bank feeding at the public trough – had every right to know what was up from the get-go and to determine whether or not it was being skinned.

Consider that a rhetorical ponderance.

Yet again the absolute myth that municipal authorities in Pittsburgh (or anywhere, for that matter) are “independent” has been laid bare.

As the Tribune-Review reports it:

“The organization suing Pittsburgh over the removal of the Columbus statue at Schenley Park has said in an amended lawsuit that Mayor Bill Peduto improperly influenced the art commission’s vote to take down the 13-foot tall bronze and granite statue.”

Continues the Trib report:

“The Italian Sons and Daughters of America said in the filing … in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court that Peduto threatened members of the commission with removal from the board if they did not vote the way he wanted.

“’The process has been totally contaminated by Mayor Peduto who influenced the vote at the Art Commission and thereby violated the [plaintiff’s] due process rights,’ the complaint said.”

The city’s not commenting, of course, citing “pending litigation.”

But the case further highlights the sham that “independent authorities” represent. Politicians appoint cronies and toadies to do their political bidding on these quasi-government bodies. If the appointees balk, out comes the pols’ cudgel, held high. If the appointees don’t cower in submission, they’re fired and/or not reappointed.

The only way to counter such machinations is for authority board members to speak out promptly if and when their political benefactors – and would-be puppeteers – attempt to exert such untoward influence.

If enough do, it could go a long into returning some semblance of independence to those municipal authorities. Or, in the least, it will publicly embarrass the puppet-masters.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).