Transparency & ‘rotten straw’

Transparency & ‘rotten straw’

A local newspaper editorial of Feb. 13 demands what we called for on Feb. 4: Full transparency in the ongoing investigation into the Jan. 28 collapse of Pittsburgh’s Fern Hollow Bridge.

As we noted a week after the collapse, the full reports of the inspection regimens on this span and others nationwide long have been “locked down” because of supposed national security concerns.

The rationale is that would-be terrorists could target compromised bridges for attack. Only summaries of such inspections have been available.

Not only does such official secrecy turn motorists into sitting ducks – or in this case, falling ducks – the editorial points out that, considering the span over Frick Park now is destroyed, any national security concerns clearly are moot.

Yet the inspection reports apparently remain on “lockdown.” And while the rationale for holding those full reports in abeyance might have had the best of intentions before the collapse, it was thin.

Now, there can be no valid rationale for such opaqueness – other than to protect those who failed in the responsibilities to protect the public from obvious nonfeasance.

Another local newspaper editorial, this one from Tuesday, urges the city to do something to “keep its emergency personnel in the city they serve, and whose residents pay their salaries.”

That, in light of an arbiter’s ruling that ended a residency requirement for city firefighters. As similar restriction was struck down for city police in 2017.

“The city can, and should, provide incentives for public safety workers to stay in, or move to, the city of Pittsburgh. Such incentives could include low-interest housing loans, affordable housing or salary bonuses for residency.

“The city could even tie incentives to residency in certain neighborhoods where the services of public safety workers are most needed, and their credibility most at stake,” the editorial states.

“Other cities have provided residency incentives, why shouldn’t Pittsburgh?”

Because bribing your public safety employees to live in the city ignores the proverbial canaries in the coal mine that, because of the city’s deterioration, long have been chirping “Flee! Flee!”

What’s next?

Perhaps “incentivizing” Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers to keep their children in city schools? (Anecdotes abound of a growing number of teachers who have pulled their children out of an atrophying system beset with continually falling academic performance but rising in-school violence.)

In far too many ways – from over-regulation to failed public services (think of snow removal as one of many), from failed-public schools to self-dealing city councilors (think of their attempts to give themselves exorbitant raises), to name but four – long-entrenched one-party rule keeps failing.

So, in an attempt to reverse course, we should bribe firefighters and police to live in the city? How about using that money to help address the core problems that make living in Pittsburgh so unattractive?

And, lest we forget, firefighters who might choose to live outside the city still will spend extended time in it given their 24-hour-at-a-time shift schedules.

Pittsburgh has a lousy history of confronting its challenges head-on. And too often it proposes what we’ll call “straw solutions.” But all that typically leads to only one thing – rotten straw.

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