Saturday, August 1, 2009

From Formerly Murky Sewers, Some Brightness

Was it something in the water?

The city administration, recently occupied by reaffirming inexplicable sweetheart deals and stiff-arming requests for information, changed its tune toward Iron City Brewing almost completely at a Water and Sewer Authority board meeting on Friday.

Tim Hickman of Iron City, meanwhile, continues to repel credibility at a rate resembling the brewery's sales chart for the past two decades.

Mayor Ravenstahl -- following a counterproductive course originally chosen by Tom Murphy and continued by Bob O'Connor -- permitted Iron City to amass huge delinquencies for water and sewer service. The Ravensthal administration compounded the problem by agreeing to forgive nearly $4 million (a crucial concession that kept inept and disingenuous management in place during a bankruptcy), in part by ignoring written conditions attached to some of the forgiveness, then threw in hundreds of thousands of dollars in public "economic development" subsidies to "save" the brewery and hundreds of jobs.

The brewery's owners -- one the son of a Chicago mobster who died six days out of prison, another recently indicted in Connecticut -- repaid these courtesies with a series of broken promises culminating in closure of a 148-year-old business and the loss of every last manufacturing job at the brewery.

PWSA director Michael Kenney, naturally, had declared that Iron City had complied with the "spirit" of the concessions and that he saw no reason to expect Iron City to repay most of what it had received. The Post-Gazette, Dowd and another elected official requested relevant documents and other information; the PWSA stonewalled; rumors surfaced concerning a politically tinged land development deal dependent on clearing the brewery's real estate of liens.

Council member Dowd went public. challenging Kenney's assertions that the city was legally entitled to no more than $600,000. A PWSA board meeting was rescheduled.

At the meeting, the mayor's finance director signaled a change in the administration's position: Instead of shoving cash into Iron City's pockets and quietly waiving repayment conditions, the city was now expressing outrage concerning the manner in which Iron City "let down the Water and Sewer Authority . . . let down the workers . . . let down the people of Pittsburgh."

Mr. Kenney leapt onto the new bandwagon, describing his earlier description of a $600,000 repayment obligation as a "mistake," backtracking from the decision to ignore the written conditions, and acknowledging that the dubious concessions arranged by the city adminstration earlier this year had not been approved by the PWSA board.

The 180-degree turn is welcome but curious. I still think the man to watch is Patrick Dowd -- maybe a play for even more than the million?. From another direction, has the city responded to the Post-Gazette's records request yet? If Len Boselovic could spare a moment while manhandling the entire state of West Virginia into submission, it would be interesting to see him reset his sights on Iron City Brewing and its dealings with the City of Pittsburgh. I don't believe we have heard the last from either Dowd or Boselovic, and it will be interesting to watch what occurs if they provoke Iron City to turn on the mayor.

A recap of the manner in which the city administration's about-face wrecked my predictions concerning coverage of Friday's PWSA board meeting:
PREDICTION: two-paragraph blurb, at most, in the Trib (which outdid itself with the Heather Bresch promotion story that mentioned neither her illusory degree nor the current, stock-roiling FDA scandal), with no mention of the Iron City angle
PUBLISHED: 16-graf story, leading with the Iron City situation (ahead of the revelation of a projected $2 million deficit)
PREDICTION: six-paragraph summary in the Post-Gazette, a bare-bones recounting of votes and reports with no context
PUBLISHED: 10-paragraph article, short on context but focused almost exclusively on Friday's Iron City developments (at the expense of the deficit revelation)
PREDICTION: an extensive report at The Comet
PUBLISHED: next to nothing. Just snippets from Dowd, P-G, Trib, which suggests The Comet did not attend (or perhaps did not wish to risk being perceived as a blowhard?)

Strike one, strike two, strike three. I guess I'm ready to bat cleanup for the Pirates.

NOT PREDICTED: Brian O'Neill's spot-on suggestion for a new Iron City slogan.

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