Filed Under: So-Called Radio Humor || By
Category: So-Called Radio Humor || By
It's been a busy week, but luckily, we have sponsors like the new Pittsburgh version of "Family Feud," debuting soon on WRCT-TV:
"Family Feud, Pittsburgh Style" (952 KB, MP3)
Category: Pointless Digressions, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
(Editor's Note: This is an adventure in navel-gazing. People who don't care about listening to me bloviate should probably go somewhere more fun.)
. . .
On Wednesday morning, before I'd even finished my first cup of coffee, an article from the Post-Gazette got up my nose.
It talked about an incident at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's main branch in Oakland. On one of the library's entrances, someone using spray paint scrawled a phrase from T.S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."
Most of the article, headlined "Line from T.S. Eliot poem intrigues literature buffs," speculated on why that particular poem was chosen, noting that it had "stirred the whimsy of the city's literature buffs."
Over at The Burgh Blog, PittGirl was aggravated, too. She imagined the internal monologue of the vandal or vandals: "This is why we do what we do. The chance to be famous. To be somebody. The chance to see our art in the newspaper and to have that newspaper speak to college literature professors about what our motivation might have been for that particular choice of a quote."
Yeah, that's about how I reacted, too.
. . .
So I emailed the author:
Perhaps I'm too cynical, but I find nothing intriguing or poetic about someone spray-painting the steps of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
As a journalist, I understand that this story was worth covering. But with respect, I question whether your piece in this morning's paper struck the right notes. I had to read to the eighth paragraph before you called this incident what it really is --- vandalism. (The Tribune-Review nailed it in the first three words.)
If a bank robber quotes Shakespeare after pistol-whipping a teller, I wouldn't compliment him on his tortured artistic soul.
By quoting literary experts, you're granting legitimacy to something that is essence a crime --- and one against an important public institution. Our RAD tax money will be spent to scrub away someone else's "art" when it could be spent on after-school or literacy programs.
When I think of the few hundred dollars that it costs Carnegie Library each time some "street artist" makes a "meta-allusion" to T.S. Eliot, it doesn't "stir my whimsy." It just makes me mad.
I set out to write a human interest story with a personal twist. On its own, an instance of vandalism simply isn't newsworthy.
Because it was a "riff" (to use my editor's words) and not standard journalism, I took full liberties to indulge my own views.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, and I understand more where you're coming from.
I realize that we're coming at this from very different viewpoints. But as you work on your thesis, I think it's important to keep in mind the feelings of the people whose property is being transgressed by "graffiti artists," and yes, I'm using scare quotes, because I don't consider it "art."
I hope you're interviewing some of the recipients of this "art," because many of them feel violated, just the way someone feels after their home is burglarized.
All meaningful art is transgressive of some boundaries, but where a provocative poem, painting or sculpture might disrupt someone's emotional viewpoint, graffiti "art" causes actual physical damage to their possessions.
Maybe the victims of "graffiti art" get upset because they have an unnatural attachment to their objects, but maybe they also get upset because they're on a fixed income, and the graffiti "artist" has just cost them time and money they can ill afford.
I can understand why a graffiti "artist" might lash out at an institution like the police or a major corporation, because they represent authority figures and possible repression.
Targeting a library or a private homeowner, however, seems less like a statement about society, and more like needless cruelty and thoughtlessness.
Most artists create to express something in their souls; if graffiti vandals are "artists," and feel the need to inflict pain on people to express themselves, then there's something very ugly inside them.
Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By
And now, we pause for a
transparent attempt to take your money an important message of interest.
I noticed the other day that Shop 'n Save, Foodland, Giant Eagle and even my local grocery store, The House of Rancid Lunchmeat, are all selling reusable grocery bags made out of canvas.
And I said to myself, "How can I
cash in on this trend help conserve our country's precious natural resources?"
Introducing Tube City Online's answer to the grocery bag problem. It's also suitable if you need a matched set of "hunky suitcases" for your summer vacation.
I'm making a whopping 98 cents on each one, so please, feel free to buy several. Send 'em to your relatives. Take 'em to Whole Foods for a little reverse snob appeal, and when you see the free-range, organically grown, carbon-neutral, sustainable citrus soft drinks, say, "Hey! Ain't yinz got no Lemon Blennd?!"
Category: Pointless Digressions || By
Category: Another Viewpoint || By
City Controller Ray Malinchak sends along his thoughts on recent comments made by an Almanac reader:
First, kindly do not attribute the shutting off the street lights statements to the city elders. Only one elder made the statement -- the city controller. Not one other elected official contributed to, or endorsed this (alleged insane) option (idea).
In addition, an alternate abhorrent option was offered to terminate staff and thereby reduce expenditures by $500,000. Please be advised that the city is self-insured and will have to reimburse the Commonwealth for all unemployment benefits. Also, the city is obligated to pay other termination benefits specified by collective bargaining agreements. Hence, it would take over a year for the city to realize any benefits from staff reductions.
I do not recall it being revealed that the controller responded to Mayor Brewster's delineation of $500,000 of unforeseen divergences. Mayor Brewster accurately described a list of unexpected and unbudgeted discrepancies totaling about $500,000. However it was not revealed that the controller indicated that a $1.25 million reserve (in CDs and interest bearing devices) is insufficient to retire a $1.5 million Tax Anticipation Loan due by year end. Therefore, the mayor has to discover another $250,000 to satisfy this additional deficit.
It is not over yet, next kindly move on to historical and consistent deficits each year since I have been controller (i.e., budget expenses that exceed revenues). These "customary" deficits are usually more than $600,000 each year as documented by the independent and publicly available annual audit reports. The controller projects more than a $600,000 deficit for this year.
Finally when you add up the above grief, it totals $1.35 million in contrast to the $500,000 deficit reported that was ascribed exclusively to unexpected and unbudgeted expenses.
Now back to insane ideas (options) to reconcile a projected $1.3 million deficit:
- increase the earned income tax back to 2 percent
- increase property tax by about 30 percent
- terminate a significant number of employees
- reduce all energy costs, liquidate about $2 million of assets (if the city has any liquid assets of that magnitude), or
- slither into the Act 47 "Municipalities Financial Recovery Act"?
None of the above is palatable -- even shutting off street lights. In conflict with reality, several public officials have vowed that they would never raise taxes or support Act 47 proceeding or reduce public services. Can one translate that into supporting mitigation of public illumination?
Act 47 lists ten separate entities that can request a determination of municipal financial distress from DCED Secretary Dennis Yablonsky. The first entity listed is the DCED itself and the last or 10th listed is the Chief Executive (i.e. mayor) of the municipality. Unfortunately and stealthily, the city has already satisfied one criterion for Act 47, e.g. a deficit for three consecutive years of more than 1 percent of the budget, excluding one-time revenues.
Mayor Brewster has preformed magnificently to date in keeping distant from drastic measures. Can this continue? Only time and the pending early intervention study by Delta Financial will determine the financial destiny of our beloved city.
Category: News || By
"Don't obsess over what people think. No job is beneath you. Tell the truth." --- Randy Pausch, 1960-2008
Category: Events, General Nonsense, Mon Valley Miscellany || By
If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what's an empty desk the sign of?
Here's some of the clutter on my desk, and on my mind:
. . .
Knowing The Angles: A video on a website called "TeacherTube" spotlights Brian See, a math teacher at McKeesport Area High School.
See demonstrates how he teaches the Pythagorean theorem to his students:
TeacherTube, launched last year, allows elementary and high school instructors to upload instructional videos that demonstrate techniques they use to reach students. You can read more on the project's website.
. . .
Diner Beware: For the first time in the 12 year history of Tube City Online, I've had to withdraw a restaurant review.
I'm doing it with great reluctance, because --- as I've pointed out before --- I am not an impartial reporter. I am very biased toward new businesses in the Mon-Yough area, and I want to see them succeed.
But I also try to be an honest broker of information. My very unscientific process of restaurant reviewing includes visiting once by myself, visiting again with friends, and talking to other people who've eaten there to get their impressions.
By the way, I pay for meals myself, which is not a big ordeal because I like to eat out, and besides, very few of the restaurants around the Mon Valley are what anyone would call "expensive."
Also, I'm not fooling myself into thinking that anyone cares what I think of their restaurant ... but I hold out some small hope that people using the Youghiogheny River bike trail or visiting relatives might appreciate a little bit of guidance.
. . .
A Few Nice Words: Speaking of the bike trail, a recent visitor has a few nice words for Our Fair City.
. . .
Department of Corrections: The Post-Gazette finally takes notice of the sale of the People's Building ... and gets the details wrong.
It wasn't Western Pennsylvania National Bank, for gawd's sake. It was People's Union Bank and Trust, a competing bank. WPNB was on the opposite corner.
Gee whiz, if you're going to rehash stories the Almanac had a month ago, at least copy the information correctly.
But I'm not going to be too harsh on the P-G, because the Daily News has repeatedly mixed up one of the details, too, saying that the People's Building once housed "a branch" of People's Union Bank and Trust.
Nope. The building was the headquarters of People's Union Bank. Yes, Virginia, it may be hard to believe, but McKeesport was once important enough to boast the headquarters of three fairly important banks --- People's, WPNB and McKeesport National.
Admittedly, People's and MNB were small by modern standards. Still, it chafes me to see these kinds of details botched. (I probably need more important things to worry about.)
People's disappeared in Union National Bank in roughly 1970; three years later, WPNB became Equibank, which is also now gone; and MNB merged into Three Rivers Bank, which is now part of Huntington Bank.
I'm allowed to criticize other writers, because as you know, I newver mak mistaeks.
. . .
Save the Date: Kelly Stanczak of McKeesport Relay for Life writes to alert us of their next upcoming fundraiser, to be held Aug. 9 and 10 at McKeesport Area High School's Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium.
Registration costs $100 for eight to 15 people, and includes T-shirts and other materials. Participants take turns walking or running around the stadium track for 24 hours; between laps, they're invited to enjoy entertainment, food and games.
It's a nice, healthy outdoor activity that really doesn't cost much, and benefits cancer research and treatment that affects patients from the Mon-Yough area.
The Relay for Life is also selling luminaria in memory of people who died of cancer or in honor of cancer survivors; luminaria can be ordered in advance or purchased during the event. The suggested donation starts at $10.
Cancer survivors can also join the Relay for Life to participate in a "Celebration of Life Lap" on Aug. 9, followed by a free dinner in their honor.
The Relay for Life is open to the public at starts at 12 noon Aug. 9. Visit the website for local volunteers or call Denise Fry at (412) 919-1041.
. . .
To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Recreation Committee is hosting two free concerts at Renzie Park this weekend. Tomorrow night, enjoy a performance by the U.S. Air Force Band; Sunday night, it's a "Beatles Tribute" by a group called "Come Together." Both concerts get underway at 7 p.m., and all seating is on the lawn in front of the bandshell, so bring a blanket or a folding chair. Visit the committee's website to see other events.
Category: News || By
City officials are seeking new bids from garbage haulers in an effort to cut costs and save money.
A legal advertisement was placed in the Daily News this week seeking proposals, which could be voted on at the Sept. 3 city council meeting.
It's not a sign that the city is dissatisfied with Scottdale-based Greenridge Waste Services, its current collector, but it is a sign that an economy move is in full swing.
The Greenridge contract will automatically renew on Sept. 30 unless the city chooses to opt out.
McKeesport is staring at a half-million budget shortfall caused by several unexpected problems, including rapidly rising expenses for health care and fuel, and lost revenue from a proposed cell phone tower in the Seventh Ward that's yet to be built because of objections from nearby residents.
Mayor Jim Brewster says the city currently pays Greenridge about $1.2 million per year for trash collection. The price is guaranteed through 2009.
Last month, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl pitched his city's services --- including fire protection and trash collection --- to other municipalities in Allegheny County.
McKeesport City Administrator Dennis Pittman said the city would be interested in receiving a proposal for trash pickup from Pittsburgh, which already collects residential garbage in Wilkinsburg Borough.
The three-year agreement between Wilkinsburg and Pittsburgh is saving the smaller community an estimated $1 million annually.
But Pittman says the city also expects to receive bids from more conventional, private-sector haulers, such as Waste Management.
And he and other city officials cautioned residents against assuming that a new hauler will be selected.
Small trash collection companies might not have the capability to collect from all of the city's nearly 10,000 households without adding equipment and personnel, they said, and there's some doubt that they could ramp up their capacity between September --- when a potential new contract would be awarded --- and Jan. 1 of next year.
On a related note, a study published Sunday in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review questions whether the deal between Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg is really providing any benefit.
Authored by Jake Haulk and Eric Montarti of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, the study suggests that city of Pittsburgh taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of trash collection in the neighboring borough.
While that city is charging Wilkinsburg $120 per household for residential waste pickup, Haulk and Montarti estimate the real cost to Pittsburgh is about $202 per household.
They argue that because of inefficiency and pension obligations, Pittsburgh's municipal trash collection services are more expensive than those a private hauler would provide.
Headquartered in Mt. Lebanon, the Allegheny Institute is a conservative/libertarian think tank funded in large part by grants from charities controlled by publisher and philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife, owner of the Tribune-Review, Daily News, and scores of other weekly and daily newspapers around the Pittsburgh area.
Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
I've tried a couple of times to write something about the slaying of Kia Johnson, and I just don't have the words.
In case you're out of town or don't follow the news, Johnson is the 18-year-old city resident who was murdered, apparently by someone who wanted to take the unborn baby from her uterus.
The baby survived; Johnson's remains were found on the floor of a Wilkinsburg apartment rented by the main suspect in her killing, Andrea Curry-Demus.
Her body was badly decomposed, and the medical examiner's office says they may not be able to determine an exact cause of death because of that.
Johnson's corpse was discovered after reporters covering the arrest of Curry-Demus visited the apartment, noticed the smell, and called the cops.
No, the neighbors didn't report it. Surely they heard Kia Johnson crying out in agony; if not, they had to have to realized from the odor that something was terribly wrong.
But they let her body lie there, face down, on the floor, rotting.
That's depraved enough --- and we haven't even gotten to the case that police are building against Curry-Demus, who's been charged with homicide and kidnapping in connection with Johnson's murder.
County police allege that Curry-Demus met Johnson, found out she was pregnant, lured her to her apartment, and cut the baby from her womb. Whether Johnson was dead before the child was removed is a thought too horrible to contemplate.
Curry-Demus' public defender calls it "a sad state of affairs." I realize he's her attorney, but that doesn't begin to describe this case.
Another attorney, who defended Curry-Demus 18 years ago when she stole another infant, told reporters that she wasn't in her right mind at the time.
Should I laugh or cry? No, she's clearly not in her right mind, and yet if Curry-Demus' lawyers are going to try for an insanity defense, they've got a "catch-22" situation --- you would clearly have to be crazy to do what she's accused of doing, but it was done with such cold-blooded ruthlessness that it's hard to argue that she's insane. If she did it, she seemed to be in control of herself at all times.
Personally, I'm not a big advocate for the death penalty --- I don't think it has any deterrent factor, and I think too many innocent people have been found recently on death row --- but if any case cried out for the suspect to be put to death, this one qualifies.
As for what the case says about modern society, well, society has always had depraved people, back to the day when Cain slew Abel.
The only consolation is that Kia Johnson is hopefully in a place without cruel, indifferent, horrible monsters, like the one who treated her with such brutality and disrespect.
And my fervent prayer for the child she never got to see is that he'll get a good upbringing from her family or from foster parents who love him.
They say that living well is the best revenge. I hope that Kia Johnson's little boy lives very well, and I hope her killer spends a long time in a very dark, cold place.
. . .
Memorial contributions for Kia Johnson should be sent to PNC Bank, 560 Lysle Blvd., McKeesport 15132.
Category: Events, News || By
Category: News || By
Miscellaneous leftover news items that we have to use up before they go bad:
. . .
Five new city police officers are expected to hit the streets next year, with the assistance of a state grant.
Frank P. Durante, Floyd M. Gault, Bryan P. Morris, Julian Thomas and Justin Toth, all of the city, are entering the Allegheny County Police Academy and expect to graduate in January, officials said.
City council this month approved a deal with the state to fund training expenses for the five, and obtain reimbursement from the state.
In a separate move, council also OK'd an application to the U.S. Justice Department for $14,154 to help pay for four new police cars.
The new cruisers will replace cars which have been damaged in accidents, or which have racked up so many miles as to be unrepairable.
Three of the cars are going into the patrol fleet; the fourth, a four-wheel-drive vehicle, will be used by police Chief Joe Pero, whose current car will be added to the police motor pool, officials said.
The federal grant will pay for the first year's lease payments on the four new vehicles.
. . .
The former Penn-McKee Hotel and Eagles lodge are among 30 blighted properties that city council has approved for demolition.
Council voted 5-0 to accept the recommendations of Building Inspector Chris House and Fire Chief Kevin Lust that the properties are dangerous and pose a health and safety danger.
The condemned buildings include four houses in the 2900 block of Grover Avenue, three in the 1100 block of Craig Street, and others throughout the city, including several in 10th Ward.
As reported by the Almanac last month, the Eagles lodge on Market Street was the former home of a prominent local doctor, Henry W. Hitzrot, and was built in 1892 at a cost that would top $1 million in 2008 dollars.
The building was sold to the local lodge, or "aerie," of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1911. That lodge disbanded more than 15 years ago for lack of members.
A non-profit corporation called Museum Hair Institute now owns the Hitzrot house. State records indicate the principal officer of MHI is Henry W. Russell, and according to a report in the Pittsburgh Business Times, MHI recently obtained a $300,000 mortgage on the building.
The Penn-McKee, built in the 1920s, was the site of the first debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon and once boasted a nightclub and a ballroom in demand for weddings, formal gatherings, meetings and other events.
After years of decline, the hotel became a boardinghouse for transients and the indigent and closed in 1985.
Although county tax records list a corporation called "See Bee Inc." as the hotel's owner, a White Oak evangelist told the Almanac last month that he is trying to save the building.
No demolition date for any of the structures has been set.
Category: Pointless Digressions || By
I don't usually write about my personal life at the Almanac, but I've been absent for a few days, and I thought I should explain. I've been a little bit busy.
After nearly seven years, I've left the University of Pittsburgh and taken another job.
And although I don't like to mix my professional life with what I do at the Almanac, I will give you a little clue where I'm working now:
Audio Clue No. 1, 900K, MP3
Audio Clue No. 2, 1.4MB, MP3
Category: Cartoons || By
Category: Politics, Rants a.k.a. Commentary, Wild World of Sports || By
I like John McCain. I don't agree with many of his political positions --- OK, we're both in favor of the American flag, Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet --- but I generally respect and admire the man. I've read Faith of My Fathers and I've followed his career for years.
That's why, for the past decade or so, I've found McCain's public life kind of sad. In a desperate attempt to convince the president's hardcore partisans that he's suddenly become a Bible-thumping, big-government neo-conservative, McCain is saying a lot of things that he clearly doesn't believe, and he's cozying up to a lot of people he never had much use for before.
Yes, I know all politicians do this. Barack Obama isn't playing nice with Hillary Clinton because he's suddenly forgotten all of the nastiness of the Democratic primaries, and he didn't vote for the president's FISA legislation because he suddenly believed the administration should be allowed to tap phones without a warrant.
But on the other hand, much of McCain's appeal has been built on his willingness not to behave like a politician --- to say what's on his mind, even when it didn't endear him to the left or the right.
Alas, now he seems willing to say anything to get elected. To quote Jon Stewart, the Straight Talk Express has been rerouted through B.S. Town.
My old cow-orker Jonathan Potts has the skinny on the latest from the Arizona "maverick":
John McCain told Jon Delano that the Pittsburgh Steelers helped him endure torture at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors:
"When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the physical pressures that were on me, I named the starting lineup -- defensive line -- of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron-mates!"
There's just one problem with that story:
...the Steelers aren't the team whose defensive line McCain named for his Vietnamese tormentors. The Green Bay Packers are. At least according to every previous time McCain has told this story. And the McCain campaign just told ABC News that the senator made a mistake -- it was, indeed, the Packers.
Category: Events, News || By
Sponsors of an upcoming rally for Mon-Yough area youth are trying to encourage and inspire them to stay away from drugs, alcohol and crime.
The daylong event is set for August 9 at Stephen Barry Field in Renziehausen Park, says Alease Paige, one of the organizers and a member of the McKeesport Healthy Communities PartnerSHIP.
Although plans are still tentative, she says the program will probably include music, food, free health screenings and a motivational speech by the Rev. Karen Garland, recently appointed pastor of Zion Apostolic Assembly Church.
It's the second such rally sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of the Mon Valley, Paige says. An organizational meeting is set for July 19.
"The Mon Valley has changed, and our youth really have changed," says Paige, retired from Sky Bank and its predecessor, Three Rivers Bank. "You can't turn on the news without hearing who was shot, stabbed or robbed."
Drug crimes and gun violence don't respect neighborhood borders, she says. "Crime has no face --- no color," Paige says. "And it's not just McKeesport --- it's everywhere."
Besides city Mayor Jim Brewster, she says, the mayors of Port Vue and Clairton are also involved in the planning, along with representatives of the McKeesport branch of the NAACP and the Steel Valley OIC.
"We're trying to reach out to as many people as possible," Paige says, "and we're trying to get as many people as we can to come out."
Perhaps the most promising sign is that local teen-agers are doing much of the organizing themselves, she says. "We plan what they want to do," Paige says. "They tell us who they want to speak to them."
For more information, call Paige at (412) 673-2206.
. . .
Fire Guts Apartments: The American Red Cross is helping about 40 victims of a fire this morning at the Hi-View Gardens apartment complex on Coursin Street, according to broadcast and published reports.
Several suburban companies joined city firefighters in battling the multiple-alarm blaze. Seven people had to be rescued by fire personnel and some residents were taken to UPMC McKeesport hospital for treatment.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation by the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office.
Michael Palcsey and Jennifer Vertullo have more in the Daily News. The Watchdesk website has additional photos.
. . .
To Do This Weekend: You can help say goodbye to the "Daddio of the Raddio," Munhall native Porky Chedwick, at a dance Sunday night in Sharpsburg.
Chedwick, who pioneered the programming of so-called "race" music on Homestead's WHOD (860) in the late 1940s, is credited with introducing generations of white teen-agers to rhythm, rock and blues songs recorded by black artists.
At age 90, Chedwick is relocating to Florida after a radio career that has spanned 60 years and an untold number of stations, including WHOD's successor WAMO, Jeannette's WKFB (770) and McKeesport's WEDO (810).
The dance starts at 7 p.m. at Jimmy G's Restaurant, 1822 Main St., Sharpsburg. A donation of $10 will be requested. Call (412) 781-4884.
Category: News || By
Category: News || By
Category: News || By
Update: I just gotta add this, with a tip of the Tube City hard hat to Francesco Marciuliano:
. . .
A Bang-Up Fourth: If the weather cooperates today --- and that's a big "if" --- a full slate of Independence Day activities are planned at Renziehausen Park.
City Recreation Director Jim Brown says three country and western bands will entertain at the bandshell, starting at 2 p.m., when Bren Marie takes the stage.
At 4:30, it's Buck Wyld, and from 7 to 9 p.m., John Kiger.
Refreshments will be on sale throughout the afternoon, including hot dogs, kolbassi, ice cream and funnel cakes, but the biggest attraction comes at 10 p.m., when the Mon-Yough area's biggest July 4 fireworks display gets underway.
Brown recommends that visitors arrive as early as possible to find a parking place.
"During the day, there are plenty of spots in the park," he says. "After 8 o'clock, that's when it gets really, really packed."
Attendees should plan to bring a blanket or lawn chair to sit on, Brown says.
There's no rain date planned, he says, so Brown and others have their fingers crossed that the clouds will part for at least a little while today. "This weather has been murder," he says.
. . .
P.S.: The concert by Chuck Blasko's Vogues set for last Sunday at the Renzie bandshell was rained out, Brown says. It's been rescheduled for this Sunday at 7 p.m.; the concert is free, so bring a blanket and plan to attend!
. . .
Snap, Crackle, Stop: City Councilman Darryl Segina doesn't mean to be unpatriotic, but Independence Day is rapidly becoming his least-favorite holiday.
The reason? All of the fly-by-night fireworks vendors who set up shop around the valley.
"We're putting fireworks into the hands of amateurs and children," Segina said. "We've got neighbors getting into fights about it, because they're worried about their houses catching on fire."
He said he'd counted at least six different vendors around McKeesport in the weeks before the holiday.
State law permits residents to use "ground and hand-held sparkling devices" and "novelties."
Forbidden for private use without a "display permit" are cherry bombs, M-80s, M-100s, "Roman candles," and any explosive devices or aerial devices.
But they're not illegal to sell to "non-Pennsylvania residents" --- the legal fiction is that purchasers will take them out of state (wink, wink) before lighting them.
"We can't stop them," City fire Chief Kevin Lust told the Almanac. "We tried two years ago --- you're allowed to sell them, but you're not allowed to use them. It's unbelievable."
City Solicitor J. Jason Elash said the city collects a $1,000 permit from vendors, and that they are required to file a business-privilege tax form.
Otherwise, Pennsylvania municipalities have little oversight over transient fireworks vendors.
Lust said many of the fireworks on sale from roadside tents are legal; rather than shooting into the air, they just make a showers of sparks and smoke on the ground.
But as he and others pointed out, "legal" doesn't mean "safe." Segina noted that many fireworks are imported under less-than-rigorous conditions, and that the results can be unpredictable and dangerous.
"I don't know where the state legislature is on this issue, but they've really got to crack down on this," he said.
Category: News || By
City Administrator Dennis Pittman wrote a name on a slip of paper last night --- "Harvey" --- and passed it to Mayor Jim Brewster.
As in the giant rabbit from the Pulitzer-winning play and the movie of the same name starring Jimmy Stewart.
As in the "super rabbit" that City Controller Ray Malinchak says that Brewster will have to "pull out of his hat" to keep the city in the black this year.
But if a six-foot-tall talking rabbit like "Harvey" was standing by, ready to help, he wasn't speaking up at last night's city council meeting.
. . .
A combination of rapidly rising fuel costs, unexpected expenses and revenue shortfalls has the city staring into a half-million-dollar hole this summer.
As a result, Brewster said he has asked every department head to conserve resources and money. Police cars, for instance, are no longer to be left idling while not in motion.
"We can't even pave some streets right now, because paving a street which used to cost four to five thousand dollars now costs $20,000," he said. "As employees leave, we're not replacing them, which is not a good thing."
Besides escalating oil prices, the biggest unbudgeted expense this year is an unprecedented 83 percent increase in the health insurance premiums paid for about 80 city employees to Highmark, the region's Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliate. The additional charge amounts to $620,000.
Although the city is negotiating with another health insurance carrier, Brewster said premiums are still likely to go up as much as $300,000.
. . .
Revenues are off by $150,000 --- the amount the city expected to be paid by a cellular telephone company that wants to erect a tower at the old Union Avenue reservoir.
The proposal was tabled when residents of the Seventh Ward expressed concerns about increased RF radiation the tower might generate; the mayor said last night he and council have asked for a report on the health effects of cell towers, and will have another meeting with residents to discuss the report before taking any action.
Other unexpected expenses have included emergency repairs to a collapsed sewer main on Palm Street and to the roof of the former municipal building at 201 Lysle Blvd., now used by police and firefighters.
. . .
Brewster said last night he's "working" on several things in hopes of balancing the budget. City officials say they're very close to signing several tenants for the empty offices at 201 Lysle.
And it's still possible that the cell phone tower will be erected on Union Avenue.
"But if it phases in late enough in the year, we'll get maybe $10,000," Pittman said, "and the rest will be a receivable. That $140,000 a year from now won't pay any bills in December."
The state's decision to allow the annual $52 occupation, or "emergency services," tax to be paid quarterly, rather than as a lump sum, will also hurt the city's cash flow in the fourth quarter, he said.
. . .
In Other Business: Plans to build a new regional courthouse in the Third Ward continue to progress, Brewster said.
Last week, city and county public works employees cleared weeds and debris from the so-called Capco property along Walnut Street, where the courthouse is likely to be built.
The lot holds a half-finished warehouse that was going to be used by the now-defunct Capco Construction Co.
Capco was seized by federal investigators after authorities discovered its founder, Thomas Cousar, was diverting funds and material from U.S. government projects to his own businesses.
The property on Walnut Street is now owned by the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, which had underwritten a $400,000 loan to Capco.
Brewster said he's been in steady contact with Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.
"Once it's completed, 35 different communities will be coming to your city to our courthouse, which I think is a tremendous thing for McKeesport," he said.
The mayor said he could not comment further on reports that the parent company of the Tribune-Review and Daily News was considering the city for the site of a $75 million printing plant.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss it, but as we get more permission, we will disclose more details," Brewster said. "It's got great possibilities."
Category: Good Government On The March, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, maybe too much knowledge is even more dangerous, at least when it comes to the weather.
Specifically, if you're talking about those computer-generated 3-D storm-tracking weather graphics that the three big Pittsburgh TV stations use.
As some of you know, I work part-time in local radio at two different stations. Sunday afternoons usually find me "riding the board" in North Versailles.
This past Sunday, I was working the day watch when the Emergency Alert System box squawked to life, printing out a little receipt that looked something like this: