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August 26, 2011

Platitudes and Pandering, Plans and Policy

In recent days we have seen numerous agency heads, public servants, and elected officials respond to the tragic deaths of four people due to drowning in the rain on a city street. In general, their responses have been to deny failure, to obfuscate responsibility, and to feign either complete competency or helplessness.

Notably, Mayor Ravenstahl has made statements that are slightly more responsible than those made by his staff. (We concede the poverty of that metric.)

However, there are no indications that Ravenstahl's words are anything but rhetoric; there is no announcement of a new operational plan, no clearly assigned responsibility and authority, no announced process or specific procedures.

All we have are well-intentioned statements such as, "we'll do whatever it takes", without any indication of who will do what, and who will be responsible. In short, there is no reliable, trustworthy indicator that the next time will be any different. When the public's trust in government to ensure their safety is compromised, transparency and communication are called for.

If the Mayor meant for his platitudes to have any effect other than amelioration of public outrage and triangulation against his department heads, he might publish an Order something like the DRAFT below. If this Mayor doesn't do it, perhaps the next Mayor will.

(Certainly, the Mayor has time for releasing Proclamations)

DRAFT Mayoral Order:

Responsibility: The director of Public Safety, or their designee if they are unavailable, shall be responsible for ensuring that any streets prone to flooding are closed when conditions are such that public safety cannot be guaranteed.

Primary Authority: The Director of Public Safety will have complete authority to direct action by other City personnel in these matters, and maintain and update an operational contingency plan as appropriate.

Supplemental Authority: Any of the following personnel (or their designees) have the authority to close any streets to ensure public safety: Mayor, Director Dept. of Public Works, Director of Public Safety, Pittsburgh Police Chief.

Resumption of Traffic: Only the Director of Public Safety can reopen streets closed in accordance with this directive, and then only after notifying the Mayor or his/her designee.

Operational Plan: The Directory of Public Safety will publish a detailed operational plan to close streets when necessary, including all coordination and implementation details, no later than Sept. 1st 2011.



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