Saturday, March 12, 2005

Save our schools, firehouses, Army bases, etc.

Pittsburgh's elected officials have been faced with some tough decisions the past few years (largely because they put off making them when they should have, but we'll save that discussion for another day), and few are as painful as whether and where to close firehouses and schools. City Councilman and mayoral candidate Bill Peduto has suggested that some kind of independent body decide which firehouses to close, and I think it's a suggestion that the Pittsburgh school board should consider when it comes to closing schools. Few people would argue that the school district isn't overbuilt, given current enrollment, but no one wants to see their child's school close. They protest, pressure their school board members, and often succeed, simply because they might be better organized and more vocal than a group of parents across town.

Now, the district has commissioned facilities studies in the past, and ignored them. So getting an independent body to make tough decisions doesn't entirely remove politics from the process. But it might help.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

JP, I know everyone in here is agog about Casey's limited chances against Santorum, but I would like to commend you on this very original post, which I'm sure you gleaned from your excellent school reporting while at the Trib.

Too rarely, bloggers don't add insight that they uniquely have, but rather a series of agreeing bromides.

Perhaps my problem with this (or anything from city council) is that these are elected officials. They have commissioned learned studies in the past that have given them a series of options, some bad, some worse, to take back to their constituents.

While hiding behind a cloak of commissions, etc., might help them politically, I say that they ran for election and that as elected men and women it is their job to make difficult decisions in public.

Let them openly debate the merits or demerits of each closing, and then answer to the public for their ultimate decisions.

So say I.

10:25 AM

Blogger Mark Rauterkus said...

I strongly object to the idea of a different body making decision. What has become of the attitude that the buck stops here? The elected people are elected and should be making the decisions.

Of course Peduto would like to pass the buck to some other body. Peduto never saw an authority he didn't embrace.

I hate the authority model. I want the accountability to reside with those who are elected.

4:19 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

First, thanks for the compliment Anonymous. And Mark, I too despite authorities, and I'm not sure what leap of logic lead you to conclude from that post that that's what I was endorsing.

I share your concerns over absolving elected officials of their responsibility for making hard decisions. That is why we elect them, and in many cases, why we pay them. It's one reason I'm not fan of, say, California's ballot initiatives (which also subvert the idea of representative government, but that's a story for another day.) I'm not so naive to think that you can ever remove politics from decisions made by elected officials. It is the job of voters, after all, to punish elected officials for making bad decisions, and too often it is voters who reward politicians for making cravenly expedient decisions.

That said, I believe it is sometimes in the public interest for independent bodies--subject to full public scrutiny--to at least make recommendations to elected officials, so that voters have relatively unbiased information. It's too easy in this case for council members to say the mayor is closing certain fire stations to political reasons, and it is too easy for the mayor to do so if he desires. And can we really count on the fire union's leadership to make a decision that is in the best interest of the city?

Residents and officials alike can still scream "Not in my backyard" or "close someone else's school" but at least the selfish of their motives will be exposed.

8:28 AM

Blogger Mark Rauterkus said...

JP, I don't think I tainted my remark as a reflection on your stance (anti-authority). Sorry if I did. I was just ranting -- with you. Not against, perhaps. Oh well.

Okay to the clarification, in my mind, about the indie view of the situation with a report. But, really, when was the last report generated by a group not biased -- from this landscape?

The A+ Schools, and Mayor's Commission for Public Education are both over the top with their political agendas.

11:13 PM


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