Editorial roundup: Pennsylvania | Herald of Rock Hill


Inquirer of Philadelphia. February 7, 2022.

Editorial: City’s Washington Avenue fake head exposes ‘community engagement’ sham

On Saturday, the Philadelphia Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability tweeted a press release announcing an update on the Washington Avenue repaving plan: reducing most of the busy thoroughfare by five lanes three-way is no longer an option. Not too long ago, in September 2020, officials announced that the “Road Diet” was the “final design” selected after an “extensive community engagement” process. The repaving project would use federal funds.

The description of the design as “final” and the engagement process as “extensive” came from city officials. The trade-off: a safer avenue for pedestrians versus about a 15-second journey per block at rush hour. The plan was the first choice of 71% of 5,458 people who responded to a city-sponsored poll. The city also held 23 community meetings with 22 registered community organizations and civic groups on the future of Washington Avenue.

The plan was in line with Philadelphia’s goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030, and the safest option according to the city’s most recent documents.

But on Saturday morning, Philadelphia learned that the design was not final and the commitment process was not extensive. Additionally, the proposal did not meet the city’s equity goals, according to a statement. So, instead, officials decided to scrap the three-way plan. In a statement to The Inquirer, a city spokesperson wrote that the change in course is due to the fact that, throughout the project’s eight years, there has “never been any significant support for any kind of road diet” from communities of color along the corridor.

What data supports this claim, and why did this idea not shape the community outreach process or the final design choice?

Council members Mark Squilla and Kenyatta Johnson, whose districts are bisected by Washington Avenue, welcomed the decision.

The choice to abandon a good and apparently popular proposal is worrying. The way “community engagement” has been cynically used in this process is infuriating.

No community outreach process is perfect, and by nature those with more privilege will have an easier time engaging – that’s before you factor in the pandemic. This episode suggests that the level of commitment managers seek is the level that allows them to achieve the desired outcome.

A 90-minute virtual redistricting hearing, in which many city residents expressed their displeasure, was more than enough to get Squilla and Johnson (and the rest of their colleagues) to push forward the redrawn borders of their own municipal districts. Councilman Johnson applauded the community engagement that led to the now-controversial FDR Park Master Plan, which engaged fewer people than the Washington Avenue process.

Council members use their prerogative to approve developments all the time without any proactive community outreach, but even after 10 years Washington Avenue’s engagement process was not enough.

The city should be concerned about equity in the community engagement process. City officials had the opportunity to broaden the scope, include more voices, and keep all options on the table. Instead, they threw out the safer option. The message for the thousands of community members who have weighed in on the future of Washington Avenue is clear: the next time the city asks residents for their input, why care?

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Pittsburgh Post Gazette. February 8, 2022.

Editorial: Pittsburgh City Council set to end pay rise offer after debacle

Of all the steps Pittsburgh City Council members could take, raising their own salaries is among the trickiest, requiring the highest degree of humility, even shame.

In this regard, the members of the city council failed spectacularly.

Nothing increases the insider’s perception like improper procedures and secrecy; the board engaged in both by setting a 6.3% raise for itself.

Last Tuesday, board chair Theresa Kail-Smith froze a proposed 22% salary increase “pending legal review”. In truth, the only review needed was a copy of the city’s bylaws charter and a dash of common sense.

Rather than walk away with their collective tails between their legs, the council boldly retreated into a private executive session at a special weekend meeting called by Ms Kail-Smith. Then, behind closed doors, they hammered out a “compromise” between them: 6.3%.

Now City Comptroller Michael Lamb says the average raise given to city employees is 3%, but Ms Kail-Smith insists the city’s legal department has approved a figure twice that for her and these partner’work.

How council members achieved this is unclear, as it happened during a closed session. At the very least, council members owe the public an explanation of how they arrived at 6.3%. Obviously they were aiming for the maximum they could get and not go to jail.

Incumbent Mayor Bill Peduto, who should have known, helped create this fiasco in December, when he included a Christmas present to the council in his final budget: a pay raise of about $16,000, or 22 %, going from about $72,000 per year to $88,000. Buried in a Byzantine budget, the post attracted little attention as the city awaited a new administration.

But it was obviously, obviously, beyond a shadow of a doubt a violation of the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter. This document, which is essentially the city’s constitution, reads: “No city elected official shall receive a salary increase greater than the average percentage increase in wages and salaries paid to all city employees on the basis of the salary of the previous year”.

City employees, of course, did not receive an average 22% raise. Neither do the townspeople, for that matter, the people the mayor and council members nominally represent.

While few observers noticed the article, council members surely did. And they surely knew it was illegal. And they surely accepted, until they were questioned by the local media.

For all that the good city council has done recently — a smart, deliberate response to the annexation of Wilkinsburg and a quick, thoughtful response to the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge — these shenanigans trump everything.

If the board members had played it that straight, they could have made a decent case that they’re underpaid. In Buffalo, their counterparts receive $75,000 and in Cleveland more than $80,000.

The public would probably have tolerated a modest increase, passed with transparency and modesty.

But not like this. Never.

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Scranton Times-Tribune. February 8, 2022.

Editorial: Wolf’s budget reveals more inequality

As Governor Tom Wolf proposed a new budget on Tuesday that would alleviate the government’s unfair funding for education, legislative Republicans have continued to defend that unfair funding in court.

Legislators are therefore unlikely to use the budget process to eliminate the vast funding disparities between rich and poor districts that they defiantly created and maintained.

The Commonwealth has a projected surplus of between $5 billion and $6 billion, plus about $7 billion in unspent federal funds for pandemic relief. With no less than $13 billion in hand, Wolf used his latest budget speech to propose increasing funding for schools in a way that would be especially beneficial to struggling districts like Scranton.

In 2015, the Legislative Assembly passed a fair education funding formula, recognizing that the previous formula was unfair. But to ensure that no district receives less than it received in 2015, lawmakers applied the fair funding formula only to funds allocated after that year.

Today, only about 12% of education funding is distributed through the equitable formula. If all state money were distributed according to this formula, Scranton alone would receive about $30 million more each year. Scranton is not a party to the trial in the Commonwealth Court, but such disparities are the subject of litigation in which legislative majorities attempt to defend the indefensible.

Wolf proposed $1.25 billion in additional funding for basic education, which alone would increase the amount of money distributed under the fair formula to about 25% of the state total.

The governor also offered $300 million in additional funding to help compensate districts for money they haven’t received since 2015.

Lawmakers approved increases in education funding for the current school year, but their long-term preference has been to let local taxpayers absorb ever-increasing school fees. Pennsylvania ranks among the bottom states in terms of the percentage of education funding provided by the state government, at around 35%.

Lawmakers should seize the opportunity to mitigate their own unfair funding decisions by endorsing Wolf’s proposal, and then apply the fair formula to all public education funding.

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