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A wintry exhibit of why merging would be bad

Next time your Democratic leaders suggest that city and county services should merge under one government or that we need to reduce the number of independent municipalities to reduce costs and "progress" our region into the 21st century, just think back to how pathetic the city of Pittsburgh's snow removal operations have been.

Don't listen to the fictitious cost savings argument or stories heaped upon us about how well Louisville, Ky., is doing after its merger. Go with what you know, that all of us suburbanites who pay the $52 per year occupation tax for "city services" drove to town on clean streets last Monday, after the first storm, until the moment we drove onto the clearly neglected, icy and snow-covered main city streets of Pittsburgh. On top of that, the mayor provided embarrassing excuses and declarations that more than 100 pieces of equipment (that nobody seemed to be seeing) were out cleaning streets.

It's best to keep control of your local government and services rather than subject those services to a bureaucratic mess. Pittsburgh's glaring void in its ability to provide its citizens basic services will only serve as an institutional and financial anchor upon consolidation, thereby allowing the city to draw down on suburban resources and their ability to provide superior services. The result would be snow-covered streets for all!


Lower expectations

Seems like everybody is complaining about the city's response to the weather emergency and all the snow- and ice-covered streets. Sure, there's plenty of room for improvement, but other than an unfortunate coincidence of density (population, cars and snow), combined with Friday night traffic (commuters, happy-hour regulars and just plain curious idiots) and the resulting abandoned vehicles, most of the controversy comes from poorly managed expectations.

Unlike places such as Buffalo, where this happens just about every week from December through March, we rarely have to face these conditions. Does anybody really believe that we have to budget for the staff and resources needed to be ready for this situation all the time? That would be impractical and extravagant and would never pass through the budget process.

And you can't compare the city's performance to surrounding communities, where both resources and constraints are balanced very differently. Rather than complain, people should spend more energy on planning for their own comfort in times like this, rather than waiting for the city to save them, because, also unlike Buffalo, around here this stuff usually melts within a few days.

That said, the city may also want to consider contracting in advance with surrounding communities to come to our aid with their excess capacity, once they are through with their own streets. This might not cost a dime until needed, and then I guess it would be worth it.

North Side

Vote-getting change

Your editorial "Past Allegiance: No Future Governor Should Defend a State Monopoly" (Feb. 2) spoke volumes about life in our commonwealth. While this piece named "the state's inability to change" as a problem with Pennsylvania's antiquated liquor sales monopoly, the same could be said of other Pennsylvania issues, such as PG columnist Brian O'Neill's pet project regarding the size of our Legislature.

The cries can be heard far and wide: "But that's the way we've always done it!" And friends from out of state come to visit and laugh when they have to go to one store for a bottle of wine, another store for a case of beer, and yet another store (or bar) to get a six-pack.

A gubernatorial candidate willing to entertain such changes would easily get my vote.

I'm tired of the "same-old" and eager for change.


Re: alcohol control

In response to the editorial "Past Allegiance: No Future Governor Should Defend a State Monopoly" (Feb. 2):

In a recent study published by the Commonwealth Foundation and cited in The Wall Street Journal, we look at 48 states over 15 years and compare the degree of state liquor controls to alcohol consumption, the incidences of underage drinking and binge drinking, and DUI fatality rates.

We find no evidence that greater state control of liquor sales has any beneficial effect on these social measures. People living in states with greater controls on liquor sales consume alcohol at the same rate as do people living in states with lesser controls. States with strict controls on liquor sales suffer the same incidences of underage drinking and underage binge drinking as do states with no liquor controls. Sadly, DUI-related fatality rates are 25 percent higher in states that control liquor sales than in states that do not control liquor sales.

We do not minimize the very real social costs associated with alcohol consumption, but rather seek to identify the effect of alcohol control policies. Whatever ends the state may seek in monopolizing liquor sales, protecting its people from the ravages of alcoholism isn't one of them.

Associate Professor
Commonwealth Foundation Research Fellow
Duquesne University

1902 deserved better

Mike Edwards' comments concerning the closing of the 1902 Landmark Tavern and the hardship of other restaurants in Market Square, during construction, are especially disappointing given his position as president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership ("Market Square's Restaurants Starving," Feb. 5). Suggesting that the 1902 restaurant closed because it didn't have a strong business model defies its 28 years as a Market Square landmark. In addition, comparison to the Oyster House and its lunchtime business is off mark.

Mr. Edwards should be working harder to be an advocate for small businesses Downtown, rather than glibly justifying their demise.

Bradford Woods

This verdict won't help in enforcing policy on police chases

On Feb. 9, a jury returned a verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh involving a police pursuit in Homewood in which two innocent people, Michelle Rankin and Jerome Smith, were killed. They had entered an intersection when the fleeing motorist ran a red light and broadsided them.

The jury found that the three plainclothes officers, in an unmarked car, violated police pursuit policy and were negligent. But the jury also found that the negligent pursuit played no role in the accident ("City Police Cleared of Wrongful Death Lawsuit," Feb. 10). Clearly the fact that the police were chasing the fleeing motorist likely contributed to his desperate actions. The jury awarded $2.3 million only against the fleeing felon, who is in jail.

Pittsburgh should take no pride in this verdict. Certainly the jury believed that these officers violated specific orders which required them not to pursue because there was no "crime" other than a pair of burned out taillights and the officers' suspicions of a young African-American man, driving a late model pickup truck, who seemed to be nervous when the officers tried to stop him in an unmarked car.

In my opinion, the jury's decision was largely influenced by the fact that the jury learned that after the accident the police found a handgun and a small quantity of narcotics in the truck. Although the court told the jury to ignore this evidence, human nature makes it hard to do so.

Additionally, on Feb. 8 (the day before the verdict), the Post-Gazette ran a front-page story "Police Cite Value of Plainclothes Details." It described how plainclothes units known as "99" sniff out guns when they see such "suspicious behavior" as a "coat with a heavily weighted pocket, a furtive movement or a broken taillight." It's unfortunate this story ran the day before closing arguments.

This case exposed the woefully inadequate enforcement of the police pursuit policy in Homewood. Rather than strictly enforce the policy to protect the public, the police want to allow these pursuits in any case based on an officer's suspicion only. This verdict will only encourage these deadly pursuits.

Swensen Perer & Kontos

The writer is a lawyer who represented the victims' families.

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