Councilman Dowd criticizes Ravenstahl over tree management

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It's a modest sum, as settlements go, but Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd claimed Wednesday that a proposed $5,300 payout for tree-related damage is evidence of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's poor city management.

Mr. Dowd said the mayor appears to have done nothing to stem the tide of such cases since Controller Michael Lamb issued a report in May calling tree-related damage a frequent legal claim against the city.

Public works director Rob Kaczorowski assured Mr. Dowd that he's working on a plan to improve forestry operations, and mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said Mr. Ravenstahl over the years has committed additional resources to citywide tree care.

However, Mr. Dowd said tree-related claims are one result of Mr. Ravenstahl's general inattentiveness. "He does not focus on management like this," he said, adding that the mayor "just doesn't come to work."

"Dowd is extremely quick to judge and makes false accusations on any particular topic, especially when the cameras are rolling," Ms. Doven said in an email.

Mr. Dowd's comments were motivated by a proposed settlement of $5,300 with Lincoln-Lemington resident Tonya Session, who claimed that her car was damaged last year by branches that fell from a city-owned tree.

Mr. Dowd said solicitor Daniel Regan told council during an executive session that a complaint about the tree had been lodged with the city in 2007 but that no pruning ever was done. Mr. Dowd said he knows of at least one other case in which complaints about a tree have gone unaddressed for two years.

In all, Mr. Dowd said, the city has received 2,500 complaints about tree problems since 2009. That includes nearly 500 so far this year, half of which remain unresolved, he said.

In an audit of the law department released in May, Mr. Lamb raised his own concerns, calling tree-related damage -- most often sidewalk damage from tree roots -- the second-most-frequent claim against the city from Jan. 1, 2009, to June 30, 2011. The controller's office defined a claim as a request for compensation that did not result in a lawsuit.

During the audit period, the city received 261 forestry-related claims and paid 203 claims, totaling about $161,370. That was the highest total claims payout of any department during the audit period.

Mr. Dowd urged his colleagues to withhold the settlement in Ms. Session's case until Mr. Ravenstahl presents his plan for improving forestry operations, but his colleagues nonetheless voted to give the deal preliminary approval.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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