Mayor’s Office Still Mum on Advisory Committee; Chief Executive’s Office Still Mum on Virtual Town Hall

You recall that our Mayor was going to set up a LGBT Advisory Council?  Nominations were due January 15, 2009.  I had a few questions which his staff refused to answer, in spite of promises otherwise from spokeswoman Joanna Doven and Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen Baginski.

Last Friday, I contacted Ms. Doven asking her for the answers she promised me over two months ago.  This was her response:

Sue:

The woman in charge of this from our office is out until Tuesday. I will check in with her then and get back to you.

Joanna

Joanna Doven

Press Secretary

Office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

414 Grant St. Pittsburgh, PA 15219

412-255-2694

(cell) 412-475-2387

joanna.doven@city.pittsburgh.pa.us

http://www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us

I certainly hope her coworker is feeling better and back to work soon.  It is interesting that Ms. Baginski promised to get me the information I needed, then punted me to Ms. Doven who promised to get me the information I needed, then punted to the Mayor's trip out of town.  Now Ms. Doven is punting back to Ms. Baginski. 

Anyone want to bet on my getting any actual answer to a single question?  I'm putting my money on “we are moving forward on this project” as the official response. 

However, at least the Mayor's office RESPONDS, however unsatisfactorily.  The County Chief Executive did not address any of the LGBT related questions submitted to his virtual town hall meeting.  Then we each received email messages informing us that we would receive a detailed response in the near future.  Folks who asked other types of questions received answers (such as Bram from The Pittsburgh Comet). 

Dear Ms. Kerr:

 Thank you for your email.  We appreciate your interest in the cyber town hall meeting.  While the County Executive was not able to answer every question due to time constraints, we did receive your question and will send a response in the coming days.

 If you were not able to join us, this morning the cyber town hall meeting will be archived on the County’s web site.

 Thank you again for contacting our office and for submitting your question.

 Sincerely,

 Megan Dardanell

Office of the County Executive

Before the most recent town hall meeting, I contacted his office again pointing out that I was still waiting on a response and resubmitting my question.  No response.  So I contacted my County Councilwoman, Amanda Green, expressing my concerns that the Chief Executive was ignoring his constituent.  She urged me to contact his office and that she would be in touch with them as well about my concerns.

So there you have it.  I would be overly bold to suggest they are just stonewalling moi as others who submitted related questions to the County were also ignored.  They are really stonewalling our entire community  … double entendre fully intended. 

It is very hard to believe that we are going to make progress on a local level if our two executive leaders refuse to answer simple questions about LGBT issues.  I can see the Mayor's reluctance to comment as two of his three gay advisors are facing potential criminal charges related to accusations that they received administrative favors in return for campaign contributions to the Mayor.  That shouldn't mean the entire community loses a potential resource.  In fact, all the more reason to appoint other people to the council, perhaps?  

Chief Executive Onorato has no legs to stand on.  He won't publicly comment on LGBT issues.  Remember that when he announces his bid for Governor and starts showing up at public events where he can't be questioned.  That proved successful for Luke to convince tons of people he is gay friendly, in spite of publicly commenting that he opposes civil unions.  Let try not to be so easily deluded this time around.

Why bring this up?  Well, some recent commenters have got me thinking that we have a lot of unfinished local LGBT business.  That's actually rather true.  I've had some sense of where things stand, but it has all been off the record and I actually think that it is unfair to just ask all of you to start focusing on other issues without giving some update or perhaps closure to these issues.  The elected officials aren't going to do it and the LGBT advocates aren't going to do it. And these are the same people asking you to turn your attention, time and donations in new directions. 

Don't get me wrong.  I think statewide issues are incredibly important and clearly deserve our support.  However, is it realistic to think that we can have any impact statewide when we are in such gridlock locally?  Is it in our best interests to divest resources from these local efforts and send them to Harrisburg?  If nothing else, we have upcoming elections that could have a more immediate impact on our lives so perhaps we should focus on those?

After reading the comments, I agree that we are being pulled in a lot of directions and I'd also like to see just one thing get finished.  One thing.  I understand that leaving an ordinance in committee is better than having it defeated by bringing it to vote.  I understand that a domestic partner registry is a symbol, not a practical tool.  But I would argue that both of these situations allow Dan Onorato and Luke Ravenstahl to get some LGBT credibility without actually doing anything practical.  And that's not okay. 

Here's what I'd like to see, in no particular order.

1.  Mayor Ravenstahl instruct the Department of Personnel to contact City Employees informing them of the Domestic Partner Registry, allowing us to automatically transfer if we choose and describing how it benefits us to do so.

2.  Megan Dardenell from the Chief Executive Office send the promised answers to county residents who submitted LGBT related questions to the town hall meetings.

3.  Local LGBT advocates distribute talking points for the County Ordinance, including reasons why gender expression should be included in the final version.  That's a complicated issue and we need some education ourselves to be effective advocates.

4.  The Mayor update the community on his Council in a public manner, not via his unofficial gay spokespersons.  I don't want to be updated, I want you to be updated.

5.  Mayor Luke Ravenstahl respond to the Steel City Stonewall Questionnaire for this election cycle. 

6.  Steel City Stonewall drop the “highly recommends” information from its endorsement list so that the endorsement carries more value. 

Thank you, readers and commenters, for pointing out what kinds of issues mean something to you.  You've really given me some food for thought.  It isn't popular thought with local organizations as per the comments, but it is probably progress that you are contemplating and commenting on these issues.  I think my platform might move you to take action.  I could be wrong.  I'm willing to take that chance.

So while I do think you should pay attention to the statewide issues, I would urge you to also hold your local officials and local LGBT advocates accountable for our currently very full plates.  Otherwise, we are going to end up with Governor Onorato and Chief Executive Ravenstahl making not a single meaningful action on real LGBT issues.  Statewide legislation would mean a lot less if two out of three top politicians aren't invested in our community.

I would welcome some meaningful dialogue on how we can prevent this. 

I mean, seriously, do we really want to be the advocacy generation that can list a domestic registry with six participants as our accomplishment for this region?  I think we can do better, but we need better organizing, more transparency and more resources dedicated to Western Pennsylvania.  Good old fashioned Pittsburgh politics isn't getting us very far. 

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