FURTHER UPDATE:  If you wonder why campaign contributions matter, check out this PG article on the connection between contributions and City contracts.  Transparency, my friends.  Michael Lamb gets transparency.

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UPDATE:  In response to some community outrage (after 10 minutes), let me be clear that I am not suggesting any specific improprieties on the part of any individuals.  I'm merely pointing out that the formation of this Council has been unexamined by the larger community and calling for transparency in the current stages of the process precisely to avoid any allegations of impropriety. 

c/p Pam's House Blend  and DailyKOS

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As I reported yesterday, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, is launching a LGBT Advisory Council to provide an open line of communication between his office and Pittsburgh's LGBT community.  The planning meeting held on December 10 was chaired by Deputy Chief of Staff Kristen Baginski and the Mayor's personal liaison to the LGBT community, Gary Van Horn, a local businessman and President of the Delta Foundation.  25 people were in attendance, along with two members of the media. The room was fairly even between men and women, but almost entirely Caucasian and middle to upper middle class.  It was a pretty elite group and that didn't surprise me for a 5 PM meeting held downtown. 

Represented were PFLAG, Persad, PATF, Steel City Stonewall Democrats, Gertrude Stein Club, the Steel City Softball League, TransPitt, and the Gay & Lesbian Community Center among others.  Several private citizens attended on their own behalf.

During the meeting, Van Horn and Baginski indicated that City residency would be preferred for Council members and described the nomination process.  Nominees must submit a resume and a cover letter outlining their interest in serving.  Everything is due by January 15, 2009. 

The conversation was fairly cordial if vague.  Attendees were interested in details on the Council's mission and structure, but the Mayor's representatives indicated that the Council would self-define these aspects along with the term of service, the meeting schedule and other details. 

I have asked the Mayor's office to clarify how they will make public any campaign donations made by the appointees to this committtee. I've also asked whether individuals who serve on the nominations review committee will be able to serve on the council. The Mayor's spokeswoman has declined comment. The Mayor's Deputy Chief of Staff who is staffing this project has declined comment. 

We've been following this story for months.  I had a tip from Van Horn's co-organizer and former Steel City Stonewall co-chair, Tara Reynolds, that this was on the horizon.  Unfortunately, there was no further information forthcoming from Reynolds or the local advocacy community until Van Horn announced the meeting a few weeks ago. 

In case you were not aware, DailyKOS (600,000+ readers) is coming to Pittsburgh this summer with a sizeable LGBT contingent (Netroots Nation).  Pittsburgh has been prominent in the national LGBT blog/media with several big stories --- the election of Bruce Kraus to City Council, the trial of Janet Edwards, Doug Shields' letter to Sally Kern, and the dissolution of the local Episcopal Church in part due to gay ordination. The eyes of the nation will be upon us (and so will their keyboards).

Now is a time for transparency. I think these are two fair questions and the answers are self-evident to myself at least. Our community should know of any campaign connections between our Mayor and the people we nominate to represent us to him. Those contributions don't preclude serving, but it is reasonable to want balance between donors and others. Our community should also know that the nomination process is as fair as possible.

Let us not forget how far we need to bring the Mayor along.  It was only a year ago that he publicly stated that he is opposed to "gay unions" during a public debate.  In spite of a follow up meeting with his advisors, he held steadfast to that position based on his Catholic beliefs.  The Mayor's only public appearances has been at social events such as OUTrageous Bingo and Pridefest, choosing not to attend public forums where he would be required to personally engage informed (and outspoken) members of the community.  The Mayor did sign the Domestic Registry into law, but has not been proactive in implementing this resource -- only six couples have signed up and there is no indication that any company has added domestic partner benefits to their benefits.  My partner and I are registered with the City Department of Personnel and have never been contacted about the Registry.  There are no openly gay members of the Mayor's Administration.  His Deputy Chief of Staff did not know the title (Equal Employment Opportunity manager) or name (Tamiko Stanley) of the staff member responsible for cultivating a diverse base of employees.

There's a lot of room for improvement.

Other questions remain unanswered.  Will the entire list of nominees be made public?  Will the Mayor reach out to Councilman Bruce Kraus to recruit nominees from his network within the LGBT community?  Will the proceedings of the Council, including the nomination review process, be made available to the public? 

I urge you to contact the Mayor's Deputy Chief of Staff at [email protected]  and ask her to make this information public.

We are not Illinois. Let us start this new chapter in local LGBT politics with transparency and fairness for the whole community.

The way you can best contribute to the process is to be proactive in nominating individuals from the LGBT community to serve on this Advisory Board.  The more diverse and more qualified the nominees, the better chance we have as a community to make this a meaningful resource for our community.  We need to take action to build a voice that represents the entire community and not just those who already have relationships with the Mayor because of their involvement in his campaign.