Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Time For an Unapologetic Rep. Joe Preston To Go!"



On April 17, 2006, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board decided: "It's time for an unapologetic Preston to go!"

On October 13, 2006, Joe Preston continued to demonstrate a lack of remorse telling the editorial board that he, in fact, will not return the pay raise.

It's this simple: Mr. Preston is one of the lone symbols of this controversy who still believes a nod-nod, wink-wink from the Governor, local political leaders and the media can protect him from any further public ridicule.

In short, Mr. Preston has recently demonstrated unprecedented arrogance suggesting an attitude and confidence that are embarrassing.

Possibly nothing more than just election year theatrics, at one point his Consumer Affairs Committee had the majority of us believing landmark legislation (HB 2880) calling for cable choice and competition was poised to advance to the floor of the House for a vote. Although an apparent majority of the public, education, and government access channels, and pertinent union membership groups testified during statewide public hearings that they approved the proposed legislation, last week Joe Preston pulled the bill from consideration. The proposed streamlined franchising process would better benefit customers by ushering in a myriad of TV choices and lower prices. Since 1995 cable rates have increased more than 86 percent. Since 2001 cable prices have increased four times faster than the rate of the consumer price index.

In the months before Act 201 passed two years ago, utility and power companies donated $4,650 to Preston's reelection campaign. And, after accepting lucrative campaign contributions from the utility and power companies, Joe Preston wrapped a "moral responsibility" cloak around Act 201 (Responsible Utility Customer Protection Act), and rushed from committee legislation that makes it much easier for the seediest financial interest in the country to terminate the gas, electric and water service of poor, low-income customers. That is, his leadership reversed a long-standing state ban on shutting off heat during winter. Note: Throughout the entire process, there was not a single public hearing on the measure.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority board, under Mr. Preston's leadership voted to raise rates this year and next (third and fourth consecutive years). The increase affects around 65,000 city households that get their water from the authority. Another 30,000 households in the city's southern neighborhoods, which are served by Pennsylvania American Water Co., will also see their rates rise, because those rates are pegged to the authority's. The hikes also hit commercial and industrial users, who pay less than households, and health and educational institutions, which pay more. The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, which levies a separate charge based on water usage, increased rates 10 percent effective Jan. 1. Although voters had shot down a referendum to build two new stadiums officials proceeded with the plan anyway and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority paid $550,000 to build sewer lines for the new Steelers stadium and surrounding area on the North Side. In addition, two former Authority employees were paid $210,000 to settle whistle-blower lawsuits. Former executive director John Hanna claimed in his federal lawsuit that he had been fired for testifying before a federal grand jury that was investigating authority operations and for refusing to approve payments for a faulty sewer project at PNC Park. Dr. Michael Stallard's lawsuit claimed he was pressured to approve work that was not completed properly and fired after he protested payments. Finally, the Authority is paying Adam Filippo & Associates $90,750 to learn how customers feel about water and sewer service. At least $500 of that money was spent to treat the authority's business customers to lunch at the Duquesne Club, Downtown, during a February focus-group session. Seventeen people dined at the club.

But, in many of Joe Preston's District 24 neighborhoods the approach of nightfall is still dreaded. Our fear is punctuated by sound of gunfire, screams and wailing.