So late last year, the office of Councilman Patrick Dowd put together what they thought was a pretty innocuous annual District 7 newsletter. (Scroll down if you'd like to see why others disagree.) They were printed up in the city's own shop in mid-January and sent to the city's mailroom.
From there, they were supposed to be picked up by a mailing service the city contracts with to slap postage and address labels on city mailers and to fold them. But instead, they sat and sat and sat, despite multiple assurances that the company would be picking them up, according to Mr. Dowd.
After a bit of digging, Mr. Dowd found out on Wednesday the newsletter had become the subject of a "legal investigation" by the city's Law Department, which was reviewing whether or not the mailer fell within the city's franking privilege -- basically, the privilege of council members and the mayor to mail constituents on the city's dime. Generally speaking, these mailers cannot be partisan or political. But you can put a picture of yourself, say, on the city's garbage pickup calendar.
Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said there was a sentence that was inflammatory and defamatory of Mr. Ravenstahl. She said all mailers are reviewed by city treasurer Margaret Lanier. Mr. Dowd was unaware of this policy.
Either way, this led to a polysyllabic tongue-lashing from Mr. Dowd to city solicitor Dan Regan. In an email, he called Mr. Regan "puerile and unethical." He complained that no one had informed him of this review and demanded to know the parameters of it.
"In my estimation you are needlessly throwing away the confidence Council conferred on you when it approved your nomination," he wrote.
Regarding this matter, you began conducting your inquiry of my work "on or around January 14, 2013" yet never had the professional courtesy or basic decency to notify me or talk with me at all regarding the matter. In fact, I only found out about the inquiry during a 3:30 call this afternoon with Scott Kunka. He told me he had asked you to investigate the matter and that you were holding up the mailing. When I confronted you on the phone this afternoon around 4:30 refused to give me any specifics on the inquiry until you had conferred with Margaret Lanier. You and other members of the adminstration failed to even have a coordinated "story".
As I said on the phone, I am entitled to know the nature of your concerns and the parameters of the inquiry. I am entitled to know the time frame for the inquiry. I am also entitled to weigh in on this matter.
Ms. Doven said Ms. Lanier would be providing us with a fuller version of the story soon. In the meantime, she offered this barb:
"This is another example of Councilman Dowd taking on the persona of [former councilman] Doug Shields, yelling fire in a crowded theater and consistently disrespecting department directors," she said. "It become very difficult to work with these know-it-all types."
In the meantime, Mr. Dowd's staff picked up the mailers themselves from the mail room earlier this week and hand-delivered them to Mid West Direct.
UPDATE: You can view the disputed annual newsletter here. I'm no lawyer, but I'm going to take a wild guess and say this bit with Mr. Dowd criticizing Mr. Ravenstahl over the Buncher development in the Strip District is what brought the newsletter to the Law Department's attention.
Mayor Ravenstahl fully supports the Buncher plan, granting Buncher exclusive options and deals on the purchase price of both the Produce Terminal Building and 16 acres of land next to the 62nd Street Bridge in Upper Lawrenceville. Mayor Ravenstahl failed to leverage public assets in negotiations with a private developer, thereby turning his back on community plans for the redevelopment of the Allegheny Riverfront.