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Pittsburgh City Council To Vote Tomorrow On COVID Relief Funds, Despite Objections

The Downtown Pittsburgh skyline on a sunny, clear summer day.
Keith Srakocic

On today’s program: Why some think the vote to approve the Peduto administration’s spending plan for $335 million in federal COVID relief has been rushed; a look at the new statewide police misconduct database, the creation of which was prompted by the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Antwon Rose II; and we speak to Destenie Nock, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, about how microgrids could make entities like hospitals and airports more resilient.

Pittsburgh City Council will vote on use of American Rescue Plan funds
(0:00 - 6:50)

The Pittsburgh City Council is scheduled to take a final vote tomorrow on the Peduto administration’s proposal on spending the $335 million received through the American Rescue Plan.

The latest spending plan was crafted by the mayor’s office, with input from council members.

There were two public hearings on the proposal but some community groups want Council to put off the vote claiming there was not enough time for public input.

“As of Friday afternoon, evening, there was no sign that Council was going to be backing away from this vote,” says Chris Potter, WESA politics and government accountability editor.

Potter says some people want more money to be allocated to affordable housing and food aid, and many say a vote on Tuesday does not allow enough time to get input on needs from the community.

About half of the total of $335 million would offset city shortfalls during the pandemic and to avert layoffs. The remainder would address food assistance, help small businesses, help low income residents buy homes, give monthly grants to impoverished households, and address lead removal from paint and water.

“There were a few projects, I think, that attracted some criticism, one of them being a plan by the mayor to put up more LED street lights” in under-resourced neighborhoods, explains Potter. “I have heard some people say … on the list of things we need to be equitable about, street lamps are low on the list.”

PA Police misconduct database now active
(6:55 - 12:27)

Pennsylvania launched a new database to better track police misconduct among officers changing positions within the state.

“Anytime an officer leaves the department, be it by getting fired or leaving on their own accord, the reasoning for that departure must be explained in this database,” says WESA’sKiley Koscinski. “It will also have information about criminal charges filed against officers, ethical complaints, civil complaints, information about probations they may have served, and other disciplinary actions.”

All police agencies in Pennsylvania are required to participate, but she says that officers from out of state may not have the same information on file.

The database is not available to the public, only to police departments and the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission, as well as elected officials.

Michelle Kenney, the mother of Antwon Rose II, who was shot by an East Pittsburgh police officer in 2018, was a vocal advocate for this database. The officer who shot Rose allegedly had a record of misconduct with the University of Pittsburgh Police. If this database had existed then, it may have affected his ability to be hired as an East Pittsburgh officer.

Misconduct listed in the database does not bar an officer from being hired in another department.

Koscinski says that departments hiring officers with a history of misconduct are required to submit a detailed report of their reasoning, which is made publicly available.

“That is a glimpse that the public gets into this whole process,” she says. “So if someone with a list of red flags gets hired, a department is responsible for explaining why they've made that decision.”

Microgrids gaining interest, Pittsburgh International Airport the latest to build one
(12:30 - 22:30)

Pittsburgh International Airport recently built its own microgrid to generate solar power and natural gas on site. Over the years, microgrids have grown more and more popular.

"Microgrids are local power grids that can disconnect from the traditional centralized grid and operate autonomously," explains Destenie Nock, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

The airport will use the microgrid as its primary power source but remain connected to the main grid in case of emergency.

"As we see more extreme weather events with climate change and more instances of deep freezes like we saw in Texas, more businesses, companies, hospitals, airports want to make sure they all reliably have power when they need it and they're not dependent on some power plant really far off in the distance," she says.

Nock says microgrids make facilities like airports more resilient and protect public safety.

"If I'm thinking about the control tower, for example … you don't want their ability to operate and protect public safety to go down should an extreme weather event hit the airport and take out their electricity supply.”

The airport's microgrid has a generation capacity of 20 megawatts, which is enough energy to power about 13,000 homes. Nock says this is larger than other microgrids.

"The capacity most likely has to do with the ability to sell that excess power back to the grid," she says. "The airport microgrid actually seems like a mini power plant because it can power a decent amount of homes. So that microgrid of 20 megawatts, that's actually bigger than the offshore wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island."

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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