As District 9 Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess prepares himself for the upcoming May primary election, he must look back over his first term in office and prove it was successful. While his opponents have challenged many of the decisions he’s made, he says there’s not much he would change.
|REV. RICKY BURGESS
Burgess’ top priority has been to reduce crime in his district, a task that is integrally linked with community development and police-community relations. In 2008, the first year of his term, Burgess began working on the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime to begin curbing violence, not only in his district, but the city as a whole.
“There’s three categories of things that most of my energies are placed in. The first is to make our streets safer,” Burgess said. “In the next month or so, there’s an evaluation that will come out from the University of Pittsburgh. I do think we’ll see great results.”
Burgess wanted to address claims made by his opponents who said PIRC’s consultant David Kennedy, a professor from Harvard, didn’t play in integral role in a similar crime initiative in Boston. He said he also consulted Boston ministers and the district attorney who later took part in creating a nationwide program.
Another one of Burgess’ top priorities has been to reform the way community block development grants are awarded. His CDBG funds are currently awarded through the POISE foundation and he is working to ensure they are more fairly distributed in the city as a whole
“I changed the way community development block grant dollars were used. I stopped the supplantment of those funds,” Burgess said. “The Hope Fund is a clear and transparent way to receive these funds based on the quality of the proposal.”
Burgess has also been working to reform property taxes through legislation that would give residents the right to vote on property tax increases. However this legislation was never passed.
“I will continue fighting to rebuild both as a council member and a board member of the housing authority. I think I have worked hard to be able to prove that our city has been short changing our low income communities for at least 30 years and I’ve been working to change that,” Burgess said. “The problems the city faces are very significant and we can’t tax our way out and we can’t borrow our way out.”
Burgess said these broader city issues are something he would work harder to educate his constituents on in his next term. He said often times people in low-income communities don’t know how city budget issues such as property taxes and pension funds affect them.
“I would spend more time explaining to the members of my district the consequences of the decisions of the government,” Burgess said. “The whole discussion of the pensions last year was done in a way that disaffects low-income residents. The decisions of government are often swayed more towards benefitting the higher classes.”
Burgess believes improving the community’s relationship with the police department is another way to combat crime. In response to an incident in his district, where former CAPA High School student Jordan Miles was allegedly beaten by three police officers, Burgess proposed three pieces of legislation to reform police practices. The legislation required Pittsburgh police to meet accreditation standards, install cameras in police cars and place officers who are accused of using unnecessary force on paid administrative leave.
“I think it’s very important for the community to have confidence in the police. I’m actually working on a fourth piece, which is an annual report,” Burgess said. “All of these things are to give the community more confidence and to help them work more collaboratively with police.”