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City of Pittsburgh has one hell of an opponent in Lamar Advertising
by Stephen Donahue Saturday, Apr. 12, 2008 at 7:28 PM

Five Pittsburgh City Council members are taking on the outdoor advertising giant Lamar Advertising Company. Lamar wants to build a giant 1,200 square foot electronic billboard on the new Grant Street Transportation Centre. Lamar CEO has a history of using strong arm tactics to get his way.

Five Pittsburgh City Council members are taking on the outdoor advertising giant Lamar Advertising Company. These five councillors are appealing a permit issued by the Zoning Board allowing Lamar to build a giant 1,200 square foot electronic billboard on the new Grant Street Transportation Centre. This permit was granted with no public hearings, no bids and no votes. It has also been learned recently that a regional manager for Lamar Advertising has given gifts to members of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. It must also be noted that this billboard is being built in an area of downtown where billboards barred by city code.

Pittsburgh’s zoning code says that construction on a project being appealed must stop until the matter is settled but Lamar is going to continue to build the massive electronic sign anyway. This should come as no surprise to anybody who knows Lamar Advertising.

Lamar Advertising is headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Its CEO is Kevin P. Reilly Jr. and the President of the Outdoor Division is his son Sean Reilly. Sean used to be one of the leading conservative voices in the Louisiana Legislature. The old man Kevin Reilly used to wield a lot of power in Louisiana; more so than most elected officials.

Kevin Reilly even while he was CEO of Lamar was also the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development and the Board of Commerce and Industry. He oversaw the State’s very liberal corporate welfare program. The most notorious corporate welfare offered by Louisiana was and likely still is the Ten Year Industrial Tax Exemption which, “exempts new manufacturing facilities and expansion from state, parish and local property taxes for up to ten years. This program can be particularly important to capital -intensive industry. Initial exemption is for five years with an option for an additional five years. This program also includes exemptions for miscellaneous capital additions.” (Louisiana Economic Development Corporation) It should be noted that this tax break includes school taxes.

So in a state where on rainy days kids got wet while sitting in their class rooms, struggling corporations like Exxon Mobile, Texaco, Shell, PPG, Formosa Plastics and Monsanto routinely were exempted from paying their school taxes. This was because each time a manufacturing corporation would add a ‘miscellaneous capital addition’ to their plant they could apply for the exemption. It was normal to see the same corporations at each meeting of the Board of Commerce and Industry applying for an exemption for one or more capital projects. A single plant like Exxon Mobile in Baton Rouge might have several Ten Year Tax Exemption permits in force at any given time. Parish (county) schools lost millions in potential tax revenue. Lamar CEO Kevin Reilly jealously guarded this program.

During the 1990s there was active opposition to the Ten Year Industrial Tax Exemption. Many wanted this exemption to no longer include tax revenue meant for public schools. Many also wanted the tax exemption to be tied to a corporation’s environmental score card. Secretary Reilly fought these activists tooth and nail. One group fighting against the Ten Year Industrial Tax Exemption was the Louisiana Coalition for Tax Justice (LCTJ).

In 1997 LCTJ found itself working with local environmental justice groups and the Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic to prevent a large PVC manufacturer -- Shintech from getting permits to build in Ascension Parish. LCTJ argued that once again Louisiana would be awarding massive tax breaks to a major polluting industry and that this did not serve the interests of the state. Kevin Reilly at this point decided to pull all stops.

In 1997 Reilly ordered his staff at the LA Department of Economic Development to go after community groups which were organizing against Shintech’s permit application. He called community groups, “environmental fascists.” He accused the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic of using, “brown shirt tactics.” Reilly then began to do secret surveillance and assemble dossiers on individuals fighting the Shintech permit. He had his staff threaten local elected officials who might be inclined to vote against the Shintech permit and he also ordered his staff to investigate whether LCTJ was violating state tax laws. (See Denying Access to Legal Representation by Robert R. Kuehn, Journal of Law & Policy, 2000)

In November of 1997 after the story broke about Reilly assembling the dossiers on community activists, one LCTJ member spent two days picketing Reilly’s office in an attempt to draw him out and personally confront him. Reilly did not bite.

Elected officials in Pittsburgh have a worthy opponent at Lamar Advertising. Kevin P. Reilly, Jr. is used to getting his way. He will use dirty tricks, strong arm tactics and spying to get what he wants. It would be great to see him cut down to size a bit.

by rachel c. Tuesday, Apr. 15, 2008 at 2:55 AM

thanks for the report, steve. i heard reilly, sr. on a national radio show last week and meant to look him up to see if it was the same Lamar. i really thought they were a local outfit.

by sd Friday, Apr. 18, 2008 at 2:02 PM

In the article above I was wrong when I wrote that the Zoning Board had approved the billboard permit. It was the Parking Authority that gave Lamar the permit.

Lamar has now agreed to halt work until there are public hearings on the permit that was handed to them by the Parking Authority. Good but it remains to be seen how this will all turn out

Lamar attacks!
by sd Wednesday, May. 14, 2008 at 12:50 AM

This sudden threat to remove from office the Pittsburgh City Council members who went after Lamar is classic. Lamar CEO Kevin Reilly used to bully local elected officials all over Louisiana when he was Louisiana's Secretary of Economic Development. When he made secret dossiers on us we went after Reilly for being a, "Danger to Democracy." He still is and it looks like he got Luke R. in his corner.

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