Article

!UPDATE! ‘L’AFFAIRE STRACUZZI’ MUST BE SETTLED …ECONOMIC REDEVELOPMENT, PART II: ARTIFICIAL PROPS AND TAXPAYER DOLLARS SPELL DOOM FOR DOWNTOWN, plus, FARKAS STILL HIDING FROM THE PLANET

BY DAN VALENTI

UPDATED!! HAPPY NOO YEER EVERYBODY!! Hope the hangovers you’re nursing do not loom large over your poor noggins. We trust most made it through their evenings of reverie and welcoming of Baby Time in reasonably good shape. The Planet did, popping Dom 1982 with lovely women.

The Planet share a couple of house-keeping noes: this update will serve as our post for today. Also, we will leave Pt. 2 of the economic development story up a day longer so more people can read it. We will follow with the printing of THE LETTER from the Democratic Hit Men to Andrea Nuciforo. Next in line after that expose will be pt. 3 on economic development, coauthored with The Planet’s researcher extraordinaire, Francois Arneau.

One interesting news item that broke today may have a profound local effect: Mr. Jack O’Brien, head of the state Probation Department, has resigned. O’Brien had been placed on paid leave following the alleged “pay for play” scandal in the department. This is rather like jumping overboard instead of letting them force you to walk the plank.
Observers such as high-powered Boston defense attorney Harvey Silvergate say O’Brien resigned so he won’t have to answer questions that will be fair game for evidence in any future court proceedings against him.
“In a civil proceeding,” Silvergate says, “you do not have the same privilege against self-incrimination that you do in a criminal trial,” Silvergate said. There are criminal probes into the probation scandal now in progress by federal and state investigators. These probes may spill down to the Berkshire County Probabtion Department, run by Cliff Nilan.
The local buzz in the law enforcement community is that  Nilan may face more than the “pay for play” investigation. The source said state officials, including the auditor and inspector general, are aware of the odd discrepencies stemming from Nilan’s supervision of the probation of his Best Bud, Angelo Stracuzzi. State Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley is also investigating the probation department.

Stracuzzi: Two Sets of Laws?

ANGELO STRACUZZI: Did he fulfill the terms of his court-ordered punishment?

Angelo Stracuzzi was arrested by police in Biddeford, Maine, on consecutive days in late July 2005 on charges of assault and prostitution in separate incidents involving two underage teenage boys, one 15 the other 13. Stracuzzi cut a deal with prosecutors. In exchange to pleading guilty of one of the assult charges, officials dropped the other assault charge and both prostitution changes. Stracuzzi received a one-year suspended jail sentence. He was ordered to undergo psychological counseling and to report to probation in Berkshire County. Nilan and Stracuzzi were at the time close friends. No word on how that friendship has survived.
There is no evidence we are aware of that Stracuzzi ever reported to probation officials as a condition of his deal. There is no evidence we have seen that Stracuzzi fulfilled the court-mandated counseling. We are also unaware that Stracuzzi has been held accountable for this apparent snubbing of the law? Are there two sets of laws: one for ordinary citizens and one for Anointed Community Pillars?

The scales of justice should not look this way.

Can a person, well connected or not, simply ignore court-ordered punishment? Can a little guy, with no big-shot friends, simply ignore a judge’s ruling because he’s got friends in the right places? Is that what Stracuzzi has done? If so, who — what bastion of The Law — will hold this man accountable? This is a reasonable question for a society that calls itself part of a nation of the Law.

Will Tom Bowler, the new county sheriff, look into this?.Will Martha Coakley? Will the IG? Will Suzanne Bump, the state auditor? Will somebody? If Stracuzzi has somehow fulfilled the court’s dictates, then he has nothing to worry about and would seemingly welcome putting this question to rest.
The Question Must be Settled

It is hard to imagine how public officials who provide leadership in community life in Berkshire County, and especially in Pittsfield, can continue with any credibility until they publicly resolve to look into the troubling questions of Stracuzzi and Nilan’s handling of the orders from the Maine court. Every city councilor, every mayor, state rep, police officer, and

Tom Bowler: Will the new sheriff or any other official look into 'laffaire Stracuzzi'?

selectman in the county has sworn an oath to the constitution, to state law, and to local jurisprudence. Which among them will take the lead in demanding that these unsettling questions be answered? Which member of the bar? Which member of the courts will do the people’s business in this case? Will Mayor Ruberto act on his close friendship with Stracuzzi and want what’s best for his friend and The People? Again, if there has been no spitting on the law, there’s nothing to worry about.


Individual Rights Must be Protected on an Equal Basis
As long as questions linger in the Stracuzzi matter, Pittsfield and the county will continue to suffer from the poison of an unhealed wound. Pittsfield will not be able to move forward with any of its business, including economic development. It will have no moral basis for official action in any sphere.
If all between Nilan and Stracuzzi were handled on the up and up, and an honest investigation reveals that, we shall be first to congratulate both men — Stracuzzi for paying his debt to society and Nilan for doing his duty under the law. If not, then we shall ask for the criminal justice system to handle it as they would in a similar case involving “nobodies.”

The Greylock Angle
Nilan and Stracuzzi were officers at Greylock Federal Credit Union in Pittsfield at the time of the charges in July 2005. For five years, the two men served on the board (Strucuzzi as the high-profile president and CEO, featured the company’s marketing and sales promotion) without telling the company of the situation. Greylock VP John Bissell says the Greylock board had no knowledge of the situation until it emerged in 2010. Stracuzzi and Nilan resigned.
Since then, Nilan continues as local probation chief. Stracuzzi is back in Pittsfield, according to sources, who have conflicting claims about his employment. Most frequently heard rumor is that Stracuzzi is someone connected to Soldier On, the veterans project headed by Jack Downing. That has not been confirmed.
Sources at Greylock claim Stracuzzi received a generous severance package valued in the millions. Bissell has neither confirmed or denied reported terms of Stracuzzi’s golden parachute.
Please, someone in authority. Step up and do the right thing.
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BY DAN VALENTI and FRANCOIS ARNEAU

THIS IS THE SECOND PART OF AN EXCLUSIVE 3-PART SERIES ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

In part one of this series, we heard what could happen if “downtown redevelopment” was confused with “economic development” — the fatal major premise upon which Pittsfield’s entire revitalization strategy has crumbled. The two terms are not the same, and they have been recklessly confused in Shire City.

“Economic development” can and does foster a healthy, market-driven downtown. Pouring public money into “downtown redevelopment” without underlying economic vibrancy ensures the waste of resources and lack of economic progress, as measured by the tax base. This is the situation that has remained unchanged in Pittsfield for a quarter century.

Convicted criminal Angelo Stracuzzi, left, posts with John Krol, right, prior to the former's past catching up with him. This picture was taken at the grand opening of the Beacon Cinema.

The major “points of light” the Ruberto Administration and its stooges drag out as proof a downtown “renaissance” are artificially propped up with taxpayer funds — the Colonial, Spice, Beacon Cinema, Workshop Live, and so on. That’s not a renaissance. That’s a recipe for mediocrity.

God bless the true entrepreneurs, who use their own capital to take a chance: the Beads, Bath, & Beyond, Bizzy B’s, Pancho’s, and places like that. Such businesses know that public funding = certain market failure.

Exploring that further brings out a couple more interesting points, but first we need to set the stage. Harken back to the days of Thursday night shopping and hanging out on North Street, to the Saturdays and weekdays where downtown looked as busy as a Manhattan crossroads.

Did the City of Pittsfield throw millions of public dollars at England Brothers, Besse-Clarke, or Pittsfield Sporting Goods? Did it give away taxpayer money to the Movie Mart, Dick Moon’s, and Newberry’s? Did the Highland, the Lantern, or the Hotel Wendell? Did the Toggery Shop, Rosenfeld’s, and Mike’s Berkshire Hills?

No, they didn’t. You, the consumer, did through your patronage of those stores.

The entrepreneurs and shop owners took the time to learn what their customers wanted and filled that need. These stores serviced customers. They did not service a demographic type or a region. They flourished until such time as GE folded, and the discretionary income went away.

Needed: Sustainable Revenue

Arts czarina Megan Whilden, left, and Mayor Jimmy Ruberto at the opening of the Beacon.

Every administration since GE left — Reilly, Doyle, Hathaway, and Ruberto — tries a different variation of “fake” development. None of these administrations, however, could hide the lack of “GE” type jobs. They’ve never been replaced. Our leaders have failed the people, miserably.

People without good jobs cannot afford $100 shoes, $4 lattes, and brie on boulabrisque wafers . They don’t dine on hummingbird tongues and Beluga caviar. And this is perhaps the main issue as it pertains to the dishonest nature of “downtown redevelopment” as it’s practiced in Pittsfield.

A sadly typical bar chart of resource waste.

Without a sustainable source of revenue, no business can survive. The redevelopment of downtown Pittsfield as officials have carried out its actions in the last eight to ten years centers on industries, businesses, and stores that cannot hold serve in tough economic times. No amount of false propping up of business with unaccountable giveaways of public money can mask the underlying decay.

If you are having a tough time making ends meet, do you run out and have a $100 meal at Spice and then take in a movie at the Beacon for $40 (including a popcorn and soda)? No, you make beef stew at home, pop in a rented DVD, and microwave a batch of popcorn. The same goes for the tourists. Do they travel as much in a down economy? The answer is no, despite the parroted piece of puffery published by the Boring Broadsheet a couple days ago printing what the local tourism honchos told it — you know, how 2011 was going to be fantastic, great, and full of champagne and dancing girls.

Economic Development isn’t Based on Feelings

Beacon Cinema: A "feel good" project propped up with taxpayer dollars. Already outmoded, and the thrill is gone.

The types of businesses the City of Pittsfield has lured here, touted, and set up with cushy deals (with YOUR MONEY, remember, and not theirs) are typically touted on emotion. The “arguments” by city officials from Ruberto to OCD Director and First Deputy Mayor Deanna Ruffer to councilors are made on feelings, not hard data or rationale.

“Feel good” does make sound economic policy. That’s how you get the Berkshire Eagle touting “1,000 Jobs” of a criminal enterprise and sham that bilked Joe and Jane Littleguy out of a ton of their money. For that and other “white” crimes, there is no accountability in Pittsfield. Officials, through ignorance and acts of malicious will, routinely break the law when it comes to procurement of goods and services.

When asked about the secret nature of these dealings, The mayor says nothing. The city council says less. All the “feel good” rah-rah boosters such as the Chamber of Commerce and the “Alphabet Soup Group” suddenly get a case of the mums. The only time they talk is when it’s too the Berkshire Eagle, their accomplice in crime.

With that, we pose this question: What if the Workshop Live and other such businesses did NOT get incentives, credits, inducements, etc. (call them what you like; it’s the “mutant theory” — the power structure will keep changing the names of the incentives once people catch on. The cut on property tax becomes the “tax credit” becomes the “stimulus”). Without the crutches provided by “enterprise” inducements and other forms of public charity, would these business open up elsewhere in the city? Would they follow old-fashioned capitalism and put up their own money, take a chance, and see if it works?

The skunks think it's THEIR money, not yours, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer

Some would. If you recall, Workshop Live said it didn’t need taxpayers dollars to come to Pittsfield. The city insisted. Why? What was up with that? Who got what? Were kickbacks in some shape involved?  If a business truly believes that what it’s doing will serve a market need, that business will take a chance. That’s the nature of entrepreneurial energy.

No Renaissance, only Redirection

There is no economic development in Pittsfield. There is just redirection of  capital taken from taxpayers, the proverbial shuffling the deckchairs on the sinking Titanic.  The net growth is zero.

When a business opens and the taxpayers are the venture capitalists, the owners have less incentive to service customers than to service the elites of the power structure.  On the other hand, businesses that open without public money must be mindful of the cliental they serve and not the area in which they are serving. This is a major distinction and cannot be under estimated.

Burger Spicey de la Snotty, because they are located in the “enterprise zone” of downtown (and received taxpayer funding), don’t offer a hamburger. That is for peasants. They need to serve berg de la hamboufee. They don’t offer fries. They serve cheddar formage frias and wheat grass at $17.95.

If that same restaurateur opened up an establishment in a different part of town free of the “redevelopment pox,” he would most likely be laughed out of town for such an offering. Instead, this proprietor would serve his customers. He would offer a burger, fries, and soda for $5.95. The business would have them in and out the door all day.

Incentives Don’t Work

Research shows that across the country, more than 300,000 stores, restaurants, and shops have been “incentivized” to artificially locate in downtown redevelopment areas. Of these, 7% survive three years and less than 1% survive five or more years. Stunning numbers. This survival rate also has a detrimental effect on downtown development in terms of other business being wary of entering into and area with a high failure rate area. The bottom line is that if a business needs capital from the government, then it’s going to have a tough go if it.

RUBERTO: Lots of 'splainin' to do if he runs again in 2011

A strong economic development program, on the other hand, will redevelop downtown, uptown, and in-between town. If there are decent paying jobs, people will have money to spend. It’s that simple.  Go back to Thursday nights on North Street. Pittsfield lacks these jobs, and this lack makes a mockery of the ridiculous term “renaissance” as applied to a few “haves” whose existence slaps the “have nots” in the face.

For example, if EV Worldscam had been real and it created 1,000 jobs, that would have produced 1,000 paychecks to be disbursed as the consumer desired, be it at the theater, dinner, car restoration, or any and every number of things resulting in a diverse economy.

In short, call it what you wish: “downtown redevelopment” … “renaissance” … “investment in the city” … whatever your heart desires, but artificially building up a business because it suits a geographical area or, worse, a political agenda is nothing short of wealth redistribution and VACANT dreaming. As history proves time and again, such a policy is doomed to fail.

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TWO DAYS HAVE NOW GONE BY WITH NO REPLY FROM BERKSHIRE EAGLE EXECUTIVE EDITOR TIME FARKAS TO OUR CHALLENGE TO A DEBATE. IF THE EAGLE REFUSES TO ACCEPT THIS CHALLENGE, IT WILL SHOW THEY ARE RUNNING SCARED. IT WILL SHOW THEY ARE SCARED TO FACE THE MAN WHO CAN EXPOSE THEN AS FAILURES TO THIS COMMUNITY.

——————————————————

TOMORROW, WE SHALL POST “THE LETTER.” YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS IT. THIS IS THE LETTER “THEY” DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE.

27 Responses to “!UPDATE! ‘L’AFFAIRE STRACUZZI’ MUST BE SETTLED …ECONOMIC REDEVELOPMENT, PART II: ARTIFICIAL PROPS AND TAXPAYER DOLLARS SPELL DOOM FOR DOWNTOWN, plus, FARKAS STILL HIDING FROM THE PLANET”

  1. Curious
    December 31, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

    The writer cites that ” research shows that across the country, more than 300,000…incentivized…1% survive five or more years”

    I’ve never seen such data. Please reference the source for that data. I’d be interested in parsing the details (private/public dollar ratios, industry types, management experience, etc).

    That data seems wrong to me, but if it is correct I would like to research why.

    Thanks in advance for citing your referenced material.

  2. Scott Laugenour
    December 31, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    Wish there was a companion video to the letter of J. Olver walking on Pontoosuc Lake.

    Hey, but maybe there will be!

    • danvalenti
      January 1, 2011 at 11:26 am #

      We don’t have that film, but there is a vid of Olver raising the dead. It’s the audience at the end of one of his speeches, coming back to life.

      • Jeffrey Turner
        January 2, 2011 at 11:31 am #

        Not everybody gets paid to enthrall the rabble with eloquence.

    • Jeffrey Turner
      January 2, 2011 at 11:30 am #

      A primary is a good thing for the public, and a better thing for the local media outlets, but simple demographics tell me that Nuciforo (D-Pittsfield) is going to have trouble against Olver (D-Amherst) even without starting out an incumbency down. By the way, I do believe The Planet may have a pecuniary interest in those local media outlets doing well.

  3. PITTSFIELD (un)BELIEVABLE
    December 31, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

    This is an excellent series. I have learned more in insight about why things haven’t worked in Pittsfield in these two essays than I have with all the mumbo jiumbo of the Suits for the last 8 yrs. CAnt wait for pt 3. Im typing this in the middle of the noise of a new years party. there was a toast to valenti!

  4. Stephen
    December 31, 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    Interesting. My background is investment banking and venture financing. There’s a reason why start-ups and other new businesses go to public resources such as, in this case, the city. They either have been turned down by private lenders, or they haven’t even tried private financing because they know they will not get it. On any project that looks for public financial backing, the city should demand to see why the venture could not get private capital to invest. That will reveal much.

  5. Simon Sez
    January 1, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Too often, pittsfield officials, councilors, and mayor use the excuse that many many towns have the problem of economic development. Thats an excuse for failure since other town have figured out how to expand the tax base and revitlize downtown. Cmon pittsfield leaders, stop with the excuses. get the job done we elected you for.

  6. Jonathan Melle
    January 1, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Dear Dan,
    Happy New Year!
    You mentioned Angelo Stracuzzi, but forgot about Carmen Massimiano’s alleged sexual deviance.
    http://jonathanmelleonpolitics.blogspot.com/2010/02/carmen-massimiano-is-alleged-homosexual.html

    - Jonathan Melle

  7. No Reply
    January 1, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    On the stracuzzi case, what this site asks is reasonable: was the courts orders fulfilled? If so, there should be evidence and the parties involved would want to share it it seems. If not, why not. On economic development the economy built on service jobs for hotels restaurants love theaters do not provide for regional econom. grotwth. we need the type of jobs menionted in part one.

  8. Felix
    January 2, 2011 at 5:12 am #

    Hi Dan.
    If I were Tim Farkus, I’d ignore your silly challenge. Eagle CEO Andrew Mick is the guy you want. He’s the limp-minded head of media mediocrity in Pittsfield.
    Thanks for the website. You are providing a much-needed public service.

  9. Jeffrey Turner
    January 2, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    Gosh, as long as the federal government was pumping millions into Pittsfield via General Electric no public money was necessary to support stores on North Street.

    Now, because Pittsfield is going after smaller businesses that it might attract, rather than corporate behemoths that demand huge state energy subsidies and set up shop in states with “right to work” laws to exploit cheap labor – and though PEDA meetings are open to the public, The Planet (I laugh every time) has no information on whether they even tried to attract such firms – The Planet sees this as a proof that his own loud-mouthness would do a better job of running Pittsfield than its elected representatives. Ho hum.

    • scandals
      January 2, 2011 at 9:20 am #

      How was it that “the federal government was pumping millions into Pittsfield via General Electric”?

      Do you mean because GE received government contracts?

      For that matter then, you can thank the federal government for the cash-for-clunkersprogram and the first-time homebuyers tax credit for “pumping” money into Pittsfield.

      I’m not arguing with you. I just don’t see how that supports your argument.

      For the record I AGREE WITH YOU.

      I, too, would like to see Valenti offer some ideas (he either has none or is secretly holding them back to launch his own job-generating business – the latter is unikely).

      Valenti likes his little soap box from which he can throw stones and simultaneously feed his massive ego which seemingly requires constant attention. But he doens’t use said soap box to help anybody or anything.

      Ho hum, indeed, sir.

      • Jeffrey Turner
        January 2, 2011 at 11:23 am #

        Yes, GE got tons of government money in contracts for stuff that nobody walking up and down North Street would ever buy. Or even want to use.

        Now when tourists spend less that may mean skiing at Bosquet instead of St. Moritz or Aspen. So a down economy for tourists _may_ actually help Pittsfield – especially if there are places like the Colonial to help bring tourists to restaurants like Pancho’s.

        I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to have a big manufacturing employer, but I don’t think it’s the city government’s fault that there isn’t.

        • DJ
          January 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

          The transformers that GE made here were and are used by millions more people than the crap you can buy on North Street.

  10. Jim Gleason
    January 2, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    One way to attract business would be to lower the commercial tax rate, as Joe Nichols has suggested, and stop spending money recklessly, such as hiring John Barrett, so that the property tax could be lowered or stabilized. Did anyone notice the front page article in the Gazette on how ruberto over-rode the ambulance commission’s decision to have County Ambulance as the sole provider of ambulance service in Pittsfield? ruberto gave half the contract to a firm from Wilmington,MA, pulling the rug out from under County after they invested in equipment and staff, thinking they would be the sole provider. Can anyone spell k-i-c-k-b-a-c-k? I surely can.

    • Tim
      January 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

      Action ambulance is hooked with Gerry Doyle. Why not have the Fire Dept run the ambulance service like 75% of the country? Over 6000 medical calls for the city of Pittsfield. Have you seen what they charge for a trip to BMC? Average charge is over $500. Fire based ambulance would bring in over One million dollars profit per year!!

      • danvalenti
        January 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

        The poster makes an excellent suggestion. Keep it, and the money, in house.

      • Jim Gleason
        January 4, 2011 at 8:10 am #

        How much would it cost to train EVERY firefighter to be EMT qualified and to buy the equipment County already invested in? The Fire Dept. is great at what they do, let EMT’s be trained at County’s expense and keep it as is. Then there’s the liabilityissue to the city if something goes wrong. Big expense for insurance on that front too.

        • Tim
          January 4, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

          The Fire Dept has around 80%of its FireFighters already EMT’s,plus 2 Paramedics. Liability issues are the same as is now, because FF responded to 99% of all medical calls in the city. Oh by the way FF are on the scene 98% of the time BEFORE the ambulance gets there. The citizens of Pittsfield ALWAYS get the closest Fire engine near the scene of the call..When 2 ambulance company’s rotate calls you won’t always get the ambulance who is closest!

    • Tim
      January 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

      I have another question. Why will the two ambulance company rotate calls instead of sending the closest ambulance? If Im having a hear attack I sure as hell want the closest Fire truck to respond to my house not whose turn it is! Remember when AMR was on West Housatonic St and County is at Wahconah St? If Im at Jimmy’s Restaurant having a heart attack I wouldn’t care whos turn it was. I want the closest one near by !

  11. Stephen
    January 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    It’s amazing the lack of sophisitcation shown by Mr. Turner on these replies. He has no understanding of economics, that is clear, and moreover, he’s clearly threatened by the information here. I am no fan of Valenti’s, but I cannot agree with Turner: Valenti, almost alone, has offered a number of solutions on how to tame the runaway budget in Pittsfield and on economic development. He does have a massive ego, but in his business, that is good. I don’t know him, but I know he understands the private markets.

    • Garden
      January 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

      There have been no examples of Valenti having any usable knowledge of the private markets which exceeds that of the average high school graduate.

      Please do list the “number of solutions” (emphasis on “solutions” as opposed to a list of actionable items that shift problems) that Valenti “has offered”. You are either wrong, or a liar.

      • Stephen
        January 2, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

        Sir, you put me in the unusual position of having to defend Dan Valenti, but I will here. You obviously have not read the body of his material over the years or if you have, you have selective memory. When he writes about markets, he shows a trenchant grasp. He has also offered numerous solutions in past columns on budget deficits and development issues as they pertain to capital and economics. He has also published in Great Britain a widely-read white paper on currency. Sir, take the trouble and educate yourself. Do not rely upon me to do so, with all due respect.

  12. Tim
    January 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    Dan I wish I could afford a 1982 bottle of Dom!!!