Article

THE EAGLE CRIES UNCLE TO THE PLANET, plus, THE CORRUPT CEDS, EXPOSED!! News and Commentary You Can’t Get Anywhere Else.

BY DAN VALENTI

The Berkshire Eagle’s executive editor, Tim Farkas, hasn’t responded to our challenge to debate the role and responsibility of the media to the community. From that, you may draw your own conclusions. The Planet noted with satisfaction that in today’s page one news story

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU: Tim Farkas is at the middle podium, sweating. At left, Tom Bowler. At right, Dan Bosely. That's the closest Farkas apparently will get to an actual debate.

by Clarence Fanto, the Eagle through our good friend Fanto acknowledges where the controversial NUCIFORO LETTERS (to him by 23 “concerned Democrats” telling him not to challenge John Olver and from him telling the 23 he’s in the race for keeps) first appeared: “in Dan Valenti’s blog.”

The Fanto piece treats the matter in a buttoned down news style, appropriate for the Eagle’s readers who, once again, had to learn about this long after the fact of our reporting. We will be curious to see if Fanto addresses this from a commentary view on Sunday, where he will be posting on the op-ed page of the Boring Broadsheet.

This added thought: If Farkas chooses not to debate me, then we will accept though not respect that decision, since it will likely be done passively — pretending it never happened and hoping it goes away on its own. That’s a cowardly way of “responding” to a challenge of this sort. If TF had responded with his rationale for not accepting, that would have to be respected. Assuming the debate never happens, who out there would be interested to see The Planet and several other media types (Fanto, Tony Dobrowolski, Larry Kratka, Lenny Bean, David Scribner, Alan Chartock, etc.) discuss this issue in a panel-moderator format?

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Nuff CEDS

PLANNING IN PITTSFIELD: What's Dat?In our three-part series on why Pittsfield has missed the boat on economic development, The Planet highlighted an aspect of this issue that has remained unspoken for 10 years: the importance of a region’s Community Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). Truly, when have you ever had an honest discussion about this vital process? Puff pieces and PR don’t count.

Pittsfield has not had a CEDS accepted by the Federal Economic Development Agency since 2001, since Sara Hathaway was mayor. That’s an eternity when your region languishes on the vine while just a handful of Fat Cats strike it rich. Meanwhile, other communities such as cities in rural western North Carolina (the example we looked at in our three-part series) have developed accomplished CEDS plans and enjoyed the benefits: luring Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Wipro to invest nearly $3 billion in data centers in the past three years.

CEDS: We’ve Only Just Begun

The Planet is not done with CEDS. We are just beginning. We believe it holds one of the keys to explaining the baffling entropy of Pittsfield in the area of economic development. In the ten years since the city’s last successful CEDS, Pittsfield has failed to diversify, failed to draw manufacturing, failed to develop the PEDA site, failed to grow the tax base, failed taxpayers, failed to attract essential private investment, and shed jobs and population like a collie shedding its coat in summer.

The city’s incompetency with CEDS since 2001 may hold the key to understanding a great fiscal mystery: Why so much failure?

Pittsfield has missed out on a key element of economic assistance because, as we’ve seen in the CEDS failures of 2004 and 2009, the city insists on drafting political documents instead of true economic development strategies. That may keep the Pittsfield 100 fat and happy, but it doesn’t impress Uncle Sam one bit and helps the local population even less.

Your Stake in CEDS

What’s your stake in all this? Your lifestyle, your livelihood, and your leisure. It’s one reason why downtown of the county hub still more resembles a ghost town than a vibrant center city. It’s one reason why people still continue to move out of the county (population dipping below 130,000). It’s one reason why the tax rate in the city punishes homeowners and pulverizes businesses. It’s why our parks don’t get the upkeep they need, the city side (as opposed to the school side) of government is under-jobbed, and why services are down.

————————————————– IMPORTANT NOTICE:—————–

THE NEXT CEDS MEETING IS SLATED FOR JAN. 11, at 12:30 p.m. at BRPC offices at 1 Fenn. St., second floor (room 201). Phone number for questions: 413/442-1521. It’s important for more citizens to attend these sessions, which are open to the public. This will help keep the process honest. City councilors should also attend if they are to claim they are representing their wards or cities.

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Another interesting factor that needs more scrutiny is the situation of Nat Karns, head of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BPRC). The BRPC hosts CEDS. In fact, the current CEDS committee  is considered an official subcommittee of the BRPC. Here’s where it gets interesting.

Check out page 4 of this link (if not active on your screen, sorry, but you’ll have to type it in):

file:///Users/Dan/Desktop/www.berkshireplanning.org:.webloc

(At this link, you will find links to past CEDS as well as the 2011 CEDS.)

On page 4, we learn that members of the 2011 CEDS committee “are classified as city employees by virtue of [their] membership.” Sounds innocent enough, except when you consider that this automatically makes them — as all other city employees — part of poisonous Pittsfield politics, whether they like it or not. This comes with a tacit rule: “Play ball or else.”

The unwritten rules for service on this committee, if the past is to serve as a guide: “Don’t ask embarrassing questions, following your talking points, and when you see something you don’t like, roll over and play dead.”

The 2011 CEDS committee thus finds itself burdened with an unfair brand: Service on the committee can be interpreted to mean you are a lap dog for the special interests. Let’s point out that it’s too soon to know this of the 2011 membership. Their actions will determine that. The 2011 members are:

Name Organization
Brenda Burdick General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems
Christine Ludwiszewski Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce (SBCC)
David Rooney Berkshire Economic Development Corporation (BEDC)
Deanna Ruffer City of Pittsfield
Eleanore Velez Citizen Member
Heather Boulger Berkshire County Regional Employment Board (BCREB)
Helena Fruscio Berkshire Creative
J. Michael Hoffmann TD Bank
Kevin O’Donnell Town of Great Barrington
Keith Girouard Mass Small Business Development Center
Kristine Hazzard Berkshire United Way
Lauri Klefos Berkshire Visitors Bureau
Laury Epstein Berkshire Grown
Mike Nuvallie City of North Adams
Mike Supranowicz Berkshire Chamber of Commerce
Robert Wilson IBEW Local 7 (Electrical Workers)
Roger Bolton Williams College
Tim Geller South Berkshire Community Development Corporation (SBCDC)
Mark Berman MCLA

Is the public sector overly represented? Is the private sector once again being snuffed? Where are the companions to the lone citizen member? At first glance, it looks like they’ve stacked the deck again.

Karns: Does the City Hold His Pension?

The shark is the Power Elite. The legs are The Little Guy. Something's wrong with that picture.

Now, back to Nat Karns. If you follow the 2009 failed CEDS process, Karns seems like a different man from the one he was prior to that. Just an impression, but in combing laboriously through the notes of the 2004 and 2009 minutes, Karns seems more independent and questioning in ’04. In ’09, he acts like he’s gotten his marching orders straight. This difference is subtle and couched behind all the officious language, but it’s there. This baffled The Planet, until one of our correspondents noted that in 2005, Karns had to find “a new place to park his pension.”

Click!

It appears the state discontinued Karns’ pension in ’04 or ’05. When this happened, then city councilor-at-large Matt Kerwood, who was part of the CEDS failures as a committee member, suggested that Karns’ pension be handed off to the city of Pittsfield, to be picked up by the Office of Community Development, headed by Deanna Ruffer. You will notice that Ruffer is a also member of the current CEDS committee. My, what a small world.

Pittsfield should be the county's shining star instead of its dull flameout.

Does this explain why Karns has lost his teeth and now gums everything the city and his “boss woman” Deanna Ruffer toss his way? It’s just a question. Knowing that this will get back to Karns and Ruffer, The Planet will use this forum as an invitation to either of them to comment. Our readers would love to hear your reaction to this. Please, correct us if we are in error.

Caving in to ‘The Pittsfield Agenda’

One political observer mentioned to The Planet as a throwaway line the key that lit up a light bulb above our noggin: “After that [that is, after the city got control of Karns' pension], Karns started to cave in to the Pittsfield agenda.” Want an example? Follow Karns’ behavior throughout the lengthy Pittsfield Airport expansion process. There are two different Nat Karns: Pre- and post- 2005. That’s how you help a phony project get rammed through despite the community’s intense objections.

So we formally ask:

* Does Karns still have his pension through the city? Is it through Ruffer’s OCD gulag?

* Is this why the 2009 CEDS effort fizzled faster than Brett Farve?

* Are the taxpayers of Pittsfield eating any of these costs, legally or otherwise?

* Can anyone expect Karns’, as the head of the CEDS process, to be an objective leader, or will he simply tell the Bosses what they want to hear?

* Isn’t that how (and why) Pittsfield had crafted CEDS plans that are political tracts rather than realistic fiscal plans?

* Is that why the taxpayers of Pittsfield, and not private venture capitalists, ended up paying for the Colonial Theater, Spice, Beacon Cinema, Workshop Live, Patriot Place, EV Worldwide, and so on?

Who Will Answer, and It’s Not Ed Ames Asking

Does the mayor wish to answer these questions? How about any of the city councilors? Peter White? John Krol? Peter Marchetti, Gerry Lee, Jonathan Lothrop — C’mon, you guys are the biggest cheerleaders for all this crud. We’d like to know, fellas, if you wish to respond. We also like to know if you intend to be there at the next CEDS meeting: not to receive orders, but to dictate them!

24 Responses to “THE EAGLE CRIES UNCLE TO THE PLANET, plus, THE CORRUPT CEDS, EXPOSED!! News and Commentary You Can’t Get Anywhere Else.”

  1. Scott Laugenour
    January 6, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Yes. I think the media panel you suggest is a great idea. Let’s include Tammy Daniels, Nick Ring, BCC media faculty and/or student, Bill Shein, David Cachat as well.

    • danvalenti
      January 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      SCOTT
      Great additions to the panel. I’d even invite Tim Farkas!

  2. Jim Gleason
    January 6, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    Does Karnes work for the city of Pittsfield, or did he ever? Why is he, or is he, afforded the same pension rights, probably more, than I got for working 15 years for the city? I know ruberto won’t answer those questions, he’ll say it’s a personnel matter and he can’t comment, like he does on every other query about city employees.

    • danvalenti
      January 6, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

      JIM
      You ask an interesting question. That’s why I mentioned that for this year’s CEDS, the committee members are considered city employees. Does this by extension make Karns a city employee? I wonder how on earth anyone can come into that job of CEDS committee man or woman and stay politically immune? The more we look into how planning is done around here, the more it stinks.

      • Jonathan Melle
        January 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

        When my Dad was a Berkshire County Commissioner, the BRPC lead by Nat Karns around 1997 – 1999 formed a committee called “Berkshire 2000″ to form a new regional government for Berkshire County. They spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars “planning” a proposal that the voters voted down in a referendum. In 1997, the state Senator Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. gave the county commission his proposal for a “CoG” (Council of Governments) for Berkshire County in place of the then county government. I kept Nuciforo’s document for over 2 years. Then, in 1999, Karns’ plan was identical to Nuciforo’s plan in 1997. I showed the “Berkshire 2000″ the 2 documents that were identical proposals for a “CoG” for Berkshire County. I showed that Nat Karns had no integrity. He formed a committee, spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, all to copy Nuciforo’s proposal.

  3. Jonathan Melle
    January 6, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    I liked how former North Adams and Pittsfield consultant Mayor John Barrett III called Nuciforo an “opportunist”! Clarence Fanto did a good follow up to Dan Valenti’s scoop on the letters de Nuciforo. It costs a lot of $ to run for U.S. Congress. The best thing the Democratic concerned citizens can do is donate to John Olver’s political campaign. I may even donate to John Olver to defeat Nuciforo. I agree with Barrett that Nuciforo was wrong to edge out Sara Hathaway in the 2006 Pittsfield Registrar of Deeds race. I am not surprised that Jimmy Ruberto praised Nuciforo, but hedges his bets behind John Olver. I hope Ruberto loses this year. Enough is enough with job loss and population loss and PEDA failures! The Good Old Boys of Pittsfield Politics, including Nuciforo, need a reality check by being voted OUT of political office.

  4. Jim Gleason
    January 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    John Barrett has no right to call nayone else an opportunist in a bad sense. He has screwed the people of Pittsfield for over 1 year in his role as a “consultant” to our mayor. He has done absolitely NOTHING to help Pittsfield. He talks a good game but why was straight salt being spread on 1/4 inch of snow Wednesday when Barrett blasted the Public Works crews for doing the same thing in the past. I heard from a good source that Public Works is under a “down to blacktop” rule with the orders coming from Barrett and ruberto. If straight salt is spread every time a bit of snow falls the city will exhaust its road maintenance budget before January is out. Big savings there, eh Barrett?

  5. DJ
    January 6, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    So a bunch of NFP, actual city employees, and a couple business folks
    And they wonder why this stuff never works…half the NFP folks will use the position on this committe to further justify their position at their respective NPFs.

    Dan I have a homework assignment for you, see if you can track via campaign contributions, who these people supported in the last elections. Check and see if those living in Pittsfield supported Ruberto, those in North Adams supported the new deputy mayor in Pittsfield aka the former mayor of North Adams.

  6. Sheriff Dawg
    January 6, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    People, don’t miss the story here, the faulty and compromised planning process when it comes to regional planning and economics. The other day valenti called the ceds fiasco the smoking gun to explain these lost 10 years, since 201. It sure looks like it. this is a huge story and no one even found it until now. I hope pwople put pressure on the ceds crew to deliver this time around. Has karns been contacted?

  7. Jonathan Melle
    January 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    In 2003, as a resident of Becket and then Pittsfield, I supported Jim Ruberto for Mayor because he had a lot of good ideas for Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Ruberto challenged Mayor Sara Hathaway’s 2 year term full of tax hikes, poor & immature relationships with her colleagues on the city council, a number of murders and related violent crimes, poorly performing public schools, and the struggling local economy. Ruberto had written hand-outs detailing his plans for Pittsfield. When Ruberto spoke, he talked about grassroots democracy, neighborhood meetings, and ending insider politics. I was excited to see a candidate of such promise and ideals running as Mayor of my native hometown.

    8 years later in 2011, I realize I was totally misled by a slick salesman who seemed to mock the critical issues facing Pittsfield. Mayor Ruberto’s leadership saw many tax hikes, a top-down city council, crime, poorly performing public schools, and a struggling local economy with thousands of lost jobs, businesses and residents, as well as PEDA failures. Per insider politics, Mayor Ruberto had Good Old Boys like Andrea Nuciforo swear him in to his 3rd term in early-2008, and Carmen Massimiano chair the Licensing Committee. Mayor Ruberto smacks of heavy-handed management that intimidates his dissenters.

    Pittsfield has many critical issues facing residents, businesses and its city government. I hope Mayor Ruberto realizes he has failed to lead Pittsfield out of its problems and he won’t run again. Ruberto’s property is somewhere in Florida anyways. Ruberto should retire there. Pittsfield deserves another chance to have new leadership that will bring positive changes like jobs, growth, safe neighborhoods, good public schools, and the like. I hope Pittsfield will elect a new Mayor in 2011.

  8. Marcus Borealis
    January 7, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    The pittsfield planning process is too political and has long been this way. that’s all people want is a fair shake. a sense that the game is fair.

  9. rick
    January 7, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    because roberto knew bianchi wasnt going to get dirty , he went after him like the little sleezball he is. roberto opened a pandoras box,and turned this little citys mayoral election into a disgusting affair, and backed by the same people who signed the nuciforo letter. and still only won by a few hundred votes, yet lost any self respect for himself.i hope it was worth it, all that money spent for those votes,it cost that guy his self dignity. so with nichols,and i hope biachi,and others running,roberto might not even make thu the first round.

    • danvalenti
      January 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      As you recall, the gloves came off on BOTH sides in 2009.

      • Jim Gleason
        January 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

        Dan Bianchi wasn’t sleazy, ruberto was, END OF STORY!

  10. Nat Karns
    January 7, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    Without getting into a debate about most of the remarks made, I would like to give a few facts to make sure people are operating under correct understanding;

    1. As a new requirement in the State Ethics Law and Open Meeting Law, all BRPC paid employees, delegates and alternates (the policy-setting representatives appointed by all 32 towns and cities in Berkshire County to BRPC) and all BRPC committee members are classified as MUNICIPAL employees. This does not mean that they are employees of the City of Pittsfield (there are 31 other cities and towns in the region under that logic, they would just as much be “employees” of the Town of New Ashford. As municipal employees under those laws they are required to receive certain materials and certify that they have received them, in writing.
    2. There was no 2009 CEDS process so any references to it are in error.
    3. BRPC paid employees (including me) are in the Massachusetts State Retirement System, as is the case for almost all of the regional planning agencies in the state, although we are treated as a unit of local government, similar to regional school districts. We are not in the City of Pittsfield Retirement System.

    • danvalenti
      January 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

      The Planet thanks Mr. Karns for his reply. We will respond to his three points:
      (1) You confirm what The Planet reported. The members of the CEDS team are municipal employees. True, there are 30 towns and one other city “represented,” but the 800-pound gorilla is the city of Pittsfield. The CEDS meetings are held literally next door to city hall, literally within a stone’s throw. We disagree; politically, they can only be “employees” of Pittsfield, whatever their technical status.
      (2) The record stands corrected, which leads to this question, why only one CEDS (2004) in 10 years?
      (3) We will take Mr. Karns information as part of the record and try to square it with information from another source indicating a switch to the city pension plan. We will, of course, give Mr. Karns the inside track, since he should be the definitive source for a question like this.

      • Jonathan Melle
        January 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

        Nat Karns is a political hack. He has done many disservices to Berkshire County. Just look at the many thousands of losses in population and jobs during his tenure. As Dan Valenti pointed out, its all about CEDS, and Nat Karns has failed in producing an acceptable CEDS plan!

    • Jim Gleason
      January 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

      You may not be in the Pittsfield retirement system, but you appear to be in ruberto’s pocket.

  11. OLD ONE
    January 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    I would like to see facts, not ranting, from Mr. Melle.

    Mr. Karns clarified a situation but did not address the real problem of the
    make up of the CEDS formal input group. Most of the people are from the public
    sector or receive there funding from the public sector(TAX PAYERS). Additionally, the failure of real area economic development has been totally cover over by the daily paper, especially the reporter that covers city government. It would be nice to see the business reporter cover the law firms investigating the Berkshire Bank and Legacy Banks merger.

    Mr. Karns never really addressed any timeline of what happened with the pensions. Oh, the new state ethics law and open meeting laws did not get finalized until Oct. 2010 according to the state web site.

  12. Puzzled
    January 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    I been reading the NC CEDS from your previous articles and the educational component on paper looks less inviting then the ones here. Yet multi BILLION dollars companies moved/expanded there. WHY?

    • Mike
      January 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

      CEDS SCHMEDS. These data centers use enough juice to light up Pittsfield like a turkey fryer. Cheap electricity trumps a beautifully crafted biz dev plan every time.

  13. No Reply
    January 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    I give Nat Karns credit for responding notice that he doesn’t address the essential point which is the failure of his leadership to produce an acceptable ceds for 10 years. the heat will be on this time. i looked at the makeup of the “new” ceds panel. you’ve got to be kidding me. as someone said earlier mostly public sector or nonprofits. another smoke job in progess, i think.

  14. rick
    January 8, 2011 at 3:35 am #

    may not be in the retirement system, but being catogerized a s a ” city emploee” means what,? check that out and find what they get under that umbrella. when you get a label,its for a reason!!.

  15. Jill Dominguez
    January 9, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    I came across your blog comments regarding the disappointing accomplishments of your local government to successfully acquire EDA funding and subsequently the failure of the CEDS.  

    This is a little education to explain where the most likely failures of the CEDS occurred and ways to improve your CEDS and succeed with EDA. I have worked with the EDA for 20 years with 100% success rate in my applications and CEDS submissions.  I found all the comments and even the CEDS committee to be severly under educated in EDA funding and CEDS.  I offer this as free information so your community can compete more effectively for EDA dollars. 

    #1 in 2009 the CEDS Committee Chair or manager of the CEDS process was very vague in the response regarding why no funding was available to rewrite the CEDS.  The EDA usually only funds the first CEDS and watches your community to see if you have kept up your CEDS plan and created jobs.  Each year an annual update is due to the EDA informing the EDA of the projects referred to in the CEDS.  This is a REQUIREMENT.  Ask BPRC for the annual reports for the years 2002-2005.  Your CEDS expired at the end of the federal funding year Sept. 30, 2006.  A CEDS is only good for 5 years.  Your CEDS has been expired for 5 years. Even if your eligible area wanted EDA $’s no project is eligible without an ACTIVE CEDS.

    #2. The CEDS committee documentation available on line at the update site is severly out of date and the project forms do not ask or explain what areas are eligble for EDA investment under the CEDS project form. So here is a quick guide:
    –the project must be located in an EDA qualified tract, either census or established current economic conditions. Qualifications include a 24 month unemployment rate a minimum of 1% above the national average.  Eligible sources, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  
    –The per capita income levels at a minimum 70% of national average.  Eligible source, U.S. American Communities  Survey.  Or in cases of Presidentially declared disaster areas you are eligible for one year from the announcement date. Rare but sometimes important.

    These are just a couple of areas to be concerned with.  Another area is the NEW EDA APPLICATION submission process for all Public Works and Planning grants.  The EDA now requires full applications and it has a score sheet for competitiveness that should be included in the CEDS project forms.  

    I am sure I have thoroughly bored you to tears by now but if anyone, even the CEDS committee, has questions I have a blog site that answers EDA questions for free and offers helpful links.  In addition I have a Twitter account that is devoted to EDA, “askjillknowseda” at Twitter.  It has great examples of other areas successful EDA projects and offers links to sites with helpful EDA information.

    Thank you for your reply space and I wish you great success with EDA funding. I am a true believer in EDA funding. It is even more important now as every state, city, county, parrish and municipality finds itself severly short of funds for ‘brick and mortar’ infrastructure funding.

    Sincerely,
    Jill Dominguez
    http://askjill.essergy.net