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
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?
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.
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):
(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:
|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)|
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?
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.”
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.
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!