Article

WHERE IS BRIGGS’ BOULDER?, plus, UNFUNDED LIABILITIES ARE EVEN WORSE THAN PUBLISHED, & BOSTON GLOBE RUNS WITH SUSPICIOUS GE-1BERKSHIRE CONNECTION

BY DAN VALENTI

We begin with a rock. Granite. Marble. That kind of rock.

We as a species have long employed stone for its memorial qualities. Rock endures. The most ordinary stone is probably millions of years old (what has it not experienced?). As physicists have demonstrated (and Eastern religions have “known” for much longer), rocks are alive. No wonder we employ them in monuments, headstones, and as materials for important buildings (churches, halls of government, stadia).

Pittsfield has its share of memorial rocks. There’s one at Maplewood and North, commemorating the first intercollegiate baseball game in America, for example.  There another one between Bencivenga funeral Home and George’s Package Store to mark the homesite of Sen. Dawes.  Until recently, there used to be a memorial rock in front of Berkshire County Superior Court.

What’s Happened to the Briggs’ Boulder?

It’s gone. In its place, an abstract sculpture of a baseball. We are not the better for the exchange.

We received this report from one of our field agents, who writes:

Bartlett's Boulder Out, baseball in: Not a good deal“I was by the courthouse last week and noticed that the boulder that once stood for General Briggs was removed and replaced with a king-sized baseball. I know we’re a baseball town, but what the hell is going on here? It’s like knocking over a tombstone and making way for ‘progress.’ Hell, let’s knock over the gravestones on outer Williams Street and West Street and put up some condos.

“In The History of Pittsfield by Edward Boltwood, it notes that Gen. Briggs‘ memory will always be visibly preserved in Pittsfield by the boulder and the bronze tablet, which was dedicated in 1907, near the court house.’ Fast forward, 104 years later, and Pittsfield has no appetite for such silly nonsense as honoring a hero from the civil war. This is a baseball town. Let’s erect a rusted-out baseball bat in front of PHS and a king-size baseball in place of an ugly boulder next to the courthouse. The improvements to Park Square are modern, so why keep this boulder in place of this man?

“I am curious who made that decision: the state, the mayor, the city council”?

Many Questions re: the Rock

First, we thank agent 6 for altering us to this unfortunate swap.

* First question is where did the Briggs’ Boulder go? Where is it? Who has it?

* Second, why was this done? Is there a benign explanation (i.e., it’s being cleaned; it’s being repaired; it was moved to a more prominent location). What was the rationale?

* Third, as No. 6 asks, who authorized this decision? We issue this open call to the Pittsfield City Council: Does anyone have information?

We agree with No. 6. General Briggs earned that memorial. He was a great man. Number 6 supplied a brief biography:

The Distinguished Life of Gen. Briggs

Gen. Henry S. Briggs was the son of Pittsfield-born Massachusetts Gov. George Nixon Briggs. Henry was born Aug. 1, 1824.  Twenty years later he graduated from Williams College.  Educated at Harvard in law, he was admitted to the bar in 1848.  His interests were in law and politics, and until the start of the Civil War he served as a Representative in the General Court.

Greatly interested in the military companies that were being  organized in several towns, Briggs’ military training and spirit prepared him well for the position of Captain of the Allen Guard.  He prepared Pittsfield soldiers for their first call to duty. Briggs left a case on trial before the court in Boston to take his company to the front. He remained with it in Baltimore and took command of the 10th Regiment for the next three years.  He was severely wounded in the thighs of both legs in battle at Fair Oaks, Virginia. While recovering he was promoted to Brigadier General.

Briggs’ brigade was part of the Washington defense at the time, but he went into more active service later and remained there until the close of the war. He returned to Pittsfield with well-won honors and a soldiers record of dedication, bravery,  and patriotism. His record was without blemish.

In 1865, Briggs became Massachusetts State Auditor and served in that capacity until 1869. Subsequently he was appointed Judge of the District Court of Central Berkshire, a position he held until 1873, when he was appointed appraiser at the Boston Custom house, where he served to the time of his death.  His service to the nation, the Commonwealth and the city of Pittsfield was appreciated for many years to follow. He died in Pittsfield September 23, 1887.

We The People are not happy with the move. Get the baseball out of there. Return to its place of honor Briggs’ Boulder.

——————————

More Unsettling News on Unfunded Liabilities

Red Ink: The Wave Will Be Hitting Soon

Today we present more on the “staggering” $331 million Pittsfield faces in unfunded pension and health-care liabilities. An unfunded liability is a promissory obligation entered on behalf of taxpayers by governments, usually to furnish post-employment benefits such as pensions and health insurance.

This huge story has been ignored by all of the mainstream media in Pittsfield. Only now has there been much substantive mention, after The Planet broke the ice. Last week, the Massachusetts Taxpayers’ Association released a report that said the 50 largest cities in the state face a $20 billion bill for unfunded liabilities. These are debts resulting from deals politicians made with public employee unions over the years while taxpayers weren’t looking. Who will pay?

Got a mirror?

For Pittsfield, a Likely Ruinous Scenario

The Planet was the only media outlet to explain what this mean to Pitsfield taxpayers. The Boring Broadsheet buried an anonymous wire story by AP on the MTA report. It did not think this story was important enough to assign to a writer to research. That writer might have done what The Planet did. We downloaded the actual MTA report and mined for Pittsfield figures. It took some work and enterprise, but we felt it was worth it.

The Springfield Republican, by way of comparison, ran local coverage, including this editorial:

Imagine your property tax bill increasing by 50 percent.

It’s not an impossible scenario with 50 of the largest cities in Massachusetts – including Springfield – facing a “staggering” $20 billion in unfunded liability for retiree health care benefits, according to a study released Tuesday by the nonpartisan, business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Just as upsetting as a 50 percent hike in your property tax bill, imagine being told that you won’t be getting the health coverage you were promised in your retirement years.

The money’s not going to fall from the sky – someone’s got to pay.

Right now, it’s up to Bay State taxpayers to honor the pact cities have made to their employees. Approximately 150,000 current employees are retirees who have already earned lifetime health care benefits.

Unless some action is taken — and soon — the liability threatens to wreak havoc on local government and place crushing burdens on property taxpayers in the future, the foundation said.

Boston has the largest unfunded retiree health care liability at more than $4.5 billion, followed by Worcester and Springfield, which both face obligations of more than $760 million.

Michael Widmer, president of the taxpayers foundation, said in a statement that the obligations are “not hypothetical, but the amount that communities actually owe today.” He likened the obligation to a “giant credit card debt which grows and grows the longer it is ignored.”

The state must begin to consider the series of reforms outlined by the MTF. Those ideas include giving local officials the power to make changes in the design of health care plans without collective bargaining; setting dollar caps on contributions made by municipalities to health care plans; basing benefits on years of service; raising the retiree health care eligibility from 55 to 62 and other reforms. Indeed, the time of reckoning is upon us.

———

The editorial makes a key point. Some apologists for the status quo suggest that the $20 billion (or the $331 million for Pittsfield), is a hypothetical projection of future liability that will not actually occur. That’s a false assertion. As Widmer says, the $20 billion (for Pittsfield, $331 million) is money that is owed now by cities and towns.

There are solutions, but only if the Peter Marchettis, Jonathan Lothrops, Mike Wards, Peter Whites, Gerry Lees, John Krols of the state start now to address the problem. The private sector long ago began dealing. It moved to 401K plan and away from pensions. In the private sector, you can’t retire with full benefits at 55. That only happens if you work for the city or state. That must be changed. There are 101 other things that can be done.

Remind the mayor and city council the next time they try to grow the government, create unnecessary positions, or negotiate contracts on your behalf.

——————————————————-

$331 Million? Actually, Pittsfield Debt is Much Worse

Actually, as bad as that $331 million seems, it’s likely worse. This liability assumes a rise in health care costs of only 5%. The historical record shows that on average, health care costs have been rising must faster, at least double that rate.

As The Planet tries to educate taxpayers to the seriousness of this issue, keep in mind when officials discuss pensions, that’s only a part of the problem. One must include Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) for the full picture. The majority of OPEN liabilities consists of the cost of health care.

To the point that public employees do not receive Social Security benefits, that is true. They also do not contribute Social Security costs. Let me tell you, as soon as I began drawing a paycheck as a lad, Uncle Sam took the SS bite out of my wallet. Public employees have held onto their own money all that time. We forked it over to Uncle Sam. When we collect later in life, we’re getting back OUR OWN MONEY.

Forget Facebook Warnings of Icy Roads, Peter White

You think $331 million is bad? It’s even worse than that. Find out why as The Planet continues this series on the unfunded liabilities that may someday sink Pittsfield.

We heard today from a city councilor who broke into the media to tell people that, when it’s icy, they should slow down behind the wheel. The Planet admits this is a much easier and safer issue to address than benefits reform.

If the day comes that the music dies, every single councilor and public official now in office who didn’t begin sounding the alarm and trying to do something about it will be to blame.

———————————

Boston Globe Picks up on 1Berkshire-GE Connection

Yesterday, the Boston Globe ran a story headlined “GE donations to river group stir controversy; critics see attempt to sway Housatonic River cleanup.”

The Globe followed in the footsteps of The Planet’s coverage of another huge issue that our local politicians, along with the Boring Broadsheet, have ignored or downplayed. Globe staffer Beth Daley wrote the article.

"SMART," all right, but "smart" for whom? Pittsfield City Council: Why Are You Afraid to Ask?

The Globe pointed out that when “a skeptical river advocate asked whether the group took money from General Electric,” 1Berkshire’s Smart Clean-up Coalition responded on its Facebook page, “No. We have no association with GE.”

Caught in a Lie

That was later shown to be a lie. They did have a tie with GE: $300,000 in money. Some tie. 1Berkshire now admits to taking GE money. It tries to dismiss this by saying it has accepted funds from other companies. To our knowledge, 1Berkshire hasn’t, however, revealed:

(a) Who those other contributors are

(b) How much each has given 1Berkshire

(c) And what were the stipulations for receiving the money.

It doesn’t add up, folks.

Eugenie Sills: A Woman of Honor and Principle

The Globe also noted that Eugenie Sills resigned last Thursday from the board of Berkshire Creative Economy Council, one of 1Berkshire’s alliance members. She resigned because of the GE revelation.

“What once seemed like a good idea [1Berkshire] … has turned into an embarrassment,” she told Daley.

There was also this telling part of the Globe feature: “But three people, two of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared professional harm if they spoke openly …”

We won’t bother finishing the sentence. They important point has been made. 1Berkshire cannot be taken seriously. It’s rare that one of these supergroups created to ostensibly serve as “one-stop” entering point for economic development implodes so quickly, from its own doing.

You wonder why Pittsfield has trouble driving economic development? What company in its right mind would want to relocate in an environment driven by professional fear?

————————————–

BACK AGAIN LATER, BY TOMORROW. UNTIL THEN, LOVE TO ALL.

35 Responses to “WHERE IS BRIGGS’ BOULDER?, plus, UNFUNDED LIABILITIES ARE EVEN WORSE THAN PUBLISHED, & BOSTON GLOBE RUNS WITH SUSPICIOUS GE-1BERKSHIRE CONNECTION”

  1. Tim Bartini
    February 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    Dan I have paid my share into SS before I became a Firefighter. But I will not be able to receive anything from SS because I qualify for a pension from the city. I pay 10% of my pay every week to my retirement {excludeing overtime because overtime does NOT go towards retirement} I don’t get a houseing allowance like college Presidents or get a a free pension like ALL JUDGES get. Im 52 years old and I will not be retireing at 55 years old , Hopefully I will retire at 60 with 34 years of service. Useing your math When I bought my house I paid $ 160.000, according to your thinking I have $ 160.000 of unfunded liability. I have a mortgage that I pay and it will be paid off in a few more years. If the economy had’nt tanked and we didn’t bail out WallStreet ,and given all of the tax breaks to the 2% of the richest people in the country The hard working public service employees wouldn’t have to be made the villians sorry for my spelling mistakes, never was my best quality.

    • Joetaxpayer
      February 28, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

      Tim, Thank you for giving your situation,I think you and all the firefighters should get what they were promised when you were hired.But things must change for new hires,there is no way we can afford to pay with health insurance going through the roof,who knows how high it is going to get.Also thanks for your service to the city.

      • danvalenti
        February 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

        Agree with you, Joe, about my good friend Tim. I respect him and what he stands for, a great deal.

        • ambrose bearse
          March 1, 2011 at 5:53 am #

          Is it just the cities that face this problem, or are the towns also on the hook?

          • danvalenti
            March 1, 2011 at 7:53 am #

            AMBROSE
            Good question. Towns as well. I can post some Berkshire County figures today, if I can dig them up.

      • Scott Laugenour
        March 1, 2011 at 1:14 am #

        It seems we are saying to the next generations that they can expect lower living standards into the future and that we’re not going to take any action to change it. We’re not even offering an apology! The underlying trends of rising health care costs, decreasing health care results, crippling personal debts, stagnant or falling real income, deterioring infrastructure were occuring even when times were ‘good.’ Many of the solutions are beyond the immediate realm of city government, but they are all within the capabilities of action taken by dedicated organized politically disobedient citizens.

        Howard Zinn provides some recommended reading. A fourteen-year old wrote an essay recently that I was proud to read at a screening of Zinn’s ‘The People Speak,’ which happened in both Lenox and Great Barrington on the first anniversary of his death.

        http://www.green-rainbow.org/content/thoughts-howard-zinn-people-speak

    • danvalenti
      February 28, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

      TIM
      Don’t worry about the spelling. The thoughts are clear, and I thank you for your service to the city.

    • Jim Gleason
      March 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

      Tim, did you recommend to your union that they accept the disastrous GIC Insurance when we had to vote on it a few years ago? It may have saved the city money but the retirees got screwed in this deal. I hope you realize that and will see when you retire if we still have this insurance.

      • Joetaxpayer
        March 1, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

        Jim,hopefully in the future all city employees who are not grandfathered in will not receive any retirement insurance,it is a think of the past or should be.

        • Jim Gleason
          March 2, 2011 at 11:01 am #

          What is the good of working for lower pay and not getting insurance after retirement? I hope all ity employees who work the required years are ALWAYS insured by the city, it’s a reward for working for lower wages and not good conditions in a lot of cases. People who work for 40 years for the city don’t deserve insurance? Not even close.

          • Joetaxpayer
            March 2, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

            Jim back in the day insurance was much cheaper.How can the city afford to offer insurance after retirement when nobody knows how much it will cost.My guess is it will only get more expensive.Times have changed some people would just like to have a job.

          • danvalenti
            March 3, 2011 at 9:31 am #

            It is getting more expensive. As the data shows,the assumptions made for the rise in health care premiums were in the 4%-5% area. Instead, the growth has been 10 to 15%. That means that as bad as Pittsfield current unfunded liability of $331 million sounds, it’s much worse than that.

      • Tim Bartini
        March 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

        Jim, I did vote for the GIC and some people are paying more than before, But Ive talked to some retirees and they told me they saved money! For my family we came out about even.

  2. Dusty
    February 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    And if the taxes do hit the booster rocket stage, will property values plummet in Pittsfield? Will one even be able to find a buyer if they do decide to leave before they financially bleed to death? Who would buy into a home whose property taxes were astronomical?

  3. Rosco K. Barrett
    February 28, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    Danny V,

    Thanks for bringing to light the travesty that has become of the Bartlett memorial marker that graced a century of passersby of the court house with the remembrance of what is one of the great citizens of Pittsfield’s past. Its removal seemed reasonable to protect the monument during the heavy construction that took place during the reconfiguring of beloved Park Square. The dust has long since settled on that project and we are left with another deplorable modern art sculpture that along with the baseball bat at Pittsfield High belong at Pearlman’s. I wish you the best in your detective reporting to reveal the whereabouts of this historical marker.

    On another note “Forget Facebook Warnings of Icy Roads, Peter White”…Peter should be instead detailing the whereabouts of Pittsfield’s car eating potholes; so that colleague Mike Ward can take heed when riding the streets of Pittsfield on his famed unicycle.

  4. Ron Kitterman
    February 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Dan,

    The boulder by the courthouse that was removed was a tribute to General Henry S. Briggs. Same theory just a different person. I find it disturbing that they ( city fathers, the state, the mayor, city council or whoever) would remove this and replace it with a king size baseball. Thanks for bringing it to our attention though.

    • danvalenti
      February 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

      The Planet apologizes for the error. We have corrected it in the posting. Thanks for your notice.

  5. Liz Arrington
    February 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Briggs’ Boulder, Dan. Thanks for sharing this. As noted above the pk sq construction is long past. Time for the boulder to be put back in its rightful place. As for liabilities, I understand Tim’s concern and agree he has paid in fairly and should be paid back fairly. But isn’t that the point> If the politicians do not address this situation and bankruptcy occurs, the receivers can cancel all deals.

    • danvalenti
      February 28, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

      Yes, Liz, Ron Kitterman also caught the mistake: Briggs’ Boulder.

  6. GMHeller
    February 28, 2011 at 7:01 pm #

    RE: Unfunded Liabilities
    Arrogant Massachusettts state and municipal officials are truly living in a fantasy world.
    There theoretically comes a point where people and businesses opt simply to move away.
    So what happens when the number of folks remaining instate are just mathematically too few to support the carrying costs on those unfunded liabilities?

    • danvalenti
      March 1, 2011 at 7:59 am #

      GMH
      That “theoretical” point will soon become a point in fact. The arrogant officials to whom you refer were once arrogant. Now, having let the problem mushroom out of control by approving gigantic amounts of spending and incurring a larger amount in unfunded obligations, they’re just scared. Of what? Their union masters.

  7. Louis Morgan
    March 1, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    nice post.

  8. Uncle Albert
    March 1, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    Until last election I routinelydismissed Green or Rainbow (or any third party) sight unseen. Then began to pay attn to what they were saying, finding: hey, I agree with almost (not all) all of it. Scott Langenor for example, and on his post above: Everytime he posts something, he makes great sense. I’m contemplating the unthinkable: to switch frm unenrolled to Green. Not there yet, but thinking about it

  9. Still wondering
    March 1, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    I was once a registered Green. I left the party after meeting the state committee members. The word that came to my mind then was “Stalinists”. They were much more interested in bringing communism to Massachusetts then anything to do with the environment.

    • Scott Laugenour
      March 1, 2011 at 9:00 am #

      Thanks ‘Uncle Albert’ and ‘Still wondering.’ I’m not a communist and neither is the party affiliated with communists. (They call us capitalists.)

      I blogged earlier today on some notable green personages whom I’m meeting and learning about while on an overseas trip. I’ll post an article on this next week. I’m thankful for Dan’s postings and the discussions here, as they help to frame issues of local and national import that I will use in my interviews.

      The link to my blog page should be found by clicking my name above. Thanks again.

      • Joetaxpayer
        March 1, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

        My proplem with the green party is that they would support the continued subsidising of solar panels,wind mills and electric cars.I dont think we should or can afford this.What happened to the old fashion way of getting envestors and if the product is profitable and actual works,it can make it on its own.

  10. Payroll Patriot
    March 1, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Hi Pete, wherever you are.

    Mr. Bartini may have also forgotten that as HEAD of the firemen’s UNION he sold out the retirees to the GIC insurance. Maybe, Mr. Battini would like to also inform us of how many hours a week the firemen spend grocery shopping and socializing on the taxpayer dollar. Oh yes, the extra cost of using large fire trucks to go to the grocery store, how much is that? As to the rest of your whining, it was our fellow Democrats that let Barney Frank and Chris Dodd off the hook for the mortgage collapse. One of your fellow hard working public employees said “you haven’t work hard in years, especially as an inspector desk jockey.” It may not be your spelling that is the problem, as the press release at the state level had the words to use spelled properly.

    • danvalenti
      March 1, 2011 at 11:25 am #

      Peter Arlos, aka The Aging Greek God, is looking on us all and having laughs at the top of Mt. Olympus. He’s giving Apollo and Zeus “the business.”

    • Tim Bartini
      March 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

      Payroll, Sorry your information is wrong Im a FF stationed at Engine 1 not a inspector. If you think I haven’t worked hard in years then you better talk to the guy who we took out of his car useing the Jaws of life,the other day, He may say other wise.

      • Payroll Patriot
        March 1, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

        Tim, what did you do with the rest of your time on the job(shift)?
        I hope your not using taxpayer paid time to write to this blog.

        • Tim Bartini
          March 2, 2011 at 6:16 am #

          Payroll Sorry but we can’t use the internet at work.. If you think we don’t do much at work why don’t you give me your phone number and I’ll call you after each run to let you know. Morning noon or night.. PS what do you do for a living?

  11. Clark W. Nicholls
    March 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Briggs Boulder is fine and dandy in it’s location in the photo I took in July. It is now emerging from a pile of snow as I type this. Photos were taken earlier today. Your reporter needs one star removed from his/her rating.

  12. Payroll Patriot
    March 2, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Mr. Bartini , as the firemen’s union HEAD, you should be able to answer the original questions as presented earlier.

    Maybe, Mr. Bartini would like to also inform us of how many hours a week the firemen spend grocery shopping and socializing on the taxpayer dollar. Oh yes, the extra cost of using large fire trucks to go to the grocery store, how much is that?

    & What did you do with the rest of your time on the job(shift)?

    Additionally, upon reading your original statement, is it the firemen’s union or you personally that is anti higher public education and anti judicial system?

    • Tim Bartini
      March 3, 2011 at 6:31 am #

      Payroll Sorry I don’t get into pissing contest with skunks.

  13. PAYROLL PATRIOT
    March 4, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Mr. Bartine as yor are HEAD of the FF’s UNION, I have one more question to ask. How did you ever get elected to represent the fire fighters of Pittsfield?