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:
“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
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.
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.