Article

WILL CITY OF PITTSFIELD STAND UP FOR TAXPAYERS OR COWER TO THE UNIONS? plus, PCB EXPERT TO SPEAK IN AREA MARCH 1, and, ANOTHER LOCAL CULTURAL CEO BITES THE DUST

BY DAN VALENTI

Pittsfield taxpayers, get ready for another snow job.

The storm we refer will affect only the taxpayers of the city. The politicians and the unions won’t have to move a flake. That’s when the mayor presents his budget, and the council, having lied told you there is no room for substantial cuts, approves it. The rubber stamp emerges from Uncle Gerry Lee’s drawer, ink pad opens, and the right hand comes down on the bloated document.

Big Three Unions Must Be Fed More Pork

Hi there! Remember us?

They will set you up for this exercise in monetary trickery by predicting dark, dank, dire scenarios of lawmakers if even so much as question the budgets of the municipal union’s Big Three: schools, police, and fire. They will tell you (because the unions have dictated to them!) that if the schools, cops, and firemen don’t get more money (let alone cut $1), schools will be boarded up, criminals will overrun the streets, and Pittsfield will start burning. Not so, of course.

To their credit, union leadership has done the job for its members this past quarter of a century. Blame for this situation lies squarely with deadbeat politicians, the bums taxpayers elect every year to hose us down. In the 1980s and ’90s, while Pittsfield’s notorious barroom politics turned off most healthy, well-adjusted, and psychologically secure citizens — opening the process for cronyism and sycophantism — the blank checks emerged.

Without citizen oversight, politicians craving votes caved to virtually every union demand. This began a relentless building of salary and benefits that would rival the building of the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

Sitting Fat and Pretty on Doo-Dah Street

It’s how teacher Kristen Pearson makes $78,479. It explains the $95,835 salary of school special ed supervisor Lee Steele (correct, it’s not spelled “steal”). A few more: Jeffrey Coco, police officer, $105,638; Stanley Caesar, $88,894, and Irene Zelinski, $81,907. To these salaries, add about one-third the amount to cover benefits.

In all, Pittsfield has 138 employees making more than $74,290 (not counting benefits). To see the complete list, consult the Dec. 23, 2010 edition of The Pittsfield Gazette. What, you think the Boring Broadsheet would publish this type of useful information? Virtually all of these fat and happy employees are from schools, cops, and fire. Of the 23 employees who top $100,000 in compensation, 22 work for the police or schools. The exception is fire chief Mike Polidoro ($114,312.51).

The Planet spares you the remainder of the ugly deatils.

Uncapping Pension Benefits! or Happy Days Are (Not) Here Again

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

One of the trick moves came in the 1980s, when the city council uncapped benefits. It used to be that no pension could top a reasonable figure (we don’t recall the specific figure, but it was aaround $30,000 a year). When The People weren’t looking, the council changed the rules. They made it that the final three years of a city employee’s salary would determine pensions.

Thus began an out-of-control process, as most cancers are. The unions also “ordered” the politicians to make reform of the dirty process extremely difficult to near impossible. And isn’t funny when they needed to change the rules in favor of the unions, the city council and mayor found a way, with help from our representatives to the General Court in Boston. However, if anyone mentions reform in favor of the taxpayer, we hear how the task is simply IMPOSSIBLE. Yes, they think We The People are stupid.

Thus, reforming the system isn’t impossible. The unions and pols have made it  “near impossible,” but that just says it CAN BE DONE.

Learn from LA

Pittsfield isn’t the only community reeling now from escalating public employee costs. It’s happening across the country, and cities and towns on the verge of bankruptcy are fighting back. In these places, a more balanced political system has produced politicians who have some spine.

In Los Angeles, for example, the mayor and councilors are fighting to get municipal labor unions to renegotiate contracts. Current policy legally forbids officials from rolling back a retirement benefit for an existing worker without providing another benefit of equal value. The process is unsustainable without gigantic tax increases on already hard-put citizens. Unions there don’t care, and they’ve threatened to fight the city.

If the current system remains unchanged, LA’s taxpayers will have to pay nearly $1 billion in additional pension benefits in the next five years. This mountainous extra expense will not buy one textbook, one patrol car, one fire hose, or one paper clip. LA’s average retirement age for police and fire is 51 years old. The retirement fund will soon take up 20% of the city’s entire budget.

At least in LA, officials are prepping for the tough battle. City Administrator Office Miguel Santana presented to the city council the dire numbers. The council say it’s on board, and so, apparently, is the mayor.

Pittsfield Politicians: Scared of their Union Owners

What do we see in Pittsfield? Nothing. The one wild card is that Mayor Jimmy Ruberto is a lame duck. This might give him the courage to take on the unions. It’s a slim-to-none chance, but it’s at least a chance. Let’s conduct a thought experiment. What if Ruberto announced his intention to renegotiate new deals more friendly to taxpayers with each of the Big Three unions? How would the city council respond? Would any one of them support that effort? Would Lee? Peter Marchetti? Jonathan Lothrop? Peter White? Would Mike Ward? Melissa Mazzeo? Joe Nichols? Kevin Sherman? Paul Capitanio? Chris Yon? John Krol?

Don’t Get Mad. Get Madison

In Madison, Wisc., Gov. Scott Walker isn’t backing off his plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Walker took this step because his state faces severe economic problems if existing union rights are left alone.

Break the union deals, not the taxpayers’ backs, Walker is saying. That must become the rallying cry for the city of Pittsfield. If the present crew once again whiffs on its chance for reform and TAX RELIEF, the bums must be voted out of office. In this election year, only candidates who will stick up for The Little Guy will deserve support.

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PCB Expert to Speak March 1

Anyone who’s interested in PCBs and how they affect health should mark Tuesday, March 1, on their calendars.

At 7p.m., the Housatonic River Initiative (HRI) will present Dr. David Carpenter with a program on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and their health effects.
HRI says Dr. Carpenter is one of the leading experts on PCBs. With his colleagues, he has studied exposed populations around the world. Some of his work has included PCB blood serums levels and their relationship to disease, volatilization of PCBs in the air, and exposure at hazardous waste sites including rivers.

The forum will be conducted at the Great Barrington First Congregational Church, 251 Main St. on Tuesday, March 1st at 7 PM. There is no charge for this event.

According to HRI, Carpenter is an internationally recognized expert in PCBs and public health. He is a neurotoxicologist and professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Toxicology in the School of Public Health at State University of New York, Albany. He has worked successfully with many communities across the country to help them assess the degree of human exposure to a range of contaminants, including vast experience with PCBs.

Carpenter has been an editorial advisor to many scientific journals, hosted a 170 station syndicated Public Health Radio Show, and former Chair of the School of Public Health at SUNY Albany. Prior to joining the University at Albany, Dr. Carpenter was a Research Physician at the Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research. Dr. Carpenter received his M.D. at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. He has 220 publications, 37 reviews and book chapters and 12 other publications to his credit.

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Ad Museum, Ad Nauseum

Regarding The Planet scooping the Boring Broadsheet, that is never our prime intention when prowling for stories. They are the big daily. We are the little website. They have 30 people in the newsroom. We have one (plus our spies in the field). They have a staff of 130. We have three.

That being said, we do beat them to a lot of what’s happening. We do it because we have contacts in the right places. Nearly always, we have the truth of the story when they are scared of running it (for example, the near-purchase of the city of 1644 East St.). Often, we have the story when or before they do and decide not to run it (for example, the non-story of the possible sale of Berkshire Living magazine).

Head of museum will become an artifact on March 11.We also got wind before the BB did that the head of the Berkshire Museum would be pulling the rip chord and bailing out. It wasn’t big enough of a story. It still isn’t, except to note that with the departure of museum head Stuart Chase on March 11, it makes just the latest in a troubling trend for an area that bills itself as “American Premier Cultural Resort.”

Since Sept. 1, the executive director of the Colonial Theater, Hancock Shaker Village, and now the Berkshire Museum will have called it quits. Chase told the BB’s Clarence Fanto that he was leaving to pursue other “interests and challenges.” Don’t believe a word of it. The Planet is hearing otherwise on this apparently not-so-friendly divorce.

Is there something in the water besides PCBs? File this under “A” for “ad museum, ad nauseum.”

37 Responses to “WILL CITY OF PITTSFIELD STAND UP FOR TAXPAYERS OR COWER TO THE UNIONS? plus, PCB EXPERT TO SPEAK IN AREA MARCH 1, and, ANOTHER LOCAL CULTURAL CEO BITES THE DUST”

  1. GMHeller
    February 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Mr. Valenti:
    One number which is imperative to give readers, but which no one is yet talking about, is the dollar amount of Pittsfield’s unfunded pension and benefit liabilities.
    Readers, in order to understand just how dire are the city’s financial straits long-term unless it can get its spending under control, need this number so that they can see just how much the average Pittsfield homeowner is on the hook to the city employee unions even without giving a penny more in raises or benefits.

  2. pjmh
    February 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    DV, what board member at the BM finally had enough? Do you have the 101?

  3. eric vincelette
    February 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    Unfunded liabilities are a HUGE sleeping giant in every municipality as far as I can see. As a sitting member of the Lenox Finance Committee I was told that $250k would need to be set aside every yr starting now in order to meet the needs in the not so distant future, yet its not being mentioned in the budgeting process at all. With 10000 baby boomers turning 65 EVERY DAY for the next 19 yrs, this disturbing trend is bound to be similar elsewhere.. It takes a stiff spine & HUGE COHONES to stand up to the big 3 (school, fire, police) cause your bound to be black balled if you do…

  4. GMHeller
    February 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

    In Re: Why so many Berkshire County not-for-profit execs, school principals, and town managers bail out in what seems to be awfully quick time (average tenure: three years?):
    The answer is because the outsiders usually hired for these positions (locals rarely get hired by the local search committees) find themselves unable to deal with the long dark Berkshire Winters, the interminably gray and depressing Berkshire Springs, and the general isolation that accompanies year-round living in Berkshire County (along with having to see the same grumpy faces all the time in the supermarkets).
    It takes living here from birth to be able to build up a tolerance to this kind of stuff.
    Three years seems to be the average amount of time outsiders are able to withstand the pressure before having to make at least an attempt to relocate to the real world.

    • DJ
      February 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

      Chase was there for six years. I think The Mount had theirs for 7 or 8? HSV had Ellen Spear for 6 years… to me it seems that it takes the Board of Directors that long to actually figure out they hired the wrong person.
      Two Years to blame the last person, two years to mess things up, and two years to blame the economy and scurry to find another job.

  5. DJ
    February 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    I totally agree that Chase was more like “chased off” although I hear he is sticking around and has a job lined up already due to connections, not competence.
    His “tenure” was riddled with failures that they tried to frame in a positive light.

    How do you lose millions of dollars in art, then sell it at a discount and call that responsible curation?

    Why did Mr. Chase spend museum funds for film festival attendance when they have a tiny little theater?

    Exactly how much money did Mr. Chase raise himself? I understand a bulk of the money was raised based on already existing endowments that “matured”, not any real efforts on his part. I did hear he spent a good bit of money for entertainment but his return on investment was well below the national average.

    The Hall Of Innovation, the plans were in place years prior to Mr. Chase being there, it just happened on his watch.

    Mr. Chase did pioneer firing competent staff and hiring/promoting a “special friend” and cutting out a profit center, only to bring it back late in the game. I guess that is success by Pittsfield’s standards.

  6. just saying
    February 21, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    First, no more public workers unions. Unions are to protect the workers from management/owners of a company etc.
    So why in hell do public workers need a union to “protect” them from citizen taxpayers?? We are their boss, we pay their wages/benefits/pensions. Unions create mediocracy, and a sense of entitlement. If you cannot stand on your own merit, then get the hell out of the way so someone else can.
    Second, who do the union bosses represent; the workers or their own financial interests? I believe the answer to that is evident in their actions. The problem is more those that control the unions not the actual members in many cases.
    Third, stick to your guns Walker. People, look into what Wisconsin is really about, SEIU bussing in Communist Party members, employing the homeless to march with signs, staging protests all over the country. Public employees being asked to pay 5.8% of their pension, pay 12.6% of their health care!??? And their pissed off!?? Welcome to the real world freeloaders!

    • Jim Gleason
      February 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

      Punlic employees need unions to protect them from mayor’s like ruberto. If you speak a word against him, YOU’RE blackballed and he wants to take your benefits away and your job. I know for a fa ct that he’d take mine away in a minute if he could,butalas, he can’t, I’m retired.

    • 'nuff said
      February 22, 2011 at 10:11 am #

      Amen!
      Unions are a thing of the past, when people were totally abused by companies. Now the unions totally abuse the companies AND their MEMBERS.

      LFLS

    • editor
      February 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

      SEIU bussing in Communist party members? Are you smokeing crack?

  7. No Reply
    February 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    The Berkshire Museum under Chase got tobe a dull, boring place. As for opublic employee unions, agree with “just saying.” At one time unions were necessary to help workers get a fair break. that day is long gone. Now unions create protections for too many deadbeat workers. That alienates the good ones, who have to sit quiet. Unions are run by thugs, generally, and stooges. Unions rank and file klive under force. Like living under Khadfafi or Mubarek.

  8. rick
    February 22, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    we saw this comming 20yrs.ago, did nothing and now people are crying poor house.if we keep electing balloon heads to office who dont know how to negotiate contracts then it is what it is. we have gone from bar owners to now a ex ceo in the mayors office, and i dont see a difference. people better start paying attention at the ballot box or theres more of this to come. no more closed doors with unions, everthing should be out in the open and on public tv. the people paying their salaries (tax payers) should see the negotiations and give their input. these elected officials forget who the work for.

  9. Son of Samantha
    February 22, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    This mayor and his predecessors have refused to deal with the unfunded pension liabilities that will someday crush pittsfield. They keep putting the day of reckoning off to a time when they won’t be around. Too bad it will destroy the city. I blame the council for allowing this to happen every one of them the veterans especially (Lee, Marchetti, Lotrop, above all).

  10. Joetaxpayer
    February 22, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    There will never be enough city councilors,to have the macroons to make any meaningfull cuts or changes to the city budget.I elementary school should be closed,the school pop. has shrank 700 in last ten years,think the city can get by with 7 schools.One fire station should be closed,all are with in a mile and half of each other.I know. chief there will be death if we close one.Well unfortunatly there will always be death,even if we opened 5 more stations.City should go to a tote system with the trash forcing people to recycle or pay a fee.City should try to hire part-time people to help fill the gaps,and cut down on over-time.No more buildings should be purchased until the city sells and consoldates all of there inventory.I really have no faith in them to make cuts they couldnt even make a small cut to the libarys budget last year.

  11. JoeBlow
    February 22, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    Dan,I’m so glad I found your blog!!! Thank you for letting us know what’s realy going on in this city! How can I find the Dec. 23, 2010 edition of The Pittsfield Gazette??

    • danvalenti
      February 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

      Suggest you contact the Gazette in person, on West Street across from the Crowne Plaza; e-mail Jonathan Levine requesting that article at pittsfieldgazette@verizon.net ; postal address at PO Box 2236, Pittsfield 01201; or phone 413-443-2010.
      Glad you found us, too. Help spread the word about The Planet!!

  12. editor
    February 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Dan, No way you can possibly say you are the little guy {Ok you are a short person in height} You live in Stockbridge where the average home is valued at over $300.000, Your wife retired at a young age so you must not have any money worries. So who are you trying to kid? I know you write blogs just to get a rise out of people But could you please have all the facts before you print stories that are incorrect. Could you answer these questions for me? What do public employees pay toward their pensions? Does over time count toward the pension? Just wondering what type of pension you will get when you retire? Or maybe you are rich enough so you won’t need a pension?

    • danvalenti
      February 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

      @ editor
      1. You do not state where the story is incorrect. You only make the claim without case in point. The court throws out your case on the merits.
      2. To answer your Qs:
      * I am a public employee through my employment as an adjunct professor of English at BCC. My compensation (salary and benefits) are public records there for you 24/7, online.
      * I don’t know if OT counts toward pensions.
      * As for my pension, I will only answer for the public employment part. That answer is none.

      • editor
        February 23, 2011 at 6:07 am #

        What a cop out!! You my friend are a BIG PHONY!!!! Have fun sipping tea at the Red Lion porch with all of the other ” LITTLE PEOPLE “

  13. Still wondering
    February 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    Dan, it looks like you have aquired a groupie.

    • danvalenti
      February 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

      It appears so! As loyal a reader as we have on The Planet!!

  14. Nichols for mayor
    February 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41672854/ns/politics-more_politics/

    If you care to, you can copy-and-paste MSNBC’s article regarding “How much do public workers earn?”

    Personally, I’d be happy if all unions and all pensions were immediatley broken.

    (my views do not necessarily match those of our next mayor)

    • GMHeller
      February 22, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      You present an article on government pensions written by someone at MSNBC as having credibility?
      Sorry but that media channel is simply not believable and how many here have the time to fact check every statement.

      • Joetaxpayer
        February 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

        People must understand that the trade unions get nothing guranteed.Only get paid the hours you work.No sick days no paid holidays,no guranteed 8 hrs a day or 40 in a week.If your hours fall short for the year you lose your insurance and have to go on cobra,Just want people to know not all unions are the same.

        • danvalenti
          February 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

          There’s a big difference between private sector unions and public sector unions. Good points, Joetax.

          • editor
            February 23, 2011 at 6:08 am #

            Please specify the BIG difference .

          • Joetaxpayer
            February 24, 2011 at 7:47 am #

            editor if you don’t,know the difference,I can’t help you.Yes,it is a big difference.

      • danvalenti
        February 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

        @ NFM and GMH Tom Curry is their national correspondent. He’s actually one of their best reporters.

  15. just saying
    February 22, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    @ editor:

    Yes, SEIU and the Communist party have close ties. And yes, they are bringing in members of the Commie party to their protests, paying homeless people to carry signs etc.
    I don’t post links, go do your own research. Try a different outlet for your info gathering. The tim farkas paper, and messnbc are simply water carriers for liberal/leftist BULLSHIT.

    • editor
      February 23, 2011 at 6:03 am #

      You are a truly insane person! What are you putting in your tea?

  16. rick
    February 23, 2011 at 5:38 am #

    what can you say about mrs.mazzeo except we need 10 more like her. she played stump the solicitor last night and won. she does her homework, helps save money, asks intelligent questions and makes the others wonder what they are doing on the same dais with her. roberto, on his way out is going on his political favour tour. the rubber stamp has been killing this city for way to long.with a new mayor comming in this position most likely would be done away with. the 7 who voted to waste more money because they say the” mayor knows best” i hope are not back in nov. we need people who want to help , that means putting time in on the issues, and know what the hell their talking about. lothrop showed his lack of knowledge by challenging her but to no avail, and made a fool of himself wich has become a trait of his these past 2 years.. come on people is this all the city has to represent their wards?

    • Dee
      February 23, 2011 at 8:06 am #

      So true. Go Melissa!!

      However did you notice the way in which it was worded in today’s Beagle? Everyone knows this is a new position, hence requiring the 8 votes yet the daily rag prominently lists it as “reinstating the job of director of administration.” Sounds like they are already trying to stack the deck.

      Let’s see if I get the count right – a mayor, an additional mayor (high salaried to boot), two administrative assistants (i.e. assistant mayors, also at salaries far exceeding the work load). Exactly how much $$ does this add up to per year? And, how high was the tax increase to pay all these mayors of Pittsfield.

      • rick
        February 23, 2011 at 11:01 am #

        dee, i watched it, then read it in the eagle, wow,, i think the reorter didnt realize its on tv.. its got to be tuff to write things down correctly. but i thought thats the job of a repoter. i stand corrected.

  17. just saying
    February 23, 2011 at 10:23 am #

    @ editor

    You are clearly an ignorant person!
    Go do some research, then come back and apologize for your ignorance.

  18. rick
    February 23, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    one more assistant and we wont need a mayor!!!!

  19. John Jay
    February 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Hi Dan,

    Didn’t read any comments above, just thought I would point out that for several years now the Berkshires have not been referred to as “America’s Premier Cultural Resort”, i cant remember the new name but i am positive on this one.

    • danvalenti
      February 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

      JOHN
      Thanks. I shall check out what the new one is.