PLANET CONFIRMS: FEDS PROBING PPD AS STEROIDS STORY GROWS, plus MARCHETTI WEIGHS IN, and AVJ. TEACHER’S PAY IN BAY STATE? A WHOPPING $67,577 a yr!
BY DAN VALENTI
Feds Swoop Down on PPD
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, March 25, 2011) — The Planet can now confirm the extensive involvement of the federal government into a drug investigation involving the Pittsfield Police Department. According to a high-ranking city hall source, “the feds (Postal Investigators) are heavily involved.”
Prior to this, no city, state, of federal official would confirm first that there is in fact a probe going and that it involved the feds. This confirms what has been suspected, and it indicates that this case may be far more serious and involved than just one officer from the Pittsfield Police Department.
Yesterday, another source, this one connected with a senior level rank within the PPD, said the investigation involves the actions of more than one officer. Neither of these two sources wanted The Planet to use their names. The police source was critical of Chief Michael Wynn’s handling of the case, saying that he used Mayor Jimmy Ruberto’s absence as an excuse “for not doing anything.” The source said Wynn is “in way over his head as chief.” The Planet’s call to the PPD and Chief Wynn have not been returned.
Berry’s Reporting Advances the Story
The Planet was encouraged to see the Boring Broadsheet in on the case. Conor Berry’s piece yesterday advanced the story in a responsible and measured way. Berry confirmed
- A probe into illegal seroids
- The identity of the PPD officer, plainclothesman David P. Kirchner of the Drug Task Force
- The Planet’s information that part of Kirchner’s punishment was being busted back to uniform, where he is pounding a beat. The Planet learned that Kirchner was suspended for five days (with or without pay is not known), and that he was assigned to the midnight shift.
- There is “an outside agency” investigating
- The PPD launched an internal affairs probe
- The PPD punished Kirchner as a consequence of this internal probe, which, oddly, came only after the department was tipped off by another police unit. Berry quotes PPD Chief Michael Wynn, saying the PPD “received information from an outside law enforcement agency.” This would suggest that there were problems within the department that Wynn either didn’t know about or knew about but ignored.
- Wynn wouldn’t tell Berry the nature of the allegations against Kirchner. That apparently is part of the chief’s stonewalling, since he never returned The Planet’s inquiries.
- Richard Dohoney also followed the “circle the wagons” strategy, failing to provide Berry with any details of Kirchner’s suspension. Donhoney hid behind the old, “I don’t comment on personnel matters.”
- U.S. Postal Inspector Bernadette Lundholm, the same contact that The Planet has been communicating with and that blogger Glenn Heller quoted in the story he ran on his website, told Berry that she couldn’t comment about ongoing investigations. Fine, but here’s the kicker. She advised him to obtain the police report of the incident. When Berry requested a copy of the report from city officials, he got the “we’re working on it” runaround. How much you want to wager neither he, The Planet, Glenn Heller, Walter Cronkite, Horace Greeley, nor the Man in the Moon sees the report, which is a public document required to be produced to the media upon demand.
Connect the Dots
The Planet gives Conor Berry credit for going all out, even to the point knocking on the door of Kirchner’s home in Lenox. Kirchner did not make himself available for comment. Neither did he return a phone call requesting comment. Folks, have you noticed a pattern with stories like this? Let’s play connect the dots:
(a) Something happens, either of a criminal nature, unlawful, or embarrassing for the city.
(b) Word of it spreads like wildfire throughout the city and beyond, thanks mainly to computers, the Internet, and smart phones. Media, whose job it is to keep our ears to the rail, hear about it. We start asking questions (always “bad form” in the city of Pittsfield).
(c) City officials pretend like we’re still in the age of typewriters, and they refuse to provide much meaningful information if any at all. That which they do provide comes only after journalists such as The Planet and Conor Berry have to perform root-canal extractions without pain killer. They think that by stoning us, we will just drop the story. Now maybe the BB will, but in the New Journalism, tenacious websites will not.
(d) The misinformation spreads along with the snippets of truth that every story contains. It then becomes the job of the journalist, writing under fierce pressure of deadline, to sift out truth from rumor. Amazingly, we usually get most of the story right. When we don’t, or if some of the “facts” are inaccurate, the officials complain — the same ones who won’t talk to you in the first place.
(e) In The Planet’s case, there are well-known public figures such as Uncle Jerry Lee and Ward 5 councilor J-Lo who refuse to talk to us. Then, when we publish our stories, they are the first to complain that we didn’t include their perspectives.
How Big is the Federal Probe? Some Reasonable Sepculations
Yesterday, The Planet worked the phones and keyboard, and obtained information that leads us to believe that:
- The federal investigation is widespread and involves more than one member of the PPD
- More than one federal agency is involved
- Criminal charges are being weighed
- There was a downtown commercial establishment involved, willingly or duped we don’t know.
- There is also an eerie familiarity with this steroids story, that harkens back to a similar story that BB Executive Editor Tim Farkas spiked five years ago. Anyone remember that one? We would advise our good friend Conor Berry to ask Farkas about that one. The Planet will soon be providing a memory refresher.
The Planet stresses that 1-4 above are the PRELIMINARY conclusions we’ve reached based on what we’ve been able to piece together. All four major be correct, and all four may be inaccurate, or any combination in between. #5 is as real as it gets.
A Case Study in New Journalism
This story should go to the Media Law course at the Harvard Business School for a seminar, “Journalism in the Age of Twitter.” The rapid, nearly instantaneous nature of communication today, without the disciplines and restraints imposed by traditional standards of journalism, leave everyone — officials, media, citizens, newsmakers — walking a new land. Some of us (The Planet, for instance) take on the role of eager explorers. Others quake in fear because there is no roadmap. To them we say, “Have no fear. We shall blaze the trail.”
In this new land, information circulates electronically faster and more comprehensively than in the old way, authoritative ways: sanctioned newspapers, radio, TV. Citizens journalists, busy bodies, those looking to create trouble, those who deliberately want to spread false information: All of these are now lumped into the news mix along with trained journalists. Because of the sheer number of cell phones and computers, this news finds heavy reception in a way that rivals old media.
Public officials and bureaucrats must realize that, yes, they can play the old game of “No comment” or “We can’t talk about a personnel matter,” but meanwhile, stories are circulating and taken as fact which may have precious little of that substance in them. It’s their call. Stories won’t go away, but they might.
The Planet continues to monitor this story and will share new information when it becomes available.
Better Late than Never
A coupe days ago, The Planet’s barkeep, Glenn Strange, announced last call for responses
to our Big 3 Questions facing the city regarding PCBs, Hill 78, and unfunded liabilities.
Peter Marchetti, Ward 3’s Paul Capitanio, J-Lo, and Uncle Gerry missed out. Since then,
The Planet has heard from Marchetti and Capitanio. Both said they never received our
original e-mail requesting comment. The Planet accepts that at face value.
In fact, in Marchetti’s case, we know why he didn’t get our request: We sent it to the wrong e-mail
address. Peter’s correct address is Petermmarchetti@aol.com. We forgot to include the
middle “m”. We apologize to our Right Honorable Good Friend.
A Point of Issue
We do take issue with Marchetti’s claim, given to us in his reply e-mail, that he shouldn’t be expected to monitor sites such as PlanetValenti Dot Com every day to learn of our requests for information. Peter, as a public citizen, of course, can consume as much or as little media as he wishes. It can be traditional such as the Berkshire Eagle or non-traditional, such as The Planet. He can also attend to or ignore any that he wishes in his citywide roles as an at-large councilor.
The Planet, however, feels it reasonable an expectation that he regularly monitor this site, since we have established ourselves with the sheer volume, quantity, and quality of our daily input as a major media player in Berkshire County and, especially, in the city of Pittsfield. Media outlets such as this one must become a part of his regular routine of monitoring and education, or he will not be able to credibly stand before the citizens of Pittsfield asking for a vote and expecting then to believe he is doing his due diligence in keeping informed on the issues. We are drawing large numbers to the site. Our readers’ comments each day produce reactions to our stories, pro and con, from a wide spectrum of the city. Marchetti has the obligation to be informed.
With that, we raise the gate and allow Peter’s comments on these three questions:
PETER MARCHETTI, AT LARGE
Q. Regarding PCBs and other toxins in the Housatonic River put there and throughout the city by GE, what do you advocate — removal, partial removal, or leave alone?
A. We must ensure at all times the safety of the People of Pittsfield. It is easy to say full removal or leave alone but we must make sure that we strike a proper balance to make sure that we gather all relevant information to make sure that the safety of all residents is the major focus and not tell people we will support something without documented proof that they will be safe. We must open a door of
Q. Do you favor the removal of Hill 78 from its present location
A. I do not support the removal of Hill 78 from its present location.
Q. Do you think unfunded liabilities should be addressed immediately or not?
I do believe that action has already taken place to begin to address the issue. This issue was before the City Council subcommittee more than 1 year ago to assess the actual condition of where the City sits. This is not something new but something that has seen the light of day with the changes in the accounting process. There are many avenues that can be taken to address this issue, and it is one that I will discuss further as the campaign unfolds.
The Planet thanks our Right Honorable Good Friend for his responses. We offer these
Quick comments on the three responses:
make everyone happy, offend no one. It does not take a stance. We hope Peter can shed this baffling waffling.
position that the Hill is safer where it is, next to Allendale School, than being removed.
fact is, the city has numerous times extended the “pay the piper” date on its obligations
to retirees, and at some point, large chunks of a $380 million (and growing) bill will
become due. How can a city strapped for cash solve this. It could quadruple taxes. It
could default. The Planet doesn’t mean to alarm, but default on the city’s obligations
to its retirees is not a far-fetched scenario. Only The Planet has sounded the alarm.
As Marchetti’s answer shows, and the response of defenders of the County Retirement
Board echo, public officials are not showing a sense of urgency. They are giving us the,
“Everything is fine, trust us” answer.
The Planet passes this along, for comment. This is related to our story on pensions.
It also confirms the average salarly for a teacher in Massachusetts: $67,577!!
What’s a Retiring Teacher’s Pension Worth?
A Globe reader picked up on the “disconnect” on the issue of public pensions. He noted that Renée Loth’s March 19 op-ed “Tensions over pensions,’’ which argued that the pension system is working just fine, contradicted the Globe news report from the next day “State’s pension costs on the rise’’ (Metro, March 20), which stated that “the number of state retirees collecting pensions of at least $100,000 has climbed more than 20 percent in the past year, jumping from 145 to 176, with the top pensioner receiving more than $240,000.’’
Where’s the truth lie? Here is a big piece of the answer, because it relates to teachers, who are one of the largest categories of public employees in the state pension system. So, what’s a retiring teacher’s pension worth?
Let’s start with the state’s department of education’s data on average salary. In 2009 the average teacher in the Commonwealth earned $67,577 (the last year for which we have complete data). By 2011, the number is likely $74,000. The salaries of retiring teachers, of course, are much higher becauseseniority acts as a law that makes it so you receive much higher salaries at the end of your career.
Last week, WCVB’s Chronicle discussed the national debate on collective bargaining. I noted during the segment that a teacher in the profession for 30 years will be able to retire with a pension of just under $60,000. At worst, I was off by two years. See table below (and read more here).