(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MARCH 16, 2011) — The plot thickens like gobs of gorilla glue in the subarctic regarding the hostile annexing by The Machine of the Westside Farm Project (WFP) from the hands of grassroots gardeners.

The move, which sources say is the brainchild of Department of Community Development Czarina Deanna Ruffer, let the good people of the WFP break their backs for three years only to swoop in and pluck the well-run program to put it in the hands of the politically connected Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC). Then they can say, “See! Look what we did!”

If this were a game of Clue, The Planet would announce to the hushed, assembled room of usual suspects: “The Czarina, on Robbins Avenue, with a pitchfork.”

One Man, with a Shovel and a Dream

How did this garden grow?: In 2008, with one man, one shovel, and a dream to bring a little joy to a part of the city in need. Thom Pecoraro began the WFP on an abandoned plot of land on Robbins Avenue. With a few friends, he diligently cleaned, tilled, and prepped the soil. He planted. Veggies grew.

While others on the west side cursed the darkness in between drive-by shootings and drug deals, Pecoraro lit the lamp of hope, bidding life out of the urban soil. The little plots on Robbins Avenue became of magnet of good will, and last year, provided one and a third tons of free, delicious, nutritious produce to need families. In three years, the operation became a model of what neighbors can do if “da government just leaves ‘em ta hell alone,” as Jimmy Durante used to say.

That’s all changed now. The politically charged BCAC — with four officers, nine board members, eight members of the managerial staff, and politics by the bushel barrel — will call the shots where the WFP used to till. In the background pulling the strings will be The Czarina, who sources say engineered the takeover from behind the scenes. How far behind the scenes? The answer may lie in a seemingly innocuous code change passed in 2009 (see below).

All Hail, the Czarina

Reasonable people had all doubt removed about Ruffer when she placed her fingerprints on the murder weapon. This occurred in the Boring Broadsheet’s gushing story about what a great this thing Goliath-robs-David theft was for the city of Pittsfield.

Instead of letting BCAC executive director Donald Atwater get his name in the paper, the Czarina hogged the limelight to look like the WFP’s savior. Indeed, the BB story reads as if Czarina Ruffer rescued the farm initiative not just from a tickle in the throat but from its deathbed. Why, she told the BB’s Dick Lindsay with suitable breathlessness, without her actions, the WFP could not sustain itself, could not manage its growth, and would turn to tumbleweed. All hail Czarina Ruffer.

Meanwhile, the Planet has unearthed documents that lay out the evolution of the plot (not garden plots but political plots). In an e-mail dated Nov. 22, 2010, Thom Pecoraro writes to the recipient of the coup de lettuce:

Pecoraro:  The City, BCAC Acted ‘in Bad Faith’

“ … we continue to operate in the westside neighborhood. We collaborated with BCAC in 2010 and apparently, the Director, Don Atwater, recognized the value of what we are doing and — in an act of bad faith — decided to ‘get into the business’ and offer Becky Rushford [who had worked with WFP] a position. I suppose the City will license their lot to them (on Robbins Ave.), as BCAC is well connected with city politics and the Dept. of Community Development.

I never would have dreamed, at the beginning of the project, that it would attract people [and] organizations that would disingenuously usurp our efforts. The WFP is a grassroots organization, and any efforts to disempower that effort should be severely scrutinized. What encouragement could this possibly garner for other up-and-coming — or planned — grassroots initiatives”?

This damning e-mail confirms several things:

· The garden theft was engineered by Ruffer using Atwater as her stooge

· This was a hostile takeover, unlike what the BB tried to convey in its irresponsible story. The story reminds The Planet of George Orwell’s famous denunciation of political language, which attempts to make murder acceptable and gives solidity to the wind.

· This is all about politics and power and not about helping a grassroots movement.

· This is how the city of Pittsfield works behind the scenes to discourage initiatives from anyone who is not in some way is not a political hostage. When Pecoraro objected, the city told him that he didn’t matter, because he didn’t live in Pittsfield [EDITOR’S NOTE: The Planet believes Pecoraro lives in nearby New York State but isn’t certain].

· This action has a chilling effect on other grassroots initiatives. Who knows how many good people had similarly good ideas and decided not to get involved with the city of Pittsfield for the nefarious reasons spelled out in this, The Great Garden Variety Theft.

BCAC Website as Non-Trasparent as it Gets: What are they Hiding?

How do these disclosures square up with what is found, and not found, on the BCAC website? BCAC declares with a straight face that it’s “primary purpose is to promote the well-being of low-income people in all of the cities and towns of Berkshire County.” Pray, tell, how does theft of an entire grassroots’ grown garden serve that end? Perhaps Donald Atwater would care to answer?

The BCAC comes off a do-good organization that provides a bunch of good-pay, good-benefits job to its managers; exploits the poor for political purposes; and primarily exists to aid and abet the totalitarian one-party political system in this end of the state that imposes its litmus test on anyone looking to become involved in public life. It’s all about the PC crowd, baby, the PC crowd!

And it’s a mere coincidence, isn’t it, that on Oct. 28, 2009, the Ruberto Administration amended the city charter to approve an ordinance addressing the “right to farm” within city limits. Here is the disclosure notification:

The Right to Farm is hereby recognized to exist within the city of Pittsfield. Agricultural

activities as defined in the Right to Farm Ordinance, Chapter 2, Article XLVI of the

Pittsfield City Code as may be amended, may occur on holidays, weekdays, and

weekends by day or night and shall include the attendant incidental dust, noise and odors

associated with normally accepted agricultural practices. It is hereby determined that

whatever impact may be caused to others through the normal practice of agriculture is

more than offset by the benefits of farming to the neighborhood, community, and society

in general. The benefits and protections of this ordinance are intended to apply

exclusively to those commercial agricultural and farming operations and activities

conducted in accordance with generally accepted agricultural practices. Moreover,

nothing in this Right to Farm Ordinance shall be deemed as acquiring any interest in land,

or as imposing any land use regulation, which is properly the subject of state statute,

regulation, or local zoning law.

The city council approved this 9-0 (Mr. Green Jeans and Old McDonald abstained) on its first reading (9/23/09) and 11-0 on the second (10/13/09). The mayor signed it into law on 10/28/09. The Planet wonders: Did my Right Honorable Good Friends on the City Council realize what they were doing when they unanimously approved the innocent-looking measure? Did they realize they were becoming accessories prior to the fact of a robbery?

“Site NOT Under Construction”

Another sign of phoniness and suspicion is the BCAC website. The Planet visited this morning, looking to find mention of the inside Garden job. Here’s all you need to know about disclosure and transparency in the city of Pittsfield and the seemingly “independent” political organizations of The Welfare State.

The Planet wanted to learn about BCAC’s finances and management. We also wanted to know when its next meeting would be held. Here’s what we got:

· When you click on the “BCAC Financial Reports” link, you get a message reading: “Site under construction.”

· When you click on the “BCAC Meeting Minutes” link, you get, “Site under construction.”

· When you click on the link that proudly advertises “BCAC Meeting Schedule,” you get, “Site under construction.”

Get it? “Information Technology: Site Under Kickbacked Construction, Suckers,” or “IT SUCKS.”

Memo to Donald Atwater: Get your abominable website updated. We’re not talking fancy graphics. We’re talking straight information.

What’s the Connection Between BCAC and DCD?

The Planet wonders, out of the blue, of course, and apropos to nothing, when was the last time an independent audit was conducted of BCAC finances and operations?

We also ponder the imponderable: What is the nature of the strong link between BCAC and the Czarina of Ruffer? What allegiances are required of BCAC?

We invite Ruffer, Atwater, and Mariday Geyer, BCAC’s chief fiscal officer, to e-mail their defense. The Planet will publish, if it meets our standards, for our growing numbers of readers, who know that there is at least one media outlet that is on the side of The Little Guy.

The Planet also wonders what the four councilors at-large and the ward councilor think of the takeover of WFI by BCAC at the instigation of the Czarina and associate mayor?




  1. Rinaldo Del Gallo, III
    March 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    Well written article Dan. In defense of the Berkshire Eagle, they did carry my column on the subject.

    • danvalenti
      March 16, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

      Thanks much. Your article in the BB was a gem. The Eagle used to use me as the token “black” (conservative, at least as they perceived) back in the day.

  2. Jim Gleason
    March 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

    Speaking of Ruffer, Joe Nichols said today on WBRK that ruberto has appointed her for 3 more years, making her a part of the next mayor’s administration whether he wants her there or not. The mayor had the option to appoint her on a week to week or month to month basis but chose to do this, thus saddling the next mayor with this anchor. Another patronage appointment like Tricia Farley Blah Blah to the assistant mayor job. Blah Blah can be removed by the nem mayor, Ruffer cannot be removed.

  3. Dee
    March 16, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Anyone in City government can be removed by an incoming administration regardless of appointments.

    Mr. Nichols alluded to this when he was talking today. If he feels a Dept. head is not following his vision, they will be removed. (Totally paraphrasing his comments.)

    Meanwhile, it would be interesting to know exactly who owns the property on Robbins Ave. Is it the City’s or held by an absentee owner? While I’m all for grass root movements, if it’s on City owned property I can understand why the City took it away. They can’t have anything run successfully by someone else. Kuddos all around, back slapping and congratulations to all! They have to take their victories where they can, even if they have to steal them. Why put in the work when you can just swoop in and declare victory based on someone else’s battles won.

    • Jim Gleason
      March 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

      Ruffer cannot be removed by the next mayor, Joe said that today if you were listening. I later went to his restaurant for lunch and he told me the same thing. Her position is partially funded by HUD, I don’t know if that’s why, but she CANNOT be removed until her appointment is up in 3 years.

  4. arpaint
    March 16, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Roberto needs not to be making decisions for the next mayor. He has decided not to run again and he should not have the right to make any appointment that will last longer than his term. Ruffer and Farley should do the right thing and not accept an appointment that last longer than Roberto term. And the city council should take steps to make sure this can’t happen in the feature.

    • danvalenti
      March 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

      @ ARPAINT and DEE
      I understand that the reappointment expires at the end of 2012, although I say I haven’t confirmed this. Ms. Ruffer does not return my e-mails or phone calls, don’t you know.

      • Joe Nichols
        March 16, 2011 at 5:32 pm #


        I spoke with Deanna personally just yesterday in her office and I specifically asked her if she had just been reappointed. She told me that she had been reappointed for 3 years and that this particular appointment runs in 3 year cycles. I asked if she could only be appointed for the 3 year cycle and she stated that she could have been kept on as a day to day appointment the same as a couple of other department heads but that the Mayor wanted to appoint her for another 3 years. I do not know the exact date of her reappointment nor the end date.


        • danvalenti
          March 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

          Thank you. There is confusion over this.
          (a) when does her new term expire?
          (b) If the new mayor does not want her, does he have to keep her?
          If would ask her, but she won’t return my calls or answer my e-mails.
          Then, they say, “Valenti writes without asking for our comments!”
          Nasty little game, but what they don’t understand is that we don’t need them to go to “press”!

          • MLC
            March 21, 2011 at 10:31 am #

            Dan, if Deanna Ruffer was first appointed at the beginning of Jim Ruberto’s first term in Jan. 2004, then on a 3-year cycle she would have been up for reappointment in Jan. 2007 and Jan. 2010, and her current appointment would expire in Dec. 2012. I don’t know if this is what’s happened, but the dates work. Would also mean that the mayor gave her her current appointment over a year ago – long before he decided not to run for another term.

    • Dusty
      March 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

      Farley should do the right thing. lol

      Is this outfit the same one that could not or would not find a place for the Farmers Market? Perhaps the Farmers Market could not afford the payola. This administration gets more like the Goodfellas every day.

  5. rick
    March 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    now does everyone see what happens when you let a mayor have a free run, the city councilors who voted yes on everything have a hand in all the sleazyness that this administration had done and will do till he goes. anything that roberto brings to the council should be tabled untill the new mayor comes in. people say hes a spitefull little bastard, and i think we are going to find out pdq.

  6. Rivetor
    March 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    This level of corruption and dirty dealing is amazing. As a newcomer (from a beautifully run city in Pennsylvania, I’m serious) I can’t belive how petty this is. Are they that insecure. I thank God everyday for The Planet and the good people who have been enslaved by what (i think) they call the GOB networkl. Good Ol Boys. In November I know how I’m voting. For joe Nichols.

    • danvalenti
      March 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

      We are applying the best disinfectant: Sunshine.

  7. Mike
    March 16, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    When Thom first came before the council to request permission to use this tax title property the neighbors considered HIM the interloper. He was the one being installed by Community Development after they had spent hours cleaning the property and turning it into an unofficial playground so their kids wouldn’t have to play in the street.

    I think what Thom did was great and he can continue to do it with one of his own properties. The city should have just sold this lot at auction and put it back on the tax rolls.

    • danvalenti
      March 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

      For an “interloper,” Thom did lots of good. He acted while others sat around with their thumbs in their pumpkins.

  8. BobbyKnows
    March 17, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    Perhaps the new Mayor could reallocate the cities portion of ms. Ruffers Salary,let her sit around with her “thumb in her pumpkin” and see how she liked that.In the meantime her duties could be spread around to other appropriate city departments.I would bet her oversized ego would have her on her way in a New York minute

  9. Payroll Patriot
    March 17, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Beware the Irish Ides of March.

    The Ward 4 City Councilor did not have a tree removed from his property as stated by Mr. Ward. 3 large trees on city property were removed, 2 in front and one right across the street and the city planted new trees in their places. Nice open view. Do you think if he wasn’t a city councilor all of that would have happened? PS There is a commercial contracting operation almost right across the street. truck and trailers there all the time. Only one to agree with the City Councilor was the FF’s UNION HEAD. Budget time payback? Maybe Mr. Ward would like to answer the questions about the cost of the grocery shopping fire department. Contempt is earned.

    • Mike Ward
      March 17, 2011 at 10:45 am #

      I purchased and planted the elm tree that is on city property in front of my house — and by they way there is a process that you need to follow in order to do this. Contact DPW for details.

      Scott Pride (who is an excellent gas heating contractor) is also the best neighbor you could ask for and I don’t have a problem with him parking his van at his house.

      If you have concerns or questions for me why wouldn’t you just call me? You might find me reasonable person.

      • danvalenti
        March 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

        The Planet can attest: Mike Ward is a reasonable person.

      • Payroll Patriot
        March 18, 2011 at 8:19 am #

        Beware the Irish Ides of March.

        Mr. Ward, do you think if you weren’t a city councilor all of the trees would have been removed? If you call the DPW something happens. If little Joe or Susie calls, good luck. As, to the commercial contracting operation almost right across the street, trucks and trailers are there all the time. Not, just a single van. YOU took an OATH of OFFICE to uphold the law and now after you have voted on a number of laws for the rest of us to follow, YOU make an exception on enforcement right across the street. I didn’t think that being a good neighbor to a elected city official allows you to operate a business in a residential neighborhood. Is it because that’s how Pittsfield works? Did I miss that in the blight ordinance or any other ordnance that may or may not have been legally passed? Now does that mean that all the rest of the people in Pittsfield are bad neighbors and have to follow the law, OR are they good neighbors and they can do what they want?

        Thank you, Ms. Mazzeo, for at least asking a question and looking for justification from the privately contracted lawyer, contracted by the mayor and paid for, many times over by us the taxpayers.

        Oh yes, as the FF UNION HEAD didn’t answer the question, maybe City Councilor. Ward would like to answer the questions about the cost of the grocery shopping fire department.

        Please, don’t blame the mayor for not acting on one of your petitions. As a CITY COUNCILOR it is your RESPONSIBILITY to question the mayor at the City Council meetings as to the status of all petitions sent to the mayor’s office.

        • Mike Ward
          March 18, 2011 at 10:41 am #

          You’re just plain WRONG. Dozens of trees were removed in ward 4 last year and I had nothing to do with most of them. At the same time, I submitted many requests on behalf of constituents that were denied by the DPW because the tree was deemed “too healthy”. One fellow comes back to me every year with the same tree request, and Tom Foody denies it every time. You are clearly STUCK on this tree thing.

          Back to Scott Pride (the excellent gas heating contractor who can be reached at What do I mean by good neighbor? Well, nobody complains about Scott Pride, for starters. He clears the snow from neighbors’ driveways. His house is so well kept it could be on the Garden Tour. I could go on, but that’s what I mean.

          I believe that Scott Pride is fully compliant with the law, and I would only report someone to the building inspector if asked to do so by a constituent. That has never happened with Scott Pride.

          On my tree petition, ding-dong you’re wrong, again. The council cannot not add line items to the budget, so there is nothing to follow up about. The mayor sets the budget and the council can make monetary cuts, not line item cuts. That’s just how it works.

          On the Fire Department, you are free to launch any investigations you wish. But given your track record so far on this blog I would not be inclined to believe a word out of you.

          Have a nice weekend!

  10. Rosco K. Barrett
    March 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    The WFP is still “growing” and right now seems to be caught up in a game of capture the flag. To be up in arms over the matter is saddening. Im sure that the whole idea was hatched with the concept of peaceful farming so hopefully it can return to being just that. On the other hand does Pittsfield really need a Nuestras Raíces to boost its economic well being. I dont think so.

    I appreciate the replies prior to mine in regards to the elms. Would be great to see every tree that is removed by the city replaced with an elm.

  11. Dusty
    March 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Perhaps Ruffer could get Bill Hines or whomever is in charge of PEDA this week to allow use of that newly groomed lawn off of East street to plant her own garden. She would not have anyone to do her work for her like she does now but still…it is a nice plot just waiting for a princess like her.

  12. just saying
    March 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm #


    Thanks again, you always seem to expose the truth. And man its not pretty.
    No wonder Pittsfield is failing, those that are supposed to be leading are nothing but back stabbing power freaks.

    What is going on with the removed memorial in Park Square? I see that the “baseball” still stands.
    It is actually quite ugly. Needs to go to the scrap yard.
    Sorry if I missed the resolution to this, do not remember seeing it. Thanks.