SNOW SHOW, plus PLANET ENDORSES BIANCHI FOR MAYOR … SPRINGFIELD SCHOOL AUDIT HAS LESSONS FOR PITTSFIELD … and … NORTH STREET BUMPOUTS FAIL FIRST TEST
BY DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, OCT. 31, 2011) — No, in the name of my good friend Pete White, we will not say a word about the “oh, woe are we” snows that graced the area in copious quantities of alabaster fluff. We were in New York, and hotels guests are required to do no shoveling. THE PLANET does add, however, that we take the weather as the meteorologists dish it. We love snow and winter, so let the skating and sliding commence.
THE PLANET ENDORSES DAN BIANCHI FOR MAYOR
One week and one day away, and the voters of Pittsfield — all 29,104 of them — must decide between two stark alternatives for mayor as well as determine the makeup of the new council with which the new mayor must work (or is it, “tame”?).
Closer to election day, we will make our predictions. Keep in mind that for three elections within the past two months (both state rep special versions and the municipal prelims) THE PLANET has been eerily exact: We have been perfect not only on outcomes but also on the finish of each race for each of the full fields. Moreoever, our prognosticators have been leagues within the standard deviation when it comes to predicting turnout, not just in percentages but in actual voters. Scary. Also remember that predicted outcome is not the same as our endorsed outcomes.
With that, we make our endorsement for mayor. THE PLANET endorses Dan Bianchi. We were going to hold off until one week from today, but the acceleration of the campaign’s development — particularly Staffergate, which exposed Marchetti’s team as Not Ready For Prime Time — prompts us to do it now.
We won’t flap our gums on the typical qualities that often lure editorial support: integrity, honesty, experience, and the like. THE PLANET assumes these minimal qualities in ANY candidate for public office. In other words, if you have to tell us you have integrity, that you are honest, we consider that redundant. We even discounted the fact that we’ve known Dan Bianchi for years, for we have a similar amount of experience with his opponent. We have known Bianchi and Marchetti for years, and we have been honored to have each as a friend.
THE PLANET back Bianchi based on the specifics of his campaign.
Specific Proposals Win THE PLANET’s Endorsement
Of the two, Bianchi is the only one to outline what can be considered a specific strategy for implementation beginning on the day of the inaugural. If you go on Bianchi’s website at votebianchi.com, you can read the details of his “Action Plan for Pittsfield.” We won’t give you a re-hash here. Read it for yourself. In our judgment, compared to what his opponent has offered in the campaign, we find Bianchi’s Rx for city government the product of more intelligence and insight.
We will say, however, that our favorite specific proposal is the creation of a “tax panel to recommend ways to improve services while reducing costs.”
Is Bianchi sincere about this? We recall over the years talk about a citizens tax board that never got off the ground. A sincere tax advisory board would be free to put all — and we mean ALL — municipal expenses on the table. Only time will determine if the tax panel is for real or if it’s merely a clever campaign promise. For now, we take Bianchi at his word and look forward to the makeup of the group. It must include mostly citizens of the watchdog type. It must avoid too many “usual suspects.”
The tax panel is just one of seven specific proposals Bianchi outlines to address what is the singlemost problematic issue for the city. Taxes are too high, services have not kept pace, the tax base is shrinking, and taxpayers need relief. They need a different approach other than tax-and-spend.
The mayor must finally stand up to the Special Interests, tighten the belt, and give the break to the rank-and-file, the Mary Jane and Joe Kapanskis of the city. These are the ones who pay their taxes and make great sacrifices to do so. They don’t ask for special favors. They have no behind-the-scenes access. They keep their yards and homes clean. They don’t break the law. They have time and again reduced their spending to accommodate the growing demands government places on them in the form of tribute.
Bianchi’s Action Plan Addressed a Multitude of City Areas, Problems
In addition to taxes, Bianchi’s “Action Plan” has sections on “overall vision, city services (do more with less), education, economic development, open government, and public safety.” Again, only time will tell how much is this is honest and how much is campaign pandering. For the moment, we can only hope and trust. THE PLANET admires the specificity of the plans, as opposed to the once-size-fits-all prescriptions offer by Marchetti, which read and sound as if they were produced by a committee that lacked the brightest bulbs.
Marchetti erred greatly when he basically told Jimmy Ruberto and John Barrett that he didn’t want their help and instead ran into the arms of Gerry Doyle and Angelo Stracuzzi. That happened early in the campaign, and that decision marked the exact moment the Marchetti express began to derail.
Ruberto and Barrett were slighted by Marchetti, who for some mysterious reason did not take advantage of the fund-raising capabilities and seasoned political wisdom of these two men. Marchetti’s snub gives credence to the theory that deep down, he doesn’t want to win this race. Rejecting two stalwarts such as Ruberto and Barrett suggests Peter has a political death wish.
Let us also remind readers that THE PLANET will have nothing to do with the outcome of the mayor’s race. When Marchetti loses, his camp will want to place the blame here. That’s one C.O.D. delivery we shall not accept.
SPRINGFIELD SCHOOL DEPT. AUDIT HAS LESSONS FOR PITTSFIELD
THE PLANET shares this story out of Springfield, first reported by WHSM. It brings to mind the need for a similar audit of every municipal department, starting with schools. The School Department eats up more than half the budget of Pittsfield. The return on investment has been scandalous on the low side. Something’s not adding up. Read this:
After an internal audit at Putnam Vocational High School, Springfield school officials are taking preventative measures. Officials have ordered an audit for all high schools and middle schools because the audit from Putnam produced a paper trail no one expected. (THE PLANET’s underline).
“I want to send a message loud and clear that we have cleaned up the financial management at Putnam and there is now a very clear segregation of duties at the school with checks and balances,” says Springfield Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram.
But for about five years, there wasn’t a system of checks and balances that went through the school district’s central office. When Gil Traverso started the 2010 school year as principal at Putnam Vocational High School, he requested the audit. After 13 months of compiling figures, the findings are public.
“(The discoveries of the school audit include) the use of school funds to purchase equipment for personal use, double billing the system for reimbursements, disregarding protocol for vendor selections and using the school’s vocational resources for personal use,” Ingram says.
The Books Weren’t Balanced
School officials say from December 2005 to November 2010, the books weren’t balanced correctly and were done manually with pen and paper. Receipts were missing, there weren’t deposits, and explanations for writing checks were never reconciled with bank statements.
As a result of the findings, four employees were fired, two resigned and one was suspended and demoted.
“Those actions have taken place and we now have actions and practices in place that should prevent this from ever happening again,” says Ingram.
With new record keeping policies on the table for Putnam, officials are dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s to see if money manipulation is happening anywhere else in the district.
“All of our high schools and middle schools have had the funds audited,” the superintendent says. “We’re waiting for the final report to finalize our recommendations for the school committees.”
Officials are not naming any names at this time. The Attorney General’s office is investigating.
THE DOWNTOWN BUMPOUTS FAIL THEIR FIRST TEST
The surprise October snowstorm gave the infamous North Street bumpouts a test. Based on conversations with the plowers, PROF. PLANET assigns a bumpout grade of F, though we give the plow guys an “A” for coping.
Snow plow pilots reported what they feared and what THE PLANET pointed out in our exclusive coverage last week: The “round corners,” as one of them called the bumpouts in a delightful Berra-ism, forced the drivers to discontinue plowing each time one of the idiotic curves came into the path of the blade. Plows had to be slowed, feathered, and piloted in a much more exacting way. One estimated that plowing North Street will take twice as long and be half as efficient.
One problem could be seen yesterday and, for all we know, might still be there. On a drive through downtown yesterday in the PLANETMOBILE, the bumpouts had created snow mounds that would not have been there under the old design. These mounds were also pushed further into the road lanes because of the wider sidewalks. If this is what happens after one snow, with the ground not frozen, what will it look like after numerous storms on frozen turf?
We wonder if Deanna Ruffer, who heads the OCD office in Pittsfield and has power equivalent of deputy mayor, has her resume in order? She has one year left on her contract, we believe, but will Mayor Bianchi want her around?
AS THE SNOW MELTS OFF THE ROOFTOP IN A CADENCE OF DROPS, WE SAY,
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.