INAUGURATION DAY IN PITTSFIELD: NOT SO ‘SPECIAL,’ AS SCHOOL COMMITTEE WILL FIND OUT … plus … SHOPPING CENTER FOR PEDA COULD PUT ENTIRE SITE IN JEOPARDY; PEDA SECRECY BLASTED
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and commentary
INAUGURALS AND INTRIGUE: ONLY IN PITTSFIELD
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, DECEMBER 30, 2011) — On Monday, Jan. 2, at City Hall, Pittsfield hosts a swearing in ceremony for its new officers and elected officials. At 8 p.m., the same evening, the city swears in its new school committee in the library at PHS. There’s just one problem. Monday, Jan. 2, is a legal holiday, made so by New Year’s falling on a Sunday.
Question: Does this mean that all of the workers who will be needed to open, maintain, and close the buildings will be on double time or time-and-a-half? If so, would it spoil some vast, eternal plan to put off the inauguration until Wednesday, thereby saving Pittsfield taxpayers a good chunk of change?
Officials will argue that the city charter determines when inaugurations are conducted, but since when is following the rules or obeying the law a requirement for official conduct in the city of Pittsfield? Charter, law, and procedure are ignored or violated on a routine basis. Why can’t they do it in this case? Besides, a legal holiday trumps the language of any local charter.
MEmo to Mayor-elect Dan Bianchi: Want to get off to a fast start? Have the swearing in the day after, on Jan. 3. THE PLANET seriously doubts that anyone will file an complaint with Secretary of State Bill Galvin, except, perhaps, Gerry Doyle.
Does ‘Special’ Make it Illegal? It Sure Does Look So’
There’s also one other small inaugural matter. Will the school committee swearing in be legal? Pittsfield, Mass., may be the only city in America that could screw up something as seemingly innocent and innocuous at an inauguration.
The agenda calls the school committee inauguration a “Special Meeting of the Pittsfield Public School Committee.”
“Special”? If THE PLANET understands procedure correctly, “special” meetings are different from regular ones. A “special” meeting can be called to handle an ad hoc issue or in an emergency. Except where emergency would make it impractical, the school committee must vote and approve the calling of a “special meeting.” The question then becomes: Did the outgoing school board issue such a vote? We can’t find a record that it did. It would appear likely, then, that the meeting — if held without a constituting vote — will be illegal.
Folks, these things matter. The word “special” has a extra-ordinary meaning when used by the city, officially, as a modifier. Procedure exists to prevent yahoos from doing a lot of freelancing when it comes to handling the business of We The People. Once you breaking the law on little things, the big things come next.
The school committee agenda includes the oath taking, the election of the chair and vice chair, and the drawing of seats. THE PLANET hears that Kathleen Amuso will be looking to retain her role as chairwoman. We also expect to see a vigorous opposition bid by incumbent Alf Barbalunga.
Oh, yeah, and Terry Kinnas will be in the building, this time as a duly constituted officer. The meeting might be anything but routine. That’s all we’ll say.
PEDA: IT WON’T BE PRETTY; AN EXPLORATION OF THE ISSUES AND THE IMPLICATIONS
Speaking of ignoring the law, let’s turn again to the decision by Corydon Thurston, Gary Grunin, et. al. to violate the original PEDA enabling documents and pursuing a prohibited use for the site: Waterstone Development’s proposed shopping center at the former GE campus.
Community opposition has been building. The former publisher of the Boring Broadsheet (Martin Langeveld) and one of its former editors (Lew Cuyler) have blasted the short-sighted PEDA action. What’s to like about taking a centrally located industrial site, next to water and rail, and dumbing it down for retail? The area tax base continues to shrink, with fewer consumers (we hate that word!). Shoppers will be left to cannibalize existing retailers in a kind of economic Darwinism, where survival will only go to the fittest. Expect more mom-and-pop stores to close. It won’t be pretty.
To sum it up for those who haven’t been following, there are two issues at stake:
(1) The PEDA move to retail indicates they have given up on the site as a manufacturing campus.
(2) The PEDA action to pursue an illegal use of the site means either that it is doing so illegally or that it has amended its rules. If the former, enough said. If the latter, this must have been done in secret, for there seems to be no record of this change being sought, much less permission given, by the interested parties.
Shopping Center Will Be a Long Time Coming
The shopping center project, though, probably will never get off the ground. At minimum, the proposed 2013 opening date seems wildly optimistic. We also hear that Waterstone Develppment, apparently unaware of the restrictions at the PEDA site, is getting increasingly nervous about doing business there. If that’s true, can you blame the company? Does Waterstone have an airtight, legal assurance that the PEDA board has received all proper clearances to pursue this otherwise illegal use of the property?
And isn’t it interesting how the Boring Broadsheet has completely shied away from the story, after having told you on Page 1 how the Waterstone shopping center will usher in a new economic dawn for our fair city. The BB’s coverage on local issues of import is as reliable as news releases from press agency of the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea.
The BB, for example, will never tell you about the implications of the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA, Massachusetts General Laws, c 30, ss. 61-62H), in the same way they haven’t told you that PEDA (a) took its master plan off line on its website in the vain attempt to keep the prohibited-use sheet hidden and (b) that PEDA has made its website as user-UNfriendly as possible, as we’ve learned from several PLANET correspondents.
Does Prohibited Retail Shopping Use Violate the MEPA Notice for the PEDA Site?
The state issued MEPA environmental notification the PEDA site on Sept. 24, 2005. The notification covers Phase I of proposed PEDA development: Up to 26,000 sq. ft. on 26 acres of the 52-acre site. The state granted the MEPA notification based on PEDA’s founding documents, including the list of prohibited uses, a long one that includes shopping centers. PEDA’s unilateral change in the rules during the middle of the game could well void the environmental certificate for the site.
Under the assumption that PEDA would follow its own rules, the state granted a MEPA. Stephen Pritchard, secretary of environmental affairs, said on Sept. 24, 2005, “Based on a review of the information provided by [PEDA] and after consultation with the relevant public agencies, I find that the potential impacts of the project as proposed in the ENF (Environmental Notification Form) do not warrant the preparation of an EIR (Environmental Impact Review) and can adequately be addressed by the state agencies in the permitting process. No further MEPA review is required.”
This is a profoundly important declaration. The state gave its environmental OK based on “the potential impacts of the project as proposed” [THE PLANET's italics]. Did PEDA throw all that out the window by pursuing a prohibited use? They are certainly not proceeding with the development of the site, “as proposed.”
Does PEDA Action with Respect to Waterstone Jeopardize All Existing and Current Projects?
The proposed shopping center project could throw a money wrench into all development on the site, especially if an EIR is required. An EIR could have to take into account the exposure of the general public to hazardous industrial toxins, which they would risk patronizing a shopping center on the site. The EIR could take forever. In the meantime, all work at the site could be ordered halted. …
… unless, of course, there’s a secret deal going on that would, you know, uh, look the other way and pretend all is OK. Construction projects require lots of money. Just a question: How much of a “vig fund” would be required to satisfy the “right people”? To be clear, THE PLANET is not suggesting or implying that this type of “secret deal” is going on. We are merely suggesting that the manner in which the Waterstone project came about appears to violate the Authority’s own vow to be more open, more honest in the way it does business.
We would expect that MEPA will identify any state permitting issue that have arisen since the Waterstone-PEDA announcement. Thus, it would seem that before the local permitting process can begin for the Watersone development, the state will have to issue a new environmental certificate, with a new list of conditions.
In Order for PEDA: Regular Updates Before the City Council
Where is the new transparency that PEDA executive director Corydon Thurston promised when he took over for Bill Hinds? When will Dan Bianchi, the incoming mayor, go public with what’s going on at PEDA?
The key question is this: Does the “revised” proposal, to include an otherwise prohibited use (shoppingcenter) at the PEDA site trip any of the regulatory thresholds set by the executive office of state environmental affairs?
One practical step can be taken to force PEDA to live up to its promises: Require the PEDA board to present an update to, and take questions from, the city council. This will help share information and, via their representatives, give We The People a chance to put questions directly to key PEDA officers.
PEDA has been anything but transparent. This continues to be run as a secretive feifdom, rife with political stench, suggestions of funny business, and the appearance of favoritism. A monthly report to the council will go a long way to end this and to restore people’s confidence in the agency.
HERE ON THE PLANET, OUR ENVIRONMENTAL FOOTPRINT IS NEGLIGIBLE. OUR GREENS ARE GREEN, AND DAILY WE COMMUNE WITH TREES. THEY TELL OF THEIR SECRETS, AND …
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.