Article

INAUGURALS, TROUGLE FOR BRUNIN, and PEDALS … plus … WARD LAUNCHES PEDALS PETITION, HOW PITTSFIELD TAXPAYERS GOT ROBBED OF $7 MILLION, and BSC TONE DEAF

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, JAN. 3, 2012) — Happy birthday to Planet Dad, who turned 91 today and will celebrate by taking a long walk on the Mary Flynn Trail in Stockbridge, Mass.! Gotta love it.

WELCOME ABOARD — Now that the new government is duly constituted, with oaths and all, the fun can begin. We offer new mayor Dan Bianchi the best as he attempts to govern a city far too long compromised by poison (literally thanks to GE and figuratively thanks to politcs) for its own good. Why they held the inauguration yesterday, on a legal holiday, only Judge Crater knows. Taxpayers are on the hook for the many hours of double time paid to city staff needed to open, maintain, and close the buildings — City Hall for the mayoral and council swearing in at 10 a.m. and PHS for the evening’s inaugural of the school committee. Money well spent or more $$ whizzed down the drain? Speaking of the school committee, The Stooley gave Kathleen Amuso an F for being overly concerned about the seating arrangements. We agree the schools have more important issues that where Kathy Amuso parks her derriere.

TROUGLE GREWING FOR BRUNIN — If the Boring Broadsheet can’t even get a proper noun correctly,  what hope is there that it can understand, let alone intelligently present, on issues as complicated as the PEDA Land Swindle (PEDALS)? The BB’s Ned Oliver repeartedly identified PEDA executive board chairman Gary Grunin as Gary Brunin. It was not a typo. This is what happens when you do not have beat coverage of key issues. The bullpen approach doesn’t work. Ringers and newcomers do not have the institutional knowledge to intelligently cover complex local affairs. As a commentator pointed out yesterday, this website forced the BB’s hand in covering the PEDA story. Without THE PLANET’s coverage, the BB would have meekly complied with GOB orders to spike the story and continue to present the PEDA Land Swindle as the lolly-golly peaches-and-cream fluff ball of their initial announcement of the attempt to put Big Box retail on what should be a manufacturing site. THE PLANET commends the job of iBerkshires and reporter Joe Durwin for their followup coverage. We recommend you read Corydon Thurston hollow defense of PEDALS in Durwin’s article.

THURSTON DISPLAYS IGNORANCE, ARROGANCE — In his remarks to the Boring Broadsheet, Corydon Thurston, PEDA executive director, showed the kind of condescending attitude that has been far too typical of the Authority of late and to date. He blasted people who dared to question the plans, saying that they should wait until the full intent is made public. Excuse us? This deal has been in the works for a year now, and PEDA, acting in a unilateral fashion that typifies an authority’s blind charter, has not seen fit to include ANY level of public scrutiny. That this use violates the original PEDA founding documents doesn’t seem to trouble Thurston. He claims the language of prohibited uses  (retail, shopping center, malls, etc). is non-specific and vague. THE PLANET cannot believe he believes that. Day by day, it becomes clear why Corydon Thurston was tapped to head PEDA, and each of those days reduces the hope that the property will be put to use to help revitalize the city of Pittsfield.

MFG. COMPONENT DWINDLES, AND THAT’S WHY IT’S A SWINDLE — Why do we call it the PEDA Land Swindle, or PEDALS? Because the anemic PEDA Board, under the unimaginative leadership of director Corydon Thurston, declared surrender. By dumbing down to a B- or C-level developer to bring in more Big Box retail, PEDALS announces the board’s failure. The very purpose of PEDA was to provide manufacturing, light industrial, biotech, and other high-tech business. These are the industries that pay a livable wage. Big Box retail will cannibalize the existing retail market (there are already too many stores and not enough shoppers) while making it even more difficult for downtown shops, many of which are barely hanging on as it is. PEDALS robs Pittsfield of its best, last chance for some semblance of prosperity.

PCBs, TOXINS NOT A DRAW — PEDALS also has several other immoral components. First, Pittsfield signed off on the Consent Agreement totally in GE’s favor. Mainly, it transferred property from GE to PEDA, which pays no taxes. That added $4 million to GE’s treasury and at the same time removed it from the city’s. Second, the deal leftmost of the GE poisons in place. Silver Lake is polluted. Hill 78 is a mountain of toxicity. Untold toxicity fouls property throughout the city. The PEDA property itself rests upon untold and uncounted toxic deposits. Remember, GE never removed all of the pollution. It buried most of it. That, my friends, is the reason for PEDA’s failure. There are too many other, more preferable options to companyies that are expanding, relocating, or starting up. Third, Until GE is forced to clean up the mess, Pittsfield will continue to be seen by the rest of the country, rightly or wrongly, as a Love Canal. Fourth, as long as the current executive director and board remain in place, PEDA has little chance. The current crew has been unimaginative, timid, and ineffectual. One ray of hope stems from a campaign promise: Mayor Bianchi promised to take a place on the PEDA board and assert his authority. We shall see. This address, for one, will be holding Bianchi to his promise.

WARD STEPS FORWARD WITH PRO-ACTION — Former Ward 4 councilor Mike Ward stepped down from his office to take up the most important position anyone can hold in a democracy: that of Private Citizen. Ward has launched an online petition opposing what he calls PEDA’s “wrong-headed shopping center plans.” More than 130 people have so far signed. You can sign the petition by going to this link: http://bit.ly/sB8VAc

THEY DON’T FEEL YOUR PAIN — Between the $3 million taken off the tax rolls by Berkshire Health Systems “non-profit” status and the $4 million by PEDALS, Pittsfield taxpayers have taken a beating. Each year, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski have to tighten their belts a little more. While the Big Shots at BHS and PEDA live high hog, the Kapanskis had to cancel their vacation to Hampton Beach. Instead of red meat, they are eating chicken. They’ve replaced premium brands with generic food products. They juggle their finances to buy food, prescription medicine, and keep the house heated. Government and Big Non-Profits don’t have to tighten the belt. The first has taxpayers to tap. The second simply has to make and spend all of its money, so that at year end, there’s no “profit.” Though the practice is legal, it’s a tax fraud every bit as corrupt as PEDALS.

NON-PROFIT TONE DEAFNESS — Tomorrow on THE PLANET, among other things, we shall be sharing an interesting letter from Max. Max had received a previous letter from Barrington Stage Company, a fund-raising pitch. Max responded with a question for BSC: He noted that, as a Pittsfield taxpayer, he already made a contribution. He gave part of the $500,000 that BSC received from the GE economic development fund. Wait until you read BSC’s reply. It reveals a level of tone-deftness that we can’t imagine much pleased BSC founder and director Julie Boyd.

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HOPE YOU ARE SETTLED INTO THE NEW YEAR. DON’T FORGET TO MAKE THOSE LAST TWO DIGITS A “12″ and not an “11.” MEANWHILE …

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.

LOVE TO ALL.

31 Responses to “INAUGURALS, TROUGLE FOR BRUNIN, and PEDALS … plus … WARD LAUNCHES PEDALS PETITION, HOW PITTSFIELD TAXPAYERS GOT ROBBED OF $7 MILLION, and BSC TONE DEAF”

  1. geo j
    January 3, 2012 at 7:48 am #

    Hi,

    Anybody see the highly entertaining school comittee meeting last night? I think we’re in for a treat. . .
    What’s the real story with Amuso stepping down, anyways?

  2. rick
    January 3, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    non profits are notorious for high salaries and trying to hide their profits, that’s where a good accountant comes in (money hider). but its kind of embarrassing for the city to have such a profitable entity skirting its responsibility to pay its fair share of taxes. had we taxed these businesses correctly we wouldn’t have had a need to raise our taxes a dollar. rumor has it bhs has been dumping a ton of money inti the hospital, trying to get rid of it .i would just like to thank the people watching out for us, a job well done.NOT!!!

    • Molly
      January 3, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

      Actually, “not for profits” can, and do, make a LOT of profit. They can invest that profit to make even more profit. What they can’t do is sell stock or have “share holders” who also make a profit – it’s only the corporation (yes, non-profit corporation) who can make a profit. All of their profits have to stay with the “corporation” so there is no need for them to even try to ‘hide the money” – it’s legal for them to have and the sky is the limit on how much profit they can have. Some have billions (with a capital B) in profits. And yes, they can pay their CEO and other officers of the corporation, whatever they want to and usually do pay them very, very well (especially if they are making lots of money for the corporation).

  3. Joe Durwin
    January 3, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    Firstly, I appreciate the kind words.

    Regarding Ned Oliver, I sympathize with both frustrations about the failure of anyone at the B.E. to catch the name error (and the constant misses of this kind) as well as with the mistake itself. Personally, I totally mistook Cory Thurston for Gary Grunin while covering a PEDA meeting on my first week on the beat for iBerkshires, and I know how awkward that can feel.

    As a Pittsfield native who lived in the southwest for a good chunk of my adult life and for many years was only very distantly engaged in local affairs, I understand well the difficulties in covering local news where new developments are tied to stories ongoing for years. I actually think it’s useful to have a mix of players of different experience levels, and newcomers often offer key fresh nuances of perspective, and sometimes a sense of relative objectivity which is always crucially lacking in the local media. Pittsfield is a city of of outsiders, everyone here is an outsider to some group, process, subculture, or clique. Thousands of Pittsfield residents still don’t actually know what PEDA is (that’s the people who throw blood on you if you wear fur, right?) all these years later, and even people who’ve been in on it since the beginning have different interpretations of the issue at hand.

    Certainly I’ve been highly critical of the often-infuriating and flawed Berkshire Eagle, even while I was receiving checks from Media News Group, but I also sympathize, because in this climate they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I can’t help but wonder if the spelling of Grunin’s name had been correct, what would have been your reaction to their (admittedly late) coverage? I’m honestly curious if they could ever do anything that would elicit your approval in this forum. If I have missed such moments of accolade in the past, I apologize and ask to be so enlightened.

    • Ray Ovac
      January 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      JD, you write: “I’m honestly curious if they (The Berkshire Eagle) could ever do anything that would elicit your approval in this forum.”
      Absolutely! If the Eagle just made it a point to accurately report a news story without bias and as inclusive as reasonably possible of as many facts as possible, that would be noteworthy and lauded. Good reportage stands out like an oasis, especially in the Eagle’s present dry desert climate.
      Imagine had Conor Berry simply been allowed to report Angelo Stracuzzi’s sexcapades in Maine without the interference of Publisher Andy Mick on what otherwise should have been regular crime reportage. We still don’t know what was contained in the detective’s report filed by Biddeford Police. Imagine had the Eagle also been straight about reporting PEDA’s policy reversals in re Wm Stanley Business Park. Instead the Eagle is plainly covering-up for PEDA’s directors and for PEDA’s failure even to warn the public that such changes were up for consideration. Where even now is there any mention in the Eagle as to just why PEDA cut off Web access to the Master Plan, and who was responsible for that dumb move?

    • joetaxpayer
      January 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Joe.I would like the Eagle to simply report the news.When the news happens,not hiding it or covering it up.Also report both sides of a story equally,not just there on sided coverage.Maybe even have a opposing editorial,instead of the same old drival.I know they have limited resources,but please there only so much tree hugging,anti-gun, climate change,solar panel saviors,democratic party genuises’,downtown bullshit you can read.Recently my bird past away so I cancelled my subscription.

    • danvalenti
      January 3, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

      JOE
      I do not sympathize, because I do not agree that the Boring Broadsheet “is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.” The owners of the paper went Chap. 11, not before eviscerating the newsroom of the dollars and personnel it needs to do its job as the Fourth Estate. I do not sympathize with the BB because, as the county’s sole daily, it has a responsibility to its readers, first. Instead, the news hole finds itself pawn to the business side. Advertisers, and through then, the GOB, comes first. That’s why they will not engage in any enterprise (or investigative) coverage. They have refused on too many stories to mention. You know that, and I know that. There are some good newsmen and women on editorial, but they are stretched too thin and muzzled too frequently. I get most of my information about the BB from the BB, since I have many contacts there and more than a few who are eager to let off steam. If they begin to act like a newspaper instead of a house organ for the Chamber of Commerce, then, yes, I will be the first to lead the cheering section.

    • rick
      January 4, 2012 at 6:26 am #

      joe, its the fact that the eagle is the only daily in berkshire county and because of that meritocracy and bias has taken over.i can watch a city council meeting and the next day in the eagle read a different story than what i watched, they shape a story instead of reporting a story, and for that its a rag. they do it to themselves, people arent stupid and thats why circulation is down and sinking every day…. all we want is the real news, not how the eagle wants to portray an event…. with the electronic age , a news piece is sent out via face book, twitter etc in a second of it happening , the eagle gets it to print 2 or 3 days later.

  4. Ed
    January 3, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    During his inaugural speech, Mr. Bianchi emphasized a composite Pittsfield with even Pete Marchetti playing a role in his administration. There seems to be no changing dynamics in his “vision” and there has been no mention of any transitional planning. It appears that he is supportive of the current status quo and most city department heads remain secure in their positions. I understand acquiessing to a unified compromise under the banner of one Pittsfield. However most new CEOs create a management team that share common philosophies, goals, management style, and loyalties. This eliminates discord and subterfuge and promotes efficiency.
    Are there changes forthcoming or business as usual ?

    • dusty
      January 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

      Mr Bianchi wants everyone to get involved in their city. And I will. But not if I have to butt heads with the same lame crew that has been running the city into the ground. Some people need to go or the apathy will remain. We need to know that Bianchi has the balls to take charge and not feel like he has to baby sit all Rubertos appointments until they feel like leaving on their own. There is either going to be major change or there is not. And if he wants the people on his side he needs to jettison the garbage. I do not wish to work along side some schmuck that has been sucking from the public teat for the last eight years. The key to this city crawling out of the Pitts is new blood. New blood Dan.

      • levitan
        January 4, 2012 at 8:31 am #

        Dusty,

        Your position is understandable, but let’s keep in mind the big picture. The model of jettisoning legacy managers works for companies (some) and high executive offices. But, Bianchi is a new mayor of a small city, inheriting a workforce built over 8 years. If the first thing he does on entering office is to let people go, the result will be predictably chaotic and demoralizing for City Hall. He would accomplish nothing in his first term.

        To all appearances, Bianchi is stepping forward in a responsible and managerial fashion. Before reorganizing or making other changes, it is appropriate to observe how people work together and determine what is or is not functioning. After that evaluation, it is then that strong managers provide direction.

        I wish Bianchi the best of luck. It sounds like you support reforming City Hall, and I hope you do get involved. Afterall, it is about new blood.

  5. Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
    January 3, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    I missed the school committee meeting…any fireworks from Mr Kinnas?

  6. Joe Durwin
    January 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Hill Billy: Only a tiny bit of fireworks, and a lot of music chairs debate. See: http://bit.ly/A0daZP

    • Molly
      January 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

      It sure looks like not much will get accomplished this year by the School Committee!!! Why did Kathy Amuso resign? It was recently reported that she was going for it, but perhaps she knew that she didn’t have enough votes? And as for “Alf” – wasn’t attendance a big issue at his job of Chief Probation Officer for Southern Berkshire? I seem to recall that he was basically never there… It’s going to be an interesting year, that’s for sure!!!

      • acheshirecat
        January 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

        Molly, Of the 43 meetings that have been held since he was elected, he has missed 10. Almost 25%. I guess that would be a solid C for attendence.

        • Molly
          January 3, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

          He’s not there from my vote, that’s for sure! As I said, I think he has a reputation as a “no show”. He says he attended 87% of the meetings which would mean he missed 6 meetings and attended 37, ORRRR that he doesn’t do well in math ORRRR he’s counting on all of us stupid people to not do the math. But then again, he’s a GOB so he doesn’t have to attend at his work and still gets to keep his job and big pay and he doesn’t need to attend the School Committee Meetings and then gets elected to chair it!!! So there ya go!! That’s how Pittsfield works… Great example! And “they” wonder why we’re so ticked off and looking for change?! There is a LOT going on this year for the School Committee – let’s see how he does… Scary, I know…

  7. Hoppity
    January 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Agreed, Dusty. It comes down to Mayor Bianchi’s willingness to butt head, bust a few goldbrickers, and change the tone in city hall. Msot are good people but there are a few jerks who are poisoning the well. Also on the school side, where same type of work gets more pay than here on city side, they have to be reeled in. Does the new mayor have it in him. Too early to tell, but there won’t be much of a honeymoon if its same old same old.

    • Molly
      January 3, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

      Agree with both you and Dusty. There are a LOT of people listening closely to every word he says, looking for signs that he’s going to make the changes that are necessary. It IS too early to tell, but after 8 years of Ruberto, we don’t have a lot of time, either — it just can’t be “same old, same old” any longer.

      • levitan
        January 4, 2012 at 8:52 am #

        I’m repeating – sort of – a prior statement I directed to Dusty, so I apologize for that if you read it above. Your frustration is probably shared by many of us who want a new direction for Pittsfield, but I believe that if Bianchi goes in to “butt heads” you will have great headlines and no progress. And, we will be back to the GOB’s next election as a result of general dysfunction.

        Ancient Chinese proverbs provide all the answers to every problem. “Rule a large empire as you would fry a small fish.” My main concern is the assumption that a careful approach that is not hard-nosed equates passiveness.

  8. Ray Ovac
    January 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    DV, Joe Durwin reports that: “The 16-acre property in question is expected to finally be transferred to PEDA in mid-January. It is the last of the parcels to be transferred from General Electric ownership. The process of transferring property from GE to PEDA has been ongoing since 2005.”

    If GE still owns some of those parcels, is GE still paying taxes to the city on that real estate?

    • Molly
      January 3, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      They’re listed as the OWNER on the 2012 City Real Estate Assessment. Far too many to list (approximately 50 diferent properties) so here’s the link to the document (alphabetical by owner (sometimes) and you can see the entire list: http://www.cityofpittsfield.org/city_departments/board_of_assessors/docs/Abstracts/FY_2012_Real_Estate_Abstract.pdf

      Here’s the most expensive ones:
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY 1200 EAST ST 1,091,480
      9 other smaller GE property on East Street
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY EAST ST REAR 411,310
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY 235 MERRILL RD-ALTRESCO 4,520,800
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY MERRILL RD-BLDG ONLY 3,218,434
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY 100 PLASTICS AVE-LAND ONLY 500,000
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY PLASTICS AVE-MERRILL 5,585,020
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY PLASTICS AVE-MERRILL 2,832,400
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY WOODLAWN AVE – TYLER 4,857,440
      GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY WOODLAWN AVE – TYLER 774,600
      GENERAL ELECTRIC CO-N/O PITTSFIELD WOODLAWN AVE – TYLER 335,300

      I wonder what “GENERAL ELECTRIC – N/O PITTSFIELD” means?

      • Molly
        January 3, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

        There’s no way (that I know of) to determine if they actually pay the taxes on all ~50 properties or if there is some document “somewhere” that details an unknown (to us) agreement that they don’t have to pay the taxes. The property still has to be listed, and GE is still the official owner, but that doesn’t mean they actually PAY THE TAXES!

  9. Ray Ovac
    January 3, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    ‘PEDA Director Responds to Criticism of Retail Proposal’
    http://www.iberkshires.com/story.php?story_id=40144

  10. joetaxpayer
    January 3, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    Supt.schools stepping down June 1.Jake, thanks for your service,hardest supt. job in county.Really thought you did a fantastic job turning around are schools.

    • Steve Wade
      January 3, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

      I agree Too bad all the Blogg Heads probably drove him out..

      • Molly
        January 3, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

        SW – What an insult that statement is to Dr. Eberwein!! I don’t believe that anyone or any blog or all the “Blog Heads” in the world could drive him out — he has his own reasons and likely topping the list is all of the hours that he was putting in to this job. As I said earlier, I think this is a great loss to Pittsfield. Please stop insulting him. I think your intent was to insult the bloggers (which don’t forget, you are as well), but what you said is insulting to him.

        • Scott
          January 4, 2012 at 6:24 am #

          Correction he’s not a “blog head” he’s a troll.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

          • Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
            January 4, 2012 at 8:58 am #

            Double correction Scott, Jake’s not a troll, Stevie Wade is a troll

  11. Ray Ovac
    January 4, 2012 at 5:57 am #

    Molly, your observations give rise to a suggestion for anyone who has access to the pertinent information. Why not post an ‘Alf Watch’? Whenever Alfred Barbalunga is a ‘no-show’ at his day job as chief probation officer at Southern Berkshire District Court, let it be posted here for all to see that Alf is MIA. Likewise, when he fails to show up at a school committee meeting, let that also be recorded here.
    While we’re at it, a ‘Speranzo Watch’ might also be in order, to keep tabs on the clerk magistrate Gov. Patrick recently appointed to a lifetime position in Central Berkshire District Court. Chris Speranzo, as DV points out, was often a ‘no-show’ when he was state rep. What better place then to memorialize Speranzo’s attendance record in his new position than here on PlanetValenti? Does anyone here have contacts in the Berkshire County courts so that we can all be alerted daily as to whether Alf or Chris are MIA?

  12. Scott
    January 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    Hilly Billy that’s what I was saying.

    • Hilly Billy 2 in Ward 4
      January 4, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

      Sorry I didn’t see that you were responding to Molly’s comment, my bad