BIANCHI’S CAROUSEL OFFER WELL INTENDED BUT DOESN’T ADD UP … “PLOP PLOP, FIZZ FIZZ” — SOME NAUSEATING NUMBERS OF PITTSFIELD’S DUBIOUS BUDGET TRANSFERS … ANOTHER BUMP IN THE ROAD, or, WHERE HAVE YOU GONE NAT F. AND MARY Z? … REID MIDDLE SCHOOL PUSHES OUT SCHOLARS BUT U.S. IS GETTING DUMBER (NOW HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??)
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, AUG. 1, 2012) — Welcome to August, a fond adieu to July.
“Will it go round in circles? Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky?” — Billy Preston.
Yesterday, the Boring Broadsheet ran a well-done piece by Dick Lindsay about Mayor Dan Bianchi‘s what shall we call it — inducement, incentive, carrot, bribe — of $250,000 if only Pittsfield will locate the Berkshire Carousel in the Land of Benigno Numine. Bianchi doesn’t specify where the quarter of a million would come from, only that it would be a “city grant.” Lindsay apparently didn’t ask the mayor about this critical piece of information, which is a hole in the story.
THE PLANET should like to know how and why $250,000 can so cavalierly be pulled out of the hat and offered to bribe this attraction. Didn’t we just hear during budget time how dollars were tight?
* Has the city budgeted $250,000 for this purpose?
* From which account would this money come?
* What is the economic justification for this not-piddling amount?
* Where is the data or studies that would suggest this to be an investment rather than an expense for taxpayers?
* Is this the best possible use of a quarter of a million dollars, especially with taxes at such a high level. Keep in mind that the city’s tax rates for both residential and commercial must be seen in the relative sense as a ratio of the community’s “ability to pay,” an equation that takes into account a region’s amount of cash on hand, both discretionary and necessary. That is the calculation that politicians in town never want to reveal, for it shows Pittsfield to be, per capita, the highest taxed community in the Commonwealth.
A Desperation Heave
The quarter million bribe comes off as a desperation move on the part of the city, a Hail Mary pass from your own 38 yard line. Credit Bianchi with trying to reverse an antithetical if not hostile position the city had with Jim Shulman and the Berkshire Carousel when Jimmy Ruberto was mayor.
The move represents Bianchi’s attempt to get the Carousel to the city — a seemingly worthwhile goal. There’s a problem, however. Pittsfield has arrived too late in the game. It has failed to identify a location for the attraction (another critical aspect of the project). It has attached a set of conditions to the $250,000 we can’t imagine either Shulman or the Carousel Board agreeing to accept. Conditions include matching money and acceding to the city a right to sit on the board.
The carousel project has gone this far as an independent effort. That’s been it’s saving grace. Should the Berkshire Carousel accept the city’s offer, it will also invite the city’s poisonous politics into the control room, something it does not want to have.
The other problem is the neglect if not outright hostility Pittsfield has shown this project almost from the beginning. Shulman has told me stories off the record of some of the shenanigans.
Actually, the best place for the Carousel is in the Berkshire Mall. The Pyramid Company’s flagship mall is the Carousel Center in Syracuse, NY., a seven-story Supermall located on the shore of Onondaga Lake. The mall, one of the nation’s largest, recently added 800,000 square feet of space, making it the second largest mall in the US.
The dominant feature of the Carousel Mall is a working carousel. The carousel, a stunning work of art, costs one dollar to ride, and it does a magnificent job of getting the parents to the mall. Once there, most will go shopping.
The Berkshire Carousel at the mall would have the advantage of an enclosed structure, so that little separation would actually have to be built, save for the staging. Moreover, the Mall, by providing a rent-free workshop and space, would have the moral and ethical “right of refusal.”
Once again, Pittsfield comes up too late, too short, and too desperate.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE BUDGET TRANSFER NUMBERS, or, GET THE ALKA SELTZER READY
As a follow-up to our piece last week on the rising hit to taxpayers from police and fire disability payments, THE PLANET shares two hard number with you: $96,441 and $207,128. Those are the amounts, respectively, paid by Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski to balance a budget that requires these additional amounts for police and fire injury disability pay and workman’s comp for fire fighters.
The city council approved transferring that money from “free cash” to take care of spiraling compensation time. Cops and fire fighters out on workmen’s comp receive 72% of their gross salary, tax free, as long as they are disabled.
We Know This Much, But Only This Much
The sticky question is this: Which cases are legitimate and which ones are fraudulent? We only know this much:
(a) All of the cases have been vetted by the city process.
(b) The process contains loopholes that serve as invitation for abuse.
(c) Some cases are legitimate.
(d) Some cases are fraudulent.
Wanted: Politicians with Backbone (Don’t Apply All at Once)
Now, what politician in town, mayor or councilor, has the political will to once-and-for-all crackdown on abuse? Which one of my Right Honorable Good Friends wishes to step forward and take this on, Rambo style?
Don’t everyone rush forward at once.
Workman’s Comp fraud provides yet another reason why We the People have a hard time taking any municipal budget talk seriously, especially the one that we hear every cycle, you know, the one about this being “a tough economy” where “dollars are tight.”
One case of fraud is one case too much, and if even one case is our there, it should be ferreted out, the culprits identified, and taxpayers made whole.
Other budget transfer details that you might have missed:
* Fire fighters received a wage adjustment of $84,879.
* Fire lieutenants received a boost of $47,870.
* Some $63,630 added dollars were taken from taxpayers pockets (“free cash”) for fire uniforms. Credit Our Right Honorable Good Friend, Councilor-at-large Barry Clairmont, for at least questioning why (and how) uniform costs have shot up so much. Answer: Acting (aren’t they all?) Chief Bob Czerwinski revealed that the recent contract signed by the city increased the uniform allowance, from $100 a year to $350. They snuck it in when you weren’t looking, People. That’s an increase in one year of 350%. The $63,630 lump sum will address that need. The 350% increase in uniform allowance can be used as Exhibit A of how taxpayers will bleed to death before the city of Pittsfield’s budgetary excesses are addressed.
$20 Grand for Dispatchers’ OT: Warning to Herman Alexander and Botched Up Meredith Nilan Negligent Driving Address Must Have Took Lots of Time
As we reported last week, fire and police overtime continue to be killers. We reported the $236,213 in overtime, but we recently learned that $19,265 is for dispatcher overtime. Must be the extra time needed by dispatchers to warn city personnel who were at the time enjoying the “refreshments” at Herman Alexander‘s of the imminent police raid. We also wonder if money was needed for any possible OT for the dispatcher who reported the wrong address to investigating officers responding to the scene where negligent driver Meredith Nilan, after some hard early-evening partying, ran down and nearly killed Peter Moore. Nilan used the “coincidental” “mix-up” to her advantage, citing the serendipitous miscommunication in her feeble excuses for how one person could leave another critically injured, to die at the scene, while seeking escape from all responsibility.
On a final budget transfer note, we like finance director’s comment to the reasonable question of Our Right Honorable Good Friend, Ward 5’s Jonathan Lothrop. J-Lo asked how the city could possible end up with a $455,000 surplus in the health insurance account. He mentioned health insurance because the city dipped into that account to pay for some of the police and fire overruns.
Sue Carmel answered that the previous year’s FY budget (’12) contained payments that weren’t needed.
Hello? THE PLANET understands that budgets are living documents, estimates that need to be adjusted based on conditions, but how can a budget be that far off for a fixed cost? It suggests the sloppy work being done by Carmel, a finance director who, as John Barrett once said, knows little about finance and would have trouble directing a kindergarten air-trumpet band.
ANOTHER BUMP IN THE ROAD: “WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, MARY Z and NAT”
The June 26 fund-raising visit to Boston by President Barack Obama rang up huge costs in OT for extra security. Extra police and other city personnel generated a large bill for taxpayers. How large? We don’t know, because our state’s fearless auditor, Great Barrington’s Suzanne Bump, refused to look into the exact costs.
Paul Craney, executive director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (MFA), had this to say about Bump’s hands-off attitude: “This is a wasted opportunity for the state’s top fiscal watchdog to demonstrate that her bark has bite.”
Bump has had about as much bark as a burned down forest fire and all the bite of a centenarian gumming oatmeal. Voters blew it when they elected Bump to the position over the highly more qualified Mary Connoughton and the highly more independent Nat Fortune.
You may not know about the MFA. We share this information from its landing page as massfiscal.org:
Like many in Massachusetts, the leadership, staff, donors and supporters of Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance are concerned about the direction of our state. We call Massachusetts home and want to see our state improve, become more competitive, transparent and head in the right direction.
Unemployment and underemployed in some areas of the state are at unacceptable levels. Our state spending and burdensome tax levels are out of control, fueled by out of touch leaders on Beacon Hill. Healthy debates on fiscal issues seldom occur. Beacon Hill special interests have monopoly control of the legislative process. We are on the brink of leaving the next generation of Massachusetts residents far less competitive.
Instead of confronting the hard fiscal challenges ahead of us, many on Beacon Hill refuse to offer sustainable solutions. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are suffering, unemployment and underemployment are rising and state spending is unsustainable.
The November 2012 General Election is quickly approaching, now is the time to get involved and demand fiscal responsibility from our elected leaders. It’s time we had leaders in both the State Senate and the House of Representatives that are 100% dedicated to solving the fiscal issues affecting our state.
Massachusetts is always better off when its citizens, small business owners and entrepreneurs get involved and take control of our state’s future from the special interests and out of touch policy makers.
We hope to give Massachusetts residents the tools they need to make the best decisions. As residents of Massachusetts, we are concerned for our Fiscal future. Please join us, an Alliance of concerned fiscally responsible individuals to put our state government back on track.
THE PLANET recommends the MFA site for all people who are interested in information that will help them to become better Citizens. We capitalize “Citizens” here because “Citizen” — not “President” or “Senator,” not “Mayor” or “Councilor” — is the highest title in a democracy. It’s a pity most don’t know it and allow all manner of grifter, salespersons, scallywags, and slicks — collectively known as Politicians — to take over.
THE PLANET remains in favor of wresting the controls out of their hands and putting it back into those of The Citizens.
We counterpose this quote, from Gov. Deval Patrick: “Look, I’m not afarid of the word ‘tax.’ I know that you like to ask people in elective office [about taxes] and watch them squirm when the word is used.” We thank the governor for his honesty, though we cannot at all recommend his ruinous fiscal policies.
EDUCATION DISCONNECT: WHILE REID MIDDLE SCHOOL TURNS OUT SCHOLARS FROM COOKIE CUTTERS, OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS SHOWS US KIDS ARE DUMB AND GETTING DUMBER
Finally, we share this interesting juxtaposition. First, we present the “fact” that 221 students at Reid Middle School made the fourth quarter honor roll in the most recently concluded school year. That’s a remarkable 36% of the entire student body. Sounds a little like Lake Wobegone, where every child is above average.
THE PLANET puts “fact” in quotes to indicate a non-literal use, which is the only way to deal with the grade inflation at Reid that accounts for, probably, more than half of the students on this list.
Here is a more objective view of the state of American education, from the Huffington Post. In the “Education Olympics,” the US has a poor showing. The sad story:
A report out last week by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance found that U.S. studentsaren’t progressing to catch up to their foreign peers.
Students in Latvia, Chile and Brazil are making gains in academics three times faster than American students, while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia and Lithuania are improving at twice the rate.
The study’s findings support years of rankings that show foreign students outpacing their American peers academically. Students in Shanghai who recently took international exams for the first time outscored every other school system in the world. In the same test, American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading.
Just 6 percent of U.S. students performed at the advanced level on an international exam administered in 56 countries in 2006. That proportion is lower than those achieved by students in 30 other countries.
So what does this all look like visually? The folks at Certification Map has put cross-country comparisons into an “Education Olympics” infographic. Keep in mind, the Soviet Union was excluded from the graph because of its dissolution in 1991, though it ranked second in terms of the most “gold medals” earned.
Mathematics and science rankings were taken from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, which used Shanghai student scores as a proxy for all of China.
We know that the local apologists for the dysfunctional, overpaid, bloated Pittsfield School Department will call us the Bad Guy for delivering the news, but let’s face: Globally, the world is kicking our students in their lazy, dumbed-down, video-gamed academic butts.
We thank our good friend BSAKATFM for bringing the Huffington article to our attention.
SWEET SPIRIT! SISTER OF THAT ORPHAN ONE, WHOSE EMPIRE IS THE NAME THOU WEEPEST ON, IN MY HEART’S TEMPLE I SUSPEND TO THEE THESE VOTIVE WORDS OF VIBRANT MEMORY.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.