PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary


(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, AUG. 31, 2012) — This story is immensely complicated, so let’s cut to the chase: First, the city is on the hook not just for $100,000 for the Spectrum Health Services settlement but also for a relocation settlement to the company of $76,500. Second, there were not one but two executive sessions of the case involving the mayor, the city solicitor, and the city council.

There are two versions of what happened, when; who knew what, when; and why it matters or doesn’t. The mayor has one version, and three city councilors have the other. The Absolute Truth, which is unknowable, lies with a combination of both versions, somewhere in the wide-thin ellipse of their intersection.

THE PLANET Did Our Due Diligence with an Open Mind, Determined to Let the Facts Take Us ‘Somewhere’

THE PLANET talked at length, in depth, and for hours with both sides, gathered as much of the hard evidence we could find, and we have come to the conclusion that the councilors have the more credible version of events. This wasn’t our original supposition going into this case, but we suspended all judgments until we got as many of the facts as possible, heard the presentations of both sides, asked our questions, and analyzed. THE PLANET doesn’t pretend to have the full grasp of this baffling case, but we would hold by our assertions as the ones which bear up best under the preponderant weight of the evidence.

Letting the Facts and Not Persona Feelings or Emotions Decide This Case.

In saying that, let’s be clear: THE PLANET finds no hard evidence of intentional deceit or out-and-out subterfuge. We cannot read minds our know inner motivations. We can only go by the actual record — mostly court documents — and draw our best reasonable conclusions trying to come up with a narrative that fits the known facts. We know, for example, that Donna Mattoon, the mayor’s director of administrative services, is fiercely loyal to Mayor Dan Bianchi, and that spills over into an emotional and maternal defense of him, regardless of right or wrong. We find such personal loyalty commendable, inspirational, but of absolutely no help in determining the facts of the Pittsfield-Spectrum case.

When we examine the testimony, THE PLANET finds a city solicitor whose imprecise language led — rather, misled — the council on the initial $100,000 appropriation. Was that intentional? We cannot say.

THE PLANET finds a mayor who was handed a giant shit sandwich leftover from a case initiated in the late stages of his predecessor’s final term and didn’t know what to do with it.

THE PLANET does find a competent, litigiously aggressive company whose professional track record in the methadone business is exemplary and whose court triumphs are lengthy.

Finally, THE PLANET finds a classic case of miscommunication between the council and the Corner Office whose blame is on everyone involved, especially Dan Bianchi, Kathy Degnan, Donna Mattoon in the first and largest part part; Kevin Sherman, Jonathan Lothrop, John Krol, and Barry Clairmont in the second part; and the remainder of the council in the smallest and third. As a consequence of this failure to communicate, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski were again underserved by the officials serving of the government which the K Couple own.

While a knee-jerk reaction might be to dismiss the claims of Lothrop, Krol, and Clairmont as politically motivated, that would give their credible claims too short a shrift and have to be done in denial of the evidence. We find they have a case, which they have documented well and presented — at least to THE PLANET — more convincingly than the corner office has.

Is there additional information to be discovered? Perhaps. Are there more facts to come out before the dust settles? Maybe. Could any such new information change this judgment? Could be. All that is moot, however, in light of the evidence in hand.


That being said, will there be political fallout from their actions? Possible? Will it benefit the council trio or the mayor? We can’t say, but THE PLANET believes that political considerations, while they may have entered into this, were not the primary motivations of three city councilors honestly trying to grapple with what to them was a bizarre and inexplicable administration request for money.

There Are No ‘Bad People’ in this Case, Just Bad Actions

Let’s be clear on one other matter. If we were writing for a national audience, we wouldn’t have to make this point, but our audience is local and regional. Pittsfield is a small city, not so much in population but in associations and connections. Too often, when we cover politics, the principals  in a story feel they are “targeted” and can take criticism personally. Their families and friends feel THE PLANET is being unfair, on the attack, and worse. That is never the case. We don’t operate that way.

Thus, we again say: These are all decent, honorable people, trying their best but often falling short. It doesn’t mean they are bad people but ineffective in this particular case.

As for the political ramifications of this story, that will largely be up to Bianchi, Mattoon, Degnan, Sherman, Lothrop, Krol, Clairmont, and the other councilors. A special onus will be on Kevin Sherman. As council president, his job will be to keep this situation from becoming a Pandor’a Box that will prevent a rational functioning of government from now until the end of 2013 (actually, to the municipal election of 2013).

The political fallout could cause the situation to spiral out of control, or it could be a learning situation for everyone and actually lead to better mayoral-council relations. It will also be up to Bianchi and the three councilors to rise above this — or not — and establish a productive working relationship on behalf of their constituents, who depend on them and them alone for fair and honorable representation.


The Strange Case of The Council 3 and The Corner Office Trio

We have spent the better part of this week tracking down leads, gathering and reading documents, and interviewing the principals and non-principles in the Strange Case of The Council 3 and The Corner Office Trio. 

We refer, of course, to the fight that has broken out between two sides of three. The plaintiff’s are The Council 3 (TC3), my Right Honorable Good Friends Jonathan Lothrop of Ward 5, John Krol of Ward 6, and Barry Clairmont at large. The defendants are The Corner Office Trio (T-COT): Mayor Dan Bianchi, director of administrative services Donna Mattoon, and city solicitor Kathy Degnan.

TC3 divided by T-COT a Formula for a Political Firestorm

TC3 contends that T-COT deliberately misled the city council on the settlement agreement the latter entered into with Spectrum Health Systems regarding the company’s establishment of a methadone treatment facility in Pittsfield. Initially, Spectrum wanted to locate the facility in the Yon Building at 42 Summer St. The Ruberto Administration fought that in court, successfully, and out of court, irrationally and hysterically.

After Bianchi and Degnan took over management of the case, the two sides reached a tentative agreement on a Stoddard Avenue location, next to Dwyer Funeral Home. That exploded in a wave of neighborhood protest, and the owners of the building said they would not sell to Spectrum. Finally, under the settlement, Spectrum, it was agreed, would locate in the original Summer Street location, in what is informally known as “the Nautilus Building.”

To sort all of this out, the timeline must be understood. The timeline is critical. That is the skeletal scaffolding on which the understanding of not necessarily who’s right and who’s wrong or who’s telling the truth and who’s lying, but which versions of the events — the city’s or the council’s – is, based solely on the evidence and the facts, more credible.

We think the greater credibility lies with our Right Honorable Good Friends on the council. They have a beef. We say this based on exhaustive amounts of due diligence, research, interviews, and weaving through mounds of documents, transcriptions, affidavits, case summaries, civil dockets, and the like.

THE PLANET cannot judge if the intent of the Bianchi Administration was to deliberately mislead the council. We can only say that, on the basis of our factual understanding of the paper trail, the administration made some key mistakes and could have, with greater communication with councilors and a better performance in federal court by solicitor Degnan, have avoided this mess. Before we go further in our exposition, …

… Allow us to share two pieces of news that have yet to be published, the ones with which we began this column:

(1) Under the terms of the settlement signed by Mayor Bianchi and solicitor Degnan for the city, long after Mayor Ruberto had left office; Spectrum CEO Charles Faris for his company; and attorney Paul Holtzman representing Spectrum, the city agreed to pay Spectrum $100,000 by July 16. TC3 and COT have wildly divergent explanations for the payout. Here’s what we didn’t know until now: The city also agreed to a payment of $76,500 “for relocation to another mutually acceptable site.” Bombshell #1.

(2) There were two executive sessions on the Spectrum matter, each highly revelatory, the first on June 26, 2012, and the second on July 3. Bombshell #2.

June 26 Executive Session (with More on It Later)

According to city clerk Linda Tyer‘s minutes of the June 26 secret session, the city notified the council that it would continue with the Spectrum lawsuit, even though it “is not a winnable situation.”

Not winnable? Perhaps, but there appeared to be a lot in play for the city. Prior to that time,  the city had been successful three times in Federal Court against Spectrum:

* On June 15, 2011, Judge Michael Ponsor denied Spectrum’s request for “emergency injunctive relief” so it can immediate begin renovation the Summer Street offices and open the methadone clinic.

* On Nov. 15, 2011, Judge George O’Toole denies Spectrum’s motion for a preliminary injunction to open its facility under the Dover Amendment, which allows a zoning exemption for educational use. The judge rules that Spectrum “has not adequately demonstrated an adequate likelihood of success on the merits of its claims.”

* On Feb. 3, 2012, O’Toole denies another request for relief presented by Spectrum, saying, according to the civil docket, that “There has been no change in circumstance since this Court’s Nov. [15], 2011 Order denying the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction.”

In these three successful actions by the city — the first two while Jimmy Ruberto is mayor and the third under Bianchi’s helm —  attorney Rich Dohoney, then city solicitor, represented Pittsfield. On March 7, 2012, new solicitor Degnan took over for Dohoney. After that involvement, the city’s court performance took a decided turn for the worse and Spectrum, taking advantage, got better in court.

A Winning Streak

That’s three times the city prevailed in court over Spectrum. How many people knew that? We just shared the three dates above.

TC3 cites these as reasons to believe the city had more leverage in the subsequent settlement with the company than anyone was led to believe. In short, while today everyone agrees/concedes there would be no way ultimately to keep Spectrum out of Pittsfield based on the federal definition of heroin addicts as disabled people covered the the Americans with Disability Act, the three councilors told THE PLANET they never would have agreed to sign off on the $100,000 payment earlier in June had they known that payment was for Spectrum.

Clairmont, Lothrop, and Krol told THE PLANET that they believe the city could have worked with Spectrum and found it a suitable location without paying a cent in tribute. Which leads to the infamous …

… $100,000 Payout — Was It Necessary?

Did the city have to pay out this money, which, remember, was agreed to by Mayor Bianchi and Degnan and not by the previous administration? The councilors are saying this agreement was done without their knowledge and, had they known then what they know now, would have recommended a more robust response to Spectrum in agreeing on the terms of settlement.

Did the city have an obligation to inform the council? Technically, no. Should it have, given that the council, not the mayor, appropriates the money? By all means, yes. DOesn’t it stand to reasons and appease our yearning for common sense that when we have to go to someone for money, we try to keep that someone as fully informed as to our needs as possible.

Here’s where it appears solicitor Degnan and Mayor Bianchi blew it.

This gets as layered as a baklava, but please follow:

— On May 14, 2012, Mayor Bianchi presented to the city council a draft of the municipal budget. Included in this document was a draft of the solicitor Degnan’s budget request, via the mayor, her boss. It includes eight line items (Degnan’s $66,420 salary, assistant solicitor Darren Lee’s $27,454 salary, and so on).

— Sixteen days later, the actual budget request for Degnan’s office, approved by Bianchi, contains the eight original line items plus one more. You read on the new line, in bold face: “**new** Legal Settlements / FY2013 Budget Request, $100,000 / FY2013 Mayoral Approval, $100,000.” The document bears Degnan’s signature. The city cites the bold face, the asterisks, and the label of “new” as evidence that the council knew, or should have known, that this was for the Spectrum settlement.

Notice the line is for “Settlements,” plural. This factors in later.

Clearly, something has developed between May 14 and 30. We can only infer that in this time, the city and Spectrum have agreed on a mutually acceptable deal. This interpretation is borne out in court five days later, when the next moment of significance occurs.

— On June 5, 2012, in federal court, the judge asks Paul Holtzman, Spectrum’s lawyer, about whether there is an imminent agreement between the company and the city. Holtzman answers: “I would say it has, your honor. We have reached an agreement in principle to resolve the matter. I think with a couple of weeks to document it, we should be in a position to dispose of the case.” Degnan then replies: “I concur, your honor, yes. … The monetary agreement has already been [settled].”

Later is that exchange, Degnan says that everything is in place for a settlement except the appropriation of “the financial piece of the agreement” — the $100,000. All this is taking place, THE PLANET reminds you, with the council knowing nothing, even though it and it alone — not the mayor — handles appropriations.

It’s clear that sometime before May 30, the two sides have in principle settled with the council knowing nothing about it. That settlement includes the $100,000 and the $76,500 for a relocation.

— On June 9, 2012, the city council holds a six-hour budget hearing. One hour and 19 minutes into the meeting, for those who wish to view this exchange on the PCTV online archives, councilors Chris Connell of Ward 4 and Lothrop question solicitor Degnan on the new $100,000 line item for legal “settlements” (plural), an item that was not there on May 14. THE PLANET has viewed this exchange four times, and we would recommend readers looking it up in the PCTV online archives. Connell and Lothrop are working hard to understand this line item. They are representing their constituents as well as one could expect. It is one of their shining moments.

Here’s a transcript of the smoking-gun exchange. Keep in mind: This is the council’s chance to question the new expense, which comes to them out of the blue, since the administration has chosen not to keep councilors appraised of the Spectrum negotiations.

1:19:40 in the hearing

CONNELL: Can you elaborate [on the $100,000 budget line item]?

DEGNAN: [It’s for] litigation kicking around in the legal department, litigation we may need to resolve.

CONNELL: This $100,000 is an estimate?


CONNELL: Are you at liberty to say what case it is?

DEGNAN: Because its ongoing litigation, unfortunately I can’t.

1:23:09 of the tape

LOTHROP: Do we have legal settlements with a defined number already in place that this money would be used for or is this an estimate of what it might take to settle them?

DEGNAN: It is an estimate.

LOTHROP: So we don’t have settlements waiting to be paid at this time?

DEGNAN: No, not at this time.


DEGNAN: We have no settlements in place, um, so but we are going to be, I can perceive it.

This, as we understand this case, is a Smoking Gun exchange that validates the TC3 position and shoots down that of T-COT.

THE PLANET cannot read into the minds of the speakers. We can only go by the words that are used. From this exchange, which we have viewed four times, several things pop out.

(a) The council is concerned about the $100,000, which wasn’t there in the earlier draft budget proposal.

(b) Councilors Connor and Lothrop trying to find out  the purpose of the money.

(c) The city knows, and solicitor Degnan knows, it is for the Spectrum settlement. The council doesn’t know that.

(d) Connell asks if the $100 grand is an “estimate.” Degnan says it is and estimate, when she knows it is not an estimate but an exact amount, if we are to believe the court transcripts. There is a huge difference in an “estimate” and “an exact amount,” and THE PLANET finds it hard to attribute this difference to a sloppy use of language. It appears to be more than that. Solicitor Degnan’s statement appears to be a deceit.

(e) Lothrop begins to zero in, asking if there are “settlements with a defined [dollar amount] already in place that this money would be used for …” Again, Degnan essentially says, “no,” that the $100,000 figure is an estimate. She must know at that point, though, that the figure is for the specific settlement she has already agreed to with Spectrum, which she confirmed to the judge in federal court on June 5.

(f) Lothrop, still fishing and showing admirable persistence given he doesn’t know what he looking for (that is, he doesn’t know it’s the Spectrum settlement), asks if any settlements are “waiting to be paid at this time.” Degnan answers no, but how can that be a credible answer, if she knows there is a settlement pending, as long as the council gives the administration the $100,000? “We have no settlements in place …”

Based on what the city solicitor told them, the council — not thinking or having any way of knowing that the $100,000 was for a single case, a specific settlement — approves the solicitor’s budget and the $100,000. To put it in the vernacular, councilors didn’t know what they didn’t know; had every reason to think the $100,000 was for down the road, some nebulous future “settlements” plural; and therefore acted in what it thought in good faith was in the best interests of the city and the citizens.

The transcribed exchange from June 9 that we just printed support the contentions of Lothrop, Krol, and Clairmont. In retrospect, Lothrop admitted to THE PLANET yesterday that in hindsight, he should have  put the clues together and called for executive session, but he didn’t, based on what Degnan told him. THE PLANET finds this reasonable, and, putting ourselves in his position, can’t imagine we would act any differently on behalf of taxpayers than he did.

Again, no one on the city council, which must appropriate the money, knows anything about what the city has been up to in the negotiations with Spectrum as of that June 9 date.

That was the city’s big mistake. It should have involved the council by better communications, through president Kevin Sherman, if necessary, but preferably with ongoing briefings for all 11, confidential if need be. 

— On June 13, 2012, solicitor Degnan signs a settlement agreement for Spectrum to locate on Stoddard Avenue. This agreement includes the $100,000 allocation to Spectrum. The council still doesn’t know any of this …

— … Until the next day, on June 14, 2012, when all 11 councilors receive an e-mail from Robert Skowron, who signs himself as president of IBCO Local 297, an employee of the Berkshire County House of Corrections, and a man who lives next to the proposed Stoddard Avenue location. Skowron’s e-mail is addressed to Mayor Bianchi with 11 councilors cc’d.

An irate Skowron starts right in, hammering Bianchi for not telling “the people in the Stoddard Ave/Morningside area about the methadone clinic you are planning to move into Dr. Adamo’s former office?”

This is the first time the council becomes aware of the settlement agreement — not through the mayor, not through the city solicitor, but in a “cc” from a private citizen.

It also leads to another question. Mayor Bianchi had repeatedly refused to comment publicly about the Spectrum case, citing the Dec. 12, 2011, confidentiality agreement agreed to by Rich Dohoney for the city and Paul Holtzman for Spectrum. So how does Bob Skowron, ordinary citizen, find out about the agreement, before the press, before councilors, before most everyone?

THE PLANET cannot say definitively, but we can play “connect the dots” and see where this leads us:

Dot 1: Skowron tells Bianchi and the council that he has “been a correctional officer at the BCHC for 12and half years [sic].”

Dot 2: Sheriff Tom Bowler is Skowron’s boss.

Dot 3: Bowler was heavily involved in Bianchi’s mayoral campaign, as Bianchi was involved in Bowler’s run for sheriff.

Dot 4: Who is Tom Bowler’s sister? The mayor’s director of administrative services, Donna Mattoon?

What does the picture look like? It looks like the mayor or Mattoon (or both) breached the very confidentiality agreement he and they cited to the press and others with potentially illegal disclosures to Sheriff Bowler. It is reasonable to assume that Bowler would have a relationship with Skowron as union head. Skowron had to get the information from someone. Was that someone Bowler? Did Bowler get it from Bianchi and/or his sister? We can only surmise and select the explanation that seems most reasonable.

Between June 14 and June 26, 2012 word gets out in the press, including coverage by THE PLANET, of a public uproar over the selection of the Stoddard Avenue location for Spectrum’s methadone facility and program. Spectrum begins to worry about the city backing out of the deal, and on June 25, 2012, it files a series of documents intended to legally force Pittsfield to honor the settlement agreement reached on June 13.

On June 26, 2012, solicitor Degnan does the most damage to the city’s case. At a scheduling conference in federal court, she tells the judge about the political firestorm over the Stoddard Avenue address. “The matter has become political in nature,” she tells the judge, “and the mayor has been receiving complaints” (page 4, line 20-21, June 26 court transcript). Later, Degnan says, “… all of a sudden I’ve got a big political fire that’s roaring somewhat out of control,” basically, because people are discriminating against federally protected disabled people. This is not an admission you would want to make to a federal court judge. Your admitting to Spectrum’s assertion under the ADA act. You can’t discriminate against protected people.

Degnan then blames the firestorm on Ward 1 councilor Christine Yon, though not by name, when she tells the judge (page 6, beginning at line 23): “What I think happened was is [sic] a particular councilor went to some people in where it was going to be located and got the fires — you know, stirred up the fires …” and later (page 7, line 22): “Well, [the community] knew about the Spectrum case. As you said, the litigation in which involved [sic] Summer Street. The people that are raising the fuss are the next door neighbors of where Spectrum was going to go and prior to coming close to filing an [indiscernable] agreement my office went to — it’s a funeral home [sic] next door neighbor.”  This bit of muddled inarticulateness again is telling the judge, that the Pittsfield neighborhood in question is full of prejudiced, bigoted people discriminating against federally protected disabled people.

That’s when Mr. Holtzman goes to work and swoops in for the kill (transcript, page 11, beginning at line 2): “Well, this is not merely a political issue. … What we have here is an example of  … the mayor in the city responding to unlawful discriminatory opposition to — which you heard about — when the comments — some of them are quite ugly, some relate to the property value, some relate to we’re going to have crime, we have to protect the children, not in my neighborhood, somewhere else.

“And the case law on this, Your Honor,” Holtzman continues, “is quite clear, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it. It’s analyzed precisely the same as a racial discrimination case would be. There’s no need for showing personal animus on the part of any decision maker if, in fact, it’s sufficient to show that the decisions are being made in response to the discriminatory fears [and] hostility of the neighbors” [THE PLANET’s underline].

Bing, bang, and boom. Holtzman has just hit a grand slam for Spectrum based on Degnan’s remarks. The city right then and there lost all chance not only of winning in federal court but of increased negotiating strength. This was poorly played by the city.

Holtazman then tells the judge that the “settlement agreement is far beyond complete, Your Honor. It was approved, represented her orally. It was signed as a full document. Down to the last word was negotiated, agreed upon, determined to be final, actually signed by council for the city [NOTE: the word should be “counsel;” the court transcriber spelled out the homonym meaning “city council” when the actual meaning was “counsel” as in city attorney, that is, Degnan], laid on the mayor’s desk for signature [on the ] second signature line.”

It’s hard to overstate how badly the city goofed in court here and how well Holtzman played it for Spectrum. Holtzman is justifiably upset because, according to what he tells the judge (paraphrase): “Look, we had a signed agreement, all done and delivered. But then we’re told at the last second we’re not getting it because of people’s bigotry and so the mayor can appease that bigotry and all the fears of Council Yon.”

[FROM THE TRANSCRIPT, page 14, line 19] MR. HOLTZMAN: “And the firestorm that has erupted as a result of this is entirely relevant and [a direct] violation of the ADA.”

This proves irrevocably ruinous for the city’s case against Spectrum.

Up to now, the city has prevailed three times in federal court, certainly enough to win leverage in negotiations for a settlement for establishing the terms of setting up a methadone clinic that everyone at this point realized must come to Pittsfield. There was a realistic chance the city could have settled on a location but without a six-figure settlement payout.

Now, the city through Degnan’s not-so-judicious remarks about bigoted Morningside residents being outraged that heroin addicts will be infesting their neighborhood, Pittsfield is basically handing the case on a silver platter to Spectrum. How so? One of the points Spectrum rightfully makes in setting up its treatment programs in cities is that heroin addicts are protected by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s a tough one to overcome. People may not like this application of the ADA — THE PLANEt certainly doesn’t — but it’s the law.

Spectrum’s lawyer, Paul Holtzman, jumps on Degnan’s admission. He plays the racial card, correctly drawing the analogy: Keeping heroin addicts out of a neighborhood is the same as keeping someone out on the basic of skin color. The taxpayers, as represented by the city solicitor, at this point have been drubbed.

On page 12, line 13 of the transcript, the judge tells Holtzman and Degnan that succumbing to discriminatory pressure “may be more problemmatic for the City than their current position.”

MR. HOLTZMAN: “That’s correct, your honor. It constitutes a fresh violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it’s a very serious matter.”

Now We Get to the Hundred Grand

At that same June 26 federal court hearing, the settlement money comes up as a topic. Degnan makes several key admissions that according to reasonable interpretation establish the case and claims of councilors Lothrop, Krol, and Clairmont about the $100,000 settlement payment.

* Degnan admits that councilors were unaware of the purpose of the $100,000 allocation. She saying that “because it was litigation, it was one piece that was different than our [the solicitor’s] budget. It was a certain amount of money, $100,000 to be exact … to go for settlement funds. And then someone started to ask, and I said, ‘Well, this is litigation.’ And so they said, ‘Okay, we won’t ask any questions. We’ll just approve it.’ So they didn’t know. The councilors didn’t know that this money was going to be used for this lawsuit. They’re probably not too happy about it, but, you know —”

“The councilors did not know.” This is Degnan’s own admission, in court, under oath.

That’s just what Lothrop, Krol, and Clairmont are contending. Degnan has just made their case as well. And she was right. No, they weren’t “too happy” about it, and that’s the anger that we’re seeing when they brought this tangled web in the open, into the press, into sunlight, for We The People to see. It is The Council Trio that has acted in the best interests of open government in this matter, and not the mayor’s office. This can only be seen in an ironic light, since Mayor Bianchi campaigned on a platform of transparency. The mayor, in effect, was sandbagged by his own city solicitor. Mayor Bianchi trusted solicitor Degnan to represent him, the city, the councilors, and We the People in federal court and to represent us well. She failed in that.

Will there be consequences or accountability? Does the mayor, and can anyone in the city, feel comfortable with solicitor Degnan at the helm? THE PLANET can’t answer that question. We can only raise it and leave it for the mayor to decide.

On Aug. 15, 2012, the Berkshire Eagle quotes Mayor Bianchi saying of the $100,000, “We set money aside in case we needed. I was hoping we wouldn’t use it.” We don’t doubt Bianchi believed that, but we can’t see how he came to that belief, given the admissions and commissions of solicitor Degnan to the federal court and to We The People as represented by the city council. One possible explanation would be that he was badly misinformed by the city solicitor.

Executive Session 1, June 26, 2012

Executive Session 1, June 26 (the same night of the city’s disastrous appearance in federal court), according to city clerk Linda Tyer’s minutes, the following takes place:

* Mayor Bianchi tells the council the city would proceed with the Spectrum lawsuit, even though it “is not a winnable situation.” This conflicts with his statement that he was not expecting the $100,000 to be used.

* Solicitor Degnan tells the council that Spectrum intends to enforce the settlement agreement for Stoddard Avenue, even though it was not signed. What Degnan leaves out is the why. Why is Spectrum going to enforce an unsigned agreement? Because, as we’ve seen, earlier that day in federal court, they were handed an open-and-shut case, since the city is discriminating against disabled people. They know it cannot lose in federal court.

* Councilor Lothrop states that he doesn’t believe the city has done anything wrong. He’s basing this on the fact that the city has up to that date won three times in federal court. He doesn’t know the bashing the city took in federal court earlier that day. Had he and the other councilors known that, he wouldn’t have expressed this belief. He would have said the opposite, most likely and in fact.

* Degnan says upcoming depositions will show that city building inspector Jerry Garner was ordered by Mayor Jimmy Ruberto not to issue a building permit under any circumstances. This statement causes heart palpitations to stunned councilors. Hearts sink to the floor. Remember, though, that the federal court has just told the city that none of this prejudicial animosity matters because of the city’s failure to sign the Spectrum settlement agreement due to the unlawful discriminatory attitudes expressed toward heroin addicts, a federal protected subset of disabled people. Nothing the previous mayor may have said or done to make Spectrum feel unwelcome now matters.

* Based on this misinformation, the council suggests one of two options: (1) that the city either relocate Spectrum to Dan Fox Drive and pay the company $250,000 or (2) locate Spectrum temporarily on Summer Street, receive $100,000, and relocate the company as soon as an alternate site becomes available. Again, the council is not only operating in the dark but proceeding on conclusions based on false information.

Executive Session 2, July 3, 2012

In this session:

* Mayor Bianchi gives councilors the terms of a proposed settlement.

* Solicitor Degnan explains the $76,500 payment from the city to Spectrum for relocation to another site.

* Councilor Krol sates that paragraph three of the settlement agreement does not require Spectrum to move. Degnan says Krol is mistaken, and that the settlement does specify Spectrum should move away from downtown to a “mutually agreeable location.” What does the actual contract show? The paragraph shows Krol is correct and Degnan incorrect in her representation, rather, her misrepresentation. The contract clearly reads: “If, at a future date, the City identifies a property” that Spectrum likes, Spectrum will move. “If” is not “shall.” Another poor use of language on Degnan’s part of a deliberate obfuscation?

* Degnan’s assistant solicitor, attorney Lee, says that spectrum is paying rent for the Summer Street location because they presume they will win the federal lawsuit. Lothrop, Krol, and Clairmont now say they now believe this statement to be false.

* In a highly unusual move, Mayor Bianchi and Degnan ask all the councilors to sign the settlement contract, aSsan acknowledgment of having seen and read it. Councilor Lothrop, to his credit, refuses to sign because he was not party to the settlement negotiations. He also points out  that councilors are not typically asked to sign off in acknowledgment on any other types of settlements. THE PLANET loves Lothrop’s stance here. We read it as the last great act of defiance after you know you’ve been screwed and the situation is hopeless, kind of a meaningless but symbolically important gesture of self respect.

* Degnan says the settlement agreement will be signed by the mayor’s office and Spectrum, regardless of whether or not the councilors sign.

Finally, on Aug. 27, 2012, the city gets confirmation that it’s case is not winnable when the MIIA Member Services Group, the insurance division of the Massachusetts Municipal Association to which Pittefield belongs, refuses the city request for indemnity in the Spectrum settlement. Why? Because of the city’s illegal discriminatory attitude toward heroin addicts, who are federally protected by the Americans for Disabilities Act.


The String Breaks

There’s a scene in Mark Twain‘s masterpiece The Adventures of Tom Sawyer where Tom and Becky explore a mysterious cave. Tom trails a long skein of string behind him, so they can find their way back through the maze and back out. The string breaks, and they are left lost. That’s the sensation one gets when diving into the pile of legal documents, transcripts, briefings, minutes, and summations pertaining to the matter of the city of Pittsfield settlement agreement with Spectrum Health Systems over the company’s decision to open a methadone clinic in town.

Specifically, the cave begins to branch off into side avenues and chambers not on any map. As way leads to way, as Robert Frost memorably puts it in his great poem “The Road Not Taken,” we come to a particularly perplexing part of the cave wherein lies the dispute between a trio of city councilors and the mayor’s office over the details of the settlement, particularly, the monetary aspect of the settlement.

THE PLANET has spent much time these past two days collecting documents, interviewing the combatants, talking to others with a dog in the fight, readings every one of the pieces of paper, and trying to make sense of it all. Who is telling the truth? Is it the trio — my Right Honorable Good Friends Ward 5 councilor Jonathan Lothrop, Ward 6’s John Krol, and at-large Barry Clairmont, or is it the Corner Office Trio, a jazzy combo consisting of Mayor Dan Bianchi on piano and vocals, director of administrative service Donna Matton on tenor sax, and city solicitor Kathy Degnan on drums?

The Council 3 (TC3) have as their main concern “the lack of transparency from the administration and apparent attempts to mislead the public and members of the City Council on pending litigation and court proceedings.” Much of the TC3 concern stems from the $100,000 settlement the city agreed to pay Spectrum to make the outstanding litigation go away. The Corner Office Trio (COT) counters by saying the councilors likely did know about the nature of the $100,000, agreed to it by their approval of the city solicitor’s budget, and — even if it didn’t know the $100,000 line item in the solicitor’s budget was for a payoff to Spectrum — what difference does that make?

THE PLANET thinks it would have made a lot of difference, not just for that money but for the later proceedings in federal court, when the city soiled the bed but good.

THE PLANET finds for the plaintiff — Mssrs. Lothrop, Krol, and Clairmont.

One Point of Agreement: Spectrum Must Be Allowed into the City

There is one thing on which everyone agrees. This dispute is not about Spectrum’s right to establish a methadone clinic in Pittsfield. The sides agree that Spectrum has met all the requirements and, buoyed by its track record of responsible service, will operate a much-needed drug treatment center in a professional way. Based on all THE PLANET has been able to discover about the company, its stellar reputation seems well deserved.

As we have tried to show, the key to unraveling this mystery lies in the timeline. To take you through the intricacies would require a missive probably longer than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and certainly a story much longer than this one.

Our readers, we understand, rely on THE PLANET to digest all this information, and — in as objective and non-biased a way as possible — help them understand what’s going on here. We must, therefore, do this not only in digested form but in digest form. That’s the communications challenge: To present an accurate understand of right and wrong in this matter while by necessity having to leave to much out.

We have done our best to meet that challenge. We also believe there is still more to be written, said, and discussed about  this case, and we shall do our best there, as well.






  1. Kevin
    August 31, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Nice work dan, need to digest and ask some questions.

    • Beacon Hill Mob
      September 4, 2012 at 8:31 am #


      GREAT WORK ! !!

      Too bad you were not on the case 20 years ago and Jack, GE, Doyle and the , Villain

      • danvalenti
        September 4, 2012 at 8:49 am #

        Well, I was, but on the radio.

  2. Scott
    August 31, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    (d) “Connell asks if the $100 grand is an “estimate.” Degnan says it is, when she appears to know it is not an estimate but an exact amount.”

    Yeah because by using the word estimate you can lead one to believe the money will be lower but in reality she knew it was higher so she was totally covering her ass so much for transparency.

  3. Silent Majority
    August 31, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    Wow, Planet, you should win a pulitzer for this. Brilliant work absolutely brilliant. I’m stunned and breathless , seriously.

  4. Deb S
    August 31, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Bravo Dan!!!! My thought on the city solicitor, she seems Incompetent. What lawyer goes into court and sputters like that?

  5. Scott
    August 31, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Here is a copy of the email I sent the city after reading how we were represented in court.

    It’s nice to know you think of the citizens of Pittsfield as racist bigots who discriminate against “disabled” people. I can’t speak for anyone else who wrote you on the spectrum matter but personally I don’t live on that side of town and I was opposed to the meth clinic on the basis that all they are is a corporation who profits of the misery of people afflicted with opiate addiction. I oppose the clinic not the people who would potentially seek their help. The people suffering from addiction deserve better. They deserve a real treatment plan based on health and nutrition to beat their addiction and live a healthy productive life.

    Thank you Scott Moore.

  6. tito
    August 31, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    With all due respect Dan, this Is a wonderful piece put together. Informative with precision reporting!

    • danvalenti
      August 31, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      Much appreciated. Welcome back!

  7. Bill Sturgeon
    August 31, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    I have posted the following on my FB.
    Dan Valenti on his blog – has, in my opinion, published a comprehensive article on the Spectrum settlement. This article is based upon Federal Court documents and follows a detailed timeline. I would suggest that you read the article and make up your own minds.

    • danvalenti
      August 31, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      Thanks, Bill. The exposition is attempt to explain an incredibly complex case. We tried to argue the facts, leaving all other considerations aside.

  8. FPR
    August 31, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    Hey Dan,

    Yeah wow, you’ve done your homework. Lots of info to digest on this here.

    I think I’ve said it before $100,000 here and $100,000 there and throw in another $77,000 — what’s the big deal?

    They will just raise your taxes to pay for it all anyway. You will get councilors to average it out and say something like “Its only another $5.00 per month per household” or some shit like that.

    I asked a series of questions before on the need for a Methadone Clinic within the last couple weeks and to my knowledge (reading your blog daily) not one single one of them has been answered.

    Pittsfield has always been run by people who do not know how to run a city.

    I say just pay for it and let it go. You will have to anyway. Free Methadone fixes for all addicts and disability funds to pay their bills along with a free handicapped plaque to park in front of where-every they’d like to go. All at tax payer’s expense. That’s how you do it! (In Pittsfield Massachusetts, that is.)

  9. Demitrius T. Gladiator
    August 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

    Great job, DV. You just obliterated all the competition.

  10. Jonathan Melle
    August 31, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    Downtown Pittsfield, or North Street, is known as Social Services Alley. Spectrum will be another social service provider.

  11. Pat
    September 1, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    Pittsfield is also known as a place with very few jobs and what jobs there are do not pay living wages. The jobs that pay decently go to those who know somebody in the community or are related to somebody in the community. Other jobs are given to those from out of the area while passing by the locals who have the same set of skills, but are passed over because they do not have the advantage of being unknown to the area which I believe is part of this city’s plan to bring in more people to the area.

    I really wish Dan Bianchi would move on from the Spectrum case and concentrate on bringing jobs to Pittsfield. Spectrum is a done deal. Let’s move on to the more pressing issues.

  12. Judas Priest
    September 1, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Best piece of analytic journalism possible ever done from Berkshire County on a local issue. I knew you were good, sir, but this is worldclass.

  13. Stevo
    September 1, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Dan, Now THAT is journalism. Thoroughly researched with no preexisting biases. I was leaning toward the mayors version of events in his recent letter to the editor based mostly on my utter disdain and disgust with the BB’s editorial track record. It appears Mr. Bianchi and the city were poorly served by Ms. Degnan. Pittsfield will never change, small people in small positions that have convinced themselves that they are Big Wheels. I left Pittsfield twenty or so years ago and have recently returned to visit family. I’ve been reading the Planet regularly for the past few months and always come away feeling better for it. I hope more folks in the Berkshires become aware of the journalistic jewel that you provide. One man can make a difference Dan. Keep it up.


  14. Jim Gleason
    September 1, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    I just watched the Park Commission meeting from Aygust 21 and realized that none of these so called public servants attended the dedication of the former North Little League in honor of my Dad, Don Gleason. I was amazed to see that none of them knew what the purpose of the Bossidy money, clearly explained by Larry Bossidy when he donated it to the city, is.I know what it is. It is for improvement and preservation of the city’s playing fields. That has been said so many times since the money was so generously donated it seems strange to me that none of the geniuses on the commission know it.With the collection of non talent in this group it shouldn’t surprise me, though. This money has been squandered so far, for the greater part, so when a legitimate request comes before this group they have to “ask Deanna” (deanna ruffer) for her opinion.What a lovely bunch of coconut’s we have there. Hermann and Nilan need to go sooner than soon and bicycle boy is next to useless.The woman never says anything beside what she’s told and DiMartino is there for the advancement of the South Little League, period. Please, Mayor Bianchi, get rid of these clowns.

    • Tom Sakshaug
      September 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

      Mr. Gleason, please try to understand that the people who serve on city boards are volunteers who may not know every single nuance of every single issue that is brought before them. I serve on two Commissions, Conservation and Animal Control. I do not get paid or thanked. I do my best to do my homework and research what is presented to me, and I assume that nearly every other Commissioner or Board member does the same. Nobody can read minds or know everything relating to every issue brought before every city board or commission. Cut the VOLUNTEER members of the Parks Commission a break. If you have a problem, send them an email when the agenda is posted or show up at a meeting instead of whining after the fact.

  15. tito
    September 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Does the Mayor have the authority to remove the current commissioners, or the ability to appoint new ones when there terms are up? If as you say, they do not know what the Bossidy money is for, then something is wrong.

    • Jim Gleason
      September 1, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      It was said on numerous occasions during the meeting. I couldn’t believe my ears. Watch for yourself, I;m sure it’ll be on again soon on Channel 18 in Pitts.

  16. tito
    September 1, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    I see what you mean Jimmy, and they are lovely.

  17. tito
    September 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    Seems like they want to keep the seventy grand that’s left in escrow, because the first nine hundred and twenty grand was throw away.

  18. Evian
    September 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    I read the planet every day, and it has become our way to keep up on our old home town. It almost sounds unbelievable from the Pittsfield I remember back in the 60s and 70s but I know it is true. Dan Valenti did a superb job on the coverage of this story best anywhere I’m sure. Saw hte Eagle’s coverage and its lame and tame by comparison. It’s not the Eagle I remember. Pittsfield be glad you have this site!

  19. Tom Sakshaug
    September 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    I fear that Counselor Degnan does not have a good verbal filter, at least in court, and should perhaps be replaced if she cannot learn to control what she says on the record. I can imagine the monetary negotiation:

    Spectrum: We want $200K!
    Degnan: How about half that?
    Spectrum: OK!
    Degnan: Oh, and we can also pay some of your rent!
    Spectrum: OK!

    How it should have gone:
    Spectrum: We want $200K.
    Degnan: Screw you! See ya in court!

    Just my imagination….

    • dusty
      September 2, 2012 at 1:28 am #

      Tom, what was the name of the guy that got us into this mess in the first place? Jim something wasn’t it?

      Sometimes cleaning up a mess is a lot harder than making it and I am sure the current mayor would rather be focusing on other things don’t you? He did not ask for this issued to be dropped in his lap. Give him a break. He is trying.

      • Scott
        September 2, 2012 at 5:28 am #

        That doesn’t change the fact that Pittsfield residents were misrepresented and made to come off as small town bigots who discriminate against the “disabled”. That’s the part that bothers me you would think they’d use different language even if the majority of emails and public out cry was based on fear and hate for drug addicts.

    • Jim Gleason
      September 4, 2012 at 7:54 am #

      Fisrt, if you don’t want to volunteer get the hell off the boards yopu are on. If you want credit for serving you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

    • Jim Gleason
      September 4, 2012 at 8:21 am #

      Mr Sakshaug,

      AS I was saying, the senior members of the Park Commission have allocated most of this money and should know what it’s for. Did anyone ever hear of maybe doing a bit of homework on an agenda item?
      Second, when did a dentist’s license give a person the knowledge to practice law in MA? Y ou and your CPA buddy Barry Mason both seem to think you have more knowledge of law than someone who graduated law school and passed the bar.Did you get a legal opinion from Barry before posting or did you go on your own extensive knowledge of Law? Let the lawers practice law and you fix people’s teeth and we’ll all be much better off.

      • B. Clairmont
        September 4, 2012 at 9:48 am #


        I am not a lawyer and don’t pretend to be one. However, I am capable of reading and understanding what I read. In my opinion, Ms. Degnan said things in court that she shouldn’t have.

        Jim, if you haven’t read the court documents, please do. I know you trust the Mayor on this issue, as you stated on the radio the other day. However, don’t you think you should be open minded and read the documents and reach your own decision?

        If you would like the documents, please send me your e-mail address and I’ll forward them to you.


        • Jim Gleason
          September 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

          Barry, I was having this conversation with Mr Sakshaug, what happened to him?

          • B. Clairmont
            September 4, 2012 at 2:26 pm #


            I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to him about the issue. And, he is a big boy and can speak for himself.

            I didn’t realize I was banned from chiming in, sorry.

          • danvalenti
            September 4, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

            Every voice is welcome on THE PLANET, except for those who do not move discussions forward.

          • Tom Sakshaug
            September 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

            Well, here I am again. I humbly apologize for not checking in to the website constantly. I might average once every 2 weeks. And I had heard it was down. Mr. Clairmont called and said I might want to check in.

            So: Like my friend Barry Mason, I can read. I can do many things other than fix teeth. You, Mr. Gleason, seem to believe that your opinion is godlike and the rest of us are morons. Are you a professional commenter? Is there a degree for that? Are you paid for it?

            By the way, it’s Dr. Sakshaug to you. Or Tom. Take your pick. My father, brother, a few uncles, and many cousins are called Mr. Sakshaug. I have not used or accepted that title since 1986.

            Next, I don’t want credit for serving…I like to do it, I enjoy serving the community. I prefer to spend my spare time doing useful things. Painting the house, helping clean a river, serving on City commissions. I’m not bragging, I just think I should do these things. It would be great if more would do the same. (Yes, that’s my opinion, even if I should be removing some 3rd molars)

            Further, If you or “dusty” think Jim Ruberto caused this mess, you are sadly mistaken. He was a victim, like the rest of Pittsfield, of a big pile of crap thrust upon the city by the Commonwealth and a “nonprofit” organization hiding behind the ADA and “education”.

            My point stands: the $100K could have stayed in our coffers. The taxpayers of Pittsfield should not have to subsidize this clinic any more than we must through the Medicaid/MassHealth/Commonwealth Care programs.

            Finally, if you imagine that graduating from law school and passing the bar makes one a good lawyer, to the exclusion of others who can read documents and who have advanced degrees, or who are simply intelligent, you are just plain wrong. I know some crappy dentists , physicians, and lawyers who have degrees, have passed their board exams, and still should not be practicing.

            If you or anyone else who theoretically cares about the taxpayers of Pittsfield think that the proper thing was done here, I will disagree until proven wrong with documentation and proof rather than bullying.

            Now remember that I may not check in again for several days. I’m busy.

  20. Kevin
    September 2, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    I think the city would of had to pay Spectrum in the end. From some of Dan’s past blog’s 180k total is on the low end as compared to what other communities have had to pay. Degnan’s representation of Pittsfield in such a way, in open court……Unacceptable. Loose lips in City Hall and the Sheriff’s is pretty unacceptable as well, although not unheard of. I think some axes are sharpening, if not fallen. I also think it’s important to remember Mayor JR backed by Mr. Kroll and others started this mess without looking into how willing Spectrum was to litigate.

    • levitan
      September 4, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      Nice job Dan. Just when I thought I had enough of the vitriol regarding Spectrum, you pull this revelation out of your hat and give a real picture of what is going on.

      The corner office gets a light treatment from you, but Degnan is not looking good at all. Having relied on a lawyer’s services, I’d faint in court if my lawyer jabbered away like that.

  21. Shakes His Head
    September 4, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    Even though there was a “fresh” – or a recurrence of the City’s initial mistreatment of the case, damages would be assesed from the initial date of the denial for the building permit.

    • B. Clairmont
      September 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Only if it was denied illigally. A Federal judge ruled that in Pittsfield’s favor on that very point.

      • Tom Sakshaug
        September 4, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

        Hey, I think this blog is on Pacific time!

        • Tom Sakshaug
          September 4, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

          It sure is!

  22. Outfox
    September 4, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Ok, there’s a lot here to be addressed, but what stands out immediately for me is that when the clinic was to be moved out of the Yon building a ward representative with the last name of Yon created enough controverdy in her ward that the clinic was moved back to the Yon building. And this cost the taxpayers. I suppose it’redundant to say there’s something rotten in Denmark.

  23. Jim Gleason
    September 5, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    @Dr Sakshaug,
    Even though you won’t be checking this site for weeks and are a busy Dr, I feel compelled to answer your post directed at me. First, you’re assuming that someone thinks or believes you are intelligent. Your skewed views lead me to think you’re a lot of things, but intelligent isn’t one of them.
    Second, you call ruberto a victim, a basis for my first paragraph.He was the reason these lawsuits were filed to begin with, no question. If you believe otherwise then YOU’RE sadly mistaken and blinded by propaganda from the three stooges.He left many messes for Dan Bianchi to clean up and this is just one in a series. What’s next? The people of Pittsfield were victims of ruberto’s dictatorial behavior and disdain for the regular people of this city, his concern being the welfare of the tourists and the wealthy GOB’s in town.
    Third, this exchange began over the inexplicable behavior of the Park Commission. Why did you not address that in your reply? My assertion was that the senior members have allocated most of the money, mostly wasted, from the Bossidy donation and should know what it’s for, not contract convenient amnesia when a legitimate request for dispersal comes before them.I also suggested that a bit of homework might be appropriate when an item is on the agenda and they receive it in advance of the meeting. Answer?
    Farewell for now, busy Dr, I hope you can fit an answer into your busy schedule.

    • Tom Sakshaug
      September 8, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      No, it’s clearly not worth discussing anything with you. My point was, and still is, that the Parks Commission is a group of well-meaning volunteers doing the best they can. I will no longer respond to you childish insults.

      • danvalenti
        September 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

        I understand the emotions, but please, if you keep the debate at a higher level, it can continue. You both have raised excellent points on the nature of volunteer service. Please keep it going by respecting each other.

  24. Tom Sakshaug
    September 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    *your childish insults.