SCHOOL COMMITTEE BLOWS IT ON KRATKA-STURGEON CASE (‘IT’S THE PLANET’S FAULT’ LARRY-THE-K BLEATS) … CRANE SOURCE SAYS JOB LOSS A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME … THE PLANET TAKES A FURTHER LOOK AT REGISTER’S RACE … plus … CHAMBER BOSS SENDS OUT AN ODD POLITICAL MEMO
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, AUG. 23, 2012) — He put his trust in the officials. They let him down. Thus, Bill Sturgeon is twice betrayed.
THE PLANET, which as you know has been closely following the Larry Kratka-Bill Sturgeon Disappearing Act, has heard from our good friend Bill. The School Committee took up the matter last night, and it failed big time. The gutless School Committee, under the ineffectual leadership of Alf Barbalunga, failed We The People, Bill Sturgeon, the School Department, taxpayers, and everyone who believes in honest government and accountability.
Sturgeon issued the following statement following the meeting last night:
Sometimes a “real” story lurks beneath the surface of the “reported” story. THE PLANET can’t say for sure that this is happening here, but the signs are there. The recent announcement by Crane and Company that it would consolidate its stationary division from four locations to one, axing 55 jobs, had other clues surrounding it.
There have been rumors and whisperings about this move for a couple months, and it proved true. Those aren’t the only whispers surrounding Crane these days. Read on.
On the heels of The Boring Broadsheet terminating eight positions in its graphic department (those jobs will be shipped to India), the news from venerable Crane & Co. last week was just as bleak. In a major shakeup of its stationary division, Crane will ax 55 jobs by year’s end. The news comes amid whispers and rumblings that the venerable company, Dalton’s largest employer, may be experiencing cash-flow problems. That’s ironic given Crane’s role for more than 130 years of supplying the paper used to print U.S. currency.
Good Pay, Good-Benefits jobs are Irreplaceable in the Moribund Local Economy, Which Sold Its Soul to the Tourist Dollar
The 55 positions are high-pay, good benefits job that simply will be irreplaceable in the moribund local economy. The elimination of these jobs will allow Crane to close the two stationary offices in Pittsfield and the one in Dalton and consolidate the operations to one office in North Adams. Those jobs won’t be coming back.
This may be the first in a series of similar moves in the months and years ahead. A company official, who works in the 268-employee division of Crane Stationary, spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The company right now is experiencing some financial issues,” the source said. “For one thing, people don’t use stationary the way they used to. They text, they send e-mail, and all that electronic traffic has put a dent in the operation. That is expected to continue. This [the 55 lost jobs] may just be the beginning, unless things somehow turn around.” The source said that he or she “wouldn’t be surprised” if the remaining 200 plus jobs are cut within the “next couple or three years.” A recent company meeting addressed that topic, the source said.
The source also says that major changes in U.S. currency management and procurement will be occurring eventually, although that will be longer term. One of the changes will be less need for paper money. Again, the source said, electronic transactions, credit cards, and other forms of debit payments are reducing the need for physical cash. There is also a heightened need to security devices to be built into money, and there is a concern that it will be a level of sophistication with which Crane and Company cannot contend. These developments, the source said, are forcing the company to take a long-term look at its financial picture. “We’re trying to make moves now that will help us better cope with the changes that appear to be heading our way down the line.”
Asked to assess the long-term health of Crane, the source said, “Good. but not great. We’re buckling our seat belts for what may be a rough ride. I think we’ll do OK, but it won’t be the Crane people remember [from its prime].”
MORE ON THE THREE-HEADED REGISTER’S RACE
In a typical campaign, the race for register of deeds barely gets notice. This time it’s different. First, it’s the only contested race with any drama attached to it. Whatever chance Andy Nuciforo has of upsetting Richie Neal for Congress disappeared when the third candidate for that seat, Bill Shein, discovered that most of Nuciforo’s website had been lifted flat out from other politicians. Plagiarism, inadvertent or not, is lethal. Second, the register’s race pits three legitimate candidates, each of whom can make a case for the job, with varying degrees of relevance.
Jody Phillips, Scott Pignatelli, and Patsy Harris each have a set of strengths and weaknesses. The most damaged of the three, Phillips, has a red “Q” emblazoned on her breast pocket. That “Q” stands for “quitter.” Phillips, former city clerk in Pittsfield, quit that job in mid-term to jump ship at what she thought was a greener grass at General Dynamics (translate: It paid more money). Now, one a few short years later, she is willing to quit on GD, prompted by the $90,000-a-year-plus benefits carrot being waved in front of her by the register’s job. A public servant like this cannot be trusted to handle any of the people’s business. Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski show justifiable concern at such blatant opportunism. THE PLANET also hears that Phillips’ bosses at GD are less than thrilled that she’s so willing to pull the plug there.
Phillips Lacks an Conversent Understanding of the Register’s Job
THE PLANET also cannot accept her statements about being happy at General Dynamics. We don’t know, but we wonder: Could it be that she discovered that the Dreaded Private Sector actually expects a worker to sing for her supper, unlike public “service,” where there is little to no accountability. This is not even to mention Phillips lack of understanding about the register’s job. Whenever Phillips has been asked specific questions about the register’s office, she recites banal generalities and cue-card bromides. If she wins this race, expect a $90,000 “mail it in” job from Phillips. The work ethic is simply not there.
Scott Pignatelli pledges that if he wins, he will be on the job full time.
“Believe me,” Pignatelli says, “if I am lucky enough to win this race, I will serve this position well. I am too proud of my family name to do an injustice to it. I said at my kick-off that this is an office within government that can be managed like a business —a place where everyone who works there will be held accountable and offer the public service that should be expected. There are many other things which could be offered through this office using current staff without increasing budgets.”
Pignatelli, clearly the preferable option over Phillips, continues to speak of the job as a management position, with a set of skills that are more than transferrable from managing the staff of an electrical company to that of a deeds office. Perhaps he is right, but if he is, we wonder, then: Why does that office need a manager at all? If the skill set is so translatable, can it be that demanding? In other words, would the advantage he claims in the management department make that much of a difference in the functioning of the office?
So What, Exactly, Does a Register Do?”
Part of the intrigue of this race lies in the nature of the register’s job itself. Is it an anachronism, as some claim, or does the job have a purpose. What does a register do? Even there, it’s hard to find consensus. If the job is strictly a management position, Pignatelli has the most experience in running a staff. If the job is more, however, and if it requires first and foremost “a knowledge of the documents that we’re recording at the registry of deed,” as Harris says, then she is the person for the position.
Harris: No Substitute for First Hand Knowledge of the Documents
In an interview with THE PLANET, Harris stressed the importance of knowing the nature of the documents that come in for recording. This isn’t a job like mayor or city councilor, whose duties are not proscribed and can be what an individual wants them to be. The register’s office has narrowly proscribed duties, with many of its action fraught with legal implications. It is not an office that will forgive much in the way of mistakes. That’s why the position of register has largely turned into a hands-off, make work job. With so much to screw up, the best option might be not to show up.
WIth Harris, the electorate will have no such fear. Patsy Harris presently works full-time in the registry’s office, as she has done for the past 11 years. She, too, says that if she wins, she will “earn her pay” by being a “full-time register.” For Harris, that will represent nothing different than what she’s doing now. Attorneys we’ve talked too can’t say enough of her work ethic, her integrity, and her ability.
Harris says she will be “there with my staff, working alongside them, and providing direction from a practical standpoint.” She says her two opponents offer only generalities and abstract management talk when discussing the job. “I will be able to answer the questions that come into the office from day one.” That will not be true of her two opponents, she says, who will need “at least” a year or more of a learning curve.
Harris makes an important point in response to the criticism that has been leveled at her by her two opponents — that she has no managerial experience.
Harris is Already on the Job, in a Management Position
“That is not true,” Harris counters. “I have been assistant register for going on six years. It’s a management position.” Harris says she has had active input on the hiring of more than half the staff. Currently, seven people work in the office. The position is a management position, Harris says, but not ion the way Phillips and Pignatelli, “in their inexperience,” suggest. “Yes, you manage, but mostly it’s managing documents.” She says the vast majority of questions that the register has to rule on relate to specific questions of specific types of documents.
Only Harris has proposed specific changes when asked what she would do in the office should she win. Phillips and Pignatelli have not answered that question. They’ve done a Mexican hat dance around it. On the other hand, Harris proposes merging the three county register offices into one. THE PLANET has long been arguing for that vey move. Only last week, we pointed out how Suffolk County, with six times the population of Berkshire County, gets by with one office. The move will have to be phased in slowly, but Harris is committed to consolidation as a main strategic initiative. She also intends to begin digitizing”all of the books and microfilm under the register of deeds jurisdiction, particularly the historical books.”
Harris says it would be “a shame” to hand these records over to “a politician.”
Voters get their say for Middle Berkshire register of Deeds on election day, Thursday, Sept. 6. THE PLANET has endorsed Harris.
Voters have a chance to talk to the candidates tomorrow (Thursday, 8/23) at the Dalton Senior Center, 40 Field St. Extension. The “meet the candidates” lunch will begin at noon. For more information, call the Dalton senior center at 413-684-2000.
On Monday, Aug. 27, Jonathan Levine and The Pittsfield Gazette will host a debate among the three candidates for register. The debate will be at BCC.
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