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SCHOOL DEPARTMENT SOURCES CLAIM CONTRACTGATE ‘INSIDER TRADING’ THE NORM, FOR YEARS … LETTERS TO THE EDITOR … plus … WHAT HAPPENED WHEN DAN O’CONNELL MET MEGAN WHILDEN? THE PLANET HAS THE EXCLUSIVE

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, OCT. 23, 2012) — A new development in Contractgate suggests the pattern of inside dealing to receive free student labor from the vocational department goes back for years, according to the testimony of two sources. The first is a former school department employee, a department head retired last year. The second currently works in an administrative capacity for the Pittsfield public schools. Both spoke on condition of anonymity after contacting THE PLANET.

Piecing together what the two of them say, Contractgate has been the “usual” way to decide who gets the benefit of free student labor. This comes as no great shocker, but the significance lies in the apparent confirmation from those with experience in the school department. Let’s not kid ourselves: Contractgate has never been about The Children. It’s been about two insiders — Frank Cote and Lynn Whitney — using their positions to engineer free construction of a new home.

‘This has been going on for years’

Student carpenters at work … but for whom?

“This has been going on for years,” says one of the sources. Sources say in past years, the school department received no bids for “sponsors” of student projects outside of school department  employees. In short, according to the sources, Contractgate has been the rule and not the exception. The reason the School Department has been able to get away with it is lack of exposure. The sunshine has not reached into this underhanded manner of assigning vocational students to work on projects.

This year, however, two things changed: (a) First, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski “shocked the world” by electing an honest man to the school committee: Terry Kinnas, the embodiment of the cornball (but true) sentiment that “one man can make a difference.” (b) This honest man had a media outlet not afraid to shine a bright light into the slimy darkness. That, of course, would be THE PLANET. Face it, if We the People depended on the Boring Broadsheet for a story like this, the corruption would still be going on, unabated.

The School Department, your see, is one of the BB‘s biggest advertisers, a rapidly shrinking universe for the once decent newspaper. The BB would not want to upset one of its key advertisers, so it won’t assign a reporter to cover stories like Contractgate. The School Department, likewise, does not like any reporting other than “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” The cozy arrangement fits each party swimmingly.

We have no misgivings. Our exposure of crummy deals like Contractgate won’t stop the funny business, but at least more people know about it. At least they can base their decisions on more of the truth. At least those who wish to pursue truth can find its outpost.

Our sources’ disclosures prompt a series of crucial questions:

* What do the records say?

* Is there paperwork on each contract for vocational students’ work going back, say, 20 years?

* Who were the beneficiaries of the previous work? (Who were the previous “Lynn Whitneys?”

* Who authorized the work within the school department (Who were the previous Frank Cotes?)

* What were the votes of the school committee of years past for this type of work? Was there any discussion, debate, or deliberation? Did anyone on previous school committees question the work?

* How many responses did each school year receive for the bids?

* How did the word get out, or keep from getting out, that free labor could be had?

If previous vocational work was assigned in a fair and honest manner, there should be no problem locating the paper trail. Sources say to beware of a “second set of books” and also for the “mysterious disappearance” of the documents from specific years.

THE PLANET calls upon our Right Honorable Good Friends in the school department, the school committee, the city council, and in the corner office to request documents and reveal what they show. There are numerous superintendents, seven committee people, 11 councilors, and one mayor. Any one of them can do this.

Contractgate must not be allowed to happen. It might be the last chance for this administration to save its political hide.

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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

School Committee, Council’s Vote on Contractgate ‘Unethical’

I’m wondering how the school committee as well as the city councilors can vote in favor to have the Taconic high school carpentry department students build a house for Lynn Whitney free of charge??? Lynn Whitney is the secretary to the assistant superintendent Frank Cote. I believe that this information should be made public to the good citizens of Pittsfield who work, own property and pay tax. I would also like to hear the Mayors response and explanation as to why he voted in favor for this clearly unethical situation. Let’s see some of that transparency we heard all about. This job should go back out to bid and the students hard work should go to a cause that would benefit more of the community not just one connected person. To think Mayor Ruberto had to hire a lawyer and face an ethics commission for taking some Red Sox tickets. We’re talking about at least a hundred thousand dollars here. — Scott Moore

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O’CONNELL WAS ‘THIS CLOSE’ TO BE REHIRED BY CULTURAL COMMISSION, BUT WHILDEN SAID NO.

THE PLANET has learned that back in March, former city arts commissioner Dan O’Connell applied for an administrative assistant’s position in the office of cultural affairs. Our source says Mayor Dan Bianchi encouraged O’Connell to apply, which would lead one to believe he had a good chance at it.

In April, O’Connell met with current arts commissioner Megan Whilden. Following that meeting, O’Connell sent the following note to Whilden. The note is dated April 23:

—– 00 —–

Former arts commissioner Dan O’Connell, at work on the Renne Avenue mural.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for meeting with me this morning concerning the position at the Arts Center . It was really great to meet you and to visit the Arts Center once again. I look forward to working with you as your program assistant if that is of your choosing. I know together we can make a difference in bringing the arts to all of the citizens of Pittsfield. You certainly have added a great deal to the visions that I established with Kitty Lichtenstein while making sure that the arts remain both physically and economically accessible to all.

 
Respectfully Yours,
Daniel M. O’Connell
—– 00 —–

Whilden replied back on May 1:

 

Hi Dan,
 

Arts Commissioner Megan Whilden

Thank you for your email. I very much enjoyed our interview and especially hearing stories about Pittsfield ’s cultural past, including Norman Rockwell teaching at the Boys Club!  I had meant to give you the full job description for the Administrative Assistant but I’m not sure I did, so am sending it along now. The support position is fast paced, a lot of work, and alas, almost all administrative, clerical and physical. The Office of Cultural Development is very active these days with a lot of different responsibilities, including 3rd.Thursdays, the Pittsfield Tourism Commission, DiscoverPittsfield.com, and our weekly email newsletter, along with supporting and partnering on a wide number of activities, including the Pittsfield Ethnic Fair, the WordXWord Festival, the 10X10 On North Winter Arts Festival, and now the First Fridays ArtsWalk (kicking off this Friday!) Let me know if you have any further questions.

 
All best,
Megan
 
Megan Whilden
Director of Cultural Development for the City of Pittsfield
Lichtenstein Center for the Arts
28 Renne Avenue, Pittsfield , MA 01201
413.499.9348 fax: 413.448.9811
—– 00 —–

Then the communication stopped. O’Connell never received a call back from Whilden or her office. From Whilden’s response, it appears that the position would be flying a desk and not in O’Connell’s line. Nonetheless, the city could use O’Connell’s skills as an artist to restore the public murals. Unfortunately, the murals are being allowed to fade away, like good soldiers. They need restoration and repair.

The murals were done by O’Connell, working with nationally known painter Daniel Galvez working with a team of local artists including William Blake, Stephen Mark, Jay Tobin, and Bonnie Bergman. The murals are municipal treasures of the city. They belong to The People. They tell a story beyond one event or performance. They can be accessed and enjoyed by the community for free all year round. They need to be saved, but sadly, city hall doesn’t think too much about them based on the inattention. This lack of respect for the murals stands in nicely as a symbol for how city government thinks of We The People.

While were at “sorry states,” has anyone noticed how dilapidated the sculpture garden has become at the Lichenstein Arts Center at 28 Renne Ave?

Meanwhile, our Z-agents tell us that on Friday night, Oct. 12, O’Connell and Whilden had an encounter during a reception at the Arts Center. Whilden asked O’Connell if he wanted to sit on the center’s board, which oversees Whilden’s office. O’Connell, we hear, told Whilden he was undecided. He then asked her about the lack of signage leading to the Arts Center. He also noted the removal of all plaques in the gallery crediting Kitty Lichenstein with establishing the center in 1983. O’Connell mentioned the deteriorating murals and the condition for the sculpture garden.

Our sources say Whilden “blamed it all on the directives of former Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer.” We find that explanation plausible, since we have heard the same elsewhere. Ruffer, known to some in the cultural affairs office as “the fuhrer,” was known that that type of bullying approach to the public’s resources. With Ruffer now out of the picture (hallelujah and rejoicing!) there would seem to be no reason why Whilden couldn’t get those projects done.

About five years ago, sources tell us, a local book on the history of Pittsfield was published. It said the Arts Center opened in 2005. It didn’t. It opened in 1983. O’Connell is correct about the odd removal of Lichenstein’s name from public recognition. Look around town. There are banners everywhere naming ballet, the Colonial Theatre, the lakes, Wahconah Park, Barrington Stage, the library, parks, the state forest, the Berkshire Museum, and city hall, but not one naming the “Lichenstein Center.”

How odd. Was this done on purpose? Seems to be. What an insult to a woman who gave so much to the citizens of Pittsfield.

THE PLANET can understand not hiring O’Connell for an administrative assistant’s job, but he possess a skill set that could greatly benefit the arts in the city.

For your information, here’s how the city posted the job:

OFFICE OF CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT

FULLTIME POSITION

Reports to: Director of Cultural Development, City of Pittsfield

 

COMMUNICATIONS

  • Actively participate in social media, website and other online communications regarding cultural activities in the city of Pittsfield to include Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, Pinterest, Flickr, Main Street Mail, and others as needed.
  • Serve as first point of contact for visitors, phonecalls, mail, email & other inquiries. Assist all contacts with needed information, referrals, and resolution of any concerns.
  • Assist in writing and editing weekly email newsletter, Cultural Pittsfield This Week and collecting and updating online calendar listings for DiscoverPittsfield.com
  • Maintain clipping file of media coverage of Pittsfield’s arts & cultural activities.

 

ADMINISTRATIVE

  • Maintain and update filing, databases and mailing lists.
  • Provide administrative support for Cultural Development Board meetings and other meetings as needed, to include sending out meeting notices, filing agendas in a timely matter according to state regulations, maintaining member lists, taking minutes at meeting and keeping members updated.
  • Handle all bookkeeping functions for Office of Cultural Development and Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, including requisitions, purchase orders, and maintaining up-to-date spreadsheets of all active accounts.
  • Manage & order office supplies, and other office support systems including coordinating repair and other maintenance requests.
  • Distribute marketing collateral including banners, flyers, posters, and postcards on foot throughout the downtown area and by car elsewhere as needed.
  • Represent the Office of Cultural Development at meetings and events where needed.
  • Serve as the administrative coordinator for the Upstreet Cultural District Partnership, maintaining member list, meeting schedule & minutes.
  • Assist with special projects and new & existing public events, initiatives, festivals, and activities, including 3rd.Thursdays, the Pittsfield Ethnic Fair, First Fridays ArtsWalk, and others.
  • Assist in researching and writing grant proposals and other documentation as needed.
  • Other duties as needed.

 

LICHTENSTEIN CENTER FOR THE ARTS

  • Staff Lichtenstein Center gallery during open hours as needed.
  • Maintain internal Lichtenstein calendar & schedule volunteer artist coverage of the gallery on Saturdays and during special events.
  • Schedule classes, exhibitions, space rentals and performances at Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. Set up & take down tables and chairs for meetings and events as needed.
  • Collect payment from renters and ensure all agreements and liability forms are filled out and collected.
  • Work with artists and organizations regarding installation and deinstallation of exhibitions, including coordinating sales, artist contacts, receptions, forms and other needs.
  • Promote Lichtenstein Center for the Arts events and exhibitions through social media, press releases, calendar listings, email, and on the website.
  • Supplement custodial work and ensure cleanliness of Lichtenstein Center for the Arts public areas.

———————————————————–

END

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

17 Responses to “SCHOOL DEPARTMENT SOURCES CLAIM CONTRACTGATE ‘INSIDER TRADING’ THE NORM, FOR YEARS … LETTERS TO THE EDITOR … plus … WHAT HAPPENED WHEN DAN O’CONNELL MET MEGAN WHILDEN? THE PLANET HAS THE EXCLUSIVE”

  1. Dave
    October 23, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Even during council debate, some councillors including councillor Mazzeo, mentioned that the vocational departments have always been used by city employees for free work. Granted most of the work was low cost, referring to the auto shop, but with this being the norm it was only a matter of time before someone went for the big grab-assuming it hasn’t happened before to this magnitude prior to Mr. Kinnas’ election.

  2. danvalenti
    October 23, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    The paperwork on all past vocational contracts must be made public. If there’s nothing to hide, then there should be no problem in the school department making them public.

  3. FPR
    October 23, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Hey Dan, another great article. Seems you are getting closer and closer the truth all the time.

    I would not count on any investigation from the mayor or anyone on the city council or school committee beyond Terry Kinnas.

    The State Ethics commission needs to be called in at this point.

    Judging by the shear arrogance of both Ms Whitney and Mr Cote’s appearance before the city council, they had some kind of assurances that they would prevail.

    It gave me the impression that what they’ve done has all been done before.

    All the records of past builds should see the light of day. I am sure that if previous builds went out for bid as this one, then the school committee should have records of this.

    Were any of these house sold at a large profit? Did the sale of any of these previous house coincide with any influx to Mr Cote’s personal bank account. What is to prevent Ms Whitney from selling the house after completion and donating a large portion of the proceeds to Mr Cote?

    Just some questions to add to yours.

  4. just sayin
    October 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    It is time that someone realized Wilden is only into building a resume for her next job. The City has nothing permanent to show in real arts from her efforts. Third Thursdayd not a real lasting art accomplishment. It is easy for her to blame Ruffer. Both have left nothing that tax payers can pride themselves for having spent their dollars. When will Pittsfild recognize pseudo art will not save the city like jobs will.

  5. Ron Kitterman
    October 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Sounds like Megan Whilden did a nationwide search for a candidate and determined that Dan O’Connelll was over qualified. Odd isn’t it, with the recommendation from the Mayor that he would be passed over for this position ? Dan is a good man for the arts.

  6. danvalenti
    October 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    THE PLANET REMINDS EVERYONE TO KEEP COMMENTS RELEVANT AND ABOVE THE BELT. HAVE YOUR SAY. DON’T MINCE WORDS. BUT PLEASE, ON YOUR HONOR, STAY ON TOPIC. THERE’S FAIR COMMENT & THERE ARE CHEAP SHOTS. TRYING TO SMEAR SOMEONE THROUGH BLATANT AND TOTALLY OFF-TOPIC “GUILT BY ASSOCIATION” WILL NOT BE TOLERATED ON THIS SITE. THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR COOPERATION.

    • Scott
      October 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      Dan that’s the game the annonous like to play when you beat them with facts they use lies and misinformation. People who do not use their real name and attack are insignificant in my opinion.

      • Donald
        October 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

        Scott, the comment removed was posted by Jim Gleason. You better step up your troll game!

  7. Ron Kitterman
    October 23, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    Dan, My comments weren’t intended to be vicious. Ms Whilden seems like a very nice person and is doing a terrific job. It only takes one reason to not get a job and there might be a reason for Dan getting passed over.

    • danvalenti
      October 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

      RON
      You wrote NOTHING AT ALL that could be considered vicious. Don’t even think that. You have been a model for keeping comments hard-hitting but RELEVANT.

  8. FPR
    October 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    Hey Dan,

    I realize the need to keep your comment section in order. Lots of websites have moderators to do the dirty work.

    It must be difficult to balance freedom of speech with trolling.

    I know you can easily manage your own site but it may be well to have a moderator who can take the heat off yourself.

    I didn’t see the comment you removed but I’m sure you have a good reason. Just noticed it slammed the door on other comments. I would let people say whatever they want to say as long as they don’t attack other people who comment. Tough situation when we all comment about corruption and GOB abuse.

    Actually you can say anything you want to say, its just “how” you say it.

    What did John Lennon once say, “I just stick words together, some have meaning some don’t. If it has relevance to your life well that’s alright”.

    • danvalenti
      October 23, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      FPR
      Thanks. I don’t mind the occasional heat. The comment removed brought up an irrelevant criminal case against the relative of a member of city government. It had nothing to do with any of the issues we’ve discussed. It was posted simply as an attempt to embarrass a public servant. Our door is as open as always to free, wide-ranging, and robust comment on any public issue. We will not, however, host cheap shots.

      • Jim Gleason
        October 24, 2012 at 8:34 am #

        Dan, you’re a big opponent of child predators but only if they’re not related to a friend of yours? A bit selective and hypocritical to me.

        • danvalenti
          October 24, 2012 at 9:28 am #

          Your e-mail had NO RELEVANCE whatsoever to ANY issues being discussed on THE PLANET. I WILL NOT have this site being used for that kind of cheap shot.

  9. Elizabeth
    October 24, 2012 at 3:46 am #

    Hey Dan..
    Regarding the ths vocational students doing “free” work on school department employees houses… didn’t the principal of Taconic, (o’mally) build a beautiful house up in Windsor or somewhere up there in the frozen tundra while back? I’m just wondering if the kids worked on his house? Anybody know?

  10. ShirleyKnutz
    October 24, 2012 at 5:10 am #

    I don’t think you will find any paper trail associated with any work provided by the students. My understanding is it was mostly word of mouth, whispers and handshakes.

  11. Four in one
    October 24, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    The paperwork for the student work had either disappeared or it’s done verbally or it’s been doctored (second set of books). When will this stop? Who will stop it?