Article

CONTRACTGATE: THE MUCK GETS MUCKIER … STATE ETHICS COMMISSION TO LYNN WHITNEY: IN EFFECT, ‘YOU HAVE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST’ … SHE FAILS TO MEET FOUR OF THE FIVE REQUIREMENTS … MATTER IS NOW IN CITY COUNCIL’S HANDS, AND COUNCIL NEEDS TO DO THE RIGHT THING FOR MARY JANE AND JOE KAPANSKI

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, OCT. 3, 2012) — The muck gets muckier in Contractgate.

After using her position as asst. supt. Frank Cote‘s secretary for the inside track, Lynn Whitney was “awarded” the contract for free slave labor, courtesy of Taconic High School carpentry students, to build her McMansion in Pittsfield. Hers was one of only two bids received, since Cote placed the ad without the approval or knowledge of central purchasing or the school business manager. That help to assure limited competition (what, you think free construction of a house would be popular and something more  people would like to win?).

More unbelievably, the Pittsfield School Committee, all except Terry Kinnas and Mayor Dan Bianchi, voted to ratify the contract. Alf Barbalunga, Kathy Yon, Kathleen Amuso, Jim Conant, and Dan Elias saw no problem, hence their “yes” vote on Aug. 22. Keep in mind that Kinnas objected without knowing of the cozy relationship between Cote and Whitney. He noticed that while the ad specified the students would do no roofing work, the contract listed roofing as the first in a long list of duties students would have to perform.

[NOTE: THE PLANET has contacted the five school committee members who voted to "approve" the contract. We sent inquiries to them on Sunday night. We have heard from Yon and Amuso, explaining their votes. We shall post all responses tomorrow.]

Ratify and Hang or Reject and be Toasted

The next day, Kinnas began a dogged and solitary pursuit of justice, meeting with city solicitor Kathy Degnan for the first of four visits. The contract was subsequently rewritten and sent to the city council. In the meantime and following the council meeting, the school committee followed the council up with a second rewrite — the third version — of the contract. Apparently, Cote and Whitney’s strategy is to keep rewriting this bad deal until the council caves. That’s where the matter stands: In the hands of the city council, which shall next meet one week from today.

The council has one of two choices: ratify or reject. If it chooses the former, there will be no accounting for the political damage done to any member who thinks this Cote-Whitney deal is on the level or projects the best image that operations in official Pittsfield are on the up-and-up. If it rejects, it will have done the right thing for Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski and will have made a bold statement about this sort of “business-as-usual” corruption.

Sometime after the Aug. 22 vote and the speed-bump caused by Kinnas’ due diligence on behalf of taxpayers, Whitney sought an after-the-fact opinion from the State Ethics Commission on her wheeling and dealing. On Sept. 4, she received a four-page, single-spaced letter back, stamped “CONFIDENTIAL.” THE PLANET has obtained a copy.

State Ethics Commission to Whitney: No Dice, Sister

After a restatement of the facts, Amy Bresslet Nee, a staff counselor for the SEC, writes to Whitney:

“Under [Section] 20 of the conflict of interest law, while you serve as a municipal employee of the City of Pittsfield, you may not have a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in a contract made by the City.” … As a consequence of this contract … you will enjoy considerable savings because the carpentry students will supply a significant amount of labor for free and you would otherwise have to pay for it.

“There is no exemption under [Section] 20 that will allow you to have a financial interest in a contract made by the School Department. The exemption that most full-time employees need to use is [Section] 20(b). To use this exemption, you must meet every one of the following requirements:

“1) You are not already employed by the agency that will make the contract (“the contracting agency);

“2.) You are not employed by any agency which[sic] regulates the activities of the contracting agency;

“3) In your municipal position, you do not participate in or have official responsibility for any of the activities of the contracting agency;

“4) The contract is made after public notice or, where applicable, through competitive bidding;

“5) You must file a disclosure with the City Clerk explaining your financial interest and the interest of your immediate family in the contract.”

The letter goes on to say that Whitney meets only one of the five requirements, #4. THE PLANET laughs at that, because the original ad by Cote didn’t constitute much “public” notice. Yes, technically it was “public notice,” but for practical purposes, next to none at all. Subsequently, Cote filed a disclosure with the city clerk’s office revealing her financial interest in the contract, 5) above. Linda Tyer confirmed that Whitney filed this letter well after the fact. The clerk’s office stamped the disclosure on Sept. 21, its effective date, or a month after the school committee initially approved the deal. With an apparent conflict of interest this obvious, wouldn’t you think that an honest, upright citizen would file with the SEC early in the process, even in April or May, just to be certain and to avoid any perception of wrongdoing?

This, Again, Is Pittsfield, Where Unethical is ‘Ethical’ and Illegal is ‘Legal’

The letter goes on to say that Whitney fails to qualify under “[a] second exemption” because the work is being done for free. Also, Nee advises Whitney, under [Section] 19 of the conflict of interest law, that she is ruled out because she has a direct financial interest in the contract. The free labor has been estimated at anywhere between $60,000 and $150,000 dollars.

With the relatively new conflict of interest law being so publicized, its virtually unthinkable that Whitney could have thought that, without disclosure, her contract with the school department would be legal or ethical.

Then again, this is Pittsfield. She and Cote initiated this scheme in April under Supt. Jake Eberwein III, waited until the new acting superintendent, Gordon Noseworthy, came in with a full plate and not likely to notice, and counted on a compliant “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” school committee for the OK.

The plan worked perfectly, except for two things: Terry Kinnas won election to the school committee, and THE PLANET provides an alternative to the lame non-coverage in the Boring Broadsheet.

The emergence of cyberspace as a news alternative has changed the entire game in town: No longer can the GOB control the flow of information. Prior to THE PLANET, if “They” could control the BB, they could see that nothing they wanted to keep hidden would get out. Local radio doesn’t cover local news and the weekly newspapers are too limited in resources (Gazette) or too involved in rah-rah cheerleading (Advocate) to go after stories like this. THE PLANET has filled that gap, and that’s why more and more people are turning to us as their dominant media source.

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SPEAKING OF BORING, WHERE HAS THE BROADSHEET BEEN IN CONTRACTGATE?

Several of this site’s commentators have wondered about a question being asked by many others: Where has the Boring Broadsheet been in Contractgate?

Absent, that’s where. The BB covers — we should say, “covers” — the city council and school committee meetings. Typically, they send scribe Dick Lindsay to the task, a reporter who hears no evil and sees no evil, even when it’s being committed right under his nose, as it was during the Aug. 22 school committee meeting. Journalism’s answer to drying paint hasn’t shown the least bit of interest in this story on his beat.

This glaring ignorance of and reluctance to cover stories that can make a difference in putting Pittsfield back on the right track would be bad enough in and of itself, but the BB has to make it worse by the stories it does cover — a collection of fluffery, puffery, PR, Chamber of Commerce cheerleading, and the like that bring irrelevance to new heights and journalistic integrity to new depths.

Having had its parent company gone belly up, and having been purchased at fire-sale prices by a holding company, the days of the physical newspaper, The Boring Broadsheet, are numbered. Free advice to my good friends who still work there: Get out while the getting is good.

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BY HEAVEN, THOSE AUTHORS ARE OUR SEX’S FOES WHOM, IN OUR RIGHT, WE MUST AND DO OPPOSE.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

32 Responses to “CONTRACTGATE: THE MUCK GETS MUCKIER … STATE ETHICS COMMISSION TO LYNN WHITNEY: IN EFFECT, ‘YOU HAVE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST’ … SHE FAILS TO MEET FOUR OF THE FIVE REQUIREMENTS … MATTER IS NOW IN CITY COUNCIL’S HANDS, AND COUNCIL NEEDS TO DO THE RIGHT THING FOR MARY JANE AND JOE KAPANSKI”

  1. Scott
    October 3, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    Come on Dan this is for the kids remember? Leave it alone it’s a great opportunity for the kids. All this unethical behavior will benefit the children it’s for their own good you know!

    • Levitan
      October 3, 2012 at 7:50 am #

      I assume you are tongue-in-cheek.But if you are not, let’s not forget that the issue is not about the apprentices but wealthy people gaining large financial rewards by abusing the bidding process. Whitney’s transaction, to all appearances, can join the family of kickbacks and bribes.

      • Scott
        October 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

        “I assume you are tongue-in-cheek.”

        Of course.

    • layla Lady Lay
      October 3, 2012 at 7:59 am #

      Good one Scott “It’s for The Children.” Thats how they sold this boill of goods to the school coimmittee on Aug. 22.

      • Scott
        October 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

        Dan get’s all the credit for that one!

    • Diogenes
      October 3, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

      You’re not by any chance quoting angelo stracuzzi are you? Even if he never said it, I’ll bet that he’s thought it. I know, this is “old news” but we can’t ever forget him or the kids that he damaged especially since he was and probably still is, the hub of the GOB network of corruption that’s the template for the operation of this town.

  2. Scott
    October 3, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Anyone interested in the THS carpentry department or who has children who wish an opportunity to work and gain experience in the construction trade can contact me. I will be removing the siding from my house making repairs to the wood work and repainting next year and if more is wanted I can put you to work on different projects that I have going on around the county. Just thought I’d throw that out there because this would be a great opportunity for the kids and you’d be helping out a fellow tax payer have a great day!

    • FPR
      October 3, 2012 at 8:13 am #

      I’d be a little cautious about making an offer like that. One would have to provide a hefty dose of Workman’s Compensation Insurance.

      Dan, Great reporting. Fantastic!!!!! Extremely interesting to say the least.

      As a side note about Insurance. What if a student were to say cut his finger off with a saw or fall off the roof they’re not supposed to be on? Does the school department cover the medical costs? Does the City? Does Taconic High School?
      I suppose if a student wanted to collect disability for the rest of his life he could just cut his hand off or do something to permanently disable himself and the City would be on the hook.

      Also, very interesting is the time line. So even after receiving the letter from the Ethics commission Ms. Whitney still went to the City Council to try to make her Ethics violations legal? That to me is beyond belief.

      I will look with continued interest in this story. Blows the Berkshire Eagle out of the water.

      • Scott
        October 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

        Workmans comp is based on payroll. What a company pays out to employees determines what you pay into workmans comp. I’m sure an adjustment to my home owners insurance policy and a cool hundred will make it all legit.

        • Scott
          October 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

          Remember it’s for the kids so I wouldn’t mind doing that. (for them.)

      • Scott
        October 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

        It has to be covered by the school insurance policy because it is technically a school activity.

        “I suppose if a student wanted to collect disability for the rest of his life he could just cut his hand off or do something to permanently disable himself.”

        That scenario is very unlikely.

        • FPR
          October 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

          Perhaps not likely but I do know of a guy in Pittsfield who stuck his foot in Garbage truck crusher on purpose. (claimed it was an accident).

          When I asked him why he would do such a foolish thing his reply was so I won’t have to work for the rest of my life and all expenses are covered.

  3. tito
    October 3, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Doesn’t look like this deal is going to be hammered out!

    • Levitan
      October 3, 2012 at 11:20 am #

      This latest contract just could be the last nail in the coffin.

  4. Blind Justice
    October 3, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    Maybe PBS could do a series on the Taconic carpentry program:

    This free house!!!

    • Beacon Hill Mob
      October 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

      Well since it’s edited anyway:

      PBS new show

      These CROOKS FREE Houses.

      Featuring Whitney, Cote and the Pttisfield GOBs

  5. Linda Tyer
    October 3, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Hi Dan:

    It’s important that I clarify one point made in today’s post. Ms. Whitney did not file with me the ruling from the State Ethics Commission dated September 4, 2012. On September 21, 2012, Ms. Whitney filed a “Disclosure by a Municipal Employee of a Financial Interest in a Municipal Contract As Required by MGL c. 268A, Section 20(b).” I’m not an attorney. However, I believe that filing this disclosure fulfills requirement number 5 outlined by the State Ethics Commission. As City Clerk, I am not to judge the veracity of the disclosure – that is for others who are smarter than I.
    My responsibility is to accept it, place it on file, and make it available to the public upon request. I hope this information helps your readers understand this particular point and I do apologize if I wasn’t clear when we talked yesterday.

    • danvalenti
      October 3, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

      LINDA
      Many thanks for this clarification. We always welcome corrections that improve the accuracy of what we report.

  6. GMHeller
    October 3, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Mr. Valenti,
    How’s about running photos of Frank Cote and Lynn Whitney.
    Let’s see the face of city corruption.

    • Levitan
      October 5, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      I’d rather not see the faces, just stop the deal.

  7. Magic
    October 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Mr. Valenti
    When do you suppose that the BB with get the “cajones” to break this story?
    By the way, I may not always agree with you but I do thank you for everything that you bring to my attention.

    • Beacon Hill Mob
      October 3, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      Left Winged Parrot? NEVER, unless SHANED to so the truth

    • GMHeller
      October 4, 2012 at 2:11 am #

      Magic,
      By definition, PlanetValenti already ‘broke’ this news story.
      Anything The Eagle would do now would merely be catch-up.
      Suggest telephoning Eagle editors Tim Farkas and/or Kevin Moran and asking point blank when is The Eagle finally going to publish an article reporting on this latest Pittsfield School Department scandal.
      Given that the State Ethics Commission has issued an opinion on the matter, this is a news story of statewide significance.

  8. tito
    October 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Dan hit the nail in the head on this one,again!

  9. dusty
    October 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Long time ago a guy tells me about a little gimmick called “dirty hands”. I will use a make believe scenario to explain it to those of you not already familiar with it.

    Suppose a certain guy runs for office and in the process gets a little help along the way from the existing power base. And maybe he was even pushed to run for this office with promises of, let’s say, gravy train. And within some time he is offered something that would be nice to have but has a touch of illegality to it. Well he is a hot shot now and the boys will cover for him so he goes for it. Well now his hands are dirty. If he decides to vote with his brain on a certain issue and not as he is told someone might just speak about his involvement, however slight, in his gravy train.

    So he becomes owned (I should say he OR she) and is no longer able to do the work he was elected to do by the people. Sometimes when I see elected official consistently vote against all common sense I think they are in this group.

  10. Berkshire Ex-Pat
    October 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    Thanks again, DV, for your exemplary and diligent reporting. You are the last remaining voice for the voiceless in the once-great City of Pittsfield… one lone journalist doing what an entire “newspaper” organization (using the term VERY loosely) cannot or will not do- expose the truth.

  11. ShirleyKnutz
    October 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    I think you should continue to look further into the city schools student work or vocational programs. How do they pick the cars to fix or lawnmowers? What happens with all the plants? Who gets to eat in the restraunts the kids run??

    • Scott
      October 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      I’m sure anyone can go down there and get body work I know one of the guys down there who also runs a gutter installation business I used him a few times good guy. This isn’t on the students and actual teachers. It’s on admins for exploiting them for their own selfishness.

  12. ShirleyKnutz
    October 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    The shedding light on the whole process for all citizens would be welcomed…I imagine!

  13. Larry
    October 3, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    I would guess that when someone learns a profession… There has to be a guinea pig so to speak that they can work on. Cutting hair… Working on a car, etc. you would think a discount rate. But to build an entire house is quite another matter