!!PLANET EXCLUSIVE!! PITTSFIELD FIRE DEPARTMENT GOES FROM HOT PINK TO RED HOT IN MALAISE … READ OF SEVERAL MORALE-DRAINING ACTIONS … BARTINI RESPONDS IN ‘STAND-UP’ CONFIRMATION; CZERWINSKI REFUSES OUR REPEATED ATTEMPTS FOR COMMENT … plus … CONTRACTGATE REDUX: CLARIFICATION AND QUESTIONS
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, OCT. 18, 2012) — How ironic, that on the day the Boring Broadsheet kills more valuable news space with a “feel good” picture of the men of the Pittsfield Fire Department wearing hot pink in support of breast-cancer awareness month that THE PLANET should be on to some hot-red news about four disparate departmental items can be tied together by the growing concern at HQ about slumping morale.
We should say at the outset that the Pittsfield Fire Department is one of the better departments in terms of service. That is a testimony more to the men and the sub-command and not to the leadership of the acting chief. Fire fighters serve well, constantly train, and have to be ready at a moment’s notice for most anything. They show up on all medical calls, and they see a lot of people in pain, struggling, at their worse.
THE PLANET admires fire fighters and the job they do for the city. This provides all the more reason to want to see this good department hit even higher levels of perfection, and right now, rather than heading toward a perfect game, they are getting cuffed around a bit, as you shall learn in the following lines.
THE PLANET tried multiple times to solicit comments and reactions from acting fire chief Robert Czerwinski and union head Tim Bartini. The chief dummied up. Bartini, always a stand-up guy when it comes to public comment, responded, for the record, under his own name. That’s the difference between someone who is running sacred and a leader. If Bartini wants to run for chief, he would have THE PLANET’s backing.
As we said, the chief did not respond to any of our inquiries. That being said, if he wishes to comment after the fact, THE PLANET would be more than happy to share what he says with our readers. For that matter, we should be more than happy to convey the thought of any member of the fire department on any of these issues or other ones.
As always, on THE PLANET, our aim is accuracy and truth on behalf of We The People. We take our role as the Fourth Estate seriously, seeing our job as Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski’s best hope of getting straight information. And don’t expect any of this in the BB, because they don’t care about you at 75 S. Church Street.
More that One Way to Get to San Jose
THE PLANET has obtained this information of the goings on at the PFD over several weeks, working several sources within the department. As best as we could, given the fact that the department head isn’t talking to us, we tried to cross-check the information. We have done that to the best of our ability, giving us and therefore you all good reasons to believe this information is accurate and true.
One last thing about politicians and officials who won’t talk to you: They naively think that if they shut you out, you go away. It may work that way with some journalists but not with THE PLANET. Tim Bartini understands “the game.” He knows the only worse thing for a newsmaker to do when the new is not good, after “No comment,” is to not respond at all. Robert Czerwinski, apparently, doesn’t get this.
A story is a narrative. As all narratives do, a news story has a destination. The story works by taking the reader somewhere. The destination becomes the fixed point to which all studious and diligent writers and broadcasters travel. It lies in the Land of True. Like all destinations, there are many ways to get there, so when an official doesn’t talk to you, a determined journalist and muckraker finds an alternate route. There are plenty of them for those who have cultivated reliable sources, as THE PLANET has, in every department in town.
It would be as if four travelers wrote of their journey to Pittsfield. One comes from Albany, N.Y., one from Bennington, Vt., one from New York, N.Y., and the fourth from Boston, Mass. Four travelers sharing the same destination: though they end up in the same place, how they got there is vastly different, in each case.
Chief, with all due respect, you seem to be losing command of your department from what the guys tell us, and, trust us, there are firemen willing to spill their frustrations to THE PLANET even though you choose not to share your information and views from the command chair. Fire fighters are for the most part strong, reliable pubic servants. The PFD has many good men. Chief, they deserve better than you are giving them.
ITEM 1 — NOT A GOOD SEASON FOR APPLES
Sources tell THE PLANET that fire fighter Chris Apple has been fired. In telling the story, one source said it’s “nearly impossible” to get fired from the city, “no matter what you do.” What brought about this action? Why would chief Czerwinski do this? Did he do it on his own initiative or on his boss’s orders? The source says Apple was charged with DUI, claiming it was the third such offense. Again, Czerwinski, despite THE PLANET’s multiple requests, did not respond.
Bartini said this: “So your ‘sources’ want to kick a good man when he’s down? This disgusts me. He has a problem and was asked to resign. Chris came to work every day and did hos job. What he did off duty is the issue.”
A source says what peeved some of the men in the department is the question of why Apple got the ax, when others who have had similar problems have been allowed to skate. A source says Apple was “one to complain” about department policies and Czerwinski’s enforcement of them. They agree with Bartini, that Apple was well-liked and did his job to a high degree of professionalism, but from what we heard, it doesn’t appear as if Czerwinski liked the guy.
ITEM 2 — SUSPENSION WITH PAY HAS TURNED INTO A ‘RESIGNATION’ … TO PREVENT A FIRING
Sometime late last year or early this, a member of the Pittsfield Fire Department was arrested and charged with breaking into the Stockbridge Country Club. On March 2, we ran this item:
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When THE PLANET told you about the suspension without pay of Pittsfield fire fighter Allan Catalano, we laid out the whole shebang as given to us from our inside sources at Fire HQ. The account included police charges stemming from an alleged break-in and theft at the Stockbridge Sportsmen’s Club. We identified the most newsworthy aspect of this otherwise routine break-in: That the alleged culprit is employed by Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski as a fireman.
When the Boring Broadsheet reported on the alleged theft, it did not mention Catalano’s special relationship with the city. Do you need any more convincing that the GOB, not the BB editors, run that rag of a paper?
Here are the first two paragraphs of the “staff” written piece (no byline, naturally):
|Berkshire Eagle Staff
Article ID: 010512B02_art_1.xml
Date: January 5, 2012
Publication: Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)
STOCKBRIDGE – Two Pittsfield residents are facing felony charges for allegedly breaking into the Stockbridge Sportsmen’s Club and stealing fees paid by members.
Allan S. Catalano, 34, of Dutchess Avenue and Crystal M. Caparrelli of Superior Street, allegedly were videotaped breaking into a cash box at the indoor archery range on Dec. 23, according to a report released on Wednesday by Stockbridge Police Chief Richard “Rick” Wilcox.
You can’t trust them, folks.
That was the end of our posting of that March day. From PFD sources, we have learned that since Catalano’s suspension, he’s been drawing a city paycheck. For several months, sources claim, Catalano has been on paid leave. One fire fighter explained that when the firemen would go on calls and happen to pass Catalano, he would give them the bird (what we call the “one-finger peace salute”) and laugh, taunting them. That all came to end, for reasons we don’t fully understand, sometime fairly recently, we believe late summer.
Catalano “resigned,” said sources. He was given that choice or be fired. Again, Czerwinski did not comment. Bartini said, “This fire fighter has a civil service hearing scheduled, but he chose to resign. He was on paid leave, which was the city’s choice. I’m not sure why. This guy’s name was in the Eagle, and [he's] no longer a fire fighter, so I choose not to name him.
Why did Czerwinski suspend Catalano with pay? Was that fair to taxpayers? Was that a good use of the city’s resources? There may be a good reason. If so, we don’t know what it is.
ITEM 3 — PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION
THE PLANET also got word from a PFD source about — guess we should call it — pornography, of all things. Hard to figure, right, in a department with about 90 men, no women, and the expectable and understandable atmosphere of a clubhouse, a stag, and a football locker room. When guys gather in numbers and no women are around, the action can get interesting.
Anyway, we were told that photos taken of young woman who bears strong resemblance to a local woman who has been prominently in the news were pinned to the walls of the squad room. In these photos, a young blonde is depicted sans clothes. The story goes, unconfirmed, that the pictures were released on the Internet by an angry ex-boyfriend. It seems every Smart phone had the set.
We have seen the photos in question. THE PLANET can testify that the pictures do bear a strong resemblance to the local newsmaker, but we could not swear the two women were one and the same. Incidentally, the photos have no interest to us, have no news value, and we have not nor shall we publish them. Whoever the woman is in the photos, we only feel sadness that she would think it was OK to pose this way. We have heard that such posing is common with 20-somethings and younger. A JPEG can never be considered safely private. Whoever she is, she has embarrassed herself enough. THE PLANET has no interest in piling on.
The woman’s identity is irrelevant, of course. Having pictures of naked women hanging on walls of a city office or facility probably violates the every gender-equity law on the books, carries high risk of sexual harassment lawsuits, and likely would make Gloria Steinem rolling-pin angry. Our source says the photos stayed up, much to the dismay of members of the department who have greater respect for women and would see the idiocy of such a juvenile, sophomoric display. A captain ordered the men to remove the pictures. They are now nowhere to be seen … in the fire department, at least.
Bartini says they were never anywhere to be seen within the building: “There has been no posting of pictures in the station. That is absurd. What people have on their personal phones I am not privy to.”
After receiving Bartini’s denial, we double-checked with our source(s): “Tim’s denying this to save face. Those pictures were up, no question about it.”
Czerwinski did not return our requests.
ITEM 4 — SMOKING IN THE BOYS ROOM
According to a PFD source, the department has a no-tolerance policy to fire fighters smoking, either on the job or in their personal lives. The policy makes sense, since we all know the health risks associated with cigarettes. Sources with the department say that applicants who smoke disqualify themselves, and they also claim that, according to department rules, any fire fighter caught smoking in public, on or off the job, will be fired.
Nonetheless, more than a few fire fighters are smokers say PFD sources, all non-smokers who are “fed up” with department policy being ignored and special breaks given to smokers. What especially “frosts” them, they say, are the men who sneak out back, behind fire department HQ in downtown Pittsfield, to sneak a smoke. Czerwinski, sources say, knows who some of the smokers are but refuses to take action.
When asked how many of the approximately 90 fire fighters smoke, our sources agreed on “about 20 percent.” That amounts to 12-15 members of the force, who should be called in on Rug Row and given a choice: Quit or be fired.
Bartini said, “Any fire fighter hired after 1988 cannot use tobacco products. They would be subject to termination if caught. I will say that everyone knows of this state law and are aware that there have been cases in Massachusetts (not Pittsfield) where the fire fighter or police officer were terminated.” He did not admit there were known smokers on the PFD staff, and, notably, he did not deny our assertion of that, citing our sources.
Czerwinski did not return our reepated requests for comment.
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You can imagine the effect all of this unaddressed turmoil has had on morale. Czerwinski, they say, is popular and well liked by a lot of the men, but there is a growing contingent within the department unhappy with the selective enforcement of policy and “the playing of favorites.”
CONTRACTGATE: MAZZEO SAYS SHE DOES NOT KNOW LYNN WHITNEY
THE PLANET has heard from Melissa Mazzeo on the question of whether or not she is friends with Lynn Whitney, the school department employee beneficiary of up to $150,000 free labor in building her a new house in Pittsfield courtesy of the vocational carpentry students at Taconic High School.
“I do not know Lynn Whitney,” Mazzeo said. “The first time I heard of her was when she addressed the council at our meeting a month ago [Sept. 25].” We thank our Right Honorable Good Friend, the at-large council woman, for this clarification. We also commend her setting the record straight.
In a related matter, THE PLANET pulled the meeting minutes from the school committee’s meeting on Aug. 22. At that meeting, the committee voted, 5-1, to approve Whitney’s contract with the Pittsfield school department. Voting for: Chairman Alf Barbalunga, Jim Conant, Cathy Yon, Mayor Dan Bianchi, and Dan Elias. Voting against, Terry Kinnas. Kathy Amuso did not attend the meeting.
We re-read the minutes, taken by recording secretary Yon. There is this curious section:
Frank Cote talked about the house building project and the steps taken to advertise to get approval for this project. He said this project will afford the students an opportunity to gain technical knowledge as well as 21st Century skills. He said all the skills that the carpentry students are learning tie in with Strand 2 of the Career Technical Carpentry State Frameworks.
Katherine Yon asked how many applicants there were. Mr. Cote said there were two, one for a renovation and one for a complete building project. Those involved with the project believed that building a house would afford a more comprehensive learning experience. Ms. Yon also asked if there was a conflict of interest because the applicant chosen was an employee of the Pittsfield Public Schools. Mr. Cote said that he had consulted with HR, who then spoke with our attorney to make sure there was no conflict.
James Conant wanted to make sure all components were met.
Terry Kinnas voiced his concerns on the project. He said the City Solicitor did not sign off on the project; they were not following the City Charter; and there was no guarantee of financing. Mr. Kinnas said there were inconsistencies with the advertisement and paperwork. He said he would be contacting the City Solicitor’s office, as well as the Attorney General’s office.
Motion by Katherine Yon, seconded by Daniel Elias, that the School Committee approve the 2012-2013 House Building Project, as outlined in Enclosure No. 8, was by vote approved 5-1, with Terry Kinnas casting a dissenting vote (see Pages 67-84).
We direct your attention to the underlined section, put there by THE PLANET: Mr. Cote said that he had consulted with HR, who then spoke with our attorney to make sure there was no conflict.
By “HR,” we assume Cote means “Human Resources.” We also assume he means HR on the school side, not the city side. So here’s the question:
* With whom in “HR” did Cote consult, specifically? We want names. No one on the committee or the city council thought to press on this point, so THE PLANET does. We call upon Cote to tell us the person or persons from HR with whom he spoke, that his statement on Aug. 22 might be verified.
* In that same vein, THE PLANET, on behalf of taxpayers, wants to know who in HR spoke to which attorney to provide assurance “there was no conflict?” Was this the school department’s attorney? The city solicitor? Some other lawyer? Again, name names, Mr. Cote. Also, we ask Cote: Was this “assurance” in writing? Can Cote, someone “in HR,” or an attorney produce a piece of paper telling certifying that the Whitney deal was as pure as the fresh-driven road salt?
We press, because that’s a crucial piece of information. It can shed light on subsequent developments.
LET THE HUMBLE PARTICIPANTS WITH AN AWKWARD SHAME DO GOOD BY STEALTH AND BLUSH TO FIND IT IS NOT FAME. VIRTUE MAY CHOOSE A HIGH OR LOW DEGREE. TIS ALL THE SAME TO VIRTUE … AND TO ME.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.