PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, OCT. 24, 2012) — In response to several questions about the veracity of the state law that prohibits fire fighters and police officers hired in or after 1988 to smoke on or off the job, yes, that law is on the books. It’s not a rumor or myth.

First in the Nation

A puff adder, caught in the act.

With the anti-smoking law, Massachusetts became the first state in the union to prohibit newly hired police officers and fire fighters from smoking on or off the job. The law is clear: personnel who violate the smoking prohibition can be fired. As to the question of the extent to which the government can dictate  what people do on their own time, remember who and what the government is: The government is We The People.

The law has been found to be constitutional because it is a reasonable expectation that municipal employees, especially those in key public safety positions, should not engage in any behavior with proven health risks, including death. Cigarette smoking kills. Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski should not be expected to hire public safety officers for people with a death wish.

Even now, Pittsfield citizens pay a lot of money for disability pensions. That’s money paid out with no services rendered in return. Smoking, no doubt, would only increase those liabilities. For those interested, the anti-smoking provision can be found in M.G. L., Section 101A. It reads

Section 101A. Subsequent to January first, nineteen hundred and eighty-eight, no person who smokes any tobacco product shall be eligible for appointment as a police officer or firefighter in a city or town and no person so appointed after said date shall continue in such office or position if such person thereafter smokes any tobacco products. The personnel administrator shall promulgate regulations for the implementation of this section.

THE PLANET hopes that Chief Robert Czerwinski changes begins to enforce this law to the letter. We would also expect the city’s director of personnel to get in on the action.



Rumble at Columbus and North, 3rd Thursday wasn’t a video game. It was all too real.

On the recent Third Thursday (Oct. 18) THE PLANET received word about a “dust-up” in front of Persip Park on the corner of Columbus Avenue and North Street, also known as the Aqualung Atrium (“Snot is running down his nose, greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes” — Jethro Tull). Here is an excerpt from the report filed by THE STOOLEY (remember, THE STOOLEY is an honorary title given to the army of spies, gumshoes, and other sources who are the eyes and ears of THE PLANET’s famous Secret Squadron:

[The fight] was quickly quelled by nearby parents. The really frightening part about that was that as the crowd began to move en masse away from the disturbance, it was really every man for himself, a la yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. The potential for injury from a stampede was high; luckily that didn’t happen.

The Boring Broadsheet didn’t report on this because (a) It probably didn’t find out about it, what with its great coverage of downtown issues and (b) It would have upset some advertisers, who want the “rah-rah, ziz-boom-bah” on a 24/7 basis. Readers will recall how THE PLANET forced the BB to play catch up in May, when we broke the story of the downtown riot that occurred at the end of the first Third Thursday.

What is it about these gatherings that prompt young people to get “all stoopit like?”


WHEN GOVERNMENT GETS INVOLVED, 12 $782.84 radios end up costing $40,320.71 x 2 = $80,640

Last night, our Right Honorable Good Friends went through a white-bread agenda consisting of an appointment (Charles Kronick to the Animal Control Commission), three routine communications from the mayor), and an amendment to the zoning map. Compared to the council’s previous meeting (Noconfidencegate and Contractgate), last night was like “Bambi” following a showing of “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Even in such a snooze-inducing agenda, however, there can be “stuff.” How so? Remember: “This is Pittsfield.”

Item 4: A communication from Mayor Bianchi submitting an Order authorizing the City of Pittsfield to accept a grant in the amount of $40,320.71 from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

On the whole, it looks like taxpayers are getting a good deal here: $40, 320.71 of free money. However, “free” is not “free” and it never is.

The money will be used to buy radios and training to use them for the Pittsfield Auxiliary Police. The PAP, according to acting chief Mike Wynn‘s statement in the project summary, “has played an important role with the City of Pittsfield as well as the Pittsfield Police Department for the past four decades.” Wynn chooses a curious way to word this, as if the city and the PPD are separate entities. The PLANET agrees, though, that the PAP (currently with 10 members under the direction of Capt. Joe Bouquard) provides good service for traffic and crown control, disaster preparedness, missing person searches, and special events (for example, when the First Lady visited Pittsfield this summer).

Taxpayers must kick-in an equal amount of money, $40,320.71, for which the PPd accounts in a creative way. On the grant-funding template Wynn filed with the state, section 5 states: “Successful applicants must provide a 100% (dollar-for-dollar cash or in-kind match.” Section 5a lists the matching amount. Section 5b requires the applicant to describe the nature of the matching funds: “type of match (cash or in kind: [cash] ____ In kind: ________”. For some reason, Wynn has left that line blank.

Later in the section, he describes that the funding will be in-kind from the following sources:

* 1,200 volunteer hours of the PAP, @$15 an hour = $18,000

* Repair and maintenance, donated by John’s Automotive, for seven vehicles = $11,429.08, or an average of $1,632.72per vehicle.

* Gasoline for the seven PAP vehicles, figured on 200 miles per week, 17.5 miles per gallow, @ $4 a gallon = $16,640

* “Additional cost of $9,359.11 (Auxiliary Space Provided by Pittsfield Police Department)” Wynn’s application reads. This seems to be what the PPD charges the PAP for rent.

* “Administrative costs for grant support” = $1,749.62

These items add up to $57,177.81 of in-kind match for the city to qualify for the $40K+ grant.

The money will be used to provide 12 Motorola VHF 5-watt hand-held HT1250 portable radios, with ancillary equipment and training. That breaks down to $5,760.10 per radio. The radios are being purchased for $782.84 from Comtronics Wireless Communications of Qunicy, Mass. That’s a discrepancy of $4,977.26 per radio!

When you add in what the city contributed in-kind — $51,177.81 — and add that to the state grant, the grand total for 12 Motorola radios for the PAP amounts to $91,498.52, or $7,624.87 or almost 10 times the amount of the radios!

How can that be? The invoice from Comtronics shows that the city paid $16,632 for the bells and whistles (palm microphone, fancy display). The actual cost of the 12 radios comes to $9,394.08. Once they got done adding all the Buck Rogers stuff, that ballooned to the full amount.

THE PLANET dissects this innocent exchange to illustrate how taxpayers continued to be bled to death by the porkers in government. We remind everyone that the money being put up by the state comes from the wallets of Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski. State money doesn’t magically appear on Deval’s Money Tree. This sort of innocent, innocuous rip-off is happening every, in every community in the Commonwealth.

If the ordinary citizen were buying such a radio, he or she would not have gone whole hog. The stripped down version would have sufficed. Instead of paying $7,624 and change per radio, Joe or Mary Jane would have spent less than $800.

Grant money as well as in-kind costs come out of the same bedraggled tax-paying hide. That is why for the 2013 election, there is only one issue for the good citizens of Pittsfield: Tax relief. Tax relief. Tax relief.



Our reportage about the Megan Whilden-Dan O’Connell interview and non-job offer brought to light more information that purports to paint “the larger picture.” No one disputed the facts of what we posted yesterday, although we did hear from two inside sources that presented the case this way. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to these sources, Mayor Dan Bianchi told Whilden that she “had to right the wrong that [former mayor Jimmy] Ruberto did to O’Connell,” who was a big supporter of Bianchi’s in the campaign. After Whilden told Bianchi ‘No way,'” sources claim, “the mayor threatened to remove funding for the position, a move he never followed through on because word of the threat got out.”

Sources went on to say that the mayor then tried to get O’Connell a job driving a van. Sources weren’t sure with what agency, though they believed it was either RSVP or the Senior Center. “This would up his years of service and up his pension benefits. O’Connell didn’t get the job. One can’t make this stuff up.”


Another source said Whilden approached Mayor Bianchi wanting to fill the position of administrative assistant. Bianchi told Whilden he had someone in mind. “Who’s that?” Whilden asked. The mayor said it was O’Connell. The interviews then commenced, Whilden interviewing her candidate and also O’Connell.

When she got back to the mayor and said she had the person she wanted, the mayor said, “I hope it’s good news for Dan O’Connell.” Whilden said no. The mayor wasn’t happy, our source said, telling Whilden, “You’re not hiring my guy, so you won’t be hiring anybody.” A week later, the source said, “Bianchi canceled Third Thursday.” THE PLANET asked the source if there was a connection, and the source said it was likely. She didn’t hire O’Connell, so he canceled Third Thursday.

When contacted for a statement, O’Connell said:

I think rather than blaming anyone for anything, perhaps it makes more sense to simply state that it is the wish of the Lichtenstein Family that Kitty’s ashes be buried in the earth and not inside the Lichtenstein Center. The Sculpture Garden was designed as a space that has an ambiance where Kitty’s ashes can be buried in a shrine like environment befitting this great woman. But the space now needs to be repaired and sculptures by Massachusetts artists Brendan Stechini and Lyn Horton, commissioned with funds from the Massachusetts Cultural Council which once stood in the garden need to be returned so that Kitty’s ashes can be laid to rest in a garden and not just under a bush. Kitty deserves nothing less for what she gave to the citizens of this City.

However this played out,THE PLANET hopes O’Connell’s wishes on behalf of Kitty Lichenstein are carried out. Without Kitty, there would be no 28 Renne Ave.  We also recognize two things:

(a) Megan Whilden has done a terrific job at cultural affairs director. She operates virtually as a one-person team, since the mayor did not fund the assistant’s job. Her salary doesn’t break the bank, in the $40s. Megan

(b) The city should employ O’Connell’s talents at minimum to repair and restore the city murals as well as to oversee the rehabilitation of the sculpture garden for Kitty Lichenstein’s final resting spot.






  1. tito
    October 24, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    How does the firefighter pictured wear a respirator with a beard?

    • Tim Bartini
      October 24, 2012 at 11:52 am #

      Dan Is the photo of a bearded Firefighter supose to be who your source outed? Sorry but Pittsfield Firefighters CAN NOT have beards. I believe you’ve been conned. I thought “good “reporters always checked thier sources. I think a apology is in order. Tim

      • danvalenti
        October 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

        No apology shall be given. This is a generic image, not depicting anyone in the PFD

        • Tim Bartini
          October 24, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

          Dan. Your writing is really stretching your credibility I thought you were a better journalist than this! It’s unfortunate that your getting sloppy with your work. This blog is no better than Topix is.

          • danvalenti
            October 24, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

            Thank you for your views, TB.

  2. FPR
    October 24, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    You are unconscious from smoke inhalation. Are you going to even care if the guy who caries you out of a burning building “smokes” or not?

    Where I live, its an all volunteer fire department. The guy who caries you out of a burning building may smoke or not, no one even cares. He doesn’t even get paid for it.

    Two States you don’t wanna live in: Massachusetts and California.

    • Wilson
      October 24, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Since you are unconscious you wouldn’t care if the dude tosses you into the fire and drinks a beer, but all things being equal a non-smoker is more likely to get you out of the building. I suppose your volunteer firefighters are all 70-year-old chain-smoking women who weigh 300lbs since you don’t care…

      • FPR
        October 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

        Ok, I see that trolling is allowed here. Its fine by me as both sides are allowed.

        I would put any volunteer fire fighter up against your highly paid fire fighters. The 70 year old woman chain smokers of which we have none.

        I see the Chief is a bit obese. Is that allowed? Should he not be wearing an ankle bracelet to monitor when he goes into a McDonald’s or Wendy’s or any fast food joint?

        Can the Chief pass the tests that volunteer firefighters have to endure? What about drinking? Is that allowed? A high fat diet and excessive drinking can be possibly worse than smoking.

        To say that a professional fire fighter would throw my body into the fire and go drink a beer because I’m unconscious is trolling at its finest. I would say the same to you that you should die in a fire because the firefighter was too obese to carry you out. Better for him to go eat another burger than save you.

        • Scott
          October 25, 2012 at 4:42 am #

          Yes volunteer fire fighters are wonderful selfless humans who I declare should be celebrated once a year with a spaghetti dinner!

    • Mitt Romney
      October 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

      Theres the door, no one is forcing you to live in MA. Why don’t you try NY..They tax you to the brink of bankruptcy.

      • Little Blue Alien
        October 31, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

        It has a lot to do with family and most aren’t so fortunate as to uproot a tree and plant it among unfamiliar trees many miles away. Many have full faith and credit that our govt will do the right thing for the majority. Do you really think any of our forefathers would agree with your statement. So cold and too business like.
        Love, family, elastic.

  3. FPR
    October 24, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Hey Dan,

    I see your comment section is identical to

    • Scott
      October 25, 2012 at 4:43 am #

      Not even close!

  4. Roman Knows
    October 24, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Disability retirements come with major tax advantages to the employee at high cost to the taxpayers. Smoking adds to the smoke hazards inherent in firefighting. I think this was a major reason behind this law.

    • danvalenti
      October 24, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      ROMAN, you are correct. The disability factor is the main reason. That, combined with the knowledge backed by science that non-smokers have fewer health problems, makes the law a sound one. Fact is, the law is on the books. If the fire chief doesn’t like the law, he should lobby to have it changed. Until then, he is an officer. He has a DUTY to carry out the law.

  5. tito
    October 24, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    P F D cannot have facial hair and cannot smoke circa 1988. You have to have a fitted respirator and beards would interfere with a good tight fit, otherwise you would be breathing toxic chemicals, smoke, etc.

  6. Jonathan Melle
    October 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Why did former Mayor Jimmy Ruberto screw Dan O’Connell? How much money did Ruberto spend on the arts? How much money did taxpayers put into the revitalization of North Street? Jimmy Ruberto is known to be associated with both Angelo Stracuzzi & Carmen Massimiano. He is a Good Old Boy political hack. I am happy that Ruberto is retired from politics. Dan Bianchi is a big improvement for Pittsfield.

    • Scott
      October 25, 2012 at 4:44 am #

      Dan is proving to be the same…

    October 24, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    Dan: Smoking firemen!!! Come on you must have better to report than this. Maybe the Chief knows what is going on and is trying to help someone quit so they don’t get fired. Maybe not but its like you are starting to spy on people now. Maybe you can go to BMC and catch employees smoking on their property and get them fired. I hate smoking and agree with the law but let the Chief handle this.

    • Scott
      October 25, 2012 at 4:41 am #

      Who will handle it if he gets cancer or various other health consequences from smoking? FPR made a good point though where does it stop a high sugar and fat diet can have traumatic effects to ones health as well. I guess you can choose not to be a public servant if you don’t like it.

  8. Demitrius T. Gladiator
    October 24, 2012 at 6:39 pm #

    “let the chief handle this.”
    That’s just the problem, concerned, the chief isnt handing this. Thanks DV for all you do for us.

      October 24, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

      You don’t know that!!!!

  9. ShirleyKnutz
    October 24, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    The problem with Mass and especially Pittsfield is the people in charge never enforce the rules unless it benefits the person in charge. If left to their own they wouldn’t do anything!

  10. tito
    October 24, 2012 at 6:46 pm #

    San Fran is smoking baby.

  11. Ron Kitterman
    October 25, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    @ Shirley you nailed that tighter than a coffin on that one….

  12. Scott
    October 25, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    Dan, it is not the Berkshire eagle’s policy to hide stories in fear of losing advertising dollars at least that’s what I was told off the record. They ran my letter to the editor about the THS scam they called it “wrong votes on voke construction” (not my title). They also would not print Whitney’s name and said shear be a victim in all this. I understand why you have hidden sources so much no one in this town will go on record.

    • Dave
      October 25, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

      The only reason they published it was because of your questioning of Mayor Bianchi’s voting affirmatively and your minimizing Mayor Ruberto’s behavior in comparison. Had you not done that, I would bet it would not have run.

  13. Scott
    October 25, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    *She could be a victim in all this.

  14. Four in one
    October 25, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    The city of Pittsfield runs in and by fear. Scott makes that point above. The part about people not going on the record, I have a friend who used to work for the Eagle now works for another (much better paper) in Mass. He used to moan all the time. People are afraid. People in government, or anyone who has anything to do with politics however remotely Tehy are afarid of speaking out. That’s wrong. im sure thats why many of us here don’t use our real names. I’m honest enough to admit it. I have something to do with government-politics, and I don’t want my name used. I respect DV for what he does and for allowing us a say .

  15. another observer
    October 25, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    o contrare sir, the eagle is petrified of losing dollars ! remember the article in the last year or so about car dealers and their document fees? The eagle lost THOUSANDS of dollars in ad revenue for quite some time after that ran! bet u wont see a story like that again. The eagle will only print what they are told to print, thats been proven by the inner-circle secrecy that happens when one of them or their kids get in trouble for major issues, but they will print a story about some kid and a gram of weed , but dont print a story about a daughter of someone who “didnt know what she hit”. the pics show a 2 foot wide hole in the windshield! IF YOU THINK THE EAGLE ISNT BEING PUPPETEERED BY THE INNER CIRCLE, YOU ARE DEF MISTAKEN!

    • Scott
      October 25, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      I was only revealing what I was told through my own questioning. It does appear they have no back bone that’s what happens when money is involved just like in politics.

    • dusty
      October 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      I too was shocked to see the Eagle print the story of the “document fee” ripoff some time ago. Consumers Report magazine says that that fee is a major ripoff of car buyers and that no car buyer should pay it. They should refuse point blank. Haddad brought that fee up to me at the very end of a deal… just before signing an already negotiated deal. I refused to get suckered on that one and they waived it.

      People need to realize that 90% of the shady goings on in Pittsfield would not happen if the city had an ethical newspaper. The one we have is actually an active part of the whole mess.

      My opinion from years and years of observation and stories told.

  16. Joe T
    October 26, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    I agree that nonsmoking rules for fireman should be vigorously enforced, if for nothing else than to save firefighter’s lives.

    On the flip side, the firefighters that do smoke are going a long way to keep the pension fund solvent.