OUR SERIES ON BERKSHIRE CAROUSEL — “WILL IT GO ROUND IN CIRCLES” — CONCLUDES TODAY … GOB PITTSFIELD HAD ONLY ONE INTEREST IN THE CAROUSEL: TO SEE THAT NO OTHER TOWN GOT IT … CAROUSEL PROVIDES CAUTIONARY TALE UPON WHICH THE CITY’S FATE RESTS
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, NOV. 2, 2012) — Today, THE PLANET concludes its four-part examination of how and why Pittsfield slammed its doors on the Berkshire Carousel. To be more precise, GOB Pittsfield did the slamming. Most ordinary citizens wanted to see the carousel come to town and embraced it as a community project. The failure of Pittsfield to embrace the Berkshire Carousel exemplifies the harsh fact of life in that forsaken city: If the GOBs do not want it, no matter how good it may be, it probably won’t happen.
A Preamble: Disconnect Between The People and Their Government Has Proven Disastrous
Ladies and gentlemen, this will not change unless and until We The People take back control of our government. Silently, a quiet revolution simmers in potential, deep underground in Pittsfield, fueled by the outrage of good, decent, hard working citizens who have been marginalized by those who would presume to spit on democracy and exalt themselves to counterfeit Lordships.
This presumption has created a giant-sized gap between the community — again, the ordinary citizens — and the local lords of “leadership.” People feel detached from city hall and tend not to trust in that quarter. When they have any business with and inside that building, their stomachs knot up and adrenaline flows as they key-up for battle. They seethe with an odd kind of venom, the kind borne of decency when it meets the obdurate ministers of heartless government.
Being good people, of course, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski don’t publicly express their despondency and dispiritedness, saving that for small, private gatherings, and only when someone is foolish enough to begin talking local politics. The local Lords mistake their silence for support.
They are people without representation. Oh, they may have politicians who technically “represent” them in city offices, but these officials generally act in pursuit of private agendas acted upon by self-interest. These are some of the lessons being taught by Pittsfield’s Berkshire Carousel debacle. As we’ve said throughout this series, the tragedy isn’t so much losing out on the carousel itself, though such magnificent works of art have become anchors in other communities, as we have seen in New York and Rhode Island. The lessons stem from the carousel as a case study in how the commandeered government of “official” Pittsfield works against the people, works against the community’s good, and — directed by a tiny handful of powerful Lords we call the GOB — seeks to destroy anything that competes with their own selfish, greedy, private agendas.
Losing Government at the Local Level Stands as the Greatest Public Insult of All
The chasm between We The People and local government is more tragic than the one played out every four years at the national level. We don’t expect our congressmen, senators, and presidential candidates to care about us, not when you’re talking such high stakes and the crazy money involved in national politics. The local level, though, should have been in Pittsfield the decent person’s last refuge, a civic safe harbor where he could not only find protection but also participation: he and she in the government, and the government in his or her life via good, honest, integral representation.
It didn’t work out that way, however, and for the past 30 years, an entire generation, Pittsfield has been on an inexorable and what appears to be an inevitable decline into urban decay. Only one thing will change that: the rise of a dynamic Leader, a uniter, a Joan-of-Arc-Napoleon-Bonaparte-Simon-Bolivar, a new type of man or woman who possesses not a vision but grasps a vista, one that he or she will populate with the revitalized energy of We The People, newly inspired by winning back ownership of their government.
The odds are enormous against finding such a person. Who would have the right combination of qualities? Who would possess the wisdom of a serpent but the peacefulness of a dove? And even finding that deliverer, would he or she have the hard bark to endure the inevitable smearing that would surely come from a desperate, dying GOB network, one that realizes its last days have come and thus will act as all dictators do at the end: try to take everyone and everything down with them.
Who is that person? Where will he or she come from? When the carousel becomes symbolic, these are the questions thoughtful people ask.
Local Power Brokers Shut Out Carousel Group from Public Participation, but Why?
The Berkshire Carousel Board and most of the volunteers were enthusiastic about the possibility of locating the carousel on the Pittsfield Common. However, the Park Commission and planner Deanna Ruffer closed the door on that possibility. The carousel board (which included as a member our Right Honorable Good Friend Jonathan Lothrop, Ward 5 councilor) was not invited to participate upfront in the plans to refurbish the Common.
The carousel group was only given the opportunity to make a presentation after the design plans had been finalized for the $4 million park renovation. This was done for two purposes:
(a) To deny the carousel any chance of getting into the Common
(b) To make it look like the group had been considered. Ruffer counted on a sure-fire GOB strategy, which is to assume that people won’t be checking up on the actions of skunk officials. She knew that if the carousel board were asked to present after plans had been finalized, she could later say, “Well, we did hear them make their case.” That statement would be valid, but it would not be true, and Ruffer as well as the park commissioners knew that people wouldn’t bother to check the record. They also knew the Boring Broadsheet (the newspaper once known as The Berkshire Eagle) would not cover and expose the lie. Plus, if any “troublemaker” did point out the discrepancy — you know, someone like Ken Ramsdell, Terry Kinnas or THE PLANET — the plan would simply be to discredit the “truther,” thus making Cassandras out of them (see Monday’s entry for an explanation of this reference).
Berkshire Carousel basically had to beg to have the carousel included in the park. Carousel sources and city sources says that park commissioners were against the carousel from the outset. One member, Clifford Nilan, was reported to have said that the city would be stuck with supporting the carousel if it failed, even though no public monies were involved or being sought. Hence the question of sustainability became an issue to distract from the benefits of the carousel.
That, too, is an old GOB ruse. If a project of merit comes along or if an inconvenient fact might get in the way of a preferred lie, use distraction to steer the discussion away from the merits of an issue to the periphery of it.
Another Slap in the Face from Ruffer and Others
Next, in the midst of this hostile environment, the carousel organization was asked on short notice to make a presentation to the consultants for the Common. They were told to come with architectural plans in hand. The carousel board scrambled to obtain the plans.
Director Maria Caccaviello and three board members appeared with modified plans, but they had not had enough time or information about the park’s plans to adequately present them. Needless to say, the meeting did not go well. Sources were reluctant to provide details. That’s how bad it must have been.
The city then drew up three designs for the Common, but only one included the carousel, placing it next to the Lutheran church that fronts First Street. The space was less than half the carousel required to have concessions, exhibits, gifts, restrooms, event space, etc. all of which support the operation of the carousel.
Again, this was done so the GOBs could cover their butts. They could make the valid (but untrue) claim that they did draw up plans to include the carousel in the “new” Common, but the carousel board couldn’t make the finances work. Right, and the reason they couldn’t make the finances work was because the GOB gave the carousel a footprint that would have precluded the items that would have led to self-sustainability: concession stands, a gift shop, rest rooms, event space, and the like! Again, a classic GOB trick got in the game: Create the self-fulfilling prophecy.
The City then put these plans online for a quasi-public opinion and vote. Oh, how THE PLANET hates “quasi” anything. The biggest outcome of this exercise was the city spending $200,000 to build a skate park on East Street.
Ruffer Issues More Demands to the Carousel Board
In the mean time it was communicated informally from Ruffer that the carousel would have to build its own building if plans were approved to locate it next to the church. If the carousel board agreed to this, Ruffer told the organization it would only have a 10-year lease, it might have to give free rides, and it would have to go for competitive bidding to sell concession items each year.
She told the carousel people they would have to get a lawyer to review all the potential rules, laws, restrictions, and regulations. It was clear: the city had no intention of helping, let alone embracing, the carousel. Nonetheless, Ruffer kept publicly saying through 2012 that the city had set aside land for a future Common phase for the carousel and that the city was awaiting a proposal from the organization. What a crock! Once more, we see a GOB fudging truth so much it puts dark chocolate to shame. Only in the most technical sense could Ruffer make this claim. As we have seen, she relied on the assurance that We The People, the community, wouldn’t provide accountability. This is how so-called “representatives” become GOB freelancers, acting as they wish to serve the hidden Vested Interests.
Of course, the carousel would not be sustainable if it could not charge for rides, have events like birthday parties, sell gift items, or provide such a basic necessity as restrooms. Moreover, when the city told the carousel board it had to hire a lawyer to reviews all the regulations, Ruffer telegraphed this message: “If you attempt to build on the Common, we will throw obstacle after obstacle in your way and put you though the legal wringer. Clearly, no one from official Pittsfield and no one from the GOB saw or wanted to see the value of this project not only as a work of art but as a rallying point for the community, a hub, and one that would be self-sustaining to boot. Bizarre, isn’t it?
City to Carousel Board: ‘Drop Dead’
The city of Pittsfield proceeded with its first phase of using the $4 million to set up playground equipment and seed the park adding an entrance and some sitting area.
The Carousel organization finally got the message from the Mayor Jimmy Ruberto, Ruffer, and others that the carousel was not going to be included in the “new” Common. A word here about the dreaded “others” of the previous sentence. According to sources, these folks included Peter LaFayette, Perry Petricca, Jennifer Dowley, and practically all of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.
A carousel source, Seabiscuit, who worked with LaFayette called him “one of the most passive-aggressive negative forces for the carousel existing whatsoever, let alone existing in Pittsfield. I’m not sure where LaFayette’s attitude started. LaFayette, Ruffer, and others blow off folks that could and would contribute back much to the community. Big mistake. In this case, the carousel will be in Lanseboro. We are working with the selectmen, with the Berkshire Mall as the No. 1 possibility for location. The ride will be finished in March. The opening depends on the facility and the ultimate actual location. We are excited, enthused, and certain of the carousel’s success.”
After being rejected by Ruffer for the Common on terms that would have been virtually impossible for the carousel board to accept, the board decided to focus only on the completion of the carousel and go back to its Center Street plan for a location. Three other communities who had interest in the carousel had also approached the organization. Lanesboro was the most enthusiastic.
To this day Pittsfieldians who so ardently wanted the carousel in the City have no idea that the project was a gift and a given for Pittsfield that the City leaders discouraged and turned away. Many Pittsfieldians who never visited or participated in the project are upset as voters and taxpayers that the carousel will not be in Pittsfield, yet it has been privately funded with no tax dollars.
Mayor Bianchi’s Efforts: Too Little, Too Late, Too Wishy, Too Washy
The elections came, and Dan Bianchi narrowly beat Peter Marchetti. Bianchi at least had come to the workshop at the mall before being elected and once afterward in 2012. Give him credit for that. He said he felt it important for the carousel to be in Pittsfield.
Shortly after he took office, the Boring Broadsheet did a story on the Berkshire Mall as the front-runner for the home of the carousel. Director Caccaviello and some board members met with the mayor, his inherited planner Ruffer, and cultural affairs head Megan Whilden (the latter two not fans of the carousel, in fact, outright opponents) to review where the project was and figure out how to bring the carousel to the City.
Many of the issues were brought out in that meeting, such that the carousel left the meeting determined to seek alternatives to Pittsfield. A person who was at that meeting said Ruffer came off as “defensive.”
Bianchi then met with Jim Shulman in late May 2012 and talked about options to keep the carousel in Pittsfield. Shulman was clear that the Board of Directors was open to reviewing proposals from communities to help with a location and building. It was up to Pittsfield to submit a proposal.
Subsequently the Mayor met with Berkshire Carousel and said he would provide a loan of $250,000 to the carousel project that could be forgivable in five years, but there were some conditions. This amount, incidentally, had not been approved or even discussed with the city council. Bianchi, in other words, was acting unilaterally with no guarantee of council support.
Among the initial conditions Bianchi wanted:
— Jim Shulman would have to get off the Board
— The Berkshire Carousel would be subsumed under the aegis of Downtown, Inc., who would take over the project.
— Developer Richard Stanley (of Beacon Cinema fame) would take over as president of the carousel board.
It later became known that Downtown Inc. was in need of a new source of funding. Its business membership did not support its operation, and Bianchi apparently was trying to use the carousel as a means to provide alternate funding to Downtown Inc.
Key Meeting in Early July Was the Clincher: Pittsfield Only Had One Concern — To See that No other Community Ended Up with the Carousel
Bianchi asked for a meeting between himself, Stanley, Rob Proskin (a businessmen) and Shulman. This meeting occurred in early July 2012 and included representatives from the carousel. By the time of this meeting, Bianchi had dropped his initial request for Shulman to leave the board. He also dropped the condition that Downtown Inc. take over control of the carousel. However, new conditions were presented:
— Proskin and Stanley would have to be on the board
— The carousel plans would have to be be downsized, so that it was only the carousel and not the other items in the design — the items that would have given the Carousel a strong chance of commercial success!
Proskin had visited the workshop years earlier, but he never was involved in the project and never made a contribution, according to carousel sources. Stanley had never set foot in the carousel workshop and knew nothing about the project other than it was an amusement ride.
During the meeting, according to sources present, Stanley disparaged the carousel being at the mall, belittled the business plan, and basically saw the carousel as a failure unless it had his sage advice and the helpfulness of Deanna Ruffer — who, of course, had helped him with the cinema business in Pittsfield by directing huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to the Beacon, ostensible a private enterprise.
Shulman pointed out that the city and businesses never asked what the carousel needed. They city, instead, told the group what they, the city, wanted. The meeting ended with Shulman saying that he had Mayor Bianchi’s offer in writing, but nothing would happen until the businesses put their plan in writing.
It never happened.
The carousel’s board of directors realized that the city’s leaders and businesses had one and only one interest in the carousel:
To see that it didn’t land in another city or town.
Pittsfield ‘Leaders’ Did Not Get It
They had no idea about the project being about people and did not care to have volunteers involved in the operation. It was an amusement ride to them. They did not get it. On the other hand, the Town of Lanesbor0 — its leaders, its businesses, and its people — welcomed the carousel and were willing to donate personally, even if it did not end up in their community.
Shulman and the carousel people could not figure why the city had taken such a back seat to this incredible project and were instead sitting back waiting for it to fail. According to sources present at the meeting, Stanley in a condescending manner clearly conveyed that it would fail, especially if it was in the Berkshire Mall. To this day, the carousel people still don’t understand the hostile reaction from a small groups of “Players” in Pittsfield. The people wanted the carousel, but the GOBs didn’t.
End game. Checkmate.
This is the story in a nutshell. The only good that will come out of this for Pittsfield is it it somehow learns from this experience and refuses to let it happen again … and again and again.
It is time for We The People to take back their government, or Pittsfield shall have chosen the wrong tipping point, one that leads to doom.
OFTEN REBUKED, YET ALWAYS BACK RETURNING TO THOSE FIRST FEELINGS THAT WERE BORN IN ME, AND LEAVING BUSY CHASE OF WEALTH AND LEARNING FOR IDLE DREAMS OF THINGS WHICH CANNOT BE. HAPPY, THOUGH, AND WITH PEACE OF MIND. WE RETURN THE SAME, IN KIND.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.