PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, NOV. 15, 2012) — At the city council meeting Tuesday night, our Right Honorable Good Friends took a sad song and made it sadder. They did this, Jude, with (mostly) good intentions. Of course, we all know about good intentions and roads. In the process, Spectrum Spectre raised its ugly head.

Let us take you back to the council meeting of Oct. 9, when council prez Kevin Sherman backed as a signatory Ward 1 councilor Christine Yon‘s petition calling for a vote of no confidence in city solicitor Kathy Degnan primarily over the attorney’s handling (or mishandling) of the Spectrum case. Spectrum Health Systems, as you most likely know, will be putting a methadone clinic in downtown Pittsfield.

The Boil Erupts Again in a Boil

After two and a half hours of venomous debate that night, Yon pulled the petition at the last minute, hoping the whole thing would go away. It didn’t, and for more than a month, it’s been festering. The boil erupted in more pus on Tuesday night, ironically enough on the basis of a reconciliation petition filed by Sherman and councilor at-large Melissa Mazzeo. The latter, you may recall, was the most put out by Yon and Sherman’s actions, and she staunchly defended Degnan.

The matter didn’t die there. Mazzeo concluded that five councilors — Yon, Sherman, Barry Clairmont, John Krol, and Jonathan Lothrop — conspired on the matter in early October, prior to the council meeting of the 9th. Moreover, Mazzeo contended, they did so in violation of the state’s open meeting laws. Only Mazzeo knows how much of her motivation came from revenge and the lingering feelings from Oct. 9, but it appears that much, most, if not all of it stemmed from that motive.

The consensus of qualified opinion is that Mazzeo did not adequately make the case that a violation of the open meeting law had taken place. On the merits of the argument she presented on Tuesday, THE PLANET was not convinced. Of course, the AG’s office might have another opinion … or not. We can also say that Sherman, in his opening comments on Agenda item #16, said he wanted to make clear that if councilors supported the resolution, there would be no admission of guilt.

That would resonate later, when the conversation got heated. Councilors Krol and Clairmont, for example, felt the need to explicitly deny they had violated the  law. Indeed, the way these things often play out in the “court of public opinion,” the mere fact that the five councilors were accused established in some minds a premature judgment of “guilt.” THE PLANET rejects that association, but at the same time, we understand that is and was how many people (those predisposed to condemn Krol, Clairmont, Lothrop, etc. for being “one of them and not one of us”) would take Mazzeo’s action.

Mazzeo went to the Attorney General’s office, and the next thing you know, Sherman and she were meeting. Mazzeo actually goofed in going to the Attorney General’s office first. The rules have changed. It used to be open meeting law complaints were filed locally with the DA’s office. Now the AG’s office in Boston handles them. However, if a person has a complaint, it must first be filed with the head of the local agency or board in question. In this case, Mazzeo should have filed first with Kevin Sherman as council president, since her complaint was with council colleagues.

Initial Confusion, Later Confusion

That led to some initial confusion. After Boston sent back the complaint, Mazzeo then filed it with Sherman on Oct. 23. At that point, Sherman had two possibilities: He could work with Mazzeo in an attempt to resolve the matter or he could say, “Your complaint has no merit. File it with Boston.” The AG’s office by law gave Sherman until Nov. 23 to deal with Mazzeo’s complaint.

Of course, Sherman wanted to avoid the embarrassment of a formal complaint being filed. It seems clear that Mazzeo wanted to use her threat of action as leverage to get the Gang of Five to eat crow. They hammered out compromise petition.

The petition referred to “contentious discussions regarding certain issues.” Why not be specific? In not naming Spectrum, the petition brings the attention to Spectrum. The message is that the issue is still so thorny that we are afraid to name it. Not good.

The compromise resolution consisted of four items:

1. A “request” for councilors to brush up on Open Meeting laws. — This language is meaningless. The “request” does not require any action.

2. Asks councilors not to discuss proposed agenda items “until they are officially listed” on the agenda. — Again, this has no teeth or meaning. To “ask” councilors is not to prevent or forbid (nor should they be asked to curtail their First Amendment rights to free speeck.

3. A reminder for councilors to “act in a professional decorum when discussing their opinions” with the media. — Another meaningless case of pabulum. What does “professional decorum” mean?

4. A request for councilors to “reflect” on the fact that “the item referred to above that was debated on Oct. 9, 2012 was resolved with a unanimous 11-0 vote” to file (kill) the petition. — Again, the abject terror of mentioning that the issue concerned Kathy Degan’s action on the Spectrum case.

“The proposed regulations are intended to resolve the complaint [by Mazzeo]. The approval of these recommendations will be forwarded to the AGO with an explanation that the issues have been resolved and we will hopefully avoid further discussion on the matter and/or adjudication by the AGO,” the petition concludes. It then asks councils to “act swiftly, in one voice, in order to move from this item and continue our work for the citizens of Pittsfield.” The petition then bears the signatures of Sherman and Mazzeo.

Sherman on the Record

For the record and following the 9-2 vote, Sherman told THE PLANET:

I’m very hopeful that the matter has been concluded.  Certainly, not all Councilors will agree on every issue, nor should they, but the message of professional respect should be paramount going forward.  The attempt last night was to find common ground and to offer common sense recommendations and reminders as we get back to business.  Time will tell if complete healing is possible.  To me, the matter is closed and I’m moving on.  I encourage my colleagues, as well as those interested throughout our community, to do the same.

No harm, no foul, right?

Not quite.

Let the Festering Continue, Uncle Fester

During the debate over this matter on Tuesday, councilors acted neither “swiftly” nor with “one voice.” Ironically, during the debate, the rancor and venom from Oct. 9 surfaced again, especially in the comments by Mazzeo, Yon, and Krol. It became clear to most observers that despite approving the compromise resolution by a 9-2 vote (Krol and Churchill Cotton objecting), the festering of deep, underlying political issues went unresolved.

Certain councilors who asked not to be named told THE PLANET that they felt they “had to sign” the document as a show of unity, speaking of it almost as if their votes were obtained under duress. They saw Mazzeo’s move as one of revenge, bringing up a “phony open meeting complaint that had no basis in the law,” as one of the put it. “Sherman should have called [Mazzeo’s] bluff. He should have defended his council, said there was no illegal action, and invited her to send the complaint to Boston. Heck, I would have even licked the stamp and dropped [Mazzeo’s] envelope in the mail to the AG.”

You can trace this poisonous political divide that has paralyzed the city of Pittsfield a long way. at minimum, you have to go back to the Doyle Administration and the disastrous Civic Authority issue. That was the equivalent of Civil War. It set forth a series of actions that played out in November 2011 in Mayor Dan Bianchi’s wafer-thin margin of victory over Peter Marchetti. It has flared anew during this year on issue after issue.

This so-called “compromise resolution” seems to have done nothing more than to leave councilors with a festering anger, one that will sure be played out in the months to come.











  1. Mike Ward
    November 15, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    Am I the only one who finds this complaint resolution process to be silly? The AG clearly doesn’t want to deal with adjudicating these cases so they prescribe this feel good excercise that does exactly nothing to satisfy the complainant or exonerate the accused. It’s a bunch of BS.

    • danvalenti
      November 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      You’re not the only one, as you can surmise by my coverage.

  2. Now Blow
    November 15, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    In other news….Jae’s Spice on North Street was fined $3,000 for hiring illegals.

  3. Dead to Rights
    November 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Mike well said. What a bunch of bull on Tuesday night with this. Wish you were back in the game.

  4. Ron Kitterman
    November 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    There’s a bible quote that goes something like – And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s (or sister’s in this case ) eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? I agree with Mike Ward time to move on here….

  5. Banjo
    November 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Ron no Mike Ward wasn’t saying it’s time to move on. Hes’ saying the “resolution process ” is a bunch of crock. That’s the opposite of moving on, it’s saying: look at what these jokers are doing to themselves. Amazing how the BB had a bunch of happy news and a story on child porn but nothing on this. My word what a bad newspaper.

    • Mike Ward
      November 15, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

      My gripe is with the AG’s office. Councilor Mazzeo felt she had a valid complaint about a law being broken and she tried to report it to the the state’s enforcement body. She, and the alleged open meeting scofflaws deserve a determination, and they didn’t get one.

  6. Scott
    November 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    Torrington Ct Just denied Hartford Dispensary from opening a clinic there.

    • Joe Blow
      November 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

      lawsuit in 3…2…1

  7. Ron Kitterman
    November 15, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    My feeling is Melissa went Large the other councilors went small

    • danvalenti
      November 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

      How so?
      Sometimes less is more. Sometimes the race is won by running slowly. Sometimes small is large.

  8. Tony
    November 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Can anyone tell me why we are paying a solicitor that does not speak or provide legal opinion for the council anymore? Why is the assistant solicitor doing the talking for Degnan? Why was Degnan’s lawyer sitting by her side at the council meeting Tuesday night? I don’t understand why our legal counsel needs a legal counsel? Please enlighten me……..and who is paying for our legal counsel’s counsel?

    • Gene
      November 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      I had these same questions Tony.

    • FPR
      November 15, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

      Interesting indeed. Seems like the city council is broken.

      Someone mentioned the other day about hiring a city manager and I was going comment but did not. Here was my thoughts on that. The Mayor’s job is that of a city manager. There is no need to hire an additional one unless all you want is a pretty face to march in parades wave to crowds and have a real person doing all the work behind the scenes like Dick Cheney did for Bush.

      Didn’t the last Mayor, Ruberto hire another Mayor, John Barrett so that Pittsfield in effect had two Mayors?

      Anyway, the city solicitor has her lawyer so now there are two lawyers for Pittsfield. Maybe each city councilor can have a lawyer with them advising them and thus have two councilors for every seat.

      Isn’t two better than one? This can all be paid for by “free cash”.

    November 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    My guess would be “Tony” in this legal bullshit world we live in she can’t handle everything that comes at the City’s legal office. On her having a lawyer. There is a saying something about someone that acts as his/her own lawyer has a fool for a client.

  10. tito
    November 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Tony, leave Rudy alone.

  11. Ron Kitterman
    November 15, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    To my understanding G. L. c. 39, Section 23B, violations of the open meeting law use to be handled by the district attorney’s office and now are handled by the Attorney General’s office. Are we clubbing a baby seal to death over this ?

  12. billy
    November 15, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Mazzeos statement at the council meeting was she believed the open meeting law was violated.The issue was spectrum and all the info was public court documents . mazzeo could have read it herself. I dont understand why she allways acts like she blindsided by an issue all she has to do is her homework and she would be up to speed with the rest of the council

    • danvalenti
      November 15, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

      If Mazzeo honestly believed there was a violation, and the majority of councilors disagreed, here’s what should have happened: (1) Sherman should have backed his councilors. (2) He should not have signed the compromise resolution, the watered down and contingent language of which made it meaningless. (3) He then would have left it up to MM to file with the Ag or not. THE PLANET can not by any stretch find where anyone violated the open meetings law. As Clairmont said, one makes these complaints on the basis of evidence and not on feelings or hunches. Instead, what happened? the council again adopted a half-way measure that left everyone unhappy and that guarantees more flare ups, especially as we approach September 2013.

  13. BBall_8
    November 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    The whole thing is ridiculous and I thought matter was resolved to “move on” at the Oct 9 debacle. This is all political and in my opinion I think the Mayor’s office pressured Mazzeo to do this, as they clearly do not care for certain councilors (and make no mistake, Ms. Mazzeo will do his Honor’s bidding). Otherwise she contradicts herself in bringing this up again and dragging the council through another fruitless exercise.

    Everybody Move on and stop the BS and posturing. Everybody share their toys in the sandbox.

  14. billy
    November 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    The mayor is the leader of the city and has shown no ability to compromise with anyone, when someone disagrees with him he does not take it as professional discourse but as a personal attack.He doesnt act like a leader trying to to meld opinions into unified idea that makes everyone feel they have a seat at the table., President Lincoln knew during polarized times you lead from the middle.,

    • Scott
      November 16, 2012 at 5:32 am #

      Billy I agree his administrative assistant is the same way they can’t take any criticism. They even trolled me due to comments made on the eagle and when I responded back they ignored me, again… He’s dropped the ball on every major issue that has come in front of him. Looks like there’s more to being mayor than balancing the books.

  15. dusty
    November 16, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    I am glad that Melissa Mazzeo provides an alternative voice to the council. I would rather see the contention than a perpetual 9-2 shoo in for all gob initiatives. At least it slows them down.

    • Banjo
      November 16, 2012 at 7:49 am #

      Me, too dusty. This stuff about civility and harmony is overrated. Thats how our form of govt works. Go Melissa.

    • Banjo
      November 16, 2012 at 7:49 am #

      Me, too dusty. This stuff about civility and harmony is overrated. Thats how our form of govt works. Go Melissa.

  16. billy
    November 16, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    are you kidding me`dusty she does nothing but call up the mayor and pat him on the back or morandi does it. its so fake and scrpted. what ever mazzeo does so goes morandi. its hilarous just watch every meeting.they cant form a thought it seems and when they talk they dont present facts it seems to be their mode of operation

  17. billy
    November 16, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    banjo are you for real.? it works so well in Washington that we might go over the fiscal cliff.Anybody can tear down things and take credit for other administrations accomplishments.but it takes real leadership to build things with those who dont share your views.and give credit to those who built things before you instead of putting them down.Go melissa?you want her to keep wasting time ?the 9 to 2 votes were elected officials who saw chutes of growth and tried to nurture it. all she did back then was join Joe nichols and complain about a mayor who she openly disliked` .thats not to be cheered thats pathetic

    • billy
      November 16, 2012 at 8:48 am #

      i have yet to hear her disagree with the mayor on any issue..her blind love fest for the mayor might show loyalty but she does not wok for the mayor she works for the whole city.. and you cant tell me with what we have seen in the last few months that the mayor has a perfect batting average? She couldnt stop talking under the previous mayor.The meetings went for hours with her repeating the same thing over and over. or saying i cant rap my head around it? or i dont get .. ? If she spent time reading and preparing for meeting insteading of learning at the meeting.she might find common ground cause she would be better informed,or at least there would be hope for it

  18. grams
    November 27, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    “Billy”…. you sure your name isn’t Yon? You sure do sound stupid like her!!!