SPECTRUM’S SPECTRE CASTS LARGE SHADOW OVER THE CITY COUNCIL’S CONTINUED CANTANKEROUSNESS AGAINST EACH OTHER … or … WHAT WAS IT THAT THE WISE MAN SAID ABOTU A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF? SOMETHING ABOUT IT FALLING? …
By DAN VALENTI
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?
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.
NEVER AGAIN WILL DELUDING LOVE KNOW ME. IT WOULD RATHER DIE, AND ALL THE GRIEFS THAT WOULD TRY TO OVERTHROW ME SHALL BE AS I.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.