“ATTORNEY WARS” CAME ABOUT ONLY BECAUSE THERE WAS “NO-CONFIDENCE-GATE” … IN SPECTRUM CASE, DID KATHY DEGNAN REALIZE THE STRENGTH OF THE CITY’S POSITION? … DID CITY’S SETTLEMENT NEEDLESSLY PUT AT RISK $176,500 IN TAXPAYER MONEY?
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, JAN. 28, 2013) — “Attorney Wars,” as one commentator to THE PLANET dubbed it, continues to percolate. The Reader’s Digest twit account goes like this: Spectrum-gate begets Demolition-gate begets No Confidence-gate begets Attorney Wars. It has a suitably Old Testament ring to it.
Before we present the new information on “Attorney Wars” (the city suing its former attorney over the demolition of a building on Melville Street), you must understand the tactical aspects of Spectrum-gate.
Spectrum, Summer Street, and Court Proceedings
Two attorneys represented the city of Pittsfield in its dealings with Spectrum Health Systems’ attempts — successful, as they ultimately turned out — to place a methadone clinic in the heart of downtown Pittsfield on Summer Street in the Berkshire Nautilus building. The first, city counsel Rich Dohoney, prevailed in three judicial actions. These were preliminary judgments, but they were victories nonetheless.
What would have been the final resolution of the case if the city had continued to fight in defense of downtown North Street (i.e., the Summer Street location)? Legal eagles we spoke to are split in their determinations: Some say by continuing the fight, the city could have greatly improved its negotiating position, if not have won outright. Others say they city had little chance of prevailing and would have been throwing money away on by arguing a losing position against a company (Spectrum) that loves litigation.
There does seem to be a consensus, however, that the cash guarantees to Spectrum that were part of the Bianchi Administration’s settlement offer were unnecessary. Bianchi inherited the case when he assumed office in January, but it wasn’t until March that city solicitor Kathy Degnan replaced Dohoney as the attorney handling the case on behalf of taxpayers.
Degnan: Did She Realize the Strength of Her Position? Apparently Not
In her preparations before taking over the case from Dohoney, Degnan evidently did not understand the strength of her position. Once Spectrum obtained its legal right to its original choice of sites (the Berkshire Nautilus building on Summer Street) due solely to the city’s concession, the need for cash assurances were not necessary.
The money is substantial. As THE PLANET reported on Aug. 31, 2012, “[T]he city is on the hook not just for $100,000 for the Spectrum Health Services settlement but also for a relocation settlement to the company of $76,500.” That’s $176,500 of taxpayer money at risk, it would seem needlessly.
That’s the part of the settlement hardest to understand, and we must say that city solicitor Degnan, who negotiated the terms and the documents of the agreement under the direction of the mayor, has yet to give Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski a plausible explanation why they were necessary. If in the city’s judgment there was little to no chance of prevailing in court to keep Spectrum out of downtown Pittsfield, why couldn’t the city have conceded that point — and that point alone. Why did it judge it necessary to sweeten the deal with $176,500 in cash guarantees? Is the city that awash in free cash?
If you open your Negotiations 101 textbook to page 16, you will see that in discussions between two parties, once one party concedes the major point of contention, it assumes a moral right over the other party. In other words, once the Bianchi Administration decided it couldn’t win and decided to give in on the Summer Street location, it had the upper hand. Degnan did not, however, act in a manner that suggested she realized the true strength of her position. She came off as someone in fathoms over her head.
Mixed Message Proves Costly
If you go back to what we learned of the settlement accounts, given this solid position, the city inexplicably acted in a tenuous fashion. Its wavering actions sent a mixed message to Spectrum. That’s when the company’s lawyers then apparently demanded the $176,500 in guarantees — all because of the city’s lack of resolve. THE PLANET insists that taxpayers were misrepresented and underrepresented. We suggest that, given a more aggressive and more professional handling of the talks, the $176,500 concession would have been completely unnecessary. The city could have given Spectrum what it wanted — Summer Street — and had the company feeling as if it had prevailed.
Bianchi’s and Degnan’s handling of the issue so enraged the Body Politic that city councilors Christ Yon backed by council president Kevin Sherman filed a no-confidence petition. After an especially rancorous two-hours hashing, Yon withdrew the petition at the last possible second, prior to a vote, and the matter was left to stew. Those who said the oven was on simmer and that the pot would not boil over were incorrect. The burners had been ignited, couldn’t be turned down, and it was clear to all those in the room that night that there would be payback from Bianchi for the embarrassment.
The city’s actions against its former attorney Rich Dohoney over the demolition of the Culpo property on Melville Street, THE PLANET is convinced, stems from the lingering animosity from No-Confidence-gate. Look at this way: If No-Confidence-gate did not happen, Attorney Wars does not happen. But it did, and so it did.
Tomorrow: We share more details on Attorney Wars, including comments by assistant city solicitor Darren Lee, who is handling the case for the Bianchi Administration.
“EX EODEM ORE CALIDUM ET FRIGIDUM EFFLARE”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.