PITTSFIELD CHARTER COMMISSION: EARLY RETURNS MAKE US WONDER, ‘IS THAT ALL THERE IS?’ … COMMITTEE RULES OUT CITY MANAGER OPTION BY USING SCARE TACTIC UNSUPPORTED BY DATA … CAN YOU TELL THIS GROUP IS GOB-APPROVED?
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, JAN. 8, 2013) — The city of Pittsfield got another bright idea: If it’s not broke, then break it, and thus was the notion hatched from the philanthropic chicken of forming a review of the current city charter.
Why now? And why these people? One must always ask such questions in the coop known as Benigno Numine. Little is by accident. Nothing is as it seems.
This Just In …
We hate to break this as big news, but whatever ails the city, and it’s plenty, isn’t the result of the charter. A charter is simply a document that spells out a specific form of government in which a city or town chooses to function. If you continue to stuff the form with mediocrity, spinelessness, and faint-heartedness, the framework doesn’t matter. Same thing would apply if you could elect and appoint Churchills, Kennedys, and Roosevelts on a regular basis. In short, every system of government has the equal capacity for achievement. As always, performance of a system depends on the humans commissioned to make the system work.
If you take the personnel of the Kansas City Chiefs, who finished the NFL season at 2-14, and give them to Bill Belichick and call them the New England Patriots, the team will still stink. It’s the singer, not the song.
Nonetheless, the Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee has gone about it’s merry way, whistling while they work, with Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey, and the rest of the crew. Snow White still sleeps, the handsome prince is wenching in the local tavern, and We The People can only wonder what this group will recommend. With that, we get at the first problem with the charter review commission: Why was it formed? For what purpose? And why now? Since the city hasn’t bothered to adequately answer this, neither shall we. The best we’ve seen in terms of rationale for this questionable step is that the present charter is “old.” Hmmm, so was Methuselah, but that alone is not a reason for change.
Early Decision of Charter Commission Less than Inspiring
Does the charter review commission inspire confidence? Let’s consider a couple of representative remarks from the committee’s most recent meeting. Last week, the commission met. The work is so important that two of the 11 members didn’t bother attending. Just pause for a moment with this thought experiment: How would your business do if you routinely had a 22% absentee rate? Back in the day, when THE PLANET owned and operated The Media Services Group, we would have limped ourselves out of several lucrative contracts if 22% of our force did not show up for work.
The remaining nine members took up the question of a city manager, an option long kicked around in the city. With dispatch, the committee voted 9-0 to reject outright this form of government for Pittsfield. To give you an idea of how the committee arrived at this vote, we simply need to review two representative comments from committee members.
Board Tosses City Manager Option by Playing Scare Card and Other Irrationality
Dianna Ferraro played the scare card, saying that some citizens “were alarmed” at the thought of a city manager.
Really? “Alarmed?” What did they do, watch “House on Haunted Hill” first? So, Ferraro, tell THE PLANET, specifically: which citizens were petrified in this fashion? Give us names, please. How many of them were there? How do you know they were a sample population sufficient for you to make your over-the-top statement on behalf of every other citizen in town? Did you think to ask Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski? True, your meeting was “open,” but be honest, the last thing you or any other committee, commission, or board wants in the city of Pittsfield is authentic citizen involvement? You know better they they do, don’t you? You sit on a committee.
In other cities, a committee would not make a ruling on a matter like this without more data than “some citizens were alarmed,”.and yet, this being Pittsfield, we’re supposed to accept that slap in the face as meaningful and sufficient. Ferraro then added this overdone chestnut: “People like voting for mayor?” Again, what gives Ferraro the prescience to make this blanket statement? No one on the panel, to our knowledge, bothered to challenge these ridiculous statements.
In the same meeting, another member of the committee, Victoria Kane, had this gem: “Pittsfield is really to small for a city manager.” Citizen Kane said people have told her that “”they “feel good about the system we have.” Where does one begin with this kind of ignorant blathering? We would simply point out to the good gentlewoman that many other communities with populations far smaller than Pittsfield have city managers, including some in Berkshire County. “Too small?” We would also point out that any community with 12,000 or more citizens qualifies for city status here in the Commonwealth.
We would follow up with this question for Citizen Kane: Which residents, specifically, “feel good about the system we have?” Names, names, names.
The point is this: How can the committee make an important decision such as this one on the basic of such flimsy statements?
Speaking in Strange Tongues
This deliberative unit of civic-minded busy-bodies has been speaking in strange tongues throughout its short life. It favors a “strong mayor” form of government, wants to reduce the number of signatures needed to run for school committee and council at large (from 300 to 150), and also wishes to create another layer of government. These jokers want to create the position of mayoral “chief of staff” (it could also be called “deputy mayor”), as if the office of mayor isn’t top heavy enough.
Recently, the office of mayor was expanded to include a director of protocol, or whatever it is they call the position created for Tricia Farley-Bouvier as a holding spot until the GOB got here in as state rep. That position is now occupied by Donna Mattoon. The office includes an executive assistant (the ever-efficient Susan Santolin). Now the charter people want to add a chief of staff? Former mayoral candidate Peter Marchetti and Mike McCarthy advocated for this added layer of bureaucracy. The vote was 6-3, with Bill Barry, Kane, and Dave Murphy voting against it).
The good thing about the committee’s operations is that the public will have final say at the ballot box. The commission’s work will be brought forward to the mayor as recommendations only. To enact the changes, the mayor and the city council first have to approve measures that would then be put on the November ballot. The state would then have to approve.
It if ain’t broke, why break it?
“WERE ALL STARS TO DISAPPEAR OR DIE, / I SHOULD LEARN TO LOOK AT AN EMPTY SKY / AND FEEL ITS TOTAL DARK SUBLIME, / THOUGH THIS MIGHT TAKE ME A LITTLE TIME.” — W.H. AUDEN, CLOSING STANZA, “THE MORE LOVING ONE.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.