Article

‘COMMUNITY CENTERS’ AT PUBLIC HOUSING UNITS: ARE THEY INTENDED TO SERVE POLITICAL PURPOSES? DO THEY INDICATE CRIME OUT OF CONTROL? OR BOTH? … CENTERS WILL HAVE DEDICATED POLICE PRESENCE BUT DOWNTOWN WILL STILL BE WITHOUT FOOT PATROLS … MERCHANTS UPSET, MAYOR NOT BEING TRANSPARENT

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 2013) — It sounds good, doesn’t it, the “collaboration” among Mayor Dan Bianchi, the Pittsfield Housing Authority, the Pittsfield police department, and the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Department to embed “community centers” at Dower Square, Francis Plaza, and Wilson Park? In the previous iteration, these centers were called “police substations.” Today, they have a more political purpose, but that should not surprise anyone, especially followers of THE PLANET. They also are a tacit admission that an increase in crime continues to baffle officials and threaten citizens.

Police Staffing for This and Not for Downtown Foot Patrols?

What will the centers do? According to Bianchi, they will be be used for a variety of programs. He mentioned health screenings, neighborhood watch meetings, after-school reading programs for kids, youth activities, voter registration drives, fire safety classes, mentoring programs, and court-mandated supervised visits. In this list, after we separate the chaff PR from the wheat reality, we find a couple of clues as to what’s actually going on.

After you sift through reading programs, youth activities, and the other more benign purposes, one fathoms the overall goal, which is, Bianchi says, to put a police presence in the units as a response to public safety and criminal concerns. That’s another way of saying, without saying, that crime and public safety issues in Pittsfield have officials in mode of consternation not quite at “panic”but well past “ordinarily and healthily frustrated.”

When the centers open (Dower Square should be ready in May with the others to follow in the late spring and summer), acting police chief Mike Wynn said he will assign police staffing with regular hours. Bianchi also said that city officials may also use the centers as offices.

The dedicated police presence in public housing begs the question, of course: If regular staffing can be so readily found for three community centers, why has the city been so reluctant to establish dedicated foot patrols for downtown? Most residents want it, and every merchant and shop owner with whom we talked has supported foot patrols. Several merchants contacted by THE PLANET expressed unhappiness that there could be enough police resources to staff three centers but apparently not enough to help them make a go of it by installing foot patrols in center city. Naturally, because of the climate of fear and retaliation that governs public discussion in the city, the merchants did not want to be identified. By the by, all three are members of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.

‘Free’ to Taxpayers? Hardly

The city says the three centers will come “free” for taxpayers, and the Boring Broadsheet as well as the Pittsfield Gazette published this unchallenged, just as it came to them spoon fed. Let’s examine the city’s assertion of “free” more closely.

According to the PHA, it will offer a vacant unit in each of the three complexes and will pay for all utility costs. THE PLANET wonders, though, from where does the PHA get its operating expenses? Who pays for the salary of PHA executive director Charles Smith Jr.? Who pays for police salaries? Who pays for the officials such as the mayor and sheriff? If you’re a taxpayer, the answer is, “gotta mirror?”

True, those salaries would be paid for anyway, regardless of assignment, but by putting dedicated officers in the three public housing complexes, those same cops will not be available elsewhere. And could the mayor and sheriff have made better use of their time and talents than by expending them on the community centers? For the police, will the dedicated staffing of three centers mean extra overtime to cover situations elsewhere in the city? Is there lost taxpayer revenue in not renting out the three vacant units?

Help to the Honest Poor? Yes. Handouts to Deadbeats? No.

The claim that the centers will not add to city taxpayers’ burdens drips with irony, since, those taxpayers are already on the hook for public housing funds. Where does the city think the subsidies originate, in the Money Tree planted next to Phil Rizutto‘s grave? Section 8 households, low-income households, persons with disabilities, and the elderly have some or all of their housing costs picked up by Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, who, of course, they they are lower middle class and working hard to stretch their budget, have to pay 100 cents on the dollar for their housing costs.

No decent person, of course, minds providing a helping hand to those truly in need, but we wonder: How “clean” are the public housing units in Pittsfield of deadbeats and freeloaders? The “gimme group” is probably the fastest growing demographic in the city, and they tend to infest public housing the way moss likes the north sides of trees. These are people who contribute nothing to the general fund but consume a disproportionate share of the city’s resources. They take. For the city to claim taxpayers are getting a break to the point of “free” when it comes to subsidized housing is a knee-slapper.

Will These Centers Actually be ‘Bianchi for Mayor’ Campaign Offices?

There’s another question that needs to be tossed about. This is an election year. You can be sure that most everything remotely out of the ordinary proposed by the mayor will have a political aspect to it. Where are the politics in the “community center” initiative? The mayor provided a clue when listing possible events at the centers when he mentioned “voter registration drives.”

How much you want to bet that each of those centers will be well stocked with Bianchi for Mayor campaign literature? And do you think the mayor will be making “speech-i-fying” visits to each of the complexes later in the year?

This is assuming that Bianchi will run for re-election. THE PLANET hasn’t heard one way or another, but in cases of an incumbent, unless he says he won’t be running, we can assume he’s in. Also keep in mind that sheriff Tom Bowler, who played an instrumental role in getting the community centers set up in the three public housing complexes, served a key role in Bianchi’s campaign in 2011. Bianchi returned the favor in Bowler’s campaign for sheriff. Donna Mattoon, Bianchi’s soon-to-be-ex-director of administrative services, is Bowler’s sister. It was then as it is now, so wigwam cozy.

Centers: Are they a Barometer for Crime Scene That’s Close to Out of Control?

Wynn pointed out that we shouldn’t consider these centers “police substations” of the kind that were previously employed in the early to mid-2000s. He said “the loss of dedicated community policing grants in the mid-2000s necessitated the closing of those facilities.” We take Wynn, whom we have found to be honest and deliberate in his public statements, at his word. Look more closely, though, at Bianchi’s “use” listing for the centers.

“Court-mandated supervised visits” jumps out at us from the mayor’s list of possible uses of the centers. THE PLANET wonders: Is this another way of saying crime and criminals are gaining the upper hand in public housing? It appears to be the case. Keep in mind that the mayor’s own hand-picked Criminal Task Force had recently concluded that crime has paralyzed much of the city, especially the downtown, and that it has its origins in public housing developments.

“Having a police presence will mean better communication with residents,” Smith said. This provides another clue. One reads between the words in this remark that there’s a crime problem in public housing. That’s nothing new, but it seems to have sharply escalated. The police will confirm this. Public housing units across the country have seen crime rising in the last two years. Why should Pittsfield be an exception? Drug trafficking and gang violence thrive with the presence of lots of young people, and as Bianchi and Smith admitted, lots of youths live in the three units mentioned.

THE PLANET applauds any proactive attempts to deal with crime, but where’s the transparency here? The city is selling the centers as a way to bring more services to residents. Instead, it looks like a politically driven effort to respond to a crime problem that is threatening to spill over the rim of its uppermost containment cooked up by a mayor who, in pondering re-election, has to realize he has nothing by way of a convincing track record.

Why not establish the politics and the crime thrusters up front? Why try to wallpaper over the intended purpose of the community centers? Where’s the transparency?

Transparency — Wasn’t that the major theme of Bianchi’s 2011 campaign? No pun intended, but THE PLANET and many others are having a hard time seeing it.

————————————————————————

“There’s a certain Slant of light, / Winter Afternoons — / That oppresses, like the Heft / of Cathedral Tunes — Heavenly Hurt, it gives us — / We can find no scar, / But internal difference, / Where the Meanings are”Emily Dickenson

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

39 Responses to “‘COMMUNITY CENTERS’ AT PUBLIC HOUSING UNITS: ARE THEY INTENDED TO SERVE POLITICAL PURPOSES? DO THEY INDICATE CRIME OUT OF CONTROL? OR BOTH? … CENTERS WILL HAVE DEDICATED POLICE PRESENCE BUT DOWNTOWN WILL STILL BE WITHOUT FOOT PATROLS … MERCHANTS UPSET, MAYOR NOT BEING TRANSPARENT”

  1. Shakes His Head
    March 26, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    The website redesign is awful. They should be ashamed to have even let that go live.

  2. FPR
    March 26, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    If cops feel that walking a beat is punishment and beneath them, will they also feel that way if assigned to public housing?

    Is assigning cops to public housing “profiling”?

    “Court-mandated supervised visits”?

    Gang members in Pittsfield are heavily armed and make sure they protect themselves. They sleep well at night. Should not the law abiding citizens of Pittsfield also? At least the cops show up to pick up the dead bodies after the fact. That’s well worth the tax money they are paid.

    • Scott
      March 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

      I thought the same thing it def would be a punishment post most officers would hate because they would be in the public light there as well as opposed to having a car and the ability to drive around more freely. It would be nice to get cops in there that actually care about the community they serve. We have them on the force I’m sure.

  3. Ron Kitterman
    March 26, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    Interesting reading in today’s Berkshire Eagle http://www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_22870520/city-pittsfield-wants-sell-westside-neighborhood-resources-center
    “City wants to sell Westside building Federal budget cuts are cited in a request to declare the site surplus property” ” Siting the effect of federal budget cuts, the city is seeking to have the Westside Neighborhood Resource bldg located at 314 Columbus Ave, city is declared surplus property, clearing the way for it to be be sold of transferred to another owner. ” The property is assessed for a total of $290,190- $49,800 land value and $140,390 for the building. In this depressed real estate market it is doubtful the city could sell that for anything close to that value, so are there other plans for the building to be transferred to another etity for another purpose ? Personally, I feel that there could be another use for the building, or is this another power grab or sweetheart deal to a source we won’t hear about till the ink is fully dry and the next elections are over ?

    • Shakes His Head
      March 26, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      If federal funds were used for the building and the city disposes of the property, then there are certain regulations the city must follow and may have to repay some or all of the funds. the article did not indicate that the building would likely return to the tax rolls.

  4. Jonathan Melle
    March 26, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    When one is a Mayor of a community, the prime question is this:
    “Would a middle class family move here?”
    * A tax rate that is affordable
    * Safe streets, low crime rates
    * Good public school system
    * Job opportunities
    * Good roads, public works
    When one is Mayor of Pittsfield, the issues are:
    * Good Old Boys run politics
    * Cronyism in scarce jobs
    * Spend millions of dollars on revitalizing North Street
    * High taxes
    * Teen pregnancies double the statewide average and high per capita welfare caseloads
    * Poorly performing public schools
    So would a middle class family move to Pittsfield?
    The answer is “No”.
    Who would move to Pittsfield?
    * Single teenage mothers on welfare
    * Criminals and drug dealers who exploit welfare mothers
    * poor people dependent on social services

    • FPR
      March 26, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      Good points Jon.

      Dan Valenti for Mayor!

    • In the know
      March 26, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Jon Don’t you live off the government ?

    • Joe Blow
      March 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

      Aren’t you a criminal who tried to run over a police officer? You say you vote for Democrats but complain about their policies and are on the dole yourself. Seek the truth it’s not too late.

      • Jonathan Melle
        March 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

        Facts:

        * I am a Disabled Veteran who served our nation Honorably.

        * I do not receive any welfare benefits.

        * I was found guilty of 2 misdemeanors in late-January 2010: Reckless Conduct & Disobeying a Police Officer.

        * I never attempted to hit a Police Officer with my car. I never hit a Police Officer with my car. I drover around him to park my car where I lived at the time of June 7, 2007.

        • In the know
          March 26, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

          Jon why are you disabled? Where you shot? Where you over in Irac or Afganistan? You seem to be able to use a computer so why don’t you work in that field

          • Dave
            March 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

            “Where you shot” ” Where you over”, “Irac” “Afganistan” damn You are obviously not in the know of spelling, and any DAV deserves our gratitude you ahole

          • In the know
            March 26, 2013 at 5:03 pm #

            Jon How long where you in the service? Did you make it out of basic training? Remember there is no crying in basket ball

          • Jonathan Melle
            March 26, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

            No one is perfect. Except Dan Valenti, of course. Pittsfield has so many social problems. I am glad I left. Doesn’t anyone care about each other anymore? If I had a family, I would care about them. I would care about my neighbors. I would care about my community. What the Hell is wrong with Pittsfield?

          • danvalenti
            March 26, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

            Glad you realize it, Jonathan.

  5. Scott
    March 26, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    I think it’s a good thing as you pointed out gangs, violence and drugs run those public housing communities and it’s a shame that the good people trying to get by who have jobs are there for their children and work any job they can find have to deal with nonsense and an unsafe environment for their children. As for Bianchi using the buildings to advertise a campaign I think that is a trend started by Obama you will see more of. Instead of raising the awareness of low information voters to make individual choices in the voting booth they are wooing them with free services and attention to get their vote. Not a bad strategy I mean shit it won Obama two presidency elections.

    • In the know
      March 26, 2013 at 11:37 am #

      Scott. I think the reason President Obama won was the best the republicans could give us was McLain/Palin and Romney / Ryan !

      • Scott
        March 26, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

        Yeah that is def part of it.

  6. Ron Kitterman
    March 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    @ shakes his head, 10/10/97 The city took possession of the property from HUD for $1000. Improvements were made to the property to bring it up to code. The subtitle of the article states “ Federal Budget cuts are cited in a request to declare the site surplus property “ This is totally not factual, what would Federal Budget cuts have to do with Pittsfield owned property ? It’s my contention that the property could be converted to another use by the city, shelter for battered women, administration offices for the city or another such use.

    • Shakes His Head
      March 27, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      No doubt it could be converted to another use. I’m just suggesting that if the city used federal funds to rehab the building they may have to repay a portion. It isn’t going to be a windfall even if they can sell it, no strings attached.

  7. dusty
    March 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    Speaking of foot patrols on North street….does anyone know what reasons Wynn and Bianchi are giving for not doing this? It is not like anyone is taking their cell phones away. Is Wynn afraid of making his troops mad at him? Is he still in charge?

    What is the reason? I just want to know.

    • FPR
      March 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

      If Chief Wynn is acting chief, what would be the problem with him acting like one? Why not walk a beat with one of his officers every day? Set the example. Be right there with his men (and women). They could even get to know each other better. All officers could rotate the duties so no one single one would be singled out or feel he’s being punished.

      What would Mayor Valenti do? If Mayor Valenti ordered downtown police patrols on foot, would acting Chief Wynn still refuse to do it?

      Cops visible in the downtown areas would also make the people feel like they are getting something for the 30% of their taxes that the school system doesn’t steal.

      • Kate Dempsey
        March 26, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

        Ron would probably be the best person to answer why there are no foot patrols on North Street. The way I see it, foot patrols on North Street are useless. If the officer is walking North Street and is down near BMC and a pervert crawls under a stall at the bus station, by the time he/she gets there, every officer in a car throughout the city will already be there. Besides, if that guy is up for a fight, would you want to be the one running with all that extra gear on and then have to scrap-I’m betting not?

        As far as community crime centers, this is a joke. Pittsfield already did this in the late 90′s. They had crime watch centers in Coltsville, Wilson Project, Westside, and the all failed. Ask Ron, he’ll tell you. from what I remember talking to some of my fridns on PPD, they were nothing more than a clean, warm, toilet the officer could use while on the shift. These welfare rats buying and selling drugs are not going to use them. And the poor people who actually do care, will be to afraid to use them and speak up. Again, if you lived in Dower Square and didn’t have an armed battalion guarding your house, would you?

        Third, the sheriff’s job is to house prisoners, not actively patrol Pittsfield. That’s what PPD and the MA State Police do. If the sheriff really wanted to help with the crime situation in Pittsfield, how about refusing to jail gangbangers, drug dealers, theives, from Springfield, Boston, etc. Let them keep and deal with their own garbage. Pittsfield seems to be that barge of medical waste that every shithole city in MA likes to send their garbage to. Why don’t we ship our gangbangers, drug dealers, etc to those places?

        • Joe Blow
          March 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

          Here is a little nugget from today’s paper…”Gina Divola, Cromartie’s girlfriend, told the court the couple had moved to Pittsfield from the Boston area about eight months ago after Cromartie was released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for illegal gun possession.

          “We wanted to get a new start,” she told the court.”

          http://www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_22870537/ex-convict-accused-beating-man-holding-woman-at?source=most_viewed

          • danvalenti
            March 26, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

            Lord, help us.

        • Scott
          March 26, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

          Are we still a crack capital of the US?

          • danvalenti
            March 26, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

            If not, then top 3.

        • danvalenti
          March 26, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

          Excellent points, Kate. You have advanced the discussion.

      • danvalenti
        March 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

        Touche, FPR.

  8. Evian
    March 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    The truth is hard to face and it’s the truth that public housing attracts the wrong element that is running Pittsfield into the ground socially. What would Mayor Valenti do? I would love to find out.

    • danvalenti
      March 26, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

      Mayor Valenti would immediately institute downtown foot patrols. End of discussion.

  9. tito
    March 26, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    such negativity,,,,,,,

  10. Twist
    March 26, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    You had me at Pubic…

  11. tito
    March 26, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Remember one thing future Mayor, the unions control any Mayor who challenges the status quo, been like that since the beginning and very hard to change, it’s just a numbers thing, you follow?

    • danvalenti
      March 26, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

      Ah, TITO, but that is a matter than is easily solvable. It IS a numbers thing, and that is the key to the solution. I can say no more.

  12. tito
    March 26, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    ,,,,,,,Planet, off subject a little, but this is a classic. At exactly the two hour thirty five minutes of the meeting, Councilor Yon rolls a double stink eye while speaking, directed at Councilor Mazzeo, it was pertaining to questions that were asked by Councilors and the abatement debate. It was a nano second, double stink eye, the first in a long time.

  13. Giacometti
    March 26, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

    Police substations in Public Housing is the push that HUD is using in Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit…should we assume that our city is in the same state of affairs as Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit ?
    Isn’t our city located in the Beautiful Berkshire Hills ?

    To review the updated web site of the City of Pittsfield one sees a city that is mostly crime free and a great destination for visitors to visit.

  14. Pittsfield Pete
    March 26, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    Any one seen the new website for the City of Puttsfield. It’s all shiney and new, however I think my computer must not be up to date enough to load the pages. Once on the site, I clicked on the ‘ ‘Business’ tab and then scrolled down and clicked on the ‘Master Plan’ – and there is nothing there. It must be my computer , as all I get is a nice picture of City Hall with no master plan. I am sure this is just an error and not a bleek sign from our forward looking administration who are leading Pittsfield.

  15. Pittsfield Pete
    March 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

    Sorry- should read ‘ Pittsfield not Puttsfield- Freudian typo, I guess.