PLANET EXCLUSIVE!! CALIFORNIA PLANNER REJECTS BIANCHI OFFER FOR OCD POSITION; JOB SEARCH STILL ON … OCD NEEDS NEW MISSION, RE-VISION … UPDATES ON FBI’s PROBE INTO LEE POLICE, HALPIN’S CLOSING … plus … PPS ANTI-BULLYING STANCE A CHARADE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, MARCH 11, 2013) — Fresh off a visit to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse to see our Orangemen take care of DePaul, it’s amazing to be in a building as cacophonous as the Dome, otherwise known as The Loud House. The student sections produce an infectious energy that transforms itself from the abstraction it seems on TV to take on the reality of a commodity — an actual, tangible, visible product. Our visit included a talk given at the Bird Library, as once again, we thoroughly enjoyed what is one of our favorite cities. It reminds us what a difference the pulse of college life can make to a community.
With that, we bring you news that the quest for the new director of the Office of Community Development continues. Mayor Dan Bianchi had offered the job to a planner from Sacramento, Calif., but reliable sources tell us she had second thoughts. She said “no.” Don’t tell anyone, because City Hall doesn’t want news of this publicized.
The rejection is a slap in the face for the Bianchi Administration, who’s OCD office is limping along with yet another “acting director.” To have such a key position remain in the hands of a transitional figure bodes the city not well at all. An acting director will not have the clout, even if she has the vision, to affect meaningful change in an office that has long gone off track.
This decision of the California planner to say “no” drips with the irony of selection, because if you think about it, that’s exactly the type of person Pittsfield needs for this position: One who is too smart to take it.
OCD Mission Needs to be Redefined
OCD stands in dire need of definition. Designed as an amalgamation of several smaller offices (housing, parks and recreation, planning), OCD was meant to be a “super-agency” that could grease the skids for the forces of economic development. That hasn’t happened, in part because of a shift in mission. The OCD website provides a devastating clue to the problem: It describes its mission as one of “enhancing] the viability of the community as a desirable place to live and work …”
All well and good, except, if you read further, you realize that OCD aims its efforts at those “that will primarily benefit persons of low and moderate income.” This is not a misprint. This is not THE PLANET editorializing. OCD actually has those words published on its website. It’s an “a ha!” moment for those puzzling at the “how” and “why” of Pittsfield’s ineptness at economic development.
OCD: In Need of Leadership, and the Gap Traces Back to the Corner Office
In this statement, OCD makes no effort to hide the political nature of the office: Instead of concentrating on true, market-driven economic development, it sees itself as an extension of “human services,” long a staple of Democratic politics. No wonder that the office has been so ineffective in spurring genuine “community and economic development.”
THE PLANET has previously looked at the pollution of Pittsfield’s air, land, and water left behind by General Electric as a factor in why no new jobs. Another factor is the region’s poor approach to planning, as exemplified by the CEDS process. Well, we can add the misalignment of OCD as another causative factor — not as pronounced, but, in a -straw-breaking-a-camel’s-back kind of way, just as devastating.
OCD has a leadership problem. Under Deanna Ruffer, the now-defunct OCD head, the office was allowed to drift into the realm of human services and away from economic development. The staff is a good one, however, and with the right person in place with the proper “market” disposition, OCD can live up to its promise in terms of job creation. This will take leadership from the corner office, though, and that has been in short supply for Bianchi’s entire term. The mayor needs to shake OCD out of its doldrums, install an entrepreneur as head, and give the competent staff license to create.
As it is, OCD’s idea of “community” is the maintenance of an enclave in which there is no longer a reliable middle class, only a “low-income” subpopulation in need of “human services.” Pittsfield citizens and taxpayers can no longer afford this low-ball conception of such a key office for the way it perpetuates a population of “takers” who ride on the backs of a constantly beleaguered group of “givers.”
The city would do better redefining the OCD mission as one of true “economic development,” an office that can align itself with the other “job creation” units in the city, of which there are many, to transform the business landscape of Pittsfield — as opposed to perpetuating the reality of a city that, according to OCD’s own aspirations, seeks to be little more than a place that keeps the conditions of slum and blight at a minimum.
That is not good enough.
INDEPENDENT PRESS MAKES A DIFFERENCE
THE PLANET has come a long way since our opening the fall of 2010. We continue to add readers and influence public affairs in Berkshire County, especially Pittsfield, which forms the heart of our beat (to say nothing about the beat of our heart). Feisty, independent writing, reporting, and commentary has found its home here, and We The People have responded. This is how the press, as the Fourth Estate, is meant to function — as a watchdog, as a Player, who has Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski’s back.
It’s gratifying for us, then, to see such independent outlets as iBerkshires, the Pittsfield Gazette, the Berkshire Record (south county), and The Beacon (Lenox) adding to the options for those who need more local news and snooze than the Boring Broadsheet cares to provide. This is to say nothing of local radio, which is to exuberant and robust coverage of news and commentary what Don Rickles is to Emily Post.
FBI and Lee PD: New Information
In the Beacon, reporter Tom Carey has an update on a BB story concerning happenings at the Lee Police Department. As THE PLANET reported months ago, a toy fund administered through the Lee Police lies at the center of a federal investigation. In November, FBI agents raided Lee Police HQ. Rumors have been flying since then, and the BB and Record stories confirm the report that the probe concerns money from the toy fund in the six years from 2007 to 2012. To date, no charges have been filed.
Lee police chief Joe Buffis has administered the toy fund since 1979, according to the Record. The newspaper quotes two, unnamed local attorneys who claim that interstate trafficking is involved. This aligns with what we have heard.
A south county source with knowledge of the investigation tells THE PLANET that the FBI is looking into shipments of the fund’s money from Massachusetts to New York state. Crossing state lines would trigger the call from the FBI. The source says federal officials are looking into allegations that Buffis has been sending toy-fund money to someone in New York state. The source says Buffis’ son lives in New York state. Buffis did not return THE PLANET’s request for comment on this. Again, no charges have yet been filed, and the presumption of innocence applies to all mentioned thus far in connection with the probe.
Halpin’s: Closed, but Why? Deadbeat Owner or Simply a Vacation?
Meanwhile, in the Beacon, we read a story on the closing of Halpin’s Sports Bar, just over the Pittsfield line in Lenox. Reporter Bera Dunau quotes food manager Michael Wixom accusing owner Jeff Halpin of not paying employees and stiffing payments to Sysco, the establishment’s food provider.
“[Halpin’s] main issue was not paying us on time,” Wixom said. “He’s had issues for the last two years paying his employees.” Wixom also said he needed $3,500 a week to stock the kitchen, but Halpin was only giving him $1,000. According to the report, Halpin’s closed on Feb. 22 at the decision of G.M. Helen Zofrea.
Halpin, reached in Florida, said he was “taking some time off.” Halpin claims the sports bar will reopen on or before St. Patrick’s Day. He also claims “all the employees have been paid up to the hours that they’ve worked.”
THE PLANET recommends both the Record and the Beacon to our readers.
BULL TO ANTI-BULLYING NIGHT
The Pittsfield Public Schools and the Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office continues their ruinous game of charades on bullying from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (March 13) at Conte Community School.
We will call this what it is: A facade, meant to create the illusion that the schools take the issue of bullying seriously. They don’t, at least judging by the testimony of parents and students who have been victimized by this scourge. THE PLANET has covered this issue in the past, pointing out the hypocrisy of a school policy directed against bullying that, in fact, stands helpless in its face.
These anti-bullying gatherings provide wallpaper and good PR for the schools and for the office of David Capeless, but they do little if nothing to solve the problem. THE PLANET says, get real. It’s time for the schools to admit that this problem is so far out of control that administrators, teachers, parents, and students stand by helpless while a tiny percentage of snot-nosed brats get to do their ruffian intimidation.
“Where was he going, this man against the sky? / You know not, nor I. / But this we know, if we know anything: / That we may laugh and fight and sing / And of our transience here make offering / to an orient Word that will not be erased …” — E. A. Robinson
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.