THE TALE OF TWO AGENDAS: PUBLIC MUST CALL ON SCHOOL COMMITTEE TO EXPLAIN PRESENCE OF SECRET, HIDDEN AGENDAS
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, MAY 13, 2013) — The Pittsfield School Committee‘s dubious practice of issuing two separate agendas for its meetings — one for the public and a separate, secret one with administration recommendations meant for committee members only — raises many questions and at minimum creates a perception of insider dealing.
The public needs to rise up and demand an end to the practice.
We spoke with a retired judge about this, and he agreed: The perception of impropriety is the least of the concerns. As we wrote in our original expose, published below, the recommendations coming from the administration to the school committee raise numerous questions.
A Game Played by and for the Insiders
The issuing of secret “recommendations” implies previous communications between the committee and the superintendent or his deputies. This would be a clear violation of the open meeting laws. It is also likely a violation of the law to have two separate agendas for the same public meeting, with one of them being hidden from the public and available only to the meeting’s insiders. The school committee must issue an agenda for its meetings, but if the administration wants to convey its recommendations in policy items, it must do so in a separate document or in the meeting itself, each time in public and out in the open, not in the windowless back room.
As we pointed out, the “recommendations” are not “recommendations” at all. They are orders, since the committee almost invariably follows the script. Moreover, they subvert the proper relationship between the committee and the school department, which should be one of employer (committee)-employee (PSD). The secret policy orders also call into the question the overall legitimacy of every school department action since the recommendations were first secretly being printed.
PLANET Poster MG1188 Speaks from Experience
One of the most cogent responses to THE PLANET‘s exclusive coverage came from one of our posters, MR.G1188. He writes:
This really is a shock to me Dan. I served on a school committee locally (NOT Pittsfield) for quite a number of years and think perhaps the worst part of this news is that it taints, simply by association, all those school committees who run honestly, openly and properly. I think everyone, no matter where one lives, thinks the school committee is fixed and that all matters are decided in the proverbial smoke-filled room, behind closed doors. I was SO pleasantly surprised to find that not to be the case. We NEVER met privately, never e-mailed each other…and never, never, never had recommendations made by the administration. The School Committee is the BOSS of the administration…not vice-versa. It’s set up that way for a reason. The administration is supposed to answer to the committee which is representing the people! Debate is supposed to be debate; a time where the administration can, and should, make its positions & preferences clear. The committee should then openly discuss, come to their own conclusions and vote their conscience. Wow…to do anything else is unconscionable and should be illegal. The secret agendas, if correlated back with votes over time, should be judged a violation of open meeting laws since all decisions appear to be made in advance rendering the meeting meaningless. Wow. Thanks Dan
These comments are spot on target.
Meanwhile, THE PLANET calls upon both the school committee and the administration to publicly explain why the “recommendations” are there, when this practice began, and to immediately cease the practice. We also call upon the public to contact interim Supt. Gordon Noseworthy and school committee members voicing an objection to this practice of double agendas.
Here is THE PLANET’s original and exclusive coverage of an issue no other media outlet dared to report:
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, MAY 10, 2013) — Keep this in mind as the Pittsfield School Department presents its budget: The outcomes are rigged. Taxpayers find themselves in a game of three-card monte. The dice are loaded. The cards are marked. The butcher has his finger on the scale.
Da Man, he tells you: “Just shut up and pay your taxes, which are going up again this year, chump.”
THE PLANET now offers compelling evidence of the rampant scamming going on in what poses as the deliberative actions of democracy within, with, for, and about the school department. We found it on the agendas of the “Regular Meeting[s] of the Pittsfield School Committee.” You’ve heard of crooked businesses keeping two sets of books? In this case, the school department keeps two sets of agendas, one for viewing, one for the players.
Double-Dealing on School Committee Agendas
Let’s begin by discussing agendas. Do agendas serve a good purpose? Yes, we believe, assuming that the meetings for which they are generated are deemed valuable if not necessary. Once circumstances require a meeting, agendas serve as check lists for points of order, establishing as they do the chronology of presentations during any given official deliberation. Long ago, early in our career in the Dreaded Private Sector, we made it a rule to walk out of any meeting that did not have a written agenda. If the meeting is necessary, the agenda will make that clear. No agenda was almost always a sure sign of a meaningless waste of time.
Agendas presage the flow of the meeting, give a quick look at the gathering’s logic, provide evidence of the thought behind the meeting, help define purpose, help attendees prepare, and, while a meeting progresses, supply a compass to help the chair keep the gathering on target. THE PLANET likes agendas.
THE PLANET does not, however, like the agendas the way the Pittsfield School Committee and the School Administration use them. We don’t like the double dealing, literally — for we have discovered that for each school committee, there are two agendas, not one. The first agenda is the one the public and press see. It lists meeting items, and that’s it. Properly so, the public agendas do not take position on issues. For example, if the item reads, “Appointment of School Nurse,” it will not include a recommendation. The public never gets a view of the second, secret GOB agenda. The second agenda is a stew cooked up between the administration the the school committee.
In the secret agenda, each item includes a “recommendation” from the school department administration to the school committee. For “recommendation,” read “marching orders.”
Serious Business with Taxpayer Dollars
Let’s spell this out for anyone who fails to see the seriousness: The second, secret agenda, which only school committee members and school administrators see, includes the actions the administration dictates to the school committee. In other words, the secret agendas list administrative positions on the various issues, so there will be no doubt when committee members vote that they will be counted “fer” or “agin” the administration. If you want to stay officially in the “inner circle” in Pittsfield, you had better vote the way the recommendation tells you to vote.
To show you how this dishonest process works, consider the agenda of the Wednesday, Jan. 23 meeting of the school committee, selected at random. There were six items for action. Each came with a “recommendation.” For example, item IV A.
“Superintendent Search Update.
That the School Committee accept the Superintendent Search Update, as presented by Bill Garr.”
The school committee voted as ordered.
The word “recommendation” may seem innocuous, but what if committee members disagree with what they are told to do? In that case, even before a meeting began, they would already be at odds with what the Establishment wanted. If they followed through on their convictions, a rare thing for members of the school committee to do save for Terry Kinnas and on occasion Dan Elias, they would have to bear the brand of “heretic” after acting upon their objections. Since they receive agendas prior to the actual meetings, this would encourage pre-meeting consultations to iron-out positions, something that would violate the state’s Open Meeting Laws.
On that same Jan. 23 agenda, Item V, C “recommends that the committee approve the revised FY13 school system operating budget.” With tens of millions of dollars — roughly $92 million — on the line, the “recommendation” is not only presumptuous but borderline illegal. Again, the committee did as told
Taking a Dive for the Short-End Money
The “recommendations” are the equivalent of getting to a boxer before the fight and convincing him to take a dive for the short-end money. They also are kissing cousins of illegal deliberations, since they imply pre-consultative actions involving the committee, through its chair or otherwise, and the administration. How else could the secret agenda be printed with the “recommendations?”
As you have probably put together by now, the school administration’s “recommendations” to the school committee are that in name only. THE PLANET has analyzed several months worth of school committee agendas, comparing the public and hidden versions. In virtually every case, the school committee voted in tandem with the administration. The “recommendations” are actually orders.
The committee followed orders in almost every case where a “recommendation” was made. Such conformity undermines the legitimacy of the relationship between the committee and administration, which should be one of checks and balances. The school committee serves as the collective boss of the administration, but in Pittsfield, it’s the other way around. The proper relationship should be an employer/employee (committee/administration) relationship, the same as you have with your boss at work. As the dictated actions on the secret agenda reveal, though, the administration runs the asylum. What the GOB wants via the school department administration, it gets.
A School Committee on both ‘The Take’ and the Short Leash of Noseworthy-Behnke
Bluntly put, the Pittsfield School Committee is on the take — for what reason or for what gain, THE PLANET cannot say. We can say that the school administration has this group in its pocket, and this year’s school committee election may give voters a chance to give the Conformists the boot and elect quality candidates who won’t put up with this puppet-master relationship.
Don’t be fooled by the stage play presently being enacted by Mayor Dan Bianchi (as opposed to school committeeman Dan Bianchi) and theNoseworthy-Behnke tandem that presently the obscenely bloated, $100 million school department request, which the N-B Team under-handedly calls a $57 million request by leaving out the cost of transportation, maintenance, and benefit packages (all neatly hidden away on the city side of the ledger). This “fight” is being waged for show, so that, when a fake compromise is reached, politics will be served. Bianchi will claim he lowered the budget, when all he did was limit the increase. The school administration will point to its sacrifice as a team player. When the bull gives way to silence, of course, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski will again be looking at another round of tax hikes.
The blame for this regrettable situation rests with School Supt., interim,Gordon Noseworthy and with every member of the school committee that has gone along with the Double Agenda practice. Now that THE PLANET has exposed the ruse, we call upon Alf Barbalunga, Kathy Yon, Kathy Amuso, Dan Elias, Dan Bianchi, Jim Conant, and Kinnas to cease accepting agendas with Administration orders. THE PLANET calls upon Mayor Bianchi, specifically, to condemn the practice of agendas with “recommendations.” We would like to see Bianchi and chairman Barbalunga issues a joint public statement to that effect. Again, Noseworthy and his crew can call them “recommendations,” but in effect they constitute orders.
The practice should stop, immediately.
As the the final budget, tax hikes will be inevitable until and unless a firebrand steps forward to organize and harness the anger of common, good, tax-paying citizens, turning then into political activists who will march in vast numbers to city hall and attend the upcoming budget deliberations, demanding a stop to the games.
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This should be an issue in the upcoming elections, particularly in the race for school committee, although it could very well enter the mayoral arena, since Mayor Dan Bianchi is a member of the school committee and has not said a word about this untrustworthy agenda daring-do.
“You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat! / Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines …” — Wallace Stevens, from “Bantams in Pine Woods.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.