PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, JULY 10, 2013) — Did you happen to catch at-large councilor Barry Clairmont‘s editorial in the Boring Broadsheet Monday? If so, you were treated to an informative read, one in which a Pittsfield politician actually dispenses transparency and truth.  If you didn’t, you missed a good one.

In the piece, Clairmont explains the 6-5 vote in which five of his colleagues supported his measures to enact a focused cut of $200,000 from the fuel and electricity costs of the Pittsfield School Department. The school department, led by school committee chairman Alf Barbalunga and assorted administrative flacks, immediately threatened the council with what amounted to a pack of lies. These enablers of a blubbery department budget warned of teacher layoffs (Barbalunga) and dire lamentations that “The Children” would be without adequate fuel this winter (Gordon Noseworthy). Their tactic, which typically works on councilors afraid of angering the department, failed to work this time.

A Near Miracle

Given the perfect game the school department has been pitching against taxpayers in years past, this development was practically miraculous. The vote on the $200,000 focused reduction served as a litmus test for the upcoming elections: Were councilors for taxpayers or for a fat-laden school department? Councilors Krol, Sherman, Lothrop, Capitanio, and Cotton showed they would rather stick it to their constituents rather than get the school department peeved. It’s an election year, remember, and these PSD lapdogs rolled over and played dead.

Fortunately, councilors Yon, Morandi, Connell, Simonelli, and Mazzeo supported Clairmont, Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, and the cause of reform. Simonelli had the greatest single moment of any councilor this year when he lectured Barbalunga after the latter “pulled that same old crap” about the cuts leading to teacher firings. Simonelli phrased it in a more genteel manner, but the message came through with the same amount of guttural force.

THE PLANET isn’t forgetting that the $200,000 “cut” was not a cut at all, since the overall boost in school department funded amounted to nearly $1.7 million. The token cut, though, at least provided a symbolic short-term win for taxpayers. In the long run, this vote might — we only say might — give councilors and school committee members second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts when the school department comes a calling for more money, for it nothing else, the exercise spurred into action by Clairmont proves what THE PLANET has long contended: The school department’s budget and the line items of that budget are opaque. The PSD hides millions of taxpayer dollars to spend as it wish, without proper oversight or accountability.

Among the Revelations …

Among Clairmont’s revelations in his presentation about the $200K “cut,” we find these nuggets:

* The PSD has been averaging a surplus in just it’s utility account of $422,473 (a staggering $1,689,493 more than the department needed for fuel and electricity over four years). That’s just one account among many.

* Instead of returning the $1,689,493 to the city, which could have applied the savings to serious tax relief, the school department spent the money on copiers, professional development, and special education tuition. Clairmont called this deceptive practice “a shell game.” It’s worse, actually. If the schools had given this money back to the general fund and the mayor and council applied it for tax relief, every senior would have received a tax reduction, not just the eight who will be selected to perform slave labor the for city at minimum wages.

* The school department has 21 “revolving accounts.” These are accounts that generate income. In 2008, the department’s revolving accounts had a balance of $1,470,088. In just four short years, that figure ballooned to $2,358,742. As Clairmont points out, taxes can be lowered if this money gets “consistently applied” to offset the school department’s operating expenses. As we know, that is not done, and the revolving accounts make taxpayers dizzy.

PSD Runs Roughshod Over Bedraggled Taxpayers

Copiers, professional development, and special ed — a trio that beats and flush. Copiers eventually need replacement, but at what frequency? How do taxpayers know that the PSD played this legitimately? In my  business, The Media Services Group, we invested in an expensive Canon copier in 1989, and we had that machine until it had become a dinosaur, outdated but still functioning well. Sure, we could have replaced it with a newer model, but, running a business in The Dreaded Private Sector, we didn’t have a built in money tree the way the PSD has bedraggled taxpayers.

As for “professional development,” give us a break. Most of these “development” programs are of the make-work type designed simply to give conferees taxpayer-paid vacations and golf outings at fancy hotels. And “special ed tuition?” That’s already funded — over-funded, actually, by taxpayers who have been hoodwinked into paying for ridiculously expensive “special accommodations”  for a growing number of kids who are considered “special” only because the state keeps expanding the definition. We’re all special, aren’t we?

In short, the school department has been playing fast and loose with the utility accounts. Remember, too, that this is what’s going on with just one line item. What’s going on with other school accounts? Fact is, nothing the Pittsfield School Department or its lackey school committee says or does about budgets, finances, and expenses can be trusted.

Clairmont points out in his piece that in 2011, city department returned $1,187,248. The school department, with by far the biggest budget (then nearing $90 million a year), returned a insulting $71 to the taxpayers that year.

Short and Long Terms

THE PLANET hopes Clairmont’s actions embolden the city council to take more aggressive action in the future on the school department’s budget. It’s clear the PSD will try to gouge taxpayers. It’s further clear that the school committee, which should be riding herd over department administrators instead of fetching their pipes and slippers, will continue to screw taxpayers (barring some unforeseen changes in the coming election). Moreover, it’s clear that Mayor Dan Bianchi, as determined by the facts of his track record from the corner office and his performance on the school committee, is content to let taxpayers flail in the financial waters for their very lives.

This all being the case, only the city council stands between taxpayers and doom. Once taxpayers go down for the last time, the city goes with it.


 “Unwearied still, lover by lover, / They paddle in the cold / Companionable streams or climb the air; / Their hearts have not grown old; / Passion or conquest, wander where they will, / Attend upon them still.”W. B. Yeats, from “The Wild Swans at Coole.”






  1. MrG1188
    July 10, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    Yeats is awesome…isn’t he!?! Thanks for the quote Dan.

  2. Ron Kitterman
    July 10, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Hey I’ve got an idea Let’s support and vote for Barry Clairmont and Melissa Mazzeo for re-election at Large and vote in two of the challengers say Donna Todd – Rivers and Mark Miller. And in the ward races we could re-elect Morandi, and Connell, Simonelli, put Joe Nichols back in 6 and decide between Lisa Tully or Tammy Ives in ward 1 …

    • B
      July 10, 2013 at 11:07 am #

      Ron, Yon voted with Clairmont, Mazzeo, Morandi, Connell and Simonelli she should keep her ward 1 seat. I think that Yon does her homework and looks into the facts, she asks questions and she is for the taxpayer, she belongs in ward 1.

    • dusty
      July 10, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

      You may have something going there Ron. But isn’t Rivers a GOB mouthpiece? Do I not know her? Clairmont, Morandi, Connell and Simonelli seem to know who elected them and why. Krol, and Lothrop are dyed in the wool GOB tools and could care less about the people they supposedly represent. Not even close. You know Lothrop is going for council president if he gets reelected and if he gets it he will shut down the voice of the people just like Gerry Lee did. If notthing else good happens for the people during this election Lothrop needs to go bye bye.

  3. Ron Kitterman
    July 10, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    B my mistake then sorry.

  4. Jonathan Melle
    July 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    There are two things you can count on in your life: death & taxes. And, when you read Dan Valenti’s blog, you get a true view of Pittsfield politics!

  5. Ron Kitterman
    July 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    I’m sure the GOB’s are planning on running some cardboard giants so we will have a preliminary election.

    • danvalenti
      July 10, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

      Any ideas of who these “giants” might be, RON?

  6. Dave
    July 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Churchill Cotton two years ago, Kathy Amuso and James Conant this year. The winds have shifted from the school committee to the city council. Is this because as Mr. Conant stated as his reason for running- something to the effect that the city council needs to be more supportive of the schools!

    Question #1- Has the school department budget ever been reduced from one year to the next?
    Question #2- When “the nose” and others stated that the per pupil spending was at “x” amount-far below what other schools averaged, was this using the fake amount(minus all the costs absorbed by the city side) or the actual money dedicated to the total cost of running the school dept?
    Question #3- If as “the nose” kept saying the vocational department has been severely under funded in prior years did he not admonish the school department for not using this excess money to help that situation?

    Unrelated Question #4- Why is Donna Rivers running at large?
    Lothrup won by less than 10 votes last election and is ripe for the picking. If you know Mr Breault, implore him to run again. He was so close last time and Lothrup has done nothing in the last 2 years to change anyone’s opinion in his favor.

  7. Fan Dan Go
    July 10, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    Donna Todd- Rivers is a GOB tool as she was on her talk show and how she shamelessly boosted its agenda. Shes not her own person.Like the idea of keeping Clairmont, Mazzeo, Morandi, Connell, and Simonelli. Yon, too, unless one of the new ones shows she isn’t afraid of the PSD. Were stuck with Capitanio, J-lo, Krol.

    • Dave
      July 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

      An election season with no local talk on the radio- a dream come true for Pittsfield politicians. How about a Dan Valenti debate series on WBRK? If not, take over Krol’s show as he will have to step away if he is running again. Last resort-PCTV they can’t say no.

      • danvalenti
        July 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

        If WBRK called, I would be open to it.

    • danvalenti
      July 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

      The question to ask DTR and all of the newcomers: Would you support return to the general fund by the school department of all surplus money from all surplus accounts, to be used for moderation of property tax rates for both businesses and homeowners? The questioner should press every way including loose until the 12th of Never for the answer.

  8. tito
    July 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    Is Sturgeon still around, he’s pretty good,,,,,,,,

    • danvalenti
      July 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

      Agree about Bill S, TITO. He’d be a good choice.