BUFFIS BUFFETED BY BOARD … CAPPY CRAPPY IN COURT … plus … PHS GYM FLOOR FIASCO HIGHLIGHTS CITY’S LACK OF DUE PROCESS ON CAPITAL EXPENDITURES … BLAME TRACES BACK TO CORNER OFFICE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY AND THROUGH THE WEEKEND, AUG., 23-26, 2013) — THE PLANET has been Out West, young man, scratching out a living in Hollywood, Palm Springs, and Needles, via Syracuse, living and working fixing holes in scripts and the roof. It stops our mind from wondering, where it will go.
Hollywood is the only place in the world where you can get paid for NOT writing. Needles, by the way, where we have our cabin hideaway, was the hot spot in the nation yesterday, clocking in at 109 degrees F. Back in the Berkshires at 84 and humid, it felt like a cold wave! What a country! Also, you want crowded? Try being in Salt City at the same time SU is revving up for the new school year, the NY State Fair has just opened, and the President of the United States visits a local high school.
Be that as it may, catching up on a few quickies:
— PHONING IT IN: As THE PLANET first reported (another story broken), the Lee Select Board got rid of former chief Joe Buffis, but not for the federal charges. They dropped him for allegedly using town phones for personal use. Talking to a member of Lee Town Government, it appears that Buffis has been digging his own hole for quite a while. The feds have yet to have their say on Buffis. It would appear that there is much more to come.
— CAPPY CRAPPY — Say it ain’t so, Cappy. There’s not much to add at this stage to the sad saga of Ward 3 city councilor Paul Capitanio. Cappy entered a plea of not guilty to charges of conspiracy to violate drug laws and being an accessory after the fact. Not a great situation. Law enforcement officials are accusing Cappy of tipping off dealers to drug busts. Hmmm. Capitanio has not responded to THE PLANET’s request for comment. Yeah, as one of the wise guys remarked: “A bar owner … who knows drug dealers … who has relatives employed by the PPd … in Pittsfield” — We’re shocked. Shocked.” Actual comment: “Hold on – a bar owner who knows drug dealers? And in Pittsfield? How is this possible? And then he chose a lawyer who failed to become the DA? This is really happening? And they let this guy on the City Counil? Wow, it’s no wonder people are leaving pittsfield and BC in droves . . . . The good news is he certainly qualified for the Governor’s Council.” Kevin Sherman, council president, told THE PLANET: “I am heartsick about the news … and like everyone am still digesting the information.” This is an embarrassment on Pittsfield as a city and the city’s government.
THE PLANET wonders: When will the corruption end?
The wires are burning up with more information on both of these cases, and we shall be here for you.
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FLOORING IT: PHS GYM FLOOR EXEMPLIFIES A CORRUPT CAPITAL OUTLAYS PROCESS IN PITTSFIELD
Not long ago, THE PLANET presented the details of Mayor Dan Bianchi‘s capital budgets, the millions of dollars he set forth for projects in addition to the regular spending on the city budget, which came to more than $137 million.
We have long questioned capital outlays of various mayors and not just Bianchi. These projects routinely add millions of dollars in expenses through borrowing and the interest attached. Of course, in the maintenance, upkeep, and upgrading of a city and its infrastructure, capital projects are inevitable. Two issues cloud the capital outlay process as it’s practiced in Pittsfield, however:
1.) Some projects seem to be done simply to spend money. Often, these dollars find their way to “connected” vendors, contractors, and such.
2.) The process by which the projects reach “approved” status remains murky, confused, and confusing. Is this by design or chance? What do you think?
One blatant example of (1) and (2) can be found in The Strange Case of The PHS Basketball Floor. For one thing, the composite floor on the PHS gym should never have reached the deteriorated state in the first place. A well-placed source informs THE PLANET that had the regular weekly treatment of the floor with a specific chemical wash, the floor would have held up for years.
Whoever is in charge of maintenance apparently did not provide the needed upkeep. Routine maintenance would have kept the floor in good shape, much like a deck needs to be treated and varnished periodically. Sources say the floor received almost no regular care. Is this so? Didn’t the school department tell the school committee that the floor did receive regular maintenance? Who’s telling the truth, and how much of this slipped through Dan Bianchi’s attention — both as a school committee member and as mayor?
Okay, that’s gone flooring that can’t be sanded or poured into shape. Fact is, it appears as if the floor was allowed to deteriorate, and it needed to be replaced for the integrity of the gym and the safety of the children who use the facility in physical education classes and sporting events.
Bianchi included the PHS gym floor in his capital projects budget. He called for a capital expenditure of $150,000. The council approved this figure. THE PLANET points out that it’s not the city council’s job to vet the process leading up to the approval or disapproval of a capital expense. The council receives the proposal having to trust that at each stage, the proposed capital expense has been justified by the appropriate city department or departments and that proper procedures have been followed.
Now it turns out that the new floor will cost $60,000 more than the council approved. Taxpayers will take the hit.
That’s a last-second cost increase of 40%, unexplained by the city.
At the Aug. 13 council meeting, at large councilor Barry Clairmont questioned the last-minute request, first submitted by Mayor Bianchi as a late communication after the council agenda had been set the Thursday prior. The late communication is the first red flag. If Bianchi’s team had done its homework, how could the cost be off by so much? And how is it that so many capital projects, approved at one price point, later come in at costs well above the “advertised” price — conveniently after the council has given the go ahead? This is the city of Pittsfield’s version of bait and switch. Clairmont listed three such projects: the fire alarm system at Reid Middle School, painting of the PHS dome, and replacing the floor at city hall. Who’s profiting from these “last-minute” deals? Does anyone dare to look?
At the council meeting, Clairmont said he learned that the initial quote for the cost of replacing the gym floor came not from a qualified city department head but “from a volunteer.” It points to a lack of process. As Clairmont pointed out, the city has no standardized procedures for obtaining “reliable quotes” or if it does, the process isn’t followed. Under this lack of process, all sorts of shenanigans rear their ugly head as possibilities, including the possibility of “favorite son” contracts and kickbacks.
THE PLANET looked into the history of how the PHS floor project came to be, and it exemplifies the lack of professionalism in the city’s capital projects “process.” As mayor, the responsibility for this lack of procedure ultimately falls on Bianchi. At the costs associated, it’s far too expensive to run the city like Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.
We shall continue our investigation. Next week, we reveal the results. Five — count ’em — five city departments had a chance to review the PHS gym floor contract, not counting the mayor’s office. Not one of them found anything wrong with the initial bid process.
A former Pittsfield mayor gets called out for excessive spending.
A sitting Pittsfield city councilor gets busted on drug charges.
A highly questionable capital expense process leads to cost overruns and many unanswered questions.
Welcome to Pittsfield, investors. Welcome to Pittsfield, you companies looking to expand. Welcome to Pittsfield, you businesses looking for a start-up location.
Welcome to Pittsfield, whose name is corruption, graft, and special privileges for the elite.
Welcome to Pittsfield, where The Little Guy has no chance.
Except here on THE PLANET. Except for Dan Valenti. We will fight for you.
The best is yet to come!
“To others we may seem a blur at breakneck speed, / But orbits are weightless, and velocity is light. / To bring it down to the menu level, we take what we need: / A hummingbird tasted, a flying swallow, in delight.” — Dan Valenti, final verse, “Stillness at the Speed of Light.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.