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GENIUS IS FOUND EVERYWHERE BUT IN POLITICS, WHERE INTEGRITY COMES THE CLOSEST … PSC’s VIOLATION OF THE LAW BODES ILL FOR PITTSFIELD PUBLIC SCHOOLS

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, AUG. 15, 2013) — Before we finish with Terry Kinnas‘ triumph and the Pittsfield School Committee‘s defeat in the AG’s ruling on an Open Meeting Law allegation, we present this brief meditation on genius.

When intuition not only infuses but overcomes experience, we find ourselves in the presence of the possibility of genius. Nothing is a given. In genius, we find the premonition of extracted possibility, making mere presentiment of impossibility. The “impossible?” — It doesn’t exist when genius contemplates the actions viable within the bounds of reality but not recognized as such by most others.  Television. Electricity. Splitting the atom.  The examples are countless.

The term “genius” gets thrown about casually these days. It seems in this day when All is Marketing, anyone who excels at a particular skill or in a specific field is a “genius.” IQs, over 150 make you a genius. Over 175, and you are a supergenius. Over 200, unmeasurable genius. Bill Belichick is a “genius” Lady Gaga is a “genius.” Geniuses are a dime a dozen, in every field except one.

There are no geniuses in politics.

The attainment of power and the grinding of its wielding cannot produce prodigies. THE PLANET would need another 5,000 words to explain why, syllables that we shall mercifully skip.  The simplest explanation, reductio ad absurdem, is that politics is too dirty and back stabbing. The closest democratic politics can approach genius can be found in the quality of integrity. Unfortunately, in politics, integrity shows up about as often as Howard Hughes. When it does, however, we have something and someone exceptional on our hands.

Enter Terry Kinnas. He’s not a genius. For that matter, he’s not a “politician” in the usual, scummy sense. He’s a man with integrity.

His critics point out Kinnas’ penchant for rambling, for getting too much into the “Inside Baseball” of issues, for being dry as Canada, and for being as exciting as a brown bow tie. Even if all of that is true, nothing matters more than the man’s character. Politics measures that as “integrity.” A person with integrity is sincere, truthful, and trustworthy. That described Kinnas.

THE PLANET reported yesterday that the state Attorney General’s office validated Kinnas’ Open Meeting Law complaint filed against his colleagues on the Pittsfield School Committee. The AG ruled that the PSC illegally deliberated over the hiring of the new superintendent by secret e-mail. Here’s a copy of the AG’s letter, sent to the PSC’s hired gun:

—– 00 —–

Russell J. Duperc, Esq.

General Counsel Pittsfield School Committee

223 College Highway Southampton, MA 01073

RE: Open Meeting Law Complaint

Dear Attorney Dupere:

(617)727-2200 www.mass.gov/ago

This office received an Open Meeting Law complaint from Terry Kinnas, dated January 10, 2013, alleging that the Pittsfield School Committee (the “Committee”) violated the Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, §§ 18-25. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the Committee Chair “sent out an email requesting that members look at a document that was developed in an open meeting” and asked members for their input. The complaint was filed with the Committee on or about November 14, 2012. The Committee responded by letter dated December 14, 2012.

Following our review, we find that the Committee violated the Open Meeting Law by deliberating over email. See OML 2011-37; OML 2011-35.1 [PLANET's underline]

On October 15, 2012, Committee Chair Alfred Barbalunga sent an email to the other members of the Committee with two attached documents, writing “please review the two attached documents & drop a line with any suggested modifications – need this by tomorrow/16th evening.” One Committee member replied to the email on October 16, 2012, attaching her suggested changes to the document. After the complainant raised concerns about email deliberation. Chair Barbalunga sent an email to the Committee members on October 18, 2012, writing that “only kathy y. & myself have incorporated any changes to date, if you have any last suggestions, please email [the superintendent search consultant] directly by 9am tomorrow.”

1 Open Meeting Law determinations may be found at the Attorney General’s website, www.mass.gov/ago/openmeeting.

August 9, 2013 OML 2013-114The Chair’s October 15, 2012 email constituted improper deliberation because it was sent to a quorum of the Committee and solicited Committee members’ opinions outside of a meeting. See G.L. c. 30A, § 18; OML 2011-35.1 The response sent by one of the Committee members, attaching suggested edits to a document, was also deliberation. The Chair’s October 18, 2012 email was not deliberation, however, because it provided a document to be discussed at a meeting, and requested that suggested edits be sent to a non-Committee member for review, in this case the Superintendent Search Consultant.

We appreciate the Committee’s vote in response to the complaint that “in the future all input will be sent directly to the third party consultants.” We order the Committee’s immediate and future compliance with Open Meeting Law, and consider the complaint addressed by this determination to be resolved. Please feel free to contact our office at (617) 963-2540 if you have any questions or believe any facts in this letter to be inaccurate.

cc: Pittsfield School Committee Terry Kinnas

This determination was issued pursuant to G.L. c. 30A, § 23(c). A public body or any member of a body aggrieved by this order may obtain judicial review through an action filed in Superior Court pursuant to G.L. c. 30A, § 23(d). The complaint must be filed in Superior Court within twenty-one days of receipt of this order.

1 Open Meeting Law determinations may be found at the Attorney General’s website, wvvw.mass.gov/ago/openmeeting.

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This may seem to be a trivial matter, and one could argue such, except for one thing. A person has to ask: If the committee members other than Kinnas don’t know the Open Meeting Law, what other laws do they not know? If they do know the law, why did they ignore it? What other law do they ignore? If they have read the Open Meeting Law, they should have realized the illegal nature of their actions. If they violate the law on casual matters, isn’t it reasonable to assume they do so on larger ones?

Pittsfield, recall, is the school district that can have $9,000 in prom money stolen from a locked teacher’s drawer and not do anything about it. The PSD is a district where one of its assistant superintendent’s can basically award the building of a free house to his secretary and have the matter skate away on the thin ice of the next day.

That’s the larger issue: If not for Kinnas, this matter would have remained hidden. Kinnas, a sharp cookie, picks his battles, as anyone willing to fight the GOB must do. How many more violations have occurred that we shall never know about? What is the assurance that the PSC will follow the law, as it promises to do? Why should be believe the members on this point? What else is going on in the PSD at this moment? We hear all kinds of tips, rumors, and reports from dime droppers. Can any of it be true?

Kinnas is the only rookie this term serving on the PSC. Barbalunga, Conant, Yon, Amuso, Bianchi, and Elias each have extensive experience in government, in meetings, and in procedure. You mean to seriously suggest to THE PLANET that not one of them realized they were breaking the law? If that’s the case, then the situation with the Pittsfield Public Schools is far worse than we have previously thought. The alternative is that they did realize they were breaking the law and did so anyway. Which is worse?

And do you think the PSC will be any more respectful of the law and transparent after Kinnas leaves after the end of this term? Right.

THE PLANET has contacted the other six members of the PSC for comment.

Let us know what you think about this and other issues. THE PLANET exists as a platform for ideas, debate, discussion, and deliberation. We aim to give people the avenue for free expression Pittsfield city government so dearly wants to take away from you.

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“What is the metre of the dictionary? / The size of genesis? The short spark’s gender? / Shade without shape? The shape of Pharaoh’s echo?”Dylan Thomas, from 4th stanza, “Altarwise by Owl-Light” (1936)

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

19 Responses to “GENIUS IS FOUND EVERYWHERE BUT IN POLITICS, WHERE INTEGRITY COMES THE CLOSEST … PSC’s VIOLATION OF THE LAW BODES ILL FOR PITTSFIELD PUBLIC SCHOOLS”

  1. Bull Durham
    August 15, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    Not only ‘should’ they have read the Open Meeting Law, they are legally required to do so and have to take a state test every two years on both Open Meeting Law and Conflict of Interest. Anyone who has taken that test (as I have) clearly knows that you cannot under any circumstances initiate a discussion, in person, by phone or by other electronic means, that is shared by a quorum of members. Once you have hit the quorum mark, you are in violation. Naturally, this little stipulation never stops it from happening, as we’ve witnessed here.

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      BULL
      As a public official, your testimony here is enlightening. It proves a point at which we only insinuated: there’s NO EXCUSE for any violation of the Open Meeting Law.

  2. Still wondering
    August 15, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    The accepted score for membership in MENSA is 140. The average for humans is 100. God knows what the average for politicians is…

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

      SW
      The average politician’s IQ comes in at slightly below a two-slice toaster.

  3. Ron Kitterman
    August 15, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    Great piece Dan. There use to be a show on TV called Truth or Consequences, unfortunately we get a heavy dose of consequences and a sprinkle of truth in Pittsfield politics and every other level. Keep their feet to the fire or they will win.

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      Thanks, Ron. Are you ready yet to push “Dan Valenti” in a sticker campaign?

  4. bobbyd
    August 15, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    I can say that I agree with your assessment of genius. IMO, directed creativity trumps raw processing power any day. One of my heroes, Richard Feynman, was an extraordinarily creative man and a peerless physicist, yet he reportedly had an IQ barely above 120.

    As to Mr. Kinnas, I can only say our experiences of and with the man are quite disparate. I am sure that you have spent much more time with him than I have and, therefore, are in better position to know him. I truly wish I’d had the opportunity to meet the man you described.

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      BOBBYD
      Feynman is a great example. As for Terry, well stated. Our experiences, each at different times for different lengths in different places, are valid ones. Yes, I have spent a lot of time with Terry over a lot of years, but I accept and respect your experience with him.

  5. dusty
    August 15, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    My guess is that the school committee members did NOT know what an open meeting violation was. And i am willing to bet they still don’t know. Or care. Keep in mind that two of these genius types are shooting for the City Council with what I am sure will be heavy GOB backing. I am going to go out on a limb and bet once again that they won’t know what an open meeting violation is when they get there either.

    Or care

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

      DUSTY
      “Or care” — Those are the operative words here. I agree with your assessment.

  6. Mr. X
    August 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    DV, why do you call Bill B. a genius?

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      MR X
      Note how I worded and the context of the words. I made the point that “genius” is over-subscribed. The football world puts Bill in the “genius” category for creating a dynasty in an era when the league engineered that to be “impossible” through parity. In a league designed for every team to go 8-8, in the past 11 years the Patriots have won 10 division titles, five conference championship (in six appearances), and been the five Super Bowls, winning three of them. Lady Gaga is said to be a “genius” by mavens of pop culture for reasons we neither understand nor care to know.

  7. skier1
    August 15, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Not only do elected officials have to read the open meeting laws they also have to sign a paper saying they read it and would be on file in city hall for anyone to see.

  8. tim
    August 15, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    While its probably reasonable to expect that this is only one of many violations of the law… and not limited to the psc, probably most councils and committees around the city/county/ state/country violate the law regularly… i think its unfair of you to put this one violation on the whole committee. Its clear that only 2 members have violated the law here. Do the others share some guilt by allowing it to happen and standing by while only kinnas reported it? Sure, but i still think that barbalunga and yon are the violators here. Maybe the others were smart enough to realize the violation, assumed kinnas would raise a stink, so they didnt reply in order to cover their own. Standing by idly is wrong too but its not the same.

  9. Dave
    August 15, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    Debate for school committee (assuming it is not Kratka, who wouldn’t have the balls to ask)

    Moderator: Mrs Yon, did you realize your response to Mr Barbalunga’s e-mail was in violation of the open meeting laws?

    Mrs Yon: Educating the children should be our first priority, they are our future………..blah…….blah…..

    Moderator: Regarding the e-mail, were you aware it was a violation?

    Mrs Yon: We need to fund the schools, its for the children, they are our future……..blah……..blah………

    Moderator: You were a teacher, you wouldn’t let a student off the hook by claiming they didn’t know the rules when they were supposed to have read and understand them, how do you explain your response to the e-mail- ignorance or total disregard for the law?

    Mrs. Yon: Could you repeat the question?

    Moderator: You… never mind Mr Elias …..

    Sadly Mrs. Yon is top vote getter in the 2013 election and takes over for Alf as Chair…………only in Pittsfield!!!!!

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

      DAVE
      Kratka, as you say, wouldn’t dare “press” candidates while moderating debates. Those who have seen me do it know that’s how I made a living: asking the questions they didn’t want asked and insisting on answers.

  10. Giacometti
    August 15, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Dan…I’m ready to put together a bumper sticker political machine if you need one. It’s just a matter of doing photo-silk screening on an assembly line using campaign workers to run the entire job.
    A real hands-on feel good kind of job….So just say the word.

    • danvalenti
      August 15, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

      We thank you, G, for this generous offer.

  11. MrG1188
    August 16, 2013 at 5:43 am #

    Every member of any committee on which I have served has been aware of, and usually very mindful of Open Meeting law. It is central to any training and, as mentioned above, tested about regularly. I am still curious as to the “secret meeting agendas” meant solely for committee members suggesting how they should vote. Clearly those would be in violation as well and would be much more pernicious than the violation for which they were already cited. Any follow up on that?