PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, AUG. 26, 2013) — In our previous column, THE PLANET outlined the lack of process in capital projects under Mayor Dan Bianchi, exemplified by the shoddy procurement and vetting work related to a proposal for work on a new gym floor at PHS.

Capital expenses occur outside the budget, brought forth by the mayor, approved (or not) by the city council, and paid for by borrowed money. Capital spending will this year push the city budget past $140 million. Bianchi put in for $150,000 in his capital projects to replace the gym floor. In a late communication to the city council, he asked for $60,000 more — a 40% hike in the figure initially approved by the council.

As we pointed out, the first problem is determining why school officials allowed the floor to deteriorate. A source familiar with the maintenance told THE PLANET that the floor, which requires weekly treatment, hadn’t been receiving this treatment for some time — believed to be years. Is this in fact what happened? Someone needs to pull the maintenance records for the gym floor going back at least 1o years. There should be a maintenance log that has the facts: Who didn’t do what, when, and why not?

The floor is shot; it needs to be repaired. That much is clear. However, it behooves the mayor, the school superintendent, and especially the Pittsfield School Committee to investigate the maintenance issue. If officials allowed the gym floor to crumble, what other facilities and infrastructure has been subject to this same inattention? Is there an established process and procedure for routine upkeep of taxpayer-owned facilities, equipment, buildings, and tools? Is there accountability? Who’s keeping track? As Casey Stengel once famously said about the 1962 New York Mets: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

Digging into PSC minutes, THE PLANET reports that on April 24, 2013, Steve Ray, head coach of the PHS boys’ basketball team, told the school committee “about the condition of the … floor and the need for it to be replaced. He said the floor is a safety hazard and unsafe for students to play on.” Committeeman Dan Elias, according to the minutes, “attested to the fact that the PHS gym floor was bad 10 years ago.” Again, the question of maintenance comes to the front.

Once the decision was made to replace the floor, Bianchi decided to pay for it not with school funds but with borrowed money as a capital expense. At this point, one would expect a few things to happen:

1. That Bianchi would inform the proper department heads (Jim Abel, athletic director at PHS, would seem to be the logical choice; also, the school committee; and he city’s purchasing department).

2.) That Bianchi would assign Coleen Hunter-Mullet, the city’s purchasing agent, to head to effort to find vendors and obtain proposals from competing contractors.

3.) That Bianchi would meet with Abel and Ray for their input.

4.) After obtaining a proper quote, purchasing would submit a formal proposal to the mayor, who would pass it along to the city council for action.

In short, such a process demands that purchasing professionals take charge at the mayor’s direction.

THE PLANET’s investigation has determined, however, that an amateur, a volunteer and not city purchasing professionals, did the legwork on soliciting a proposal through the office of city treasurer Sue Carmel. Who was that person? We can’t say for sure, but it appears to be Jim Abel. At any rate, Abel’s name is in the “To:” blank of the FAX sent by a flooring company along with a proposal.

Giving this person the benefit of the doubt, you can excuse the eagerness to be of help. Nonetheless, with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake, no mayor can let purchasing take place outside of the city’s due process. Sue Carmel is not Coleen Mullen. The treasurer is not the purchaser? What conclusion can we reach, other than Bianchi seems to have lost control over his own government?

To Better Understand this Chain of Events, Let’s Go Back in Time

On Dec. 3, 2012 (more than four months before Steve Ray appeared before the PSC telling them of the floor), Abel received a FAXd proposal from a company called Forth Sport Floors Inc. of East Greenbush, NY. First question: Why Forth Sports? Someone must come forth, pun intended, and explain this, if only to avoid the more cynical interpretation: That there’s a mercenary reason that Forth Sport should have been asked to bid, with money finding its way to “who knows where.” Be clear: THE PLANET does not make that assertion. We merely suggest it as a possibility, where it will remain in place until Bianchi, Abel, school Supt. Jason McCandless, or PSC chairman Alf Barbalunga explains.

Forth Sport furnished a proposal to “furnish all labor, materials, and equipment, to install the Action Interlock Floor System over the existing synthetic floor.” It quoted a total price of $113,000, or $97,000 less than what the floor will cost from another vendor. How could the proposal be off by so much? Was this a legitimate process?

THE PLANET learned that those in the know about the cost of such floors scoffed at the $113,000 quote for being way too low. The low-ball offer raised eyebrows, including those of Bianchi. It further turned out that Forth Sport, according to our sources, is not DCAM certified to do the work.

What is DCAM?

From the website of the state office of administration and finance: “Contractors wishing to submit prime bids on public building projects estimated to cost more than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) for the construction, reconstruction, installation, demolition, maintenance, or repair of any publicly owned building must first be certified by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM). Certification is also required for filed sub-bids. The certification process is conducted by DCAMM Contractor Certification Office.” 

Thus, boiling this all down:

1.) Mayor Bianchi allowed a volunteer to solicit a bid

2.) From a contractor not certified to do the work.

“Can’t anyone here play this game?”

Wait, though. The story gets better.

Our sources say that after the volunteer obtained the quote from Forth Sport, he gave it to school committeeman Jim Conant for some unknown reason. Conant, our sources tell us, gave the quote to assoc. school supt. Kristen Behnke, who is responsible for the school budget and school purchasing. Behnke reportedly gave the quote to Bianchi, who said the quote was underfunded. Sources says Behnke turned around and gave the quote to Pete Sondrini in building maintenance. Round and round she goes, and where she stops …

Sondrini balked at doing the project, wanting to know if the old floor could be saved. Sondrini, we hear, also wondered why school-side maintenance did not do the required upkeep of the PHS gym floor. He then turned the proposal over to Coleen Hunter-Mullet. Hunter, sources say, “didn’t do anything about it.” What goes around comes round, apparently.

At some point in this merry-go-round, Conant went to Mayor Bianchi and told him $150,000 would not be enough for a new gym floor. Bianchi went ahead anyway. Question: Did he know he would need $60,000 in additional funds? If so, why did he submit an underfunded request. If not, why not? Did he bait and switch, presenting it to the council at a lower price to get it approved only to come in later for the extra $60 grand, after the commitments had been made?

In the end, the city selected American Sport Floors Inc. of Rockland, Mass., to do the work, which has not begun yet. We don’t know if the purchasing process for ASF went through the city’s purchasing department or not. ASF quotes $172,220 for a new floor, plus an engineering contingency that is expected to push the final price up to or over $210,000.

—– 00 —–

A proposal sought by a volunteer from a company not certified to do the work went through five different city departments (school committee, school department, mayor’s office, city building and maintenance, and city purchasing) with no one stepping forward to provide leadership.

Does this exemplify the purchasing process under Mayor Bianchi, or is it just an aberration, to use a word made famous by Sarah Hathaway? We have calls into Bianchi’s office. When the e-mail or phone doesn’t ring, we know it’s the mayor not calling.


“Yes, lad, I lie easy, / I lie as lads would choose; / I cheer a dead man’s sweeheart, / Never ask me whose.”A. E. Housman, final verse, “Is My Team Ploughing?”






  1. dusty
    August 26, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    Dan this is off topic but I thought it was newsworthy and important to the public.

    In yesterdays Sunday Eagle there was a story about some awards that were given to Berkshire Medical Center. Hooray for them. In the interest of fair reporting though I thought it should be know that in the September 2013 issue of Consumer Reports on page 39, Berkshire Medical Center is reported to be not the best choice for surgery for hospitals in Massachusetts. Surgery candidates should look at this article and consider their options.

    • danvalenti
      August 26, 2013 at 8:24 am #

      Thank you, DUSTY.

    • Catwoman
      August 26, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

      I read this blog often but don’t often post. Dusty’s post about BMC put me in mind of this blog I saw yesterday by another Berkshire blogger. It seems to be going viral at least on facebook-maybe he’ll get some results.

      • danvalenti
        August 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

        Thank you for sharing this story.

      • B
        August 26, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

        I read his blog earlier this evening, People are responding to it like flies. There are so many horror stories about that place you would think it would’ve been shut down by now. I have a horror story that happened to me three years ago that would make your skin crawl, Not to mention they gave me MRSA and I had to have a second operation to correct the first operation because of the MRSA. To make a long story short I couldn’t understand why they were waiting more than 30 days to schedule my second operation when I was dripping with MRSA and had to Visiting nurses in my home daily. I later found out the answer should you need corrective surgery within 30 days, Medicare cuts down on the payments from the first one and I believe they don’t pay for the second one. It seems to me it was a monetary gain for Berkshire Healthsystem while I suffered for an extra months being ill while they cost

        • CarlosDanger
          August 27, 2013 at 6:20 am #

          What happened to you is what is known as HAC – Hospital Acquired Condition. In other words, you went to the hospital for one thing, and they gave you another and made you sicker. In business, this is the equivalent of having a ‘repeat customer’. With any business, you want repeat customers as that ensures a constant influx of money. Therefore, hospitals have no motivation to prevent HAC – why would you not want a repeat customer so you can make money? So Medicare noticed this was happening and started putting restrictions on payments for HAC. And of course the hospital – not caring about you one bit – put off the surgery you needed so they could get payment for it.
          You have fallen victim to one of the worst health care systems in first world countries. I am sorry you had to go through that.

  2. Jonathan Melle
    August 26, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    I agree with Dan Valenti that Pittsfield needs to change!
    Mayor Dan Bianchi needs to change Pittsfield politics.
    The Good Old Boy network still runs the show in Pittsfield.
    I sum up all of the frustration with Pittsfield by stating:
    “This is Pittsfield!”

  3. Scott
    August 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    More waste of money by govt and why not if we’re going to spend that kind of dough spend it here in the berkshires with a local company??? These people need a clue. too bad Dans hint at running for office was all just bs. We need someone in there to balance the spending. A promise Bianchi campaigned on. What a farce that was!

  4. Magic
    August 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Do you not have to live in Pittsfield to be the mayor?

    • danvalenti
      August 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

      Not as a write-in candidate. Should that candidate win, he would have to be a resident in order to assume office in January.

      • B
        August 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

        Dan, I thought you had to be a registered voter in Pittsfield 20 days before voting in order to have it count. If you’re not a registered voter in Pittsfield aren’t we wasting our votes? Don’t you think we should all be leaving it blank so that there would be more blanks since there’s a lot of people in Pittsfield who don’t know about your blog, so they won’t know to put your name in. If we get more blank votes then there are Bianchi votes that would Really be sending him the message that he’s not wanted. Just something to consider!

        • danvalenti
          August 27, 2013 at 7:15 am #

          Registering to vote in Pittsfield 20 day or more prior to the election is a requirement, and, obviously, any candidate serious about a sticker bid would do that. There is, though, a serious question here as far as write-in candidacies. Courts have ruled that EVERY vote must count, as long as the voter’s intent is clear, even on write-ins that left address out completely. The vote, therefore, would not be wasted. Also, write-in totals as well as the blanks would be the true measure of discontent with the incumbent.

  5. Tom Verizer
    August 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    Great reporting DV. I’m waiting for the BBs investigative work…not!!

    • danvalenti
      August 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      Thank you, TV.

  6. EddieP
    August 26, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    I too have been treated to 6 hour sessions in BMCs ER. Staff just standing aroung the nurses station doing seemingly nothing. They put us in that little room and forgot about us for an hour. When I came out to check, they were surprised that we were in there. Our paperwork had been “lost”. Maybe they qualify for a J.D.Power award. Everyone seems to be getting one these days.
    On another note, The GOB appears to be in the race for a medical marijuana dispensary. None other than good ole boy Andrea Nuciforo has applied in Hampshire County dba/Kind medical Inc.
    Just a matter of time.

    • Jonathan Melle
      August 26, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

      Re: Nuciforo applied for pot permit
      Is Andrea Nuciforo Jr. using his political connections to receive one of the 35 medical marijuana dispensary permits in Massachusetts? (There are 181 applicants). Nuciforo is one of five applicants in Hampshire County and hopes to open Kind Medical Inc. Nuciforo is quoted in the Boston Herald: “We think that a dispensary should be patient-centered, it should be safe, secure and allow fair access to patients that need it,” Nuciforo said. “We think we can accomplish that for Western Mass.”

      • Jonathan Melle
        August 26, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

        Former state senator Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. of Pittsfield, who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Richard Neal in the last congressional race, is among a group seeking to open a dispensary in Hampshire County under Kind Medical Inc., according to state filings. Dr. Joseph P. Keenan of Westfield is listed as the group’s president.

        Source: “Five groups seek medical marijuana dispensary licenses in Hampshire County” By By DAN CROWLEY, Staff Writer, Daily Hampshire Gazette, August 24, 2013.

        • danvalenti
          August 26, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

          I’m running an item on this tomorrow.

    • danvalenti
      August 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      Thanks for your story.
      As for Nuciforo’s application, we shall have an item on tomorrow’s PLANET.

  7. Rick
    August 26, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    A clear violation of 30B….the bidding procedure. A project of this magnitude needs at least three written bids and to be advertized in the Legals. No way should this project be allowed to go foward.

  8. Ron Kitterman
    August 27, 2013 at 2:35 am #

    Thanks Jonathan, seems you have to have Esq. behind your name to be taken seriously in politics. On a positive note for Dan though Brian Lees won a write in vote for the hack job of Clerk of Courts but isn’t it interesting both former pols seem to jump in line behind medical maryjane to make a living ? So all isn’t lost for we the people yet.

  9. tito
    August 27, 2013 at 4:48 am #

    ,,,,,,it is easy for anyone to get a prescription for medical marijuana. The local dispensaries have a racket with local pot-friendly doctors who write prescriptions for the most questionable reasons. Pain that cannot be pinpointed, the onset of arthritis, or an undiagnosed cancer. all for a cash fee, no paper trail to hold them accountable or insurance dispute, anyone can go to one of these joints, say they have a pain, get a referral from a doctor, get their script, pay their cash and walk out with the pot,,, No wonder Little Andy left his Deeds job.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,