PLANET’S MISSION ISN’T TO BREAK THE NEWS, ALTHOUGH WE DO SO REGULARLY, WITHOUT EVEN TRYING … OFFICIAL REACTION TO AG’s RULING AGAINST PSC REVEALS ARROGANCE OF GOB AND ITS DISDAIN FOR THE LAW
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, AUG. 2o, 2013) — Let’s get one thing clear from the outset. THE PLANET does not have as its mission the breaking of news. We leave that task to the other media in town, particularly to the so-called “mainstream media,” which consists of The Boring Broadsheet and local radio — Slim Pickens if we’ve ever seen it. This is another way of saying that all too frequently, the news that stirs controversy because of its nature, and the news that’s most relevant to the average, ordinary Joe, does not get reported, much less broken — often until we break it.
Almost by default, THE PLANET breaks story after story. This stems from a combination of several factors:
(1) The BB’s and local radio’s unwillingness to engage even the possibility of rattling the cages of local businesses, GOBs, poo-bahs, and Suits that either advertise or know advertisers. This serves as the faithful attendant of the cowardice of the local mainstream media. Think about it. The BB has an entire newsroom at its disposal, including the personnel. THE PLANET has but Yours Truly. Local radio news has been reduced to rip-and-read cobbling.
(2) THE PLANET’s vast roster of sources and spies, who constantly inform us of the ins and outs of what’s taking place in the slimy halls of local politics. They make the difference. Naturally, we can’t name them, but we have informants in everywhere in the city, including city government and local businesses — City Hall and Mercer (home of the Pittsfield School Department administration and its $90+ million) especially. We also have the streets pretty well covered. Our collection of spies, gumshoes, secret sources, dime droppers, and Z-agents make up what we proudly call The Secret Squadron.
(3) THE PLANET’s editorial independence. We provide this website as a public service, eating its cost of time, talent, and treasure (fear not, since our geese and their golden eggs lie elsewhere, and we also have Pretty Polly and her abundant fruit). Because we neither run nor solicit/sell advertising space, no one can lean on us in terms of what we decide to cover. No one, except THE PLANET, decides this. No one. There’s no other local media player that can make this claim. We have led to a lot of Maalox Moments for those in power and those who claw to hang onto it, but isn’t that the point?
4.) An unprecedented rate of output. In its recent profile of THE PLANET, Berkshire Magazine referred to us as “Berkshire County’s most prolific journalist.” On a daily basis, no other writer comes close to our output in terms of quantity and quality.
The most recent example of breaking news occurred last week (we do not include yesterday’s breaking news regarding the rumored arrest of a city councilor on drug-related charges), when we alone reported on the state Attorney General’s ruling against the Pittsfield School Committee‘s violation of the Open Meeting Law. How did we manage to uncover this news? We did it through simple vigilance — We routinely check certain web sites, and the AG’s is one of them.
The navigate the AG’s web site, and almost any state website, for that matter, one has to be clever and determined. What, do you think state government wants to make certain information easy to obtain and transparent? What should have taken one click on the site took several, and those not immediately apparent. Nonetheless, knowing how to navigate this site, we found the press release that we published on Wednesday of last week. The news itself we reported the day before.
There it hung like a ripe peach ready for plucking: a press release of the AGs ruling against the PSC, in the form of an official communication sent to the general council to the school committee. The BB or any other news organization (and we use the term loosely) could have found this information just as easily, providing, that is, they knew where to look and took the time to bother looking. That they didn’t (or didn’t care) came as no big surprise. That’s how, once again, we scooped the all without even trying.
The BB being the BB, seeing how much local interest our coverage generated forced the newspaper to report the story, which they did on Friday. This being the BB, the paper reported the story as if it was breaking the news, making itself a laughingstock to all those who found out days earlier on THE PLANET. This being the BB, the newspaper did not report that it was merely offering followup coverage and that planetvalenti.com first broke the news. This being the BB, the newspaper doesn’t know about or doesn’t care about that long-standing practice, called professional courtesy, we one medium acknowledges another when the other break the news first and the first one is doing a follow-up story.
When we broke the story, THE PLANET followed soon after by sending e-mails to all the PSC, copying in Kinnas. Alf Barbalunga, Dan Bianchi, Jim Conant, Kathy Amuso, Dan Elias, and Kathy Yon received the following inquiry:
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MEMBERS OF THE PSC
As you know, the state AG’s office ruled that the PSC broke the law with respect to Terry Kinnas’ Open Meeting Law complaint over e-mail deliberations. THE PLANET broke this story and has continued to comment. We shall be only more than glad to include any of your statements. Particularly:
* Do you agree with the ruling?
* Did Kinnas act properly?
* Why didn’t you know the law as well as Terry?
* Do you rate this violation as much ado about nothing or a serious matter?
* What assurances do you give the public that there are no other violations of law?
Feel free to add anything else you wish.
I would like to have comments by tomorrow night.
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Barbalunga and Bianchi ignored our request. So did Elias and Yon. Conant and Amuso commented. We shall present the latter two comments momentarily. First, a word about the ex-communicants.
Barbalunga’s silence is relatively new. He typically responds promptly to media inquiries, including THE PLANET’s. That seems to have changed since we broke the news that he would not be seeking re-election as PSC chair. [As a side note, it's interesting to see that almost coincidental with Barbalunga's decision not to seek re-election came former Pittsfield police chief Anthony Riello's decision to run for school committee; word on the street has it that there's a secret deal in place to crown Riello king of the PSC in Barbalunga's absence]. Yes, we broke that story, too.
Barbalunga amazingly told the BB that he didn’t believe the PSC broke the law, despite the AG’s ruling. This admission is telling, for it can be seen as symptomatic of a general GOB tendency to see itself above the law. The law is for others, the peons, the unwashed masses that do the living, the dying, and the taxpaying in Pittsfield. Barbalunga hinted at an appeal. Apparently, he doesn’t realize that in an Open Meeting Law complaint, the AG, as adjudicator, has final say. The AG serves as judge and jury. There can be no appeal.
We could list countless examples of this arrogance, including, to name a tiny few, the Civic Authority civil war (the city still hasn’t healed from that), the Nilan-Moore case, and Spectrumgate. There is, in fact, a general culture in official Pittsfield and among the GOB to ignore the law when it’s convenient to do so.
Here are the two comments we received:
“I take all issues with the AG seriously. I accept the AG’s ruling. We made a mistake and we need to learn from it. We have put in a different process that will not break the open meeting law that the AG’s office has agreed with. I feel Terry has a right to do what he feels he needs to do.
We need to concentrate on our district and do the work that needs to be done to improve it.”
“I agree with the ruling, Terry did what he thought was right and I am fine with his complaint to the AG. I was not totally sure at the time so, did not reply. It is Mass law so I take the matter seriously. I have confidence the SC and the chair are not going to repeat the mistake again.”
Both Amuso and Conant make the essentials two points: First is the need to take the AG’s ruling seriously. That is something Barbalunga has not done nor has Bianchi, apparently, given his silence on the matter. Second is the need to learn from the mistake and start running meetings, be they in person, electronic, or otherwise, in a lawful manner. Again, neither Barbalunga nor Bianchi have indicated they care about the law in this respect.
THE PLANET praises Amuso and Conant for their comments. We cannot say the same for Barbalunga and in particular Bianchi. Above all, the mayor has a responsibility to adhere to the law and not think of himself beyond it. Here we have the state attorney general stating in her finding that the mayor of Pittsfield, in his capacity as a member of the PSC, broke the law, and the mayor doesn’t think that it’s a big deal.
Bianchi’s continued attempts to freeze us out achieves the opposite. We have strong plants inside the administration, and we shall get our information with or without the mayor’s help. The pity is that by pulling the old “I ain’t talking to you” jazz (pulled on us by every mayor since Anne Wotjkowski except Jim Ruberto), Bianchi robs himself of giving us his version of events. The same lame tactic came back to fatally bite Reilly, Doyle, and Hathaway, and it shall do so with Bianchi.
That being said, as always, we remain open not only to the mayor but to any other federal, state, and city official. We remain especially open to those that may disagree with us. THE PLANET is eager, always, to provide a forum for those who do not share our views.
“When the knowers won’t speak, the guessers will guess.” — Sir Tiberius Fruitjuice
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.