PLANET EXCLUSIVE: WE LEARN THE ‘SECRET’ FIGURE BEING USED FOR A NEW THS: $80 MILLION TO $100 MILLION … NO ONE KNOWS WHERE AND WHEN THIS FIGURE WAS DECIDED … SBNC FAILS TO GRILL CONSULTANT … PROJECT IS STARTING TO SMELL LIKE A WHITEWASH, WITH TAXPAYERS GETTING ABSOLUTELY CLOBBERED
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
ADD #1, WEDNESDAY, OCT. 23, 2013 — THE PLANET will keep yesterday’s post up for another day, because it’s so serious as we head into another precast election. The city is playing around with an $80 million to $100 million budget. No one knows or if they do are not saying how these figures came to be? No member of the School Building Needs Commission questioned this figure, and the mainstream media did not mention it. One SBNC member, speaking off the record, suspected that the blabbering of the figures was a slip of the ink and tongue.
No matter, because THE PLANET and THE PLANET alone, pounced on it. We think the taxpayers ought to know the disaster the GOB has planned for their pocketbooks.
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THE PLANET reminds you that tonight, the fireworks will fly at the Ward 6 debate between the incumbent, John Krol, and the challenger, Joe Nichols. This has been a bitterly contested race between two political veterans, who share no great mutual love. THE PLANET will be conducting a seminar to all debate moderators on how it should be done. Candidates will have no notes, and our format allows for ample give and take. This web site, PLANET VALENTI DOT COM, is sponsoring the debate, and yours truly will be refereeing. If you wish to the studios and witness the signature campaign event of 2013, we invite you. The broadcast begins at 7 p.m. If you wish to attend, you must be there by 6:45 p.m. If not, watch us live or catch one of the many re-braodcasts on tape.
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, OCT. 22, 2013) — Where do we begin?
The only way to move a mountain by hand is one pebble at a time. Let’s toss the first pebble your way: The School Building Needs Commission has a working figure of $80 million to $100 million to build a new Taconic High School. You haven’t seen that figure published or posted anywhere before. You’re reading it here, first, on THE PLANET.
That is not a typo: $80 million to $100 million.
It’s a range of figures that we’re sure “They” don’t want you to see. Also, that figure has some interesting mysteries and madnesses associated with it, including:
(a) No one knows from whence those figures come. We can only guess it was supplied to the SBNC by its design consultant, who’s being paid $350,000 by taxpayers. That’s separate and apart from the $1.35 million being paid to Skanska construction company to produce a preliminary design study. That’s $1.7 million being spent before any work is done, if it is done.
(b) No one could or would supply an answer as to how the $80 million to $100 million figures came to be furnished to the SBNC. No one asked the consultant for backup data on the figures. Amazing.
(c) THE PLANET does not recall any, nor are we aware of any, hearings meant to arrive at that figure.
(d) Keep in mind that, according to one well-placed school department source, the more the city spends on the building, the more the middle men make. Match that up with a comment made last night by the consultant, who told the SBNC that it’s best to spend as much money as you can to get what you want. Good thing to say, if — and we emphasize if — you’re going to get a cut of it somewhere along the way.
(e) Not one member of the SBNC present at last night’s meeting asked the consultant about that figure. No one asked, “Where did it come from?” … “What does it include?” … “What local input did you receive, and from whom, to arrive at that number?” … “How can you have a project cost estimate for a project that has no plans?” Those are only a few of the questions that should have been asked.
(f) Keep in mind that the SBNC is a committee not of the school department but of the mayor’s office. Mayor Dan Bianchi, who has made a blinding of transparency and slammed the door on open government, bears the ultimate responsibility for this appalling chaos. It would appear that the public’s business is being done in secret.
(g) Triangulate that bit of knowledge with our report yesterday on the evidence that suggests that the decision to build a new THS campus has been made already, in secret. If would logically suggest that, since no one questioned the $80 million to $100 million, it was likely produced in secret.
Add (a) through (g), and you get the confusion and madness of last night’s SBNC deliberations.
There were actually two meetings last night. The first was a “make-do,” one of the remedies for the alleged Open Meeting Law violation committed Oct. 4 by the SBNC and committee c0chairs Kathy Amuso and Jason McCandless. Amuso is a member of the school committee. She is leaving that post and running at-large for a city council seat. McCandless is PPS superintendent. At that meeting, the SBNC Design Subcommittee approved the THS design selection process “as presented by Skanska. As it turned out, the meeting was illegally posted, the chairwoman having failed to provide the public 48 hours notice, as required by law. There was also no signage and no handicapped access.
Terry Kinnas — the best friend of the citizens, residents, electorate, taxpayers, Little Guys, and all the rest of the good and “ordinary” people in whose name the SBNC and all other duly-constituted officials operate — filed an Open Meeting Law compalint on the official form provided by the state Attorney General’s office. City clerk Linda Tyer received it on Oct. 15 at 11:38 a.m. Tyer advised Amuso that one remedy would be a do-over for the meeting for the SBNC Design Subcommittee. That preceded last night’s regularly scheduled meeting of the SBNC whole. It was an admission of a violation, but to the subcommittee’s credit, it worked to satisfy the complaint.
THE PLANET interrupts our account at this point to ask anyone out there: Does anyone out there except certain members of the SBNC know that the commission has subcommittees? THE PLANET has never seen evidence. Go online to the city’s website. You won’t find any SBNC subcommittees listed. No names of members, no subcommittee tally, no nuttin’. We asked Kinnas if he knew of subcommittees. If anyone would know, it would be TK. He did not know!
While were at it, a couple of other points of process and procedure for this group that appears to be putting taxpayers on the hook for $100 million without them knowing about it. SPOILER ALERT: Here’s where we get into the “only in Pittsfield” aspects:
(1) There are two separate municipal online listings for SBNC. The city website has one list of members. The school website, from which came the listing THE PLANET posted yesterday, has a different set of characters. It is sloppy at best to have two different listings for one official body. At worst, it is — can you guess? — illegal. As Casey Stengel once said, “Can’t anyone here play this game?”
(2) Four members of the mysterious subcommittee that apparently is not listed anywhere are Amuso, McCandless, school asst. supt. Frank “Free House” Cote, and the ubiquitous and omnipresent Carmen Massimiano. As subcommittee members, each of these three are members of the committee of the whole. During roll call last night for the subcommittee “do-over” meeting, the clerk called Massimiano’s name. Ironically, he was not present. One slight problem: Massimiano’s term on the SBNC, therefore the committee, expired on Sept. 13, 2013.
Massimiano’s presence at any SBNC meeting or subcommittee since Sept. 13, therefore, would have been illegal. This would also have made all the such proceedings illegal, since he has no legal standing. Massimiano’s participation in SBNC proceedings on or after Sept. 13 would be like Joe Schmoe stepping up to a seat on an official city or school board or commission and, without any authorization, taking part in the proceedings.
Here’s the burning question: Has Massimiano attended any SBNC meetings since Sept. 13? If so, dum-de-dum-dum. That is a mighty big question, with as much as $100 million+ on the line for taxpayers.
In a ranging interview yesterday with Kinnas, THE PLANET asked him about this state of SBNC affairs. Kinnas said for the record, “There was a lot of confusion [at both meetings]. There seems to be a complete lack of communication, transparency, and openness here.” He singled out Amuso as SBNC co-chair, given her years of experience on the school committee and the lack of same from her co-chair, McCandless: ”I wouldn’t have her in charge of raking the leaves on my lawn.”
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The consultant last night also made a startling statement to the SBNC: He told the committee that he “would coach you on what to say” at the upcoming meeting with the state, where Boston will ask the committee tough questions about the design process and which company they want, to “make sure we are on the same page.” He was referring to a meeting that will take place on Dec. 17 in Boston, where the SBNC will meet with the Massachusetts School Building Authority. It struck us as an extremely odd thing to say at this point, leaving THE PLANET with the question: Isn’t that why the city has the SBNC? Why does this need to be “coached?” Do the city’s responses to the state’s questions have to be rehearsed, with lines supplied by an outside source who has a financial interest in the project? Does the mayor and his SBNC lack that much confidence?
For a concluding joke, we present this quote from “Free House,” who by day functions as a $100,000+ member of the PPS administration. Cote told Phil Demers of the Boring Broadsheet, that “public input also stands to become an increasingly large consideration” [Demers' paraphrase of Cote].
“More and more, people are going to start getting engaged and giving opinions,” Cote said.
Yeah, right. This is the asst. superintendent who named his own secretary as the beneficiary of free house building by the THS carpentry students. The last thing Cote, his department, and one of his benefactors, Bianchi, wanted at the time was public input or transparency. Cote and his backers did not take kindly to Kinnas or THE PLANET for exposing what the BB and every other media outlet in the area chose to ignore.
THE PLANET would ask Cote, as a member of both the SBNC and its mysterious (and mysteriously constituted) Design Subcommittee: “How in the name of Zeus does holding meetings at 11 a.m. or 4:30 p.m. allow for meaningful public input?
Folks, the last thing people “They” want, especially the mayor, is the involvement of Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski. Think of it as a form of political arrogance and evidence of his disdain for a true and representative version of the democratic process.
One last point is worth mentioning.During one of the meetings last night, Kinnas laid a bombshell on the mayor. He said either the mayor’s office or the city council owes the school department anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000. Bianchi’s face looked as if he had just purchased a banana plantation in Antarctica.
The reason city side (likely, the mayor) owes this money is that the city, not the schools, is responsible for buildings. The SBNC, therefore, is not a functionary of the school department. It is a functionary of the city. The mayor is CEO of the city. Connect the dots.
The rangy $10,000 to $100,000 amount refers to the money spent by the school department to send committee members on trips and junkets and money spent out of pocket thus far in the THS research process. No one seems to know what that cost is. Kinnas said he will research it. He estimated it to be between $10,000 to $100,000. And how will the mayor pay for that?
Are you a taxpayer? Got a mirror?
It will likely come from “free cash.”
Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for the great work.
I claim no excuses. When I came here, I, I knew what I had to do, and I have not done it. I have failed, and have miserably failed. … I can only hope that you, and the countless others who have gone before, will find it in your hearts to forgive me, for having let you down. I shall not find it so easy to forgive myself. That is all. Goodbye. — Michael Redgrave, as Andrew Crocker-Harris, “The Browning Version,” (1951).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.