PUZZLING DEBATE OVER THE DEFINITION OF “IMMEDIATE” HINGES ON POWER-ASSIGNING ROLE OF COUNCIL PRESIDENT … POWER GRAB WILL RIP ASUNDER VESTIGES OF FAIR PLAY AND THE DREADED ‘CIVILITY’ … IF YOU LIKE YOUR DEMOCRACY RAW AND ROUGH, YOU’LL LIKE WHAT HAPPENS IN THE NEW TERM
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, DEC. 18, 2013) — If you tuned into the last city council meeting of November (11/26), you saw them burn an hour discussing the definition of “immediate.”
THE PLANET is a lexicon-ographer in our spare time. One of our exercises involves defining terms (writers sometimes have strange ways of having fun). One arrives at the definition of a word or term by placing that term into a classification and then differentiating the term from all the other members of the class. For example, we can define a garden as a plot of land (the classification) used for the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other domesticated plants (how the term differs from others in the class).
Thus, we would define “immediate” as “the employment of an action that must take place instantaneously or without delay.” The class is “an action.” The differentiation is in the chronology (it must take place now and not at any other time). Informally, immediate means at the earliest opportunity, promptly, or expeditiously. Simple, eh? Then again, this is Pittsfield, which for the sake of two farthings would torture syntax right along with taxpayers and honest people.
The Bianchi Administration defines “immediately” as “an action that takes place only after a long delay.”
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There’s a power play going on in Pittsfield right now that will most likely erupt like Krakatoa sometime between yesterday and in the first few months of the new term beginning after Inauguration Day in early January. It has nothing to do with the possible legal explosion if Nick Caccamo takes the oath in Ward 3.
To understand what’s going on, one must weave together these separate political strands:
(a) the new city charter, approved by voters on Nov. 5,
(b) the certification of the charter and its effective date, Nov. 18.
(c) a reasonable interpretation of law,
(d) the election of a new council president, and
(e) the manner by which the city council appoints committees.
One provision of the new charter, which were sure not 1% of the people of Pittsfield read, states:
23-(5) Immediately after the election at which this charter is adopted, the city council shall appoint 4 persons to a committee to begin a review of the city ordinances to prepare such revisions and amendments as may be needed or necessary to bring the ordinances into conformity with the charter and to fully implement the charter. The city clerk shall be the fifth member of that committee. The committee shall submit a report, with recommendations, within 1 year following its establishment and may submit interim reports with recommendations at any time; and provided, further that the city solicitor, or special counsel appointed for this express purpose, shall serve as an adviser to the committee.
THE PLANET shall mercifully leave without comment the turgid nature of the prose and ungrammatical elements, particularly as it pertains to punctuation. We will also stem our wonder that the city of Pittsfield paid an outside consultant huge bucks to practically lift Northampton’s charter, verbatim. What, no one in the IT department at city hall knows how to cut and paste? Rather, let me simply ask: What does “immediate” mean in the above-quoted item (5)?
At its Nov. 26 meeting, the city council proposed a process by which it could elect this committee. Councilor-at-Large Barry Clairmont introduced a petition requesting that his colleagues, in accordance with 23(5) of the charter, appoint the four people to the committee. He wanted to do it “immediately” at the council’s first meeting after city clerk Linda Tyer certified the vote and declared the new charter in effect eight days earlier.
Track it back. Voters approved the charter on Nov. 5. The city clerk certified the vote on Nov. 18. Common sense would tell us that “immediate” went into effect on Nov. 18. The next available, that is, “immediate,” chance for the council to appoint the committee was at the Nov. 26 meeting.
However, this is Pittsfield, and Perry Mason quivered. City solicitor Kathy Degnan gave the council her legal interpretation of “immediate.” She told a stunned Clairmont, Sherman, Krol, et. al, that “immediate” meant “after the election process is over,” which she defined as the moment when the new city council (and the rest of the government) takes the oath in January! In short, Degnan’s defines “immediate” as “taking place next year.”
What Degnan did, of course, was carry water for Mayor Dan Bianchi, who doesn’t want the Kevin Sherman-led council to appoint this committee. Bianchi wants a Melissa Mazzeo-led council to have the power, since that would put him in control through a surrogate. At the city council’s final meeting this month, our Right Honorable Good Friends did appoint Clairmont to the commission, something Bianchi did not want to happen. The remaining three members will be selected by Mazzeo, assuming she is the new council president. Her selections will then be voted upon by her colleagues, the first of what will be many 8-3 or 7-4 votes.
Many political observers say Mazzeo is and will continue to be “Bianchi’s girl.” They fear that when she becomes council president she will, like Degnan, be Bianchi’s Gunga Din, ready to do the mayor’s bidding and crush all opposition. THE PLANET does not share this view. We’re agnostic. We simply don’t know. As always, actions will tell all. We’ve had good dealings with Mazzeo in the past, and we would expect her to be “her own man” so to speak.
It doesn’t appear her showdown with Ward 5’s Jonathan Lothrop for the council’s top spot will happen. Sources tell us that Bianchi “was approached about being reasonable about Lothrop.” Bianchi turned the magi away, however, coating the cold, frankenstein, and mirth with Shinola. It does not take the fanciful among us to see the plan, only the clear, steady gaze of a dispassionate logician. Here are the key steps:
(1) Mazzeo becomes council president for Bianchi’s last term as mayor.
(2) In 2015, Mazzeo runs for mayor.
(3) The council presidency will make her the prohibitive favorite.
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Pittsfield’s political volcano has been smoking and steaming for at least 25 years. The rumblings are ominous. Political seismologists are predicting a major eruption — an ejecta of bitterness, disharmony, acrimony, misrepresentation, and future shock for the poor, bedraggled citizens of Pittsfield.
In the long run, it may be the best thing ever to hit the city, which has been limping along for the entirety of a lost, post-GE generation. Volcanic eruptions scorch the earth, making new growth possible. Gloves off: That’s how we like our “democracy.”
“They flee from me that sometime did me seek, / With naked foot stalking in my chamber. / I have seen them gentle, tame and meek, / that now are wild and do not remember / That sometime they put themselves in danger / To take bread at my hand; and now they range / Busily seeking with a continual change.” — Sir Thomas Wyatt, “They Flee from Me,” (1557).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.