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COUNCIL ‘MELLER-DRAMMER’ PROMISES TO BE A DOOZY TONIGHT, BUT THE LARGER ISSUE — GOOD GOVERNANCE — IS NO LAUGHING MATTER … MORE LIKE A CRYING SHAME

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

Second of Two Parts

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, FEB. 25, 2014) — The background radiation to the fascinating issue of agenda item #9, slated to be taken up at tonight’s city council meeting, is the power play involved.

It was interesting that until THE PLANET ran Part One of this series yesterday, The Boring Broadsheet had no interest in it. By the evidence of their lack of coverage, they didn’t even realize it was an issue and therefore a story. Lo and behold, though! Once again THE PLANET served as The BB‘s assignment editor. They took our story posted early Monday morning and did a lame “follow.” A “follow” is newspaper talk for when a paper gets scooped, caught with its pants down, then tries to save face.

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MAYOR ADDRESSES CITY COUNCIL: “Can’t anyone here play this game?”

When the city council first dealt with the issue involved in agenda item #9 — that is, Melissa Mazzeo‘s petition as it relates to debate on referral to committee —  our factionalized Right Honorable Good Friends fissured along a 7-4 fault line. How it handles the item tonight will reveal much about its present and future, not just on the referral issue but to how power struggles will play out over the next 22 months.

For example, is the fissure a permanent fault line or will it be bridged over by statesmanship, a kind of Podunk version of detente? Which of the councilors, if any, is interested in good governance more than petty politics? These are just a couple of the immediate questions that come to mind.

The 7-4 breakdown, for those keeping score at home, lines up this way:

* The Magnificent Seven — Mazzeo, council president; Chris Connell, VP; Lisa Tully; Kevin Morandi; Tony Simonelli; Churchill Cotton; and Kathy Amuso.

* The Gang of FourBarry Clairmont, Jonathan Lothrop, John Krol, and Nick Caccamo.

Yesterday, THE PLANET quoted at length from our interview with Mazzeo, in which she shared her rationale for her petition to stop automatic referrals to council committees. Today, we hear from two of the Gang of Four. We present their statements verbatim, except for minor editing to clarify meaning.

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CLAIRMONT

BARRY CLAIRMONT

“Most of the votes taken at the last meeting were ‘telling,’ not just the one on the referral.  As far as I’m concerned, many of the other votes have revealed the factions.  I don’t have a problem with factions.  They exist in all levels of government.  What troubles me is when the faction has greater influence than independent thought when making decisions.

“Some would suggest that myself, Councilor Lothrop, and Councilor Krol are a faction.  Granted, we share similar principles and common beliefs about the role of government.  At the same time, you may have noticed that we don’t always agree, and we vote against one another on occasion.  It happened at the last meeting.  Councilors Lothrop and Krol voted against one of my amendments to the $1,000,000 GE appropriation.”

THE PLANET asked Clairmont about the “Charter Objection” mechanism:

“A charter objection is a new procedure established in the new charter under the provisions for the Legislative Branch.  On the first occasion that a question on the adoption of a measure is put to the city council, a councilor is permitted to object to the taking of the vote, and then the vote is postponed until the next meeting of the council.  A measure is any ordinance, order, or other vote or proceeding which might be adopted by the city council or school committee.

“I exercised a charter objection during the debate on a petition by President Mazzeo that requested a rule change.  I did it because I feel so strongly that this proposed rule change is bad for good government.  Currently, referrals end debate.  President Mazzeo is proposing that referrals to standing committees of the city council be debated.  Here are my basic objections:

  1. Issues are best vetted in committees.
  2. Referrals to committees allow more time for councilors to gather data so decision making is informed.
  3. The public has an opportunity to participate in both a committee meeting and then again at the city council on matters that affect them.
  4. Referrals to committees allow more time for staff to prepare to address concerns and questions that are raised by councilors.
  5. Referrals to committees do not exclude councilors who do not serve on that committee from participating in either the committee meeting or from making arguments when the item comes back to the city council.

“I am really surprised that President Mazzeo is proposing the rule change.  For four years I have listened to her make good arguments for gathering more information, contacting other communities, and researching and issue so that she can make an informed decision.  Now, she’s proposing a rule change that has the potential to cut out that process.  The absolute worst consequence of this change is the possibility of jamming proposals through without the proper review.  Maybe that’s the intention.”

KROL

Regarding last meeting:

JOHN KROL

“I believe President Mazzeo is doing the best of her abilities. However, she and Vice President Connell did lose control of the meeting [on Feb. 11]. I trust that President Mazzeo and Vice President Connell will improve. These leadership roles on the council do have important functions for procedure and administering a high-quality meeting. That is the reason I nominated Councilor Lothrop to be president. Council president is not an easy role and it is very helpful to have someone with engrained institutional knowledge, a firm handle on procedure and an ability to think on one’s feet. While you may be interested mostly in the ‘charter objection’ portion of the meeting, there were several instances in this and previous meetings where errors were made on certain procedures. While this is not something that most residents or viewers may notice, in a certain circumstance, this type of mistake can leave a council vote open to legal challenge. Again, I trust the president and vice president will improve.”

Regarding President Mazzeo’s proposed rule change:
“The move to change council rules and allow conversation after a motion to refer makes very little sense at face value. If you listen to President Mazzeo’s argument, she is attempting to solve a problem that simply doesn’t exist. If the council would like to hear from individuals who can provide helpful information on a topic before the petition is referred to subcommittee, we can simply hold off on the motion to refer. Short presentations take place, some questions are asked, and then the motion to refer is made. It is the responsibility of the president to guide the council through this very simple process. This common-sense solution has been utilized time and time again over the years without any trouble or controversy. However, what the proposed change would accomplish is a stronger ability to ram a proposal through council without vetting from the public (and the subcommittee). It is very easy to imagine a scenario where the mayor and those in his council majority lead a discussion that continues after the motion to refer is made. After some of the post-motion discussion, a number of councilors may suggest that they have heard enough and call for a vote on the issue rather than sending it to subcommittee. Remember, the mayor asked the council to approve the $1 million from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund for the railcar manufacturer without any subcommittee recommendation or the inclusion of any parameters on the allocation from the fund. Without the protection of the council’s rule 38, one that mandates any proposed allocation from this fund be referred to the community and economic development subcommittee (among other mandates provided by the rule), the mayor may have been successful in pushing the $1 million through the council with no specific criteria attached. That’s just plain wrong and something we should take great pains to avoid for the sake of transparency and in the spirit of democracy.”
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THE PLANET also talked to a number of other people who have followed this debate with more than casual interest. They spoke off the record. Here is a sampling of those comments, taken from interviews conducted Z-Agents from THE PLANET’s Secret Squadron.

Z1 — ”Chaos reigned at [the Feb. 11] meeting.  The president was unable to control the procedures.  Motions weren’t properly made in the correct order, roll call votes that were required didn’t occur (three ordinances required roll call votes and none were taken), and an amendment suggested by staff was never moved by a member of the city prior to calling a vote.  Maybe she’s hoping that with so many councilors having to ask for points of order that it will make them look petty and make her look the victim.”

Z2 — “During the recess Connell and Mazzeo asked the solicitor [Kathy Degnan] to give a ruling on whether or not the charter objection was valid.  As the solicitor was reading to them, and they heard the part that led them to believe it wasn’t valid, they stopped listening to her and started to converse between themselves. Connell said to Mazzeo something like, ‘So I’m just going to call a vote on this and let it stand.’  While this was going on, Clairmont pointed out to Degnan that she needed to keep reading.  Upon doing so, Degnan realized that the charter objection was valid.  Upon going back into session,  Connell called Degnan to the podium and asked her if the objection was valid.  In a round-about way she said yes.  However, Connell had already made up his mind that this was going to a vote, ignored the Degnan’s statements, and called for a vote.  Clairmont again had to object and tell Connell that Degnan said the objection stands. She agreed. Connell then asked for a vote to table, which wasn’t necessary as the objection automatically tabled the matter.  The vote was taken with some councilors voting not to table.  Councilor Lothrop had to interject and explain the process to Connell and Mazzeo.  What would they have done if the vote to table failed and Councilor Lothrop hadn’t stepped in?  At one point everyone was talking at once, including the City Solicitor.”

Z3 — “The irony for me is that Mazzeo wants to make a rule change but seems to have trouble managing under the rules that exist.  It’s going to get worse.”

Z4 — “There were so many procedural errors. Votes taken when they should not have been, votes not taken when they should have, and voice votes when the approval requires a roll call. All of that pales In comparison to when Mazzeo stepped down to try and change the rules to allow a matter to be debated before a referral to a standing committee.”

Z5 — “Connell took ‘The Big Chair’ and did not even understand the very basics of what was going on.  He did not know procedure. He could not follow Degnan’s opinion on the Charter Objection raised by Clairmont.  The Charter Objection’s purpose is to stop all debate. The point is that there is no option. Once a Charter Objection is allowed, all debate stops and no vote can be taken. Connell wanted to vote to table it, which is completely the opposite of what needs to happen. Taking a vote implies that there is an option to table or not to table. The Charter Objection leaves no such option.   Take your pick: was Connell befuddled or clueless.”

Z6 — “The best analogy I could come up with is imagine grading your students papers for grammar and punctuation, only to have the students be mad when you point out their error instead of taking the lesson of here’s how you do it right. It’s like the class elected the teacher from among their peers and the winner was a below average student who wanted everything “her way.”

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If this keeps up, city council meetings will rate right up there with The Blacklist, Scandal, and Dancing with the Stars.

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“Is you is or is you ain’t my baby”The Andrews Sisters with Bing Crosby.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

 

 

 

 

26 Responses to “COUNCIL ‘MELLER-DRAMMER’ PROMISES TO BE A DOOZY TONIGHT, BUT THE LARGER ISSUE — GOOD GOVERNANCE — IS NO LAUGHING MATTER … MORE LIKE A CRYING SHAME”

  1. danvalenti
    February 25, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    I didn’t spend a lot of verbiage on the fundamental issue here, but be clear: It’s a huge one. That issue of of a fissured government. Such a split, if irreparable because of poison politics, will exact a heavy cost. And you know who ALWAYS pays the price in the end, don’t you? Gotta mirror? Yup — We The People.

  2. Scott
    February 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    Good coverage Dan you are my sole source of non bias information on local govt. thanks for keeping me up to date. I always investigate candidates closely when I vote but let’s be honest during voting season there’s a lot of untruth going on so I appreciate the site it’s a huge time saver and enjoyable to read most of the time.

    • danvalenti
      February 25, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      Thank you, SCOTT.

  3. shakes his head
    February 25, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    The responsibility of the Clowncil President is not to have the dominating opinion on the the Clowncil, the responsibility is to efficiently and effectively conduct the business of the Clowncil. The Vice President’s responsibility is to assume this role in the absence of the President. If the top vote getter in the last Clowincil election is so unsure of their political support that they need to inject conflict to the Clowncil’s effectiveness then they misunderstand the role, but also need time to grow into it. I agree with generous amounts of discourse, but not with a side of government cheese waste of time.

  4. dusty
    February 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    How many years was Krol on the council during Rubertos reign? And how many times did he go against Rubertos wishes? Uh, did you say none???

    How utterly unbiased he must be then.

    • John Krol
      February 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

      In response to dusty’s assertion that I never acted or voted against Jim Ruberto’s wishes, off the top of my head, here are just a few:

      1. While I worked within his administration I advised against his proposed time share ordinance, arguing that a city-wide ordinance allowing time shares in large residentially-zoned areas would put too many neighborhoods at-risk for those types of developments. He chose to move forward and the ordinance failed.

      2. When the mayor attempted to eliminate the mosquito control program because of early missteps in its operation, I fought against him knowing we could make the program work with better protocols. Not only did I “go against his wishes” but I lobbied the six votes needed to defeat his home rule petition to end our mosquito control contract with the state.

      3. During hearings for Mayor Ruberto’s budget I went “against his wishes” when I attempted to eliminate funding for Downtown Inc. While unsuccessful this motion forced the city to change the scope of services for Downtown Inc. to better suit the needs of downtown at that time. Issues persist today and I again challenged that funding in the most recent budget session.

      4. For two consecutive tax rate hearings I went “against the wishes” of Mayor Ruberto by supporting a reduction in the commercial tax rate. We were unsuccessful twice and then earned the support of the majority of the council in my third and fourth tax rate hearings to reduce the mayor’s proposed commercial tax rate.

      5. When Mayor Ruberto petitioned the council to change the name of Columbus Ave. I made the motion to file, arguing that the people of the West Side and residents of Columbus Ave. had very little input in this decision and it would have become a logistical nightmare.

      I could go on. Sorry, dusty, your statement is wrong and is a clear attempt to mislead readers about my record.

      • danvalenti
        February 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

        Thanks, JK.

      • ed shepardson
        February 25, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

        John,

        Why would even bother to reply to “Dusty?” Isn’t he a character on Prairie Home Companion with no connections to the Berkshires?

      • dusty
        February 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

        Thanks for the quick response. You have great recall. And I am glad to see that you monitor this site along with your colleagues.

        • GeoSims
          February 26, 2014 at 4:00 am #

          I’m sorry JK for spewing out false information about you….would have been a good reply Dusty.

      • Scott
        February 26, 2014 at 4:51 am #

        Please stop poisoning us with mosquito pesticides that don’t work. In fact it made it worse this year. Some of us have gardens you know.

      • Jim Gleason
        February 27, 2014 at 8:06 am #

        Mr Krol, those are all very minor issues and you, iy opinion, voted against them because you knew you needed to have some “NO” votes on your record to rebut assertions such as the one Dusty made, and you did it as a show. you do think ahead, I’ll say that for you. You need that on your record for your run for mayor in the future.Dusty should’ve said you never voted against Squiggy on MAJOR issues, such as the stretch code and the tax rate in the final edition, you voted against things that had no chance of passing the council just to have a NO vote on your record.You may pull the wool over some eyes but not all!

  5. joetaxpayer
    February 25, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    No, the City Council should not start cherry picking the new charter. If they are going to open up that can of worms, I vote to have the Mayor’s term back to 2 years.

  6. C.J.
    February 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    With certain councilors’ already surreptitiously campaigning for their faction’s next mayoral candidate, they should consider Pittsfield’s vowel factor. Clairmont, Lothrop, Krol, Bouvier, Sherman, or Ward do not end in a vowel like Ruberto, Bianchi, or Mazzeo. Caccamo is too young and a city employee. MMM, good possiblity.

    • danvalenti
      February 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

      The campaign has already begun!

    • Spider
      February 25, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      c.J…Please explain further about your “vowel factor”. Are you implying that only an Italian name could win? In my opinion the names you mentioned (not ending in a vowel), Clairmont, Lothrop, Krol, Bouvier, Sherman and Ward would all be serious candidates.

      And dusty: Krol just gave damn good answers to you.

  7. amandaWell
    February 25, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    And thank goodness for mosquito control and Krol’s initiatiive on that, otherwise we’d a been itching our crotches and getting Lyme disease.

  8. Phil
    February 25, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Good answer from councilor krol. Thank you, councilor.

  9. amandaWell
    February 25, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    Tonights Council Grades
    Cotton A
    Krol A
    Clairmont A
    Connell A
    Simonelli F
    Lothrop D-
    Cack A
    Tully D
    Mazzeo A
    the Barber A
    Amuso D

    • Spider
      February 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

      Interesting grading of tonights meeting. Personally, I thought Lothrop was at his best.

    • Jim Gleason
      February 27, 2014 at 8:15 am #

      Simonelli is a good councilor for Ward 7. You must be prejudiced or not live in Ward 7. Krol and Clairmont are obstructionists who will try to stand in the way of everything Mayor Bianchi and council President Mazzeo try to do.Cotton is ineffective at best. Lothrop is with Krol and Barry Mason and so is little Ward 3 man.I am disappointed in Tony Simonelli for voting against debate, that’s what they’re there for, but otherwise he does a great job for us.

  10. amandaWell
    February 25, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    he told a unfunny story and babbled about Churchill and one of his stale quotes

    • Spider
      February 26, 2014 at 6:15 am #

      He was also right on target about receiving material at the last minute and expected to vote on it. This has been happening too often at our council meetings. I only wish the other councilors had such concerns. Too many of them are there for the mayor’s bidding.

  11. amandaWell
    February 25, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Note to the Ward 7 Councilor, Pecks Rd is untravelable fix the potholes!

    • Jim Gleason
      February 27, 2014 at 8:20 am #

      Pecks rd. as redone a few years ago under Squiggy ruberto. it and all of the roads done under his “leadership” are terrible and come apart after a couple winters because they were done on the cheap by incompetent contractors who didn’t build them correctly! Most of the fault is with Squiggy though, for not allocating money to do the job the right way!

  12. Billy
    February 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

    Clowncil prez is trying to legislate from the council chair,her job is to have a good grip of the rules and control the flow of the meeting,She is showing her inability to hear other peoples opinions that don’t jive with her and the mayor .everybody deserves to be heard and I think that is absent in her and the mayors skill set