PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary


First of Two Parts

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, FEB. 24, 2014) — Tomorrow night at its regular meeting, THE PLANET‘s Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council shall take up agenda item #9. This numeral stands as the famous jersey number of Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, also known as The Splendid Splinter. We might dub the council’s agenda item #9 as The Splendid Splutter.

As a noun, “splutter” means “a loud utterance or fuss.” As a verb, Webster’s New World, College Edition informs us of the meaning: “to make hissing or spitting sounds, or to give off or scatter particles or drops in an explosive way.” For the more animated and visually inclined, think of Sylvester the Cat. He splutters when he talks. So did Mel Blanc. Sometimes.

Agenda #9 reads: “A petition from President Mazzeo requesting that the City Council amend Rule #7 by removing the words “a referral to a committee of the City Council,” and change Rule #9 to say “the first three shall be decided without debate.”

MELISSA MAZZEO: Pushing for a change in the rules.

The hypothetical, disinterested, third-party observer — without knowing a thing other than the words themselves — would have concern over “shall be decided without debate.” Deciding items “without debate” is how it’s done in totalitarian systems. Generally speaking, a full-functioning democracy by its ideational and definitional plurality predicates itself on deciding “with debate.”

Since agenda item #9 refers to council rules seven and nine, let’s take a look at how they’re presently worded.

Rule 7 (THE PLANET has underlined the words Council president Melissa Mazzeo wants stricken).

The motion to adjourn, a referral to a committee of the City Council, the motion to lay on or take from the table previous question [sic] shall be decided without debate. However, the motion to file shall be decided with debate.

Rule 9 (Here, we have underlined the word Mazzeo wants changed; note that THE PLANET has corrected the council’s punctuation, replacing the incorrect semicolons one finds in the rule as written with the grammatically correct commas. No other changes have been made except as indicated in brackets).

When a question is under debate, the chair shall receive no motion but (a) to adjourn, (b) to lay on the table, (c) to the previous question, (d) to commit or refer, (e) to amend, (f) to postpone to a day certain, [or] (g) to postpone indefinitely [sic] which several motions have precedence in the order in which they stand arranged, and the first four shall be decided without debate. He [the council president; note the archaic language, which does not allow for a female prez!] shall put the previous question in the following form: “Shall the main question be now put?”[,] and all further amendments or debate of the main question shall be suspended until the previous question shall be decided.

——- 000 ——-

Yes, along with you, THE PLANET wonders if these rules were written by a badly operated Commodore 64 computer. In fact, we may bring these rule-writes into our Comp 102 class at the college as a prime example of unclear, bureaucratese — a bastardized form of expository prose whose mother is a rhetorical harlot and whose father, like Jack The Ripper, has never been identified.

What the heck does Rule 9 mean? THE PLANET isn’t sure what the proposed change from “three” to four” accomplishes. On Rule 7, though, it seems as if Mazzeo’s intention is to prevent motions, items, and questions from being automatically referred to council subcommittee, where they are vetted before making a recommendation on the matter to the entire council. That may be her intention, but we wonder if the actual words do not allow for much more than she realizes.

Look at the proposed version again. This time, we have removed what Mazzeo wants, the phrase “a referral to a committee of the city council.” Doing that, it reads: The motion to adjourn, the motion to lay on or take from the table previous question [sic] shall be decided without debate. However, the motion to file shall be decided with debate. 

In this modified form, the language doesn’t not address referrals to committee one way or the other. In other words, it doesn’t prohibit debate of motions to refer. The last sentence, which expressly says “motions to file” require debate, as written, isn’t definitive or exhaustive. It would appear to be a legal loophole large enough for any councilor desiring to debate a referral to drive through in a Sherman tank (and by that, we do not mean a Kevin Sherman tank!).

JOHN KROL, left, and JONATHAN LOTHROP: Fighting for referral debate.

At the Feb. 11 meeting, when Mazzeo proposed the change and it became clear she had a 7-4 majority (Clairmont, Krol, Lothrop, and Caccamo in opposition), councilor at-large Barry Clairmont raised a “Charter Objection.” This is a new rule allowed by the new city charter that gives any councilor the ability to stop deliberation in its tracks. Think of it as an emergency brake. It can be pulled if there’s a strong indication that things are moving too fast, too hastily, too sloppily, or in some other way that calls for cooler heads to prevail to keep the train from jumping the tracks.

——- 000 ——-

Actually, according to the language, Mazzeo wants to reinstate debate on matters that are now referred automatically to committee. If in such a case the council decided not to refer, the item could be taken up in full, then and there. That presumes, however, that all of the councilors have done their homework on the item in question and can thoroughly and intelligently vet an issue with proper deliberation — without needing to go to marathon lengths in terms of meeting length. That’s how government should be run, but we know from all too many examples in the past that too often, too many councilors and school committee members show up unprepared. You can see them trying to sneak a hurried look at their packets in the minutes before meetings are called to order. That’s the reality.

THE PLANET asked Mazzeo to explain her rationale for the measure.

“I thought my petition would have been an easy conversation,” Mazzeo told us, “considering Demeter’s rules say that ‘motions to commit or refer are debatable.’ I was not trying to make something up. This is how it is done, and there is good reason for it. I was NOT trying to keep from sending things to committee. Many items that come before us HAVE to go to a committee before they can be voted on by rule or charter, so I was not trying to by pass that.”

BARRY CLAIRMONT: His “Charter Objection” was chess. Others were playing checkers.

She added that she “was just  trying to make councilors all aware that sometimes you need to have a little debate before it goes off to committee. But I guess some councilors felt differently and wanted to keep things the same. Long story short, when it came time to vote, Councilor Clairmont used the new charter option called ‘Charter Objection.’ Since I had stepped down from the chair in order to debate my petition, Councilor Connell was acting President. He didnt have a copy of the new charter handy and needed a few minutes to get a copy to read what to do with this motion, so he called for a five-minute recess.”

At that point, Kathy Degnan, the city solicitor, gave her opinion that Clairmont’s objection was legal. After Degnan weighed in — correctly, we might add — the council meeting was called back to order. Mazzeo said that because of Degnan’s ruling, “We had no choice but to table until the next meeting [tomorrow night]. So I am sure you heard it was chaotic,” Mazzeo told THE PLANET, “but we are working with a new charter, and things are going to happen that we have not seen before. It will take us a minute or two to get it figured out, but over all I dont think it was a big issue. Not voting on that petition was the bigger surprise.”

It’s an interesting rationale, one that has a lot of meat on the bones.

THE PLANET grants Mazzeo’s point about the charter being new and all, but we also have to point out that all councilors had plenty of time to read the new charter and to learn its rules. In fact, we would argue that it was incumbent upon all councilors to get up to speed on the new charter before their first meeting in January to take up We The People’s business. Credit Clairmont for having done this. He obviously knew about the “Charter Objection” provision. Most of the others didn’t. Procedurally, Clairmont played chess. The council’s leadership played checkers.

This matter will come to a head tomorrow night. There might be some hissing, spitting, and spluttering before it’s over. We wonder: Will The Splendid Splutter hit a home run for Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, just as The Splendid Splinter did in his last at bat, or will she hit into a triple play?

Tomorrow, we continue this discussion in Part Two.


“My love don’t give me presents. I know that she’s no peasant. All she ever has to give me is love forever and forever. My love don’t give me know presents.”The Beatles, “She’s a Woman,” (1965).







  1. C. Trzcinka
    February 24, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    This issue reminds me of Colbert’s reaction to the White House explaining that Obamacare will not destroy jobs. See 2:00 to 2:25 in the video

    • danvalenti
      February 24, 2014 at 9:07 am #

      Thanks, CT. The President also has said that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 not only will not cause job loss but that it will create “new opportunity” for folks.

      • Tim Bartini
        February 24, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

        Sorry dan I disagree when you can make more from welfare instead of working why would people work for a low minimum wage? I disagree with your point. Even Walmart is in agreement . They know if you give their majority clients more money they will make more $$$

        • danvalenti
          February 24, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

          Never be sorry for disagreeing. Multiple views add to a fuller picture.

  2. shakes his head
    February 24, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    could maybe they have reviewed the new charter BEFORE they pu tit on the ballot???? I mean really…..

    • danvalenti
      February 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

      Not only that, but you would think councilors would have been fully aware of its contents. They had between Election Day and Inauguration Day — two months — to learn of the Charter Objection, for example, but Connell acted as if he hadn’t seen it.

      • joetaxpayer
        February 24, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

        Maybe it was like Obama care, we must pass it before we read it.

        • shakes his head
          February 25, 2014 at 7:43 am #

          I’m not so sure that we can count on the majority of the Clowncilers to read anything ahead of time, even if the Mayor Milquetoast doesnt wait till the last minute to through out a ceremonial pitch.

          • danvalenti
            February 25, 2014 at 7:50 am #

            If that’s the case, and all the evidence suggests that it IS the case, then the chances of good government for bedraggled Pittsfield are, while greater than zero, about the same as Vladimir Putin leading the American League in home runs this year.

  3. Ron Kitterman
    February 24, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    If this passes maybe Sen. Lizzy Warren could change the constitution for us to have them take out the first three words, We the people . Seems like a violation of the 1’st amendment to me, you know the part “where congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech “ or something like that ? So ,let me get this straight the NEW charter allows “ , any single councilor to cut off debate on a subject until the next meeting. ? “

    • danvalenti
      February 24, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Yes, RON. It appears the Charter Objection allows that. Clairmont used the procedural point at the last meeting. I can see where you’re going. It opens the door for all sorts of mayhem, although, from what I have learned, Clairmont’s objection seemed to be called for at the Feb. 11 meeting.

  4. Jonathan Melle
    February 24, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Where do your hard-earned taxes go? The Answer: To the corrupt politicians like Stan Rosenberg and Ben Downing!


    “Stanley Rosenberg top taker of travel $$”
    By Matt Stout, Boston Herald, February 24, 2014

    Senate President-in-waiting Stanley Rosenberg is months away from ascending to his presumptive perch in the upper chamber, but he’s donned a new crown in the meantime: Per diem king, according to a Herald review of state records that show the Amherst Democrat took in nearly $13,000 in travel stipends last year.

    Rosenberg said his whopping $12,840 bill — the highest travel expenses filed by a legislator thus far for 2013 — even shocked him, prompting him to consider leasing a car through his campaign account in lieu of taking the oft-criticized perk when he is expected to succeed Therese Murray as Senate president next year.

    Murray has steered clear of taking per diems, and instead covers a $682.65 monthly lease to get to Beacon Hill with campaign contributions, according to finance records.

    “This is absolutely the highest ever (for me) and I was really surprised when I saw it,” said Rosenberg, who last year staked claim to having the votes to replace Murray atop the Senate. “You’re just powering through and going day by day and week by week and before you know it, the year is over and you say, ‘Wow.’”

    At $60 a trip, Rosenberg put in for 214 days of travel to and from the State House last year, the most filed by any legislator in the House or Senate through Feb. 7, the most recent data available.

    Among the weeks he filed for was a six-day work week spanning the end of July and beginning of August, a total he admitted last week was a mistake.

    Rosenberg said a staffer filling out his expense form accidentally counted the first day of August — which fell on a Thursday — toward his July total that week, and then counted it again when filing his expenses for the month of August.

    “We have to go back and fix that,” Rosenberg said after a Herald reporter pointed out the irregularity. He chalked up his heavy travel to his work as majority leader, a role he took on in January 2013. “I am spending more days in Boston and more days traveling around the state visiting the districts of my colleagues at their requests. So, unfortunately, it means less time in my own district.”

    So far, lawmakers have amassed a $347,000 travel bill for 2013, though under state rules, they have until the end of this year to file, meaning the tab could grow. The stipends range from $10 to $100, depending on where lawmakers rest their head.

    But it’s likely Rosenberg could keep his top spot. The highest total from each of the past two years belonged to Sen. Ben Downing (D-Pittsfield), who at $90 a day, filed for $9,090 this year, down from $9,630 in 2012 and 2011.

    On the House side, Nantucket state Rep. Timothy Madden leads the way with $8,100, trailing Worcester state Rep. John Binienda’s $8,604 and North Adams Rep. Gailanne Cariddi’s $8,460 from 2012.

    Binienda, who has announced he isn’t running for re-election as he battles diabetes, filed for 194 days and $6,984 this year, a drop he attributed to undergoing dialysis, which he said “knocks me out sometimes.” Cariddi hadn’t filed for 2013 as of earlier this month.

    State Rep. Paul Donato put in 205 days, the most in the House, and a number he attributed to regularly presiding over the House’s informal sessions in place of Speaker Robert DeLeo. “I’m there, and certainly the $10 (daily stipend) isn’t going to make me rich,” the Medford Democrat said.

    State Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Whitman Republican who is among those who don’t take the stipend, is also among those pushing a ballot initiative to repeal last year’s law tying the gas tax to inflation.

    “Despite the fact that it’s available, it’s not something taxpayers should be on the hook for,” he said of the perk.

    • Jonathan Melle
      February 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

      Ben Downing is all smiles as a “per diem all-star”!

      It must be nice to be Ben Downing. His late-father was Berkshire County District Attorney. His Uncle, Jack Downing, who is not a Veteran, makes 6-figures running the “non-profit” homeless shelter Soldier On, which gives tens of thousands of public dollars per year to GE Lobbyist Peter Larkin.

      Ben Downing is a political hack, do-nothing State Senator for life. He collects thousands of dollars per year in per diem funds.

      • Tim Bartini
        February 24, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

        Sorry Jon. The last time I checked Pittsfield and. North Adams were the farthest in miles from the state house. This per diem is totally fair. I think we have the best Senator in the state. Just wondering will you be collecting disability for the rest of your life , or will you someday be a tax paying citizen?

        • Jonathan Melle
          February 24, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

          I am proud of being a Disabled Veteran who served our nation Honorably in the U.S. Army.
          If Ben Downing is the best Senator in Massachusetts, then why does Pittsfield have such acute social and economic problems? Pittsfield and Berkshire County are the #1 places in Massachusetts for job loss. The Consent Decree and PEDA are failures. Beacon Hill’s State House is corrupt. The Big Dig costs taxpayers over $20 billion and leaks millions of gallons of water and killed people. In Pittsfield, more people than ever are on welfare with teen pregnancies doubling the statewide average. What has Ben Downing done in state and local politics to make him so great? Name one accomplishment, please.

          • Tim Bartini
            February 24, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

            Jon how long were you in the service before you became disabled? My guess is you had issues long before you joined the service .

        • Still wondering
          February 24, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

          Rim-shot !!

        • Rafael
          February 24, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

          Tim, the question you should be asking is why do they get per diem in the first place? In private sector jobs, employees are responsible for their own commuting costs, not the company that they work for. Why should public employees get these perks? Answer: they should not be getting them.

          • Mike Ward
            February 24, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

            This is probably the only instance where our tax dollars go disproportionately to western MA. Enjoy it.

          • Thomas More
            February 25, 2014 at 7:06 am #

            Agree Rafael, There are a lot of people who live in Berkshire County and work in the Connecticut and Hudson valleys. They pay their own way, not only for gas but now they pay the turnpike tolls as well. If TFB has her way they’ll also have to pay for miles driven.

          • danvalenti
            February 25, 2014 at 7:50 am #

            Agree, TM. If you live in the Dreaded Private Sector, no matter how far you commute, you pick up the tab.

      • Edconnect
        February 24, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

        Jon you took out papers to run for that seat. If you had got enough signatures for the ballot and won the election, would you have accepted the per diem ? If your answer is yes. You’re a hypocrit. If you’re answer is no because you want to save taxpayer money, than can you stop collecting you’re va Benny’s ? You’d be doing us taxpayers a favor. Thanks in advance.

  5. amandaWell
    February 24, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    He stayed at a Holiday Inn last night, he can carmelize onions? I dunno Jonathan? Ben sure has the union backing, that’s for sure.

  6. joetaxpayer
    February 24, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    Doesn’t matter if its Ben or Jen, if there’s a (D) by there name that’s who there voting with. Should save a few bucks and cut the legislators in half.

  7. Bill Sturgeon
    February 24, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    Jonathan: First of all “Thank You for Your Service and Welcome Home”! I was not going to respond to your comments on Ben and Jack Downing, but after much thought I felt I must.

    First Ben Downing, in my opinion, is doing a great job for the people of his district, especially veterans like us. He has to travel the longest distance and is very involved with committee work,etc. So that is why his per diem is high. Why can’t he do more for Pittsfield I believe was one of your concerns about Senator Downing. Pittsifeld has to start doing for itself – Currently it has no plan, no vision and NO LEADERSHIP!

    As for Jack Downing and Soldier On. I have visited the facility many time and I have spoken with the veterans that are living and recovering there and not one of them had a bad word to say about Downing or the place. I know that there are people who are concerned about Downing’s pay, the hiring of non-veterans to work there (when local veterans are looking for work). As for Downing pay some group or govermental agency has to approve it and as for hiring non-veterans I hope that the VA and other governmental agencies closes that loophole.

    Checkout of some of the other non-for- profits in the state and you will shocked!

    Jon, you cannot let your dislike for people slant your opinion of their work – It’s just fair. Again, Thank You for Your Service!

    • Edconnect
      February 24, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

      Welcome home?? he never left the U.S! Read his blog he served for about 7 months. This clown is NOT a vet. A vet as far as iam concerned serves in harms way. He did basic at ft.jackson(that’s we’re non-combat arms and girls go) then after 2 months at ft. Meade,near D.C, he was discharged. Now he gets a disability. If he broke his back or neck, okay, but he walks just fine. One of his sgts caught him sleeping on duty and went off on him verbally and made him do “physical training” which led to hs discharge. It’s all on his blog. Freaking joke!

      • Jonathan Melle
        February 24, 2014 at 8:25 pm #

        I served overseas. I received an Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Army. I am proud of who I am: A Disabled Veteran.

  8. Ron Kitterman
    February 24, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    This comes up every now and then but the per diem amount isn’t as much or a perk as the Federal Law in all 50 states that allows legislators to deduct nearly their entire salary. Good luck getting that to change any time soon, that is more likely the reason the Reps haven’t prorogued since the early 80’s

    • ed shepardson
      February 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm #

      I don’t believe Ben takes advantage of that tax deduction, or at least he didn’t.

  9. amandaWell
    February 24, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    I don’t know, my father was in Hell and back in Vietnam Nam, he never got any help when he got home, and probably didn’t want it anyway.

  10. C. Trzcinka
    February 24, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    Blaming politicians for poor economic performance usually just demonstrates ignorance. Of course the State can destroy incentives through taxes and regulations (see Obamacare for example) but in most developed countries, this is not as important as education, technology, risk-taking and work-ethic. Pittsfield is not doing as well as the rest of Massachusetts but Ben Downing can only have a marginal effect on this. Its up to people there to build their future not a politician who evidently spends a lot of time driving back and forth to Boston…

  11. Evian
    February 24, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

    Can I return discussion to issue at hand. I believe that Councilor Mazzeo is in the wrong on this measure. I feel that she is carrying out the mayors wishes nothing more. Bad move. Must be fought.

  12. Jonathan Melle
    February 24, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    Why does the average working stiff work so hard to earn so little, while their hard earned tax dollars go to career politicians like Stan Rosenberg and Ben Downing? Wall Street is earning record profits again. The ruling elites in D.C. are collecting awesome benefits and transitioning to K Street as wealthy lobbyists. But Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski of Pittsfield are getting screwed. They have Obamacare, but no financial security. We need Dan Valenti to the rescue!

  13. amandaWell
    February 25, 2014 at 5:27 am #

    There is a new Division on the City Council, remember the fallout from the Degnan and President Mazzeo’s accussal of illegal quorum. The old boys network is outnumbered now and President Mazzeo expects the four horsemen to keep inline, or else!

    • danvalenti
      February 25, 2014 at 7:51 am #

      Check out today’s post for more on this “division.” There’s a steep price to pay, and you know who pays it? We The People.

  14. NATO
    February 25, 2014 at 5:30 am #

    I think it’s funny that none of these four horsemen are Chair of any of the sub committees, actually it’s hilarious. Good job on that one, President Mazzeo.

  15. Bill Sturgeon
    February 25, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    If I were counting votes I would never just assume that Kathy, Chris, Chuchill, Tony, or Lisa will be in lockstep with anyone. Just as it should not be assumed that Barry, John or Jonathan will link arms against anyone. I really believe that this Council may disagree but in the long run I am still confident that they will do their best for the city.
    I left Melissa out of this post because she is President.

    • Sparkie
      February 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Bill did you just say Amuso & Tully are independent votes. I think the agent orange is kicking in. These two are just puppets for Maz & Danny do little.

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

      Well, yes. The so-called “Magnificent Seven” and “Gang of Four” exist as what I would term “convenient factions.” They are grouped by convenience to indicate political leanings, not political absolutes.

      • Sparkie
        February 25, 2014 at 6:58 pm #

        Point taken I agree