PEDA’s BID FOR MBTA RAILCAR CONTRACT: DOES IT HAVE A SHOT and DOES THE MAYOR, PEDA, AND 1BERKSHIRE ACTUALLY BELIEVE THEY CAN SNAG THIS DEAL? THE PLANET HAS ANSWERS !!ANOTHER EXCLUSIVE!!
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014) — Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, “They” are looking to take $2 million of your tax dollars, but “They’re” afraid of scrutiny. Can you smell a “fast one” cooking?
The economic and community development subcommittee of the Pittsfield City Council met on Tuesday night of this week to go over Mayor Dan Bianchi‘s request to allocate an additional $1 million in taxpayer money to help lure a company to the Berkshires to build railcars for the MBTA. The money would come from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund, an account separate from what’s left of PEDA‘s $10 million it received as part of the GE Consent Agreement. For those keeping score at home, after scouring financials, THE PLANET reports PEDA has an available balance of $5,352,063.92 of the $10 million.
Bianchi appeared before the subcommittee with PEDA chief Corydon Thurston and his director of the Office of Community Development, Douglas Clark.
Since PEDA has already pledged a $1 million bribe … er, inducement … to any company impetuous enough to settle on the former GE campus, this makes $2 million of your candle money Mayor Danny Donothing wishes to dangle into the harsh winds.
A cursory look at this move by the mayor reveals a faint resemblance to action. A more objective look than merely taking the word of the mayor, PEDA, and 1Berkshire suggests more similarity to a shell game. That’s “action,” but not the kind that turns out well for citizens.
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The first honest question one must ask when evaluating the “actions” of city officials is this: Just how serious are they about landing this deal? The second question: Do they themselves believe they have a chance at the winning bid?
The answers to these questions have been forming along the way, and every time the city makes a move, we receive more information that can enable us to make an informed (and likely accurate) answer to both queries.
Q1 Are They Serious?
— The mayor conveyed his request — all 44 pages of it — for $1 million in additional taxpayer money to the council subcommittee at 11:15 a.m. on the day of the meeting. Councilors were at work, of course, at their day jobs, and had no time to review the proposal. THE PLANET asks the neutral observer: Is that the action of someone who wants serious consideration, or it is more likely the action of a posturer running a “hurry-up offense” hoping to catch the council “D” off guard?
— The 11th hour request (literally, in this case) violates council Rule 38, which requires the mayor and the Office of Community Development to provide to the council complete documentation in support of the request well prior to any request. The mayor and OCD director Doug Clark did not have the information to the city council at the regular Jan. 28 meeting.
What you don’t know is that the Clark hurried to provide the 44 pages (five pages from his office and the remainder innocuous boilerplate from PEDA) on the morning of the meeting only because councilor at large Barry Clairmont e-mailed Clark, outlining the points the Administration needed to address to fulfill Rule 38. THE PLANET nominates Clairmont for a Nobel, a Pulitzer, or at least a set of Davy Crockett iron-ons. He did yeoman’s work for the taxpayers.
— Prior to Clairmont’s request, Bianchi had intended to send to the council subcommittee a two-line request, with no documentation, asking for review of the $1 million request. One observer had this comment: “Say what you will about Deanna [Ruffer, Clark's predecessor at OCD], but she never would have sent [the council] a two-line request for a million dollars without a detailed set of backup material, which the whole council would have had time to review prior to it ever being referred to Committee.”
— If Bianchi and Co. were serious about the MBTA contract, why didn’t they give the council full details at the time of the request? Could it be sloth? Nah, the mayor may be lazy but he’s not that lazy. Could it be he forgot about Rule 38? Nope. He served 10 years on the city council. He could quote Rule 38 in his sleep. Ruling out these possible answers, it appears Bianchi wanted to “ram the million bucks through” without bothering to provide proper documentation. As one councilor told THE PLANET, “The Mayor clearly wanted us to vote on it with no information provided and without the need to follow Council procedure or past practice.”
Thus, the Most Reasonable Answer to Q1 is: No! They are Not Serious.
Q2 Do They Believe They Have a Shot of Winning the MBTA Contract?
— If you believe you will win the contract, wouldn’t you define the parameters of the bid? Initially, the city touted 250 “manufacturing jobs.” Douglas Clark’s hastily pulled-together memo to the city council — again, given to the subcommittee, not the committee as a whole, on the same day of the meeting — says “200-250 jobs are projected.” During the meeting on Tuesday, however, the administration backed off that figure. It couldn’t say precisely or even within an acceptable range, how many jobs would be created.
— The best the city has done in identifying the type of building that would be required for a company to manufacture the railcars is “80,00 square feet to 250,000 square feet” — a loose and undisciplined range unacceptable for the purposes of making an informed decision on allocating $2 million in taxpayer money.
— If you believe you will win the contract, don’t you demand it will pay a minimum of $35,000, as defined by Rule 38 as a condition of handing out inducement money? Councilor Jonathan Lothrop‘s incisive questioning of Bianchi, PEDA’s Corydon Thurston, and Clark revealed they included about $15,000 of benefits in the overall compensation figure. That would leave an average salary of $20,000 — practically minimum wage. Lothrop argued his point cogently, managing to convince a majority of the subcommittee to support language that would require average salaries of $35K a year and that lower-wage jobs not be counted to fulfill the conditions of job counts.
— If you are serious about the deal and you honestly believe you will win it, wouldn’t you follow procedure and not risk alienating people by cutting corners? That, however, is what the Administration did when it (a) failed to present the full council with the required information, and (b) only provided a hasty memo, the morning of the subcommittee meeting, and only at at the prompting of Clairmont. Why would it do that? Consider the possibilities:
(1) Bianchi doesn’t trust the council.
(2) Bianchi, PEDA, and company are afraid of scrutiny.
(3) The “bid” for the contract is just a PR exercise to assure the public that “all that can be done, is being done” to attract the rail cat assembly jobs. One well-placed source, speaking on condition of anonymity, put it this way: “Maybe, if you ‘know’ the cost to build new is not economically competitive at PEDA, then maybe you don’t bother to go through with the tedious exercise of providing actual scrutiny? When the railcars go elsewhere, the public is told ‘Well, we did our best, even offered them a million from PEDA and a million from the GE money! I guess it wasn’t enough. It’s too bad!’”
THE PLANET would say it’s 25% (1), 25% (2), and 50% (3).
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Incidentally, Clark’s memo to the council claims nine prospective companies have been identified as interested in making the railcars. He says all the companies have been contacted “either in person or by e-mail and telephone” and an informational package sent.
In short, the evidence would suggest that the city, led by Bianchi, is perpetrating another of those “economic engine” scams that have bled the GE money of nearly half its $10 million (Workshope Live, anyone?). The vagueness of the information provided, the “hurry-up offense” intended to keep the council scrambling, the lack of transparency, and other factors would support this interpretation.
Why would “They” bother to do this? Could it be to perpetuate the jobs for the executive directors of all the various “economic development” enterprises, most of which are paid for by public money — PEDA, 1Berkshire, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., and the endless line of similar misfits … we mean, outfits.
Those outfits come along promising jobs. They deliver by giving We The People con jobs, snow jobs, and cushy positions for a Favorable Few who take home big salaries, face no accountability, and need only play deaf and dumb so as not to rock the boat.
Ladies and gentlemen: “They” are messing with $2 million of your money. When the railcar deal falls through, you should be on the lookout for a “savior” company to be nominated, at the 11th hour again.
They” will tout this as a “great opportunity” that needs to be grabbed “quickly” — and there will be little to no private equity wanting to come near it! Want to guess which company that will be?
Demand more from Bianchi & Co. Demand that “They” begin acting like the leaders the powers they have won from the people demand them to be.
Have a great weekend!
“Yet her shade, maybe / Will creep underground / Till it catch the sound / Of that western sea / As it swells and sobs / Where she once domiciled, / And joy in its throbs / With the heart of a child.” — Thomas Hardy, “I Found Her Out There,” (1913).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.