PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MARCH 6, 2014) — Little by little, over many years, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino’s city workers — and especially its police and firemen — grew richer and richer, even as the city lost its major employers and gradually got poorer and poorer.

This paragraph, taken from a Reuters story on how San Bernardino went kaput, bears eerie similarity to what happened in Detroit, Mich.; Mammoth Lakes and Stockton, Calif.; Jefferson County, Ala.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Central Falls, R.I.; Boise County, Idaho; and other places. If the recalcitrant political establishment in the city of Pittsfield doesn’t do an immediate about-face from previous spendthrift financial practices, it will soon join the list.

How soon is “soon?” Anyone’s guess, but reasonable estimates would be between five and 10 years. It could be later than that, but — especially if no changes are made in reducing spending, boosting income, and reforming post-emplyment benefits packages for public employees — it could happen much sooner. New ways to treat employees, pensioners, and bondholders will have to be enacted. So will belt tightening.

No Time to Wait

In Pittsfield, there is no time to wait. The work must begin with the FY15 budget. With that established, let’s get a little perspective. When the Central Berkshire Regional School District sent its proposed budget to the Dalton Select Board calling for a spending hike that would put the town in hock, the selectmen sent it back stamped, “Too high. Find cuts.” That must happen in Pittsfield. The odds aren’t good, given that the special interests and the politicians are just too damned cozy, each jerking the other off and expecting taxpayers to pick up the tab for all the fun.


New Supt. Jason McCandless, “Jake the Fourth,” seems to have settled nicely into “The Pittsfield Way.” He’s called for a $2 million increase in hiring for FY15. He wants more iPads and technology, more positions created, and millions more in spending. Keep in mind, too, that under current contract obligations, taxpayers would be in the hole about $1.5 million just to keep everything else as is. Thus, when McCandless sends his budget request to the Pittsfield School Committee, the committee should flat out reject it as too expensive. It won’t, of course. The members are lockstep with the school administration and there’s a severe lack of political will, what elsewhere is more colloquially called “balls.” Prediction: No one on the school committee, new members or old, will “dare” speak out against excessive spending.

When our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council get the school request, they too should reject it out of hand. They should throw it back and insist on belt-tightening. THE PLANET doubts that will happen, either, although one can entertain hopes that someone and more than one will finally stand up to the schools, political consequences be flushed, and say “Enough is enough.” The taxpayers, after recovering from their faint, would fall in love with those councilors who, finally, represented their majority interests.

It Doesn’t Take Einstein

No genius is necessary to predict what McCandless and school business manager Kristen Benehke do. They will present their fattened request as “austere,” talking about the “great sacrifices” the schools are making. They will claim solidarity with taxpayers and say they are aware of their pain. They will tell us how acutely aware they are of the need to appropriate wisely.

It will all be so much balderdash.


Folks gave McCandless a big buildup. They said McCandless was smart and experienced. He’s proven he’s smart, all right — smart enough to know he should play ball with The Suits, the GOB, and all the Special Interests who wish to keep their private gravy trains going with public money. It would take a man of high moral certitude, steel will, and a sharp pencil to put a stop to the nonsense. Alas, from his statements, it doesn’t look like McCandless is that man. That being said, let us quickly add that we’d love to be proven wrong.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

With that preamble in mind, THE PLANET shares this report from on  “Why Cities Go Bankrupt.” We invite you to read it and pass it along. Be sure to open the hot links, particularly one of the two that references the entire Reuters story. Gawker published its story on Nov. 13, 2012, so keep that in mind when the story speaks of “last year.” The last link contains the entire text.

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San Bernardino, California filed for bankruptcy last August. It is a poor city, yes. The economy is bad, yes. But why does one city fail while many others like it don’t?

This excellent Reuters report on San Bernardino provides one strong clue: when you are the poorest city of your size in your state, yet your police and firefighters can retire at the age of 50 with a pension that is 90% of their final salary, you are a strong contender for bankruptcy, sooner or later. One small example of the municipal largesse that eventually dragged San Bernardino into a hole it could not climb out of:

In 2009, patrol lieutenant Richard Taack retired at the age of 59, after 37 years of service. He took home $389,727 that year, including $194,820 in unused sick time and $33,721 for unused vacation time, according to city payroll records. Shortly after Taack retired – on an annual lifetime pension of $128,000 – he was hired part-time by [longtime city attorney James] Penman’s city attorney’s office, at $32 an hour.

That was long after the city had already seen its tax revenues collapse, along with the economy as a whole. Municipal unions seeking opulent contracts are certainly complicit in San Bernardino’s downfall. But the real blame rests with elected officials who voted this entire unsustainable system of lavish payments and pensions into place.

If your local elected officials are math-illiterate, in the pocket of special interests to the point of being functionally corrupt, or both, your city may go bankrupt. A lot of cities meet that criteria.This entire story is excellent. Send it to your city council.

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As the story says, how about sending this along to your city council members?

Financial disaster will be the only plausible financial scenario for Pittsfield if spending keeps rising, the tax base and population keep shrinking, more homes go off the tax roles, property devaluation continues, and the city keeps taking way more than its share of deadbeats that consume resources and contribute nothing in return.

The steps, while not easy to take, are nonetheless clear:

* A freeze on all spending and hiring.

* A requirement for the school department to present scenarios for  5%, 10%, and 15% decreases in spending.

* Reform of pensions and other post-employment benefits.

* Increase city workers’ share of health insurance from 15% (85% now taken up by taxpayers) to at least 30% (which would still allow a more-than-generous 30-70 split). Many companies in the Dreaded Private Sector offer 0% on such benefits; state law requires 50-50. If circumstances are allowed to deteriorate, the split could and likely should go to 50-50.

It’s tough medicine, but the cure is better than the consequence of the financial disease.

Please, all you so-called “leaders,” don’t:

* Once again betray Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski, the Little Guy, i.e., We The People, and don’t

* Let THE PLANET be able to one day soon say, “We told you so.”


“I’m not one to make believe. I know that leaves are green. They only turn to brown when autumn comes around. I know just what I say. Today’s not yesterday, and all things have an ending. But what I’d like to know is can a place like this exist so beautiful? Or do we have to spread out wings and fly away to the visions in our mind?”Stevie Wonder, “Innervision,” 1974.





  1. Rick
    March 5, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    Dan, I thought you would touch on this…….How can BMC .be considered a top 25 teaching hospital(using 2 &3 .year old data) when it has lost its’ surgery accreditation .from an independent agency? Has our heath care system deteriorated that far?

    • dusty
      March 6, 2014 at 2:01 am #

      BMC has already started a radio campaign to try to divert attention from this. Like certain newspapers they get awards that are similar to the “trophy s for every kid” genre.

      • MrG1188
        March 6, 2014 at 7:00 am #

        Again, BMC’s “award” was handed out by a company that takes advertising from hospitals and consults with them on marketing. Doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling about their medical prowess…only their marketing efforts appear top 25!

  2. billy
    March 6, 2014 at 4:21 am #

    Chicago land is on tonight at 10 o’clock on CNN it’s about the Chicago mayor dealing with the schools andhe unions in Chicago.He is doing what we refuse to do to put the city on a healthy substainable course.

    • danvalenti
      March 6, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

      The mayor of Chitown has done a remarkable job of leadership. It shows what could be done in Pittsfield if it had a major with even one iota of leadership in him.

  3. C.J.
    March 6, 2014 at 6:13 am #

    I recall John Krol mitigating concerns about Pittsfield’s unfunded liabilities at a council meeting a couple of years ago, comparing these liabilities to ‘buying a car on time”. He further stated that unfunded liavilities were simply an accounting function and not real per se, but a constantly changing and reactive figure. No I don’t know what he meant. Barry ???

  4. Pat
    March 6, 2014 at 6:22 am #

    Healthy is a word that does not apply to Pittsfield politics…dysfunctional is the correct word. Will the school committee do what it usually does? Which is to jam the budget meeting with people from the schools in support of the increase in spending. They already said they are encouraging as many parents as possible to attend the meetings on the budget. So the recruitment has already begun and the attempts to intimidate to win their increase through a show of strength. Members of the public who continually go along with supporting these outrageous budget increases are just as guility as the local politicans in my opinion. Until the general public cares about what is happening in this community as is happening in Dalton, things will never change in Pittsfield and the city will face even more serious problems in the very near future.

  5. MrG1188
    March 6, 2014 at 7:04 am #

    What still irritates the Hell out of me is how the committees (and Pittsfield is certainly not alone in this, all the districts do it!) bring forward these ridiculous pie-in-the-sky budgets with huge increases, put together more as a wish list than as a responsible budgeting effort. Then before the budgets are enacted they go through the charade of excising $40k out of a $20 million budget and saying they sacrificed and made substantive budget CUTS. Time for someone to call BS

    • danvalenti
      March 6, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

      MRG, folks, has laid out the scheme as well as it can be done.
      We echo his call: “Time for someone to call BS”

  6. Scott
    March 6, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    If they didn’t tighten thier belts like the rest of us when the economy was in recession what makes you think now that things are getting better they’re start being financially responsible?

  7. Payroll Patriot
    March 6, 2014 at 8:48 am #

    Palookaville: The bb report: a day/week late with the news
    The editorial board is made up of Winken, Blinken, and Nod. We don’t sign our editorials either.

    Editorial Page: Pittsfield

    A war has been declared on Pittsfield’s residential taxable neighborhoods and there to defend them are Colonels Duck(Downing),Dodge(TFB), and Hide(Bianchi). We find this an outstanding defensive group. Colonel Duck is better spending time opening his reelection campaign with a fund raiser in downtown Pittsfield next week in a tax supported restaurant. Colonel Dodge is trying to figure where she used to live in Pittsfield and Colonel Hide is just being the unleader Mayor Do-nothing. We are here to let you know everything is wonderful.

    Business Page

    From: bbb(bitter business bureau)
    Four non-Pittsfield businesses made big bucks the past couple months while taking taxable property off the tax rolls and discouraging professionals and executives from buying houses in Pittsfield. The four are TD bank conn, CIL conn, BFAIR north adams and Stone House Properties of southern berkshire and conn
    No Pittsfield business involved, no Pittsfield jobs, and everyone left will pay more property taxes. YAY
    Rumor has it an opening of scissors and ribbon business.

    Sports page

    Only can an x school committee person, x PHS school council member and present Chairman of the Conservation committee have a very successful coach go threw hell. PS: tried the basketball too

    Education page

    PPS to bankrupt city along with the School Building Needs Commission. This editor gets the impression that very few people in the schools are accountable for anything as they want ,not need, more to do less.

    • danvalenti
      March 6, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

      Your subscription list must have more names than the Beijing phone book, PP.

  8. amandaWell
    March 6, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    Who is the Planet’s photographer, not only does Jive look like he ate the Canary, but also an order of fries .

  9. dusty
    March 6, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    9pm MSNBC tonight.. Must see documentary about how the Iraqi war came about only an hour

  10. Rafael
    March 6, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    This is what happens when you have no balance between Dems and Repubs in gov’t. The tax and spenders run wild as there is no one to oppose anything they do. I don’t think MA as a whole is headed in a very good direction, let alone Pittsfield.
    A state emloyee whose no-skilled job involves sitting in a toll booth on the MA pike, taking your ticket and money, and at times may give directions, gets paid very well with great benefits. A monkey could do that job, but unless you know or are related to certain people, you can’t get that job.
    Meanwhile the private sector convenience store clerk – whose job involves far more resposibility than the toll booth attendant’s, gets paid minimum wage, has no benefits, and likely never even gets 40 hours a week.
    No wonder we get taxed up the yin-yang here.

  11. Sparkie
    March 6, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    I remember Mayor Danny do Little’s inauguration speech when he bragged about the wonderful contract he signed with the UEW. He explained as tax payers we don’t have to worry any more about giving the teachers an automatic 4-6 % raise for the next 3 years.

    I feel so good that its for the children.

    • danvalenti
      March 6, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

      That Inauguration Speech: Much Ado About A Lot of Bullspit. Bianchi caved in on every front.

  12. Pat
    March 6, 2014 at 3:55 pm #

    I voted for Dan and had high hopes for him when he was first elected, but unfortunately he has allowed himself to become one of the people we thought we were booting out of office. Either the GOB’s took him under their wing or he was that way all along and was a wolf in sheep’s clothing in so far as he is not looking out for the people who need to be looked out for (the slowly dying middle class), but instead is catering to the wealthy and powerful in the area.

    • dusty
      March 6, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

      Kinda my view of the guy.

    • danvalenti
      March 6, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

      Excellent food for thought, PAT.

  13. Hurdygurdy Man
    March 6, 2014 at 6:47 pm #

    The annual stickup of taxpayers by masked bandits from the schools. School committee and councilors SAY NO this time please.

    Im leaving out the mayor because he leaves me an ordinary citizen taxpayer out of everything.

  14. amandaWell
    March 6, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

    Nacho just set a world grass-sod eating contest on Wahlburgers, with mustard of course! he broke a tooth during the competition and ate that also.

  15. billy
    March 7, 2014 at 6:46 am #

    Dan they need to index what you pay for health care to what you make. Low paid city workers would get crushed,while city and school management and police fire and most school employees would not.