PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23, 2014) — As you likely know by now, councilor Lisa Tully of Ward 1 changed her vote on the bus borrowing measure, which passed on an 8-2-1 vote. At the end of this column, we shall publish the statement Tully sent THE PLANET in defense of her switch.

But first, we stop the presses.


We shall explain the drama in a moment.

Morandi, Simonelli Stand Tall

Councilors Kevin Morandi and Tony Simonelli stood by their convictions and reasoning in rejecting this needless purchase, which, as THE PLANET has shown using the Pittsfield School Department’s own data, will cost millions of dollars per year.

One of the high points of the meeting came when citizen watchdog Terry Kinnas shared his analysis of the true cost of the bus purchase, which will be $4 million plus for five years — a figure independently arrived at from THE PLANET’s but convincingly similar to ours. The mayor, Kristen Behnke, Sue Carmel, and the school department have been hiding this true cost. Why? Why the desperation to push through at the very net meeting something that filed the first time? Who’s pockets and purses are being lined, if anyone’s? What’s the true nature of the cost and the kickbacks, if any?

Two days ago, THE PLANET figured in all of the costs of maintaining in-house bus service for the length of the financing, and we arrived at a figure of $23 million. That was a conservative estimate. Kinnas’ calculations were in the same ballpark as ours. That frosted Mayor Dan Bianchi. The Empty Suit got up at the open mic and spit on Kinnas and his figures. It’s interesting that the mayor seemed to be swallowing bile that anyone would dare question his sacred (and blasphemously phony) figures. It made for satisfactory viewing to see The Empty Suit lose his cool in such an unprofessional manner. No wonder the mammals are jumping off the sinking ship that he is helming  — on part-time basis, of course.

The only councilors who critically questioned this bad deal were Ward 2’s Kevin Morandi and Ward 7’s Tony Simonelli.  THE PLANET thanks them for their integrity, something in bone-dry supply with their colleagues. Ward 3’s Nick Caccamo recused himself, as we said he would have to do.

Was the Vote Legal?

The most urgent point to make about this vote is that is may have been illegal. A measure that has been disposed of by the council, as in the case of the April 8 vote on the buses, cannot simply be brought back at the next meeting.

THE PLANET first got wind of the reconsideration of the bus vote when the council agenda came out on April 17. There and then we learned the mayor, with the enabling of council president Melissa Mazzeo, listed it again on the agenda. Fine, but we have one little question: Was is done according to the council’s own rules? Can you just post it on the agenda of the next meeting and it’s all moons in June from there?

Answer: No.

Council Rule 18 states that a vote requiring a supermajority for approval, as the bus vote did, may be brought back for reconsideration by “any member voting with the prevailing side, even though that side is not in the [super]majority.” Again, fine so far, but it further states: “A move for reconsideration may be made only at the same session as the vote to be reconsidered …” (PLANET’s underline).

To boil it down, did any of the seven members who voted on April 8 for the school bus bonding submit, at that meeting, a motion for reconsideration?  If not, as it appears to be the case, this would mean that:

(a) the mayor brought it back to the council illegally,

(b) the council president placed it on the agenda illegally, and

(c) the council approved, 8-2-1, again, illegally.

If this is the case, to comply with the law, the council will have to rescind the vote on the buses. We asked councilor Tully if “any of the seven voting in favor submit a motion for reconsideration?”

“To my recollection there was talk,” Tully said, “but not a motion.”

If that is true, last night’s vote must be rescinded.

Now, as promised, here is the statement Tully sent to THE PLANET to explain her vote. We submit it without comment or prejudice. We do thank the councilwoman for supplying here raison d’tete.

——- 000 ——-


Yes, I changed my vote. Feel free to post the entire email.
When we last voted on this proposal 2 weeks ago, I voted against it.  I voted against it not because I am against replacing buses, but because I thought a replacement plan would make more economic sense than borrowing $2.8M to purchase an entire new fleet.  I also thought that we had enough time to replace all the buses over 5 years as the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services recommended 12 to 15 years average replacement.

I assumed that alternatives to this proposal were not investigated seriously by the school department.  If they had been, I would have expected this information to have been included in our packet.  I believe the public needs to know this information and they shouldn’t have to specifically request it.  It should be on-line entitled “Business Case for Borrowing to Buy Buses”.  If the analysis had been on-line for public scrutiny, I doubt I would have received so many emails thanking me for my vote against this proposal.

Now, here we are again tonight, with the same proposal as 2 weeks ago.  There is nothing added and nothing has changed in it.  I don’t see a “Business Case for Borrowing to Buy Buses” included.  So now, it is up to me to provide the business case because I have changed my vote on this item and I cannot simply change my vote without a detailed explanation why.

Since the last council meeting, I sat down with Mrs. Benke to review the alternatives. The school department did indeed evaluate bus fleet renewal options, initially in April 2012 and again in June 2013, when leasing was analyzed.  I’ve updated my spreadsheet and calculated that, on average, we could expect to pay over $615,000 per year for 5 years to replace the fleet.

I also sat down with Mrs. Carmel to learn about the City’s bonding process.  The City sells bonds all the time.  The interest rates vary, but the last 2 were at 1 % and 1.25%.  I wish I could get a mortgage for that.

I calculated that if the City sold the bond $2.8M bond at 2%, for 5 years, the payments would be approximately $582k annually.

At a minimum, the City will save $30k annually by borrowing to buy all the buses at once.  In addition, Mrs. Benke said at the last meeting that the maintenance budget would be reduced by $90k with a new fleet.

Therefore, I have concluded that it is more cost effective to replace the fleet all at once with a bond, including the advantageous bus prices from a volume purchase.

Another concern I had was the age of our fleet.  If the recommended replacement age is 12 to 15 years, I thought we are trading them in too soon.

I called around to other Massachusetts communities and obtained information from Needham, Worcester and Northampton, a good mix.  All 3 districts contract out most of their fleet, but own some buses.  Worcester’s contract calls for a 10 year maximum bus age with an overall fleet age of 6 years. Needham’s buses are replaced every 3 to 5 years, but their contract calls for 7 years.  Northampton’s has a maximum of 10 years.  In addition, Supt McCandless stated at the last meeting that the average replacement age for contracts in Berkshire County is 7 years.

Therefore, our 9 year old buses are within the Massachusetts range for replacement. We could hold on to the buses another year, but there is a cost of $265,800 to keeping the existing fleet another year; the $90k in additional maintenance and the $175,800 of lost trade-in value.  After 10 years, as confirmed by Worcester and Northampton, the trade in value is very low.

Another concern I have to address is the $1.2M we are still paying on the existing fleet.  This is unfortunate, but it is part of a larger $22M bond that was sold in 2008 to group many other debts at a lower interest rate.  In that respect, it is similar to refinancing your home with a higher principle at a lower interest rate to pay off credit cards.  At first, understanding that we still owe on the existing fleet was surprising, but after learning that it was part of a debt consolidation, it made more sense.  Realistically, we cannot wait to replace our buses until 2020 when this bond is paid off.

The option to contract out the student transportation was last reviewed for a period of 2005 to 2010.  I would like to see our cost to own the buses updated and compared to a new competitive bid.  I am not in favor of contracting out our fleet, but would change my mind if it made sense.  Contracting out is not the panacea everyone says it is.  Last summer, Northampton voters approved a Proposition 2 ½ override because their renewed contract from Durham School services came in $225k higher for FY14 than they budgeted. If the override failed, they would not have offered high school busing.  That district is now paying $333.63 per bus per day, over $60k per year per bus.  Needham purchased 3 buses to provide transport for their athletics program and saved $85k per year. While the contract option is not on the table this time around, it will be for the future, so that a true cost comparison can be made.

Below is my analysis of the renewal plan, showing that at the very least, we will have to pay $615,000 on average for 5 years by staggering our bus purchases.  Our bond, however, will be at the most $582,000 for 5 years.  Add this savings to the 90,000 savings in maintenance costs and we are better off replacing the fleet now.

——- 000 ——-

It looks as if this story is far from over.


“Drunk all the time feeling fine on elderberry wine. Those were the days. We’d lay in the haze, forget depressive times.”Elton John, “Elderberry Wine,” from the album, “Don’t Shoot Me. I’m Only the Piano Player,” (1973).




  1. Shakes His Head
    April 22, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    There are costs to issuing municipal bonds beyond interest paid in the principal. Similar to closing costs. Not that it matters, our school age population will get a small increase as schools of choice become more and more inefficient for small districts.

  2. anne
    April 22, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    Dan could you tell us more about the raise the mayor is getting

  3. Dave
    April 23, 2014 at 1:39 am #

    There must be a loophole. There is no way councilor Lothrop would miss an opportunity to show his superior knowledge of the rules and not call President Mazzeo and the mayor in it.

    • dusty
      April 23, 2014 at 2:09 am #

      Do you think Mrs Tully might have had a little help with her report?

      • Sal
        April 23, 2014 at 2:54 am #


        Read Councilor Tully’s response closely. She doesn’t seem too pleased with the PSD for not supplying a business plan. Since I am on her distribution list, I received this response too. She attached her spreadsheet for bus renewal. Her figures make sense. Don’t you think that if the PSD had these figures, they would have included them? Clearly, she has done alot of homework. Why don’t you ask every other councilor why they voted the way they did? I’ll bet you none of them will have as detailed an explanation. I may not agree with Tully’s votes but I have never had a councilor who would provide me so much information.

        • Tony
          April 23, 2014 at 5:52 am #

          Sal I am also from Ward 1 and I am very familiar with Mrs. Tully. I can guarantee you that she can neither read or create an excel spread sheet. This entire report was created by either the real Ward 1 councilor, Mark Tully or his best friend Danny Do-little.

          • joetaxpayer
            April 23, 2014 at 7:13 am #

            Don’t you mean Danny Scissors Hands!

  4. billy
    April 23, 2014 at 2:29 am #

    I knew it was going to happen,did you see the smile on the mayor’s face as he left with the superintendent on PCTV .

  5. GeoSims
    April 23, 2014 at 3:36 am #

    Great, new buses! I was also recently forced into a new vehicle purchase so I get the maintenance vs new payment dilemma. Now where are we going to cut budgets to afford them?

  6. Nota
    April 23, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    I won’t read the Councilor’s reasoning until later, eating my breakfast. But did hear the ramble last night. I have a question, with all of the numbers flying around and savings to the taxpayer. Are the cost of the fuel in these bad boys contracted in by the lessee in other cities? just curious.

    • C. J.
      April 23, 2014 at 6:40 am #

      Please advise that the fuel isn’t purchased through Global Montello.
      Are the PSD school bus drivers, mechanics, transportation admins., all eligible for city perks ? pensions ? or are they compensated as part time, with on benefits ?

    • MrG1188
      April 23, 2014 at 10:36 am #

      In Southern Berkshire & Berkshire Hills, fuel costs are tied to COLA increases based on specific measurements. When fuel spiked hard a few years ago, the relationship between districts and contractor were strong enough to have a renegotiation opening, even though non was mandated. Similarly, when the district found itself in a bad spot with a couple of unanticipated state aid cuts a couple of years ago, the contractor renegotiated a bit to save the district money.

  7. Thomas More
    April 23, 2014 at 5:40 am #

    I’ve watched as the buses leave PHS every afternoon. The buses that are most crowded have 12 kids on them. 3 drove down Elm St. with less than 15 kids total. Assuming they’re going to Chapman’s Corners, East New Lenox Road and Dalton Division/Yankee Orchards it would seem the same task could be accomplished with vans.

    • jlo
      April 23, 2014 at 7:19 am #

      What you may not know is that every high school bus picks up at the High Schools first, then they proceed to the middle schools for a second pick up (PHS to Herburg and Taconic to Reid) before their routes are run to drop off the students. Seeing buses leave the high school is only part of the equasion.

      • Dave
        April 23, 2014 at 1:42 pm #

        Was there a problem with the request coming back at the next meeting due to council rules councilor Lothrop?

        • Dave
          April 23, 2014 at 4:39 pm #


          • Dave
            April 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

            Mr. Lothrop?

  8. Bill Sturgeon
    April 23, 2014 at 5:48 am #

    I know that I may be in the minority with my view of Lisa Tully’s school bus vote. Ms. Tully did her homework and found that, in her mind, she erred with her first vote. I applaud her for courage to admit she had made a mistake and change her vote.

    An aside – Read mayor dan’s letter to the editor in the Eagle today!
    Paraphrase – I just appoint !!!!!!

    • cyrstalclear
      April 23, 2014 at 6:07 am #

      Mrs. Tully’s job as councilor is to approach the school department and ask for their business plan to buy buses prior to any vote. How could Mrs. Tully create a spread sheet two weeks ago without all the data? Mrs. Tully caste her vote two weeks ago without doing her due diligence, to say now, she is courageous, is a day late and a dollar short. Her new name should be second chance Tully, or the “fix is in Tully”.

    • C. J.
      April 23, 2014 at 7:40 am #

      Bill, I’m not sure these so called personnel hiring screening committees are the panacea for objective hiring practices. They are hand picked and often sycophants and minions of the administration.
      In the instance cited in the mayor’s letter he gives special credence to a certain manager whom he appointed to this particular screening committee. Admittedly, this manager enters the sceen door of Lach’s Lounge with regularity.

    • ed shepardson
      April 23, 2014 at 9:09 am #

      If the mayor just appoints, who then placed Mr. Monterosso on leave?

      • billy
        April 23, 2014 at 11:12 am #

        its dan and I’m not responsible for anything Bianchi .shameful and disgraceful .

  9. tax & spend
    April 23, 2014 at 5:54 am #

    I got an idea.

    Since they are saving the taxpayers so much money by replacing the entire fleet of busses all at once, why not replace all the police cars also? Also the police need all new uniforms, so why not replace them all too, getting a discount for volume.

    Have you noticed how old our firetrucks are also? Remember the volume discount applies here also.

    How about that spanking new public works building? Have we lost sight of that?

    All they have to do is raise taxes by more than they need. That way there is plenty of free money to spend on other things.

  10. smh
    April 23, 2014 at 6:14 am #

    It’s not really clear that the above quoted language precludes the petitioner from EVER bringing an item back to the council, absent a motion by “any member voting with the prevailing side” “at the same session as the vote to be reconsidered”. That just wouldn’t seem like good policy.

  11. Spider
    April 23, 2014 at 6:38 am #

    Mrs. Tully explained that she changed her vote after speaking with Ms. Behnke and Ms. Carmel and contacting various locations. I’m sure the mayor held her hand and guided her through the tedious task.

    Of course her vote was no surprise….after all the mayor worked diligently to help her defeat Mrs. Yon.

    One thing is certain, folks….all her future votes on “major” issues will coincide with the mayor’s desires.

    Occasionally, she will disagree with him on some minor issue to appear that she is independent.

  12. Bill Sturgeon
    April 23, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    Spider: I sincerely hope that you are wrong about Ms. Tully! It is common street knowledge that mayor dan (small letters are intentional) worked hard to useat Ms.Yon (full disclosure Ms. Yon is a personal friend).
    As far as lemmings who will follow the mayor’s leads I think the Ward 2 councilman is the leader of the mayor’s cheerleader’s!! Full disclosure I thought Kevin would be a good City Councilor, boy was I wrong, but then again I thought dan would be a good mayor – Wrong Again!!

    • Tony
      April 23, 2014 at 8:10 am #

      You have to give Danny Do-little credit, he knew Yon was an independent thinker and she had to go. Yon stood in the way of his Methadone Clinic. He worked hard to get his cronies on the council to rubber stamp his agenda. Tully upset the applecart with her vote 2 weeks ago, she needed to be reeled in, job accomplished.

      • levitan
        April 23, 2014 at 10:03 am #

        Yon was ‘independent, but not since the sometime in Ruberto’s final term when suddenly, with a family hire in City Hall if I recall correctly, she became soft.

        Also, it wasn’t ‘his’ methadone clinic, it was Spectrum’s and Ruberto’s lavish hysteria over it siting out of sight somewhere downtown.

        Now, if Ruberto concentrated his outrage over heroin addicts robbing every business on North Street I’d pay him a respect.

  13. Evian
    April 23, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    Tully followed school district figures. These are figures that lie as Mario Cuomo used to say. Where was the total cost comparison, the one that both DV and Terry Kinnas did? That was way more than $600k a year more like $4 million a year. Which is it? Could Bianchi and PSD been pulling wool over councilor Ts eyes?

    • levitan
      April 23, 2014 at 10:09 am #

      That is where I am heading here.

      Tully was correct to review the City’s figures, but at what point does she actually challenge the assumptions behind them or otherwise attempt to verify them with other sources?

      For one, I don’t see a valid cost/benefit analysis. Maintenance for the new fleet should be compared to the current maintenance. Most maintenance are variable costs associated with use such as oil changes, brake maintenance, wheel maintenance. None of those are warrantied.

  14. Matt
    April 23, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    The mayor does not want to be “bullied or intimidated” by the ill informed media. Berkshireworks staff have endured months of such behavior and work daily in the anxiety and fear of its return.

    The Executive Director was on probation at the time of his administrative leave. The mayor is well advised to consider the potential cost to the city of the consequences of his exercise of appointing authority in this case.

  15. Scott
    April 23, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    I guess I’ll start looking for a part time job on top of the two businesses my wife and I already run. Hey it’s just money so when thy raise our tax again I’m guessing the shinny new busses will be thrown in our face. If this was an illegal move who do we write or call???

    • levitan
      April 23, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Rufus, git the jug. (And the pitchforks, tar, and feathers while you at it.)

  16. maxwell edison
    April 23, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    I thought the mayor would at least tweak some small part of the proposal to give her a more graceful flip flop but no, she had to eat that whole crow by herself. That’ll learn ya, counselor.

  17. Bill Sturgeon
    April 23, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Tony: I know Chris Yon stood her ground against the mayor with the methadone clinic, and rightfully so in my opinion. Chris is a person of great integrity and worked for the people of her Ward. Chris and the entire You family are my personal friends.

    That said, I am not going to throw Lisa Tulley under the bus just yet. I know Lisa’s Dad and he is a very bright guy and a guy with a great deal of integrity. I also know Lisa mother-in-law and her late father-in-law are and were friends. Phil Tulley stood-up for his people when he was on the City Council, he was one of the great City Councilor’s, in my opinion.

    I don’t think that it’s going to take long for Lisa to figure out the mayor’s games.

    • Dave
      April 23, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

      Bill, I know you know who you know, but knowing that, who really knows? I know no one in this whole bus saga, but I know that knowing no one makes me more objective. If you know who voted no you may not know why they voted no. Knowing it’s not what you know but who you know makes knowing what really happened not that clear. If you find out more bill let us know!

      • Dave
        April 23, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

        Bill P.S. If I forget next month, thank you for your service!

    • Linda
      April 23, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

      Knowing someone’s relatives have little to do with judging the actions of one of the family members. Jeffrey Dahmer had great parents.

      I hope you are right about Lisa. Mayor and school dept had her buffalowed. Someone said it earlier I think Levitan that she gave no indication she actually challenged the figures they gave her.

      Hope she figures out has just been used Big Time. Bianchi is the worst when ti come s to that.

      • Scott
        April 24, 2014 at 4:44 am #

        How do you know Jeffrey had great parents? If they were so great why did he live with his grandma and why did they produce a son capable of such atrocity? You don’t have to answer me I just thought it was peculiar you used that as a reference.

  18. Nota
    April 23, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    I knew it!

  19. Bill Sturgeon
    April 23, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    Thanks Dave!!!

  20. Ron Kitterman
    April 23, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Ed Shepardson brings up an interesting point concerning Mr. William Monterosso, if the Mayor just appoints the Executive Director according to statute and by the response from the Mayor’s letter to the Editor in the Berkshire Eagle today’s date. Why would the appointing Authority ( Mayor ) turn this matter over to the City’s Personnel Director John D’Angelo and the City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan. Where does Mr. Monterosso go to get his reputation back if he was unfairly treated and shouldn’t someone of a higher authority be looking at the matter ? Just seems like it took a long time for the Mayor to find out where the buck stopped, didn’t it.

    • Dave
      April 23, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

      And why in the wide wide world of sports would the mayor put in writing a position or non position saying it is not his position to take a position on the final outcome of who will hold the position? I just don’t want taxpayers to have to assume the position if the city takes the wrong position on this in my opinion unnecessary highly compensated position.

  21. amandaWell
    April 23, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    Councilor Caccamo? you came come back in the room now!

  22. Nota
    April 23, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    We are down to this, Consider This’ reruns. I’d rather listen to the best of Sturgeon.

  23. amandaWell
    April 23, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    Yankees- Sawx are on, Node.

  24. Matthew
    April 23, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Under city statute the HR Director is the person to whom allegations of sexual harassment are reported. The City Attorney may provide expert assistance in compliance with statutes pertaining to human rights. However, the administrative responsibility falls to the mayor, and only the mayor.

    It has been several weeks since interviews were conducted, and it is possible that the HR staff are interviewing others:state agency staff, visitors, contract employees, local agency staff, and consumers who may have witnessed ojbectionable behavior. This would account for the extended delay and be justified by the situation in furtherance of the mayor’s commitment to a full and complete investigation.

    The liability the mayor refers to is very substantial and the mayor is right to ensure that every aspect of this issue be thoroughly investigated. It is better to pay Mr. Monterosso’s $2,000/week (with fringe) salary to be off than to pay hundreds of thousands potentially in damages in claims by a number of affected individuals.

    • danvalenti
      April 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

      This sounds reasonable, Matthew. The onus is on the mayor. We can only comment that the mayor must rise above the potential embarrassment of the case, should Mr. Monterosso be found to have committed the offenses with which he has apparently been charged. The mayor appointed him, so to that extent is a reflection of the mayor’s “judge of horseflesh,” to colorfully put it. If the mayor can do that, he can take the appropriate action. If a mistake has been made in the selection of Mr. Monterosso, the mayor needs to maintain integrity and deal with it justly. If Mr. Monterosso has been unjustly accused, that needs to be clarified as well.