PLANET VALENTI News and Commentaries

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEEKEND EDITION, APRIL 11-13, 2014) — First, let us share a bit of “You Can Take It To The Bank” news, the kind that only THE PLANET seems to be able to learn. A well-placed source tells us that a new director of The Boys and Girls Club will be announced imminently. When it happens, and you read about it in The BB, pretend like you’re hearing it for the first time. Do it as an act of mercy. We’ve been beating them to the draw so often that we have to make it look like a fair fight once in a while!

Now then, on to the business at hand. Our Right Honorable Good Friends on the city council did the right thing for the most terrible reasons Tuesday night when they said no to a proposed borrowing of millions of dollars for new school buses.

Councilors’ defeat of the measure, which was the correct vote, took the most pathetic form, however, when the measure went down because one of their own could not legally perform his job of representing thousands of constituents who elected him to office.

If Nick Caccamo is serious about democracy … If Nick Caccamo has the least amount of concern for doing the right thing over feeding his ego with a hollow title … If Nick Caccamo has any regard for a city he professes to love … he will seriously re-consider his fitness to serve as Ward 3 councilor. Short of that, it will be time for We The People to reconsider it for him. This is not a threat. It’s a promise.

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THE PLANET led a discussion during the election season last year in which we articulated this precise scenario as a reason for Nick Caccamo not to run for office. As a full-time employee of the school department, he must recuse himself from votes involving the department from which he gets his bread and butter. As we understand the conflict of interest law, he cannot even participate in public debate or discussion.

Caccamo’s continued presence on the council disenfranchises every citizen of Ward 3 regarding 70% of the city budget. Why he is not recalled, to say nothing about why he was elected, can only be seen as a tangible though not unusual symptom of the ice age of apathy that has frozen the Pittsfield electorate into a convincing counterfeit of hopelessness. The freeze keeps negligent citizens participation in government, playing right into The Suits hands. They want no-to-low participation in government by ordinary citizens. That’s how they keep the gravy train rolling. That’s how disgraces like Caccamo or Frank “Free House” Cote happen with the school department.

If Nick Caccamo has a lick of good sense, to say nothing of moral integrity, he will abdicate his seat, complete with an apology to every person in his ward. Doing so will win the respect of all and restore him as a member in good standing of the body politick. Not doing so will continue to make a mockery of representative government.

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Behnke: “Old” is Young and “Young” is Old When It Suits Her

As for the proposed borrowing for new buses, THE PLANET can’t see it — not with so many alarming signals warning of an eventual financial implosion in the city of Pittsfield. Here are just a few of the signals: a shrinking tax base, increased government spending, a “money solves everything” philosophy for the school department, the pandemic of group homes, the fact that nearly two-thirds of school children receive subsidized lunches, low voter participation, lack of ordinary citizen involvement in the democratic process, the arrogance of officials such as Mayor Dan Bianchi and School Committee chair Kathy Yon, who think that they have no need to make themselves available to press inquiry. We could go on and on.

One of the most relevant and immediate factors in painting the bus borrowing as inadvisable has to be the $1.5 million taxpayers still owe for the fleet they propose to junk. An accountant friend, reviewing that very situation, said, “It would be financial lunacy” to borrow new millions on top of the million and a half already owed.

The other warning flag would be the games being played by the PSD administration. It’s interesting how 2007 is “outdated” when the Pittsfield School Department wants it that way, while in the same sense 2006 is “immediate” and relevant. Kristen Benhnke, the bag lady for the PSD finances, claims that the 2007 model year fleet of 53 buses are far too old, worn out, and doddering. However, when this fiscal apologist for pickpocketing taxpayers tries to explain why it’s less costly for the district to be in the transportation business as opposed to hiring a private company to bus school children, she cites a 2006 study — and a questionable one at that.

Welcome to Pittsfield, where The Suits want and get it “both ways” while Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski get it just once. Taxpayers and citizens — who have to bear the continual burden of an overfunded, underperforming city department — know just where, how, and when that “once” is delivered. As a cutback measure, the city has even taken away the K-Y Jelly prior to insertion.

The replacement of the bus fleet doesn’t make economic sense.

Is it too much to ask the school department to squeeze another couple years out of the fleet? Has the department been that careless in its maintenance — have the drivers been that bad — to have run an entire fleet of 53 buses into ground from a brand new state in eight short years? THE PLANET drives a 2001 Ford Focus. It has 164,401 miles on it. We have taken care of it lovingly for all those years. We drive responsibly. “Nellybelle” shall be good for at least a couple hundred thou, we should think.

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THE PLANET shall leave the buses for next week. In our follow-up, we shall hear from councilors, we hope on both sides of this issue. We commend councilors Lisa Tully (Ward 1), Kevin Morandi (Ward 2), and Tony Simonelli (Ward 7) for their vote in favor of common sense, acknowledgment of fiscal reality, and the taxpayers, who won a rare victory. One can only hope the victory remains in place and that none of the three flips their vote.

The trio, Tully especially, had their finest moments as councilors. Tully made the case that the buses could and should be extended for a while longer. She, too, drives an old vehicle, and makes do. Funny how when those in the Dreaded Private Sector are expected to make do, including the hundreds who lost their jobs at North Adams Regional Hospital, no one blinks. Suggest one adjustment, however, to the Fatted Calf that is the public budget, and the Vested Interests bleat like stuck pigs, led by the most pathetic of them all. That would be The Suits “kept woman,” The Boring Broadsheet, which embarrassed itself again with its fruit-looped editorial criticizing the vote.

Simonelli also had his shining moment, pointing out that schools have no business being in the transportation business. He’s correct on both administrative and fiscal accounts. Simonelli can also be considered a qualified source, given his long career in education.

You want to tune in next week for a continuation of this discussion. You also want to extend your support to the trio of councilors who did the right thing, which is not necessarily the popular of politically expedient thing. You, along with THE PLANET, need to stand with them and also make it clear that we will tolerate no change in position. That would be indicative of someone having “gotten to” the flip-flopper.

ALso next week, we shall present an explosive story regarding city personnel that Bianchi is fully aware of and is trying desperately to keep from emerging from the dark, dank cell where it’s presently locked. THE PLANET has found a key!


“The apples of the valley hold the seeds of happiness.”Led Zeppelin, “The Battle of Evermore,” (1973).





  1. Scott
    April 11, 2014 at 8:57 am #

    Dan, has the BB ever applied for or recieved any money or tax breaks from the city???

    • ed shepardson
      April 11, 2014 at 9:41 am #

      Historical tax credits for clocktower. That was 20 years ago.

  2. ed shepardson
    April 11, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    It would be interesting to know the mileage on the buses. I don’t think I’ve ever read that. My ten year old car has 110,000 miles. Runs fine. Hope to be buried in it.

    • danvalenti
      April 13, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      One would think that, in the name of transparency so that councilors on behalf of the public could make an informed as opposed to an ignorant evaluation, the mileage and other factors of bus condition would be supplied. But no — this is Pittsfield.

  3. Thomas More
    April 11, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    Though the word has been on the street since Monday I think most people read it first in the Eagle.

    • Gene
      April 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

      I read it first here, Tom. On the buses, only this site has provided honest coverage among local media.

  4. Jonathan Melle
    April 11, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    Peter Bell is a good man who always treated me with respect. Pittsfield is such an annoying community because they persecute good people who are not part of the Good Old Boy network.

  5. dusty
    April 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    I am curios as to how much it costs to educate a kid in Pittsfield for one year. If you divided the number of kids in the system into the last school system budget, what would that be?

    Is that a legitimate way of doing it?

    and if so does anyone have the pertinent figures?

    • danvalenti
      April 13, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

      When you factor in all the school expenses, and not only the $50+ million they list on the school budget, it’s between $16,000 and $17,000 a year. Those “other” sources of money include health insurance, OPEBs, maintenance, running the buses, federal grants, and state grants — In other words, all sources of public funding.

  6. Ron Kitterman
    April 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    Agree with you on the recall, however from the Pittsfield Gazette reporting it sounds as if the council had to call a recess to research the definition of a super majority. So, if one of three caves like a cheap suitcase or Mr. Caccamo finds another job in the dreaded private sector, it looks like we the people will be investing in 43 shinny yellow buses with low milage plus ponying up $2.7 million in addition money pay the balance on the previous bond.

    • Scott
      April 12, 2014 at 1:45 am #

      Sounds like someone stands to gain big on that deal. Find out who it is and connect them to Bianchi now there’s a story. What bank holds the loan???

  7. #nomorebianchi
    April 11, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    It’s 1.5 mil on the old busses. I believe I heard that there were only a few maybe 3 busses with more than 100K miles

  8. ShirleyKnutz
    April 11, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    I think the voters of ward 3 were smart because they knew at least on 70% of the budget votes they would finally have someone count as a no,ha,ha!!

    • danvalenti
      April 13, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

      Interesting theory, SHIRL!

  9. Darren Lee
    April 11, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    To J. Melle – I spend at 3 hours a day at the Club every winter. Some Saturdays over 6 hours. Sunday equally. Let me tell you, you have no idea what you are talking about re: The Boy’s and Girl’s Club. If I am not mistaken you have moved from the area, yet you lob baseless accusation around freely. It’s irresponsible and misleading.

    • Jonathan Melle
      April 12, 2014 at 8:10 pm #

      thanks for the criticism. i have lived in Amherst, New Hampshire, for the past decade. i grew up in Pittsfield. I like to read Dan Valenti’s blog about Pittsfield politics. i like Peter Bell. I think he is a good man. i also support the boy’s club in Pittsfield.

  10. Dave
    April 12, 2014 at 4:30 am #

    Dan if councilor Caccamo just happens to be “on vacation” the next time a vote on the buses comes up and the vote is 7-3, does it pass? I know a super majority is 8 with all councilors present, regardless of anyone who has to abstain, but what is the magic number when only 10 are present? Clerk Tyer, councilor Lothrop??

    • Spider
      April 12, 2014 at 8:44 am #

      Good question….Maybe Clairmont can tell us.

    • jlo
      April 12, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      The answers is that its a Supermajoirty of the “Whole Number” (11) Even if only 9 Councilors were to be present, you would still need 8 of the 9. State Bidding nad Debit laws require it.

      • Dave
        April 12, 2014 at 11:18 am #

        Thanks for the clarification councilor Lothrop.

        • B. Clairmont
          April 12, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

          I agree with jlow

  11. Russell Moody
    April 12, 2014 at 5:51 am #

    Our children ride those buses. How old is too old for a bus to carry our children to and from school? How old is too old to drive on the pike and transport our athletic teams sometimes hours away at speeds above 45 miles per hour?

    Heading to Chicopee for a Lacrosse game with the Taconic student athletes… I hope the transportation department chose well.

  12. Spider
    April 12, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    C. Cotton’s remark that “children’s safety must be paramount” (Pittsfield Gazette) is amusing when so many parents are driving their children “safely” to school every day in 10 yr. old cars.

    Today’s Eagle editorial accuses the council of “punishing” the School Dept. for past actions. But when someone lies (as they have in the past about purchasing buses on a regular basis) how can they ever be trusted. Obviously, 3 council members realized this and didn’t fall for their baloney.

    And lastly….Pittsfield isn’t it’s own worst enemy (again, Eagle editorial), but the School Dept. certainly is!

    • dusty
      April 12, 2014 at 9:33 am #

      and if the council IS punishing the school dept. for past actions..what is wrong with that? .isn’t that the way punishment works? Ya screw up and you take your medicine. Someone needs to send a message because they obviously think they are doing a great job over there at Mercer The school dept thinks it should be untouchable and of course the Eagle printed what someone from the school dept probably wrote.

    • danvalenti
      April 13, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

      Your point about parents driving kids with older vehicles is well taken.

  13. Linda
    April 12, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Id like to thank councilors Morandi, Tully, and especially Simonelli. for advocating contratcing out bus service. I though the BB editorial was more garbage. That’s why the BB is dying and the Planet is prospering. DV are your numbers up? Seems like it.

    • dusty
      April 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

      I would also like to thank them. It took courage not often seen in local politics. And Mr Simonelli worked for the school system so extra kudos to him.

  14. Linda
    April 12, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    Meant “contracting”. Sorry.

    • Dave
      April 12, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

      Don’t thank them yet, this saga is far from over. I am 100% positive that at least 1 of the 3 will change their vote when it comes up again. Either “hundreds of their constituents” came up to them concerning the safety of the children, or there will be a meaningless change in the wording of the contract that puts their mind at ease now voting for the contract. The concern for the taxpayer always takes a back seat to the voting block of the PSD.

      • Spider
        April 13, 2014 at 4:15 am #

        I think you hit on it, Dave…..At least one will give in. .I’m going with the changing of the contract….so they will now be “comfortable” voting for it.

        I will be totally shocked if all 3 stand firm!!!

        • danvalenti
          April 13, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

          People will be watching Kevin Morandi, Lisa Tully, and Tony SImonelli carefully. They did the right thing first time around. We The People are near unanimous is agreeing that they need to be steadfast in that vote.

  15. Spider
    April 13, 2014 at 5:33 am #

    A story in today ‘s Eagle tells of the school budget in Lee increasing by $93,000 ……as compared to Pittsfield’s school budget increasing to $1 million (and remember they originally wanted $2 million).

    They are also eliminating two educational positions as well.
    Can you picture what would happen here if even one position was eliminated.

    I keep asking this question…..Why do all our surrounding towns realize the need to tighten their belts, but Pittsfield can’t?

  16. Nota
    April 13, 2014 at 6:33 am #

    Many comments were posted on the Planet’s web site about possible conflicts concerning Mr.Caccamo and his voting on certain school issues, mainly budget votes. And sure enough it has come to bite the voters in Ward 3. As far as the school bus contract, of course they will reverse the vote.Simonize said he didn’t have the blessing from the Scanlon’s on whether or not it was cost saving, yet Low, who never votes anything unless it is in front of him, voted for the buses?????? This is why we are”…….PALOOKAVILLE.

    • Larry
      April 13, 2014 at 9:18 am #

      Dan, I heard that Caccamo didn’t even get confirmation from the ethics commission to vote either way. Is that true?

      • danvalenti
        April 13, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

        I’ve heard various versions, but it seems that he has been advised not to vote on school department business.

  17. Nota
    April 13, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    When watching the vote for new bus fleet, the vote was taken, then, if you listened, clerk Tyer say’s ‘you need eight’? Why the need for a break? Councilor Caccamo should resign immediately. In his campaign debates, he is clearly states that many issues, votes, that he wouldn’t participate in. Really?

  18. schoolteacher
    April 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    There are a lot of people willing to post their opinions, but how many of you are making any positive changes for the City of Pittsfield? Stop typing; start doing.

    • danvalenti
      April 24, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

      Fair enough, S, but contributing to the public marketplace of ideas is a positive contribution. Surely, you should know that from your Civics classes.