PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16, 2014) — THE PLANET continues now with one of the most important stories affecting Pittsfield at this time: the vote on school buses. Millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake. Interestingly, it’s been a story both distorted and underreported by the mainstream media, led by the all-incompetent organ, The Boring Broadsheet. We continue to do the job The BB is afraid to take up. Call it an “organ transplant.”

The Pittsfield Schools want to replace the 53-bus fleet, consisting of 2007 model vehicles, with a brand new 42-bus fleet at a cost of $5 million (the cost of the new fleet, minus trade-in value, plus the $1.2 million still owed by the taxpayers on the existing buses). Never has Kristen Behnke, bag lady of the Pittsfield School Depeartment, given taxpayers an honest assessment of the current fleet. Neither she nor anyone else who wants to foist an unnecessary purchase on taxpayers has claimed the buses are unsafe, worn out, or incapable of serving another two or three years, as Ward 7 councilor Tony Simonelli pointed out in his comments to THE PLANET.

The school department also has not made other data available on the current fleet. What are the mileages for each of the 53 vehicles? The maintenance reports? The diagnostics? Have the vehicles been properly maintained? This is hard data that can be used to provide objective, unemotional information on the fleet — probably why The Suits will not share it, for the evidence thus far suggests the current vehicles have plenty of use left, at least a couple years or more.

Meanwhile, THE PLANET heard from other councilors involved — and not involved — in this vote.

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LISA TULLY: She must remain steadfast.

Lisa Tully had what’s clearly her finest moment as a city councilor when she voted against the new borrowing (on top of the old debt!). We asked her for thoughts following the bus vote. Tully thanked THE PLANET  “for being the first media outlet to contact me directly on this important issue and the reasoning behind my vote.”

We asked Tully if she would pledge to her constituents that she will not change her vote: “No,” she replied. “I cannot pledge that I will not change my vote.  I am not infallible.  If I make a wrong decision I will rectify it.  The school department did not address my concerns to my satisfaction at the Council meeting” [PLANET’s underline].

“I cannot pledge that I will not change my vote.” There’s a ton of wiggle room in that statement, enough to make any citizen uncomfortable. Tully says she has not been squeezed by anyone to switch her vote: “I cannot be pressured nor expect to be.”

We would remind our Right Honorable Good Friend the councilwoman that if the PSD has not made the case by now on the basis of data, reason, and logic, it will not do so in the future. Or has the PSD deliberately hidden information? THE PLANET, on behalf of Ward 1 constituents as well as the vast majority of taxpayers, urges Tully to remain steadfast in her position.

Kevin Morandi of Ward 2, responding to our request for comment on his vote, had this to say:

KEVIN MORANDI: ‘School Department figures don’t add up.’

“My reasoning is:  [The] city still owes $1.5 million on buses that will be traded in. There isn’t really a plan after FY 15 to pay off buses other than a verbal committment by School Dept. to do so. Where will money come from out of school budget?

“There are not enough options on table. The only option on table was to buy 43 new buses. Wasn’t any written research on privitizing or leasing made available? It’s about fiscal responsibility. I feel we have to tighten our belts as a council on what can the taxpayers of Pittsfield afford. There has to be a balance. We have a elderly population in the city with many who are on fixed incomes. We all have to live by budgets at home ,and I feel the city should live on one also because the taxpayers are paying for it.

“Over $2.7 million for new buses, school budget increase of at least $1 million dollars proposed, city dept. budgets will be increased, water and sewer rates increasing. The city’s streets need a lot of attention as we have a lot of miles of roads and sidewalks that need repairing. I can’t see putting brand new buses on roads in disrepair. Out of 52 buses being traded in, and only one has over 100,000 miles. As long as buses are being maintained and have passed inspections as councilors were told, I would like us to hold off and pay some debt down before the city takes on more.

“I have heard from some taxpayers and residents after the vote commending me on my vote. I haven’t gotten any negative feedback about my vote. I don’t think anyone of us can say we won’t change our minds, as there isn’t any guarantee in life, but I feel very confident about the vote that I cast on the new bus issue on April 8. In closing, I haven’t been pressured at all about changing my vote.”

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THE PLANET also heard from three councilors who supported bonding and replacing the fleet.

“Whether Nick is prohibited from voting is, to me, an open question,” said Ward 5 councilor Jonathan Lothrop. “At its core, this is a vote to issue debt. In this case it just so happens it’s for school buses. If it was something relating to the school’s operating budget, then he would not be able to vote. It’s a debt issuance take, by the city, not the school department. To me, he can vote.”

An interesting, if incorrect, reading.

“The funding failed,” said councilor-at-large Barry Clairmont. “President [Melissa] Mazzeo appeared  confused and didn’t seem to know whether the order passed or failed.  Solicitor [Kathy] Degnan was missing, once again, from the meeting.  Therefore, there was no legal guidance available.  We had to take a five-minute recess to allow the President to figure out the outcome.”

“Without eight votes the measure is defeated,” said Ward 6’s John Krol. “I will defer to a closer reading by the city solicitor to clarify, but this is my understanding. I only became aware that Nick would be abstaining as the debate on this issue took place. At that point, I knew it was definitely in danger of being defeated as I listened to the comments of my colleagues and counted potential votes.

“Regarding the bus issue, it was clear that the school administration had done its due diligence considering all options, including privatization and rotating in a portion of new buses for the fleet (rather than replacing the entire fleet at once). Upon the administration’s research and an auditor’s full analysis, it was clear that the most cost-effective strategy is the one they proposed.”

One other council source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “We looked like fools again.  My only question is, was this what the mayor wanted?  He openly appeared to be for the funding, but it was his people that killed it.  Either he wanted it dead, or he can’t line-up his own. In my opinion, either way, the mayor appeared to fail last night.”

THE PLANET shall continue our coverage of this issue. We shall continue to refute the unsupported claims that it’s cheaper for the city to buy and maintain buses than it is to privatize. The opposite is true.  Simonelli’s facts give part of the reason. Morandi spelled it out as clearly as it can be done: It’s time for the city to tighten the belt, same way that taxpayers have had to do, over and over again.

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Here is “Simonelli’s Fact Sheet,” printed again if you missed it the first time around:

TONY SIMONELLI: Strongly in favor of privatizing the school buses.

“First and foremost, as I stated at the Council meeting, I am philosophically opposed to the Pittsfield School Dept. owning their own bus fleet. When I asked Ms. Behnke, she confirmed Pittsfield is the only district in the County that does).  Beside my philosophical belief we should not [be in] the transportation business, I would like to provide you some facts.  

“According the the school department line item fact sheet, FY14 anticipated final expenditures are…bus drivers: $743,262; supervisor: $41,208; mechanics: $120,634; operations & maintenance: $249,600; handicap transportation: $88,322; gasoline: $287,248.  (I may have overlooked other expenses).  My understanding is that bus drivers, monitors, supervisors & mechanics all receive various benefits/pensions as well (cost?). As we know, these expenses will certainly go up.

“According to Ms. Behnke, in 2005 the auditors stated owning our buses would be cheaper than privatizing. While no study has been taken over the past 9 years, the auditors felt the same results would occur, if they performed another study today.  According to Supt. McCandless, if the City owned 40 buses or less, it may make sense to privatize.  The school committee is looking to purchase 43 buses, (close to 40?). Doesn’t this warrant another look?  In addition to these expenses, the City is currently responsible for paying off over $1.2 million for the current (53) buses that the Committee wishes to trade-in.  Should we bond $2,766,075 when over $1.2 is still owed?  FYI: bond payment for the $1.2 million isn’t due until 2020.

Ms. Behnke stated the plan was for the school dept. to include $550,000 in the budget for the next 5 years in order to pay off the $2,766,075.  I believe this to be an “addition” to the school budget, not reducing the budget by $550,000 … and putting it towards the buses.  So with the addition of $550,000 on top of the anticipated $1.5 million for negotiated raises, the school department budget for FY16 would automatically be a $2 million increase over “whatever” the budget will be for FY15, and continue on until payment is complete.

I believe it is important to note that at no time did Ms. Behnke (or Supt. McCandless) say the buses were in critical condition, putting the children in danger. The reasoning was basically the buses were 9 yrs. old, and to get the best trade-in value by doing it now.  I believe it was actually stated that the current fleet could last several more years.  My question is, why couldn’t the school dept. hold on to (at least) 1/2 of the current fleet, and stagger the purchase of new buses, as was originally promised several years ago?

Regarding your question if I had been approached by anyone to change my position, the answer is no.  On the contrary, I have received several phone calls and emails as well as people coming up to me in support of my vote, including several former City Councilor/officials.

It seems clear. If any votes change, it should be one or more of the seven who voted to support this needless borrowing.
“One and one and one is three.”John Lennon, The Beatles, “Come Together” from the “Abbey Road” album, 1969.



  1. Rick
    April 15, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    After a meeting is gaveled closed, how can you change a vote without opening the entire issue?

  2. dusty
    April 16, 2014 at 1:02 am #

    Is that all Mrs Tully had to say? That she might change her vote? Did she say what it might take to change her vote or why she voted against in the first place? If she does change her vote I hope she has a believable explanation or her credibility will go straight down the tubes.

    Bianchi is on the school committee. Did he not make his case one way or the other?

    It seems to me that the people who voted for new buses are certainly not interested in reining in the school spending. I do not see them as terribly concerned about the runaway budget. Seems like they are taking the easy way out by just giving them what the want.

  3. Nota
    April 16, 2014 at 4:16 am #

    What are we rooting for here, a watered down victory for a busing contract? Either way the taxpayer is on the hook. The only criteria here is,what councilor will give in?If you ask me, whoever does will have zero credibility.

    • Spider
      April 16, 2014 at 5:14 am #

      I believe that Solicitor Degnan will disagree with the decision made by the council president and rule it to the satisfaction of the mayor and school dept…..and then it will pass.

      In my opinion, this issue is more important than our City Council members realize. It hits all the taxpayers in one way or another. Many without jobs, health insurance worries, trying to keep their heads above water (financially) and they themselves DRIVING OLD VEHICLES!

      And don’t tell me that Tully isn’t being pressured by the mayor, because I don’t believe it….just wait and see!

      If our council gives in to the school dept, yet again, it will have a lasting effect on their reputation. (individually and as a whole).

  4. Sal
    April 16, 2014 at 4:21 am #

    I’m with Dusty on this one about Councilor Tully. I live in Ward 1 and have been on her email list since she stopped by our neighborhood in January and handed out magnets with her contact info on it. I’m pasting the email she sent out to us last week. She also attached her rotation plan that I can’t paste here, but it lists all the buses, their numbers, mileage and features. It appears to have been alot of work.

    Dan, are you withholding information from us?

    Thursday April 10th, 2014

    Dear Ward 1 Constituents,

    As you may have read in the Berkshire Eagle, at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, I voted against the City’s request to obtain a $2.7M bond to purchase an entire new school bus fleet. Contrary to what the Eagle editorialized; I did not vote against the $2.7M bond it because I drive a 10 year old car.

    I voted against the bond because the school department did not provide any research indicating that this is the most cost effective process to maintaining a school bus fleet.

    Through my research, I found that the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, in their school bus replacement consideration document recommends a 12 to 15 year replacement life. (Download the document here ) Also the State of Indiana mandates a minimum 12 year life before replacement; and South Carolina adopted a 15 year, 250,000 mile cycle.

    I took the individual bus figures from their bid and put together a very simple replacement plan based on mileage, (attached). I know that I am not an expert, but a yearly replacement plan of a certain number of buses seems feasible to me over the next 5 years. The school department could not provide any documentation as to why this approach is not cost effective.

    I am very concerned that a new bond is not the best approach for the following reasons:
    1) The school department did not budget for yearly bus replacements as was promised in 2006 when the City bought the existing fleet, for which we still owe $1.5M until 2020.
    2) To the best of my knowledge, there is no mechanism to require the school department to budget for this new bond repayment, and it could fall on the City’s budget to repay.
    3) I feel we should use the residual life of the current fleet for the next 5 years, replacing the buses in the worst condition first.

    I would be happy to hear your thoughts and concerns so please feel free to respond to this email.

    Thank You


    • B
      April 16, 2014 at 11:11 am #

      Sal, thank you for all your information. I read all the information from the link that you gave us, it seems that it is not the time to replace all of our buses. Your letter is the letter that Councilor Tully should have sent to DV. The PSD should have known about that site, and if so they would not be asking for a new fleet of buses. Oh, I forgot the PSD wants what they want and when they want it. It is unfortunate that we cannot believe anything that the school department presents to us, they have put us in this situation because of their past actions; they cannot be trusted. I would hope that all are councilmen who voted for the school buses will read the information that you provided us with and change their vote to no.

      • danvalenti
        April 16, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

        B & SAL
        In fairness to Councilor Tully, she did include that information, as an attachment. We overlooked it the first time. We apologize to you and especially to Councilor Tully. We shall be posting her comments in full on Friday.

    • danvalenti
      April 16, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

      Not including this letter was simply an oversight. We shall correct it before the week is out, likely on Friday, by give it proper exposure.

  5. Bill Sturgeon
    April 16, 2014 at 5:29 am #

    Dan: Excuse me for going off topic, but I had to comment before I start my day. In the Eagle I aread that the are going on a search to replace Megan Whilden – Really!! My response is E.T. call home – the decision has been made (with you or for you)!.
    I am still looking for “Truth in Gov’t”!!!

    • ed shepardson
      April 16, 2014 at 6:33 am #


      • Gene
        April 16, 2014 at 7:38 am #

        Dan OConnell.

        • GeoSims
          April 18, 2014 at 2:03 am #

          You’re kidding right?

    • Wilson
      April 16, 2014 at 8:45 am #

      Over nine years she probably cost the city .5-1 million dollars, which would have come in handy to pay for buses, but of course “culture” is more important than getting kids to school

    • danvalenti
      April 16, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

      Keep looking, my dear friend. Keep looking.

  6. Scott
    April 16, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Kevin Morandi is my new favorite politician.

  7. Scott
    April 16, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    Me Lathtrop as my ward councilman I would like you to cut spending that will result is not raising our tax again. Thanks. It would be nice if the trade in covered what we owed and we got into another loan with a lower interest rate thus saving is money over the next fifteen years but hey why shop for deals as the eagle stated we got it we’re not poor spend, spend, spend! If I ran my home finances like the city of Pittsfield I’d be living in the st.

  8. Bull Durham
    April 16, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    You are correct, Dan, and councilor Lathrop is wrong in questioning whether his colleague couldn’t vote. The state ethics laws are clear that any public official who in any way could ‘benefit’ from a vote is in conflict. The councilor works for the school department, and regardless of whether this is a ‘city budget vote’ and not a specific school department vote, his employer would benefit from his vote, and that’s illegal. He appropriately recused himself from the vote.

    • Teecha teecha
      April 16, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Is it the person can benefit, or their company/employer? It’s all in the language which I admit I’m not familiar with. If it’s personally benefit don’t see how a teacher can benefit from new busses . It would be more clear cut if it was money for say, in class technology, etc.

      • Levitan
        April 16, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

        Either person or employer. A public person cannot use his/her position to advance personal or professional interests.

      • Bull Durham
        April 16, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

        It can be either, depending on circumstance. In this case, he is employed by the school department, and he is a city councilor, asked to vote on a city appropriation that would benefit his employer. If I served on a city planning board, let’s say, and I worked for General Dynamics, and GD went before the board for a permit, it is illegal for me to sit in on that case because I have a financial and employment relationship with GD. Regardless of whether the city bus contract would directly financially benefit the councilor, it would benefit his employer.

        • danvalenti
          April 16, 2014 at 6:22 pm #

          Thanks, again, for your reasonable insights. Most appreciated.

  9. ed shepardson
    April 16, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    Surprised that there are no comments about the bus breakdown the other day. Discussed on GMP by Councilors Krol and Lothrop. Apparently happened on the way to an out of town baseball game.

    • Scott
      April 16, 2014 at 10:23 am #

      I wish I could buy a new car every time mine breaks down.

    • Dave
      April 16, 2014 at 11:25 am #

      I bet every out of town trip will get the oldest most worn out ready to break down bus from now until the vote is reversed. With all the supposed planning that goes on, wouldn’t you think an out of town trip would get a newer low mileage bus (unless you are trying to make a statement).

      • danvalenti
        April 16, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

        Yes, we were wondering that, too. How many bus breakdowns, failures, and other problems shall be cropping up? Our guess: Plenty, so The Suits can say, “We told you so” and then get their buses.

        • Scott
          April 16, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

          Dan, elements of the story are missing like what bank holds the loan and who are we buying
          The new buses from. ????

  10. Rafael
    April 16, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    One thing the proponents of the new buses are cleverly leaving out is that new buses need maintenance too.
    I guess that no cost/benefit analysis with real, actual numbers was ever provided to anyone?

    • Dave
      April 16, 2014 at 11:30 am #

      We have 52 buses now and apparently only need 43. If we can’t get at least 5 more years out of this fleet using the most tired buses for parts (not every part of every high mileage bus is shot)
      which would also lower maintenance costs with lower purchases of parts, then we are not really trying.

      • Spider
        April 16, 2014 at 11:45 am #

        You are using common sense, Dave…unfortunately our school dept. has never done that. Their past history for school budgets is deplorable…..and why not, our mayor and city councils rubber stamp all their outrageous demands.
        And they will again this year.

    • danvalenti
      April 16, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

      Neither Kristen Behnke nor the PSD has supplied an all-inclusive figures for what the bus fleet actually costs Pittsfield. They hide, bury, and other render unseen much of the cost. It’s part of the scheme.

  11. amadaWell
    April 16, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    This is a hot button issue with very little response. interesting over at Topix, one of the most talked about discussion( over 2800) comments was the petition a few years ago on topless sunbathing.

  12. C. J.
    April 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    A Postscript to yesterday’sThe Planet’s expose’ of certain working conditions at Berkshire Works. Workforce development was alluded to by Pittsfield Personnel Director, John DeAngelo, in a BB article on 4/15; Pittsfield Officials tout efforts on affirmative action.
    Mr. Deangelo was quoted, “but I think we are working hard to have a workforce that reflects “our community”.
    Does he mean Pittsfield or Sheffield, which is his community ?

    • danvalenti
      April 16, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

      We shall have a follow-up to this story tomorrow. Mr. DeAngelo sure does live in Sheffield. That makes your query a fair one.

  13. amandaWell
    April 16, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    P C C report card
    Amusing D
    Connell D
    Caccamo 0
    Low F-
    Tully A+
    Simonelli A+
    Clairmont A+
    Cotton D
    Mazzeo A+
    Krol A+
    Morandi B

    • danvalenti
      April 16, 2014 at 6:20 pm #

      Thanks, AMANDA. Your “score card” has become an awaited feature on THE PLANET!

  14. amandaWell
    April 16, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    Bless you, my son!

    • Scott
      April 16, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

      I’d give Morandi an A though for presentation and his head being in the right place. I like it when politicians talk an act like real people in touch with reality.