Article

MAYOR’S PRESS POLICY of ‘PRIOR RESTRAINT’ GAGS DEPARTMENT HEADS, LIMITS ACCESS OF MEDIA VIA CONSTITUTIONALLY UNFRIENDLY PROVISION OF PRIOR RESTRAINT

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEEKEND EDITION, JUNE 27-29, 2014) — THE PLANET said we would obtain a copy of the “Press Protocol” issued by Mayor Dan Bianchi June 24 (Tuesday) to all department heads. Today, we once again deliver, despite the fact that this was an “eyes only,” internal memo. You, the public, weren’t supposed to know about it.

We received a copy of the document from source within city hall. As best as we can determine, this is the first time in city history that a mayor has attempted to limit free access of the press to city managers.

We The People need to know about this. Your rights are under assault. Question now becomes: Will you allow it?

——– 000 ——–

Opera, Anyone?

THE PLANET showed a genuine copy of the “secret” memo and discussed it (and its implications) at length on Planet Valenti Television (rebroadcast Friday 6/27 at 11:30 a.m., 3 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 10 p.m. plus soon on YouTube, search “Planet Valenti”). Here on the website, we shall quote the pertinent parts of the policy.

It’s not all that exciting on the face of it, but when you ponder what this policy means for the already difficult process of trying to get straight information out of an increasingly recalcitrant city hall, it should make the hairs of every decent citizen stand on end and perform the first act from either Tosca (Puccini) or La Traviata (Bizet). Both would be in the running and certainly on the short list for most tragic opera of all time.

Citizens’ right to information about the government they pay for and own is under attack by the mayor.

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Bianchi Gag Order on Department Heads Latest Chilling Action

This policy  instructs department heads, and by extension their underlings, to immediately contact the mayor’s office when providing something other than “routine topics” (even then, department heads are told to report to the mayor’s office on the “routine topics” in what is essentially a debriefing … or interrogation?).

Ah, but what about matters that are other than “routine” — in other words, news! You know, the stuff that draws nosy reporters and commentators. The policy instructs city employees managers, “When asked for information about a new or unresolved topic, please first call or email Julia Sabourin for guidance. You can also direct the reporter to contact Julia Sabourin.” (PLANET’s italics).

And what are Sabourin’s qualifications for this important job, other than political loyalty? Can’t say. The mayor did not make that part of the policy.

The policy provides instruction on how press releases are to be handled, phone calls, and dealing with those blown-dried TV reporters. Department heads contacted for interview are instruction to “contact Julia Sabourin.”

Then, in italics, the policy closes this way: “If you are ever in a position in which you do not feel comfortable speaking with a reporter, or you would like my direct input, contact Julia Sabourin for assistance.”

Gee, we can’t imagine to whom, if anyone, that might be referring.

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Citizens, As City Owners, Have Right To Free Access

THE PLANET reminds everyone, though — particularly the mayor and our colleagues in the press — that the city of Pittsfield is a public corporation, chartered by the state. Every citizen of the city is a stockholder in the corporation. These citizens are represented by their elected officials, of which Bianchi is one, but also by The Fourth Estate. The press serves as necessary watchdog on government, not less at the local level than on any other level. In fact, a vigorous and aggressive local press is needed perhaps even more so, because of the very nature of local government, particularly in a town with the incestuous politics of Pittsfield.

This policy was instituted after the mayor blocked access within city hall to this website. THE PLANET quickly found out and — after determining that other news and commentary websites were not blocked — wrote about it. The move raised serious cutting edge questions that walk the new frontier of journalism in cyberspace, which, like print and broadcast, is covered by the provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

In the first paragraph contains fluff about the department heads’ and the press:

“Over the last 30 months I have been impressed with the determination and ambition that departments have illustrated in promoting their important work to the public by way of local media. While not everything makes it into the newspaper, or on a local station, the effort you demonstrate on a daily basis underscores your commitment to your job, your department and the residents of Pittsfield. With that said, I am hoping that by establishing a more formal press protocol within City Hall we can streamline our process and become more efficient about reaching our residents using the press and social media.”

COMMENTS, IF WE MAY: As far as that last statement is concerned, it’s clear the opposite is true. The city’s leaders will not “become more efficient” in being transparent with citizens. They will be “more controlled” — by the mayor, terrified about providing any “discouraging word.” Note that the mayor describes the department heads’ job not as one of sharing news but one of “promotion.” Moreover, if the mayor trusts his department heads with the press, as he clearly lays out in the first paragraph, then why does he have to handcuff them and make sure they are vetted by The Party first. Bianchi took this one right out of Josef Goebbels’ playbook.

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PLANET Calls Mayor’s Office; The Fun Continues

The kicker to this story came in the mid-afternoon yesterday, when THE PLANET called Sabourin at city hall.

After THE PLANET referred to the document and described its contents in detail, Sabourin said, “This [the press policy] isn’t something I can confirm.” We told her we had a document with the city’s seal, the mayor’s initials on his personal letterhead, and read the section headings. She repeated, “I can’t really confirm what you have in front of you.” No kidding. That’s was her story, and she stuck to it. THE PLANET wonders if her memory was refreshed after we showed the document on TV last night.

She then told THE PLANET the mayor hadn’t made his press policy public, thereby confirming the existence of the memo.

Sabourin said the document was for internal consumption. You see, no one, least of all a member of The Fourth Estate, least of all this journalist, was supposed to know of the memo’s existence. She also confirmed that the mayor would be meeting with department heads on the policy.

We then asked Sabourin to make an appointment for THE PLANET so see the mayor. She put us on hold, and we were mildly disappointed not to hear Samuel Barber‘s Adagio for Strings. After a minute of so, she came back and told us, “The mayor does not see the need to meet with you.”

We then asked why the mayor felt that way. She repeated the statement, reminding us of a robot spewing out a pre-programmed set of syllables. “The mayor does not see the need to meet with you.”

Okay, we said. We tried. THE PLANET gave the mayor the courtesy of knowing when we would be calling. It was our hope that Bianchi would take this latest attempt for THE PLANET to reach out to him to discuss whatever issues he has. Again, for the umpteenth time, the mayor has refused our attempts at rapproachment, and they have come by every medium available: Phone, e-mail, letter, TV, radio, smoke signals, carrier pigeon, and psychics.

The mayor can makes his own choices. THE PLANET shall persist and make ours.

————————————————————————————

“You say you’ve seen certain wonders, and your bird can swing, but you can’t see me.”The Beatles, “And Your Bird Can Sing,” (1965).

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”

LOVE TO ALL.

 

49 Responses to “MAYOR’S PRESS POLICY of ‘PRIOR RESTRAINT’ GAGS DEPARTMENT HEADS, LIMITS ACCESS OF MEDIA VIA CONSTITUTIONALLY UNFRIENDLY PROVISION OF PRIOR RESTRAINT”

  1. Nota
    June 27, 2014 at 6:41 am #

    TES has everything under control. By the time the new officers hit the pavement, there will be two retirements and three disabilities, for the dedicated overtime.

  2. levitan
    June 27, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    This [the press policy] isn’t something I can confirm

    Congratulations, Dan! You struck oil. Apparently J.S.’s extensive experience with Apple photo software, Tumblr, and Google Mail didn’t prepare to give the smart answer that would have made this potential embarrassment lose wind.

    “Yes, that would be an accurate description of policy that was designed to assist employees faced with questions that are beyond the scope of their positions. It does not limit however to whom they may speak.”

    A well intentioned fool is your worst enemy.

    • levitan
      June 27, 2014 at 9:28 am #

      (You’d think, however, that since J.S. is the go-to gal, she’d have been briefed on what to actually say.)

      Good job beating the Mayor to the fish.

    • danvalenti
      June 29, 2014 at 5:58 pm #

      The Amateur Hour!

  3. nostrodumbass
    June 27, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    Wow Dan,

    Unfreakinbelievable. Kind of surreal isn’t it?

    Richard Nixon tried to muzzle the press. Not only did it backfire on him but the media was instrumental in bringing him down, leading to his resignation as President of the United States.

    Since then, I do think think the media has become controlled. An anchorman/woman’s job is read the news off the wire. That’s it. Show me who it is who puts that news on it and I’ll show you who controls the news.

    People have turned to the internet overwhelmingly to get their news because they do not trust the main stream media. So far, they have not been able to get control of the internet content. That is why they send these shills out there to demonize conspiracy theorists and try to get people not to trust anything but mainstream media as reliable. So far, these efforts have failed. The people have a good handle on filtering out what is truth and what is not.

    Illegal closed door meetings, dirty backroom deals, kickbacks and outright control of information seem to be the order of the day with this mayor. Just the opposite of what he campaigned on. To deny the existence of this policy is ludicrous. Especially since you have it and have gone public with it.

    What is the very definition of a conspiracy? :
    : a secret plan made by two or more people to do something that is harmful or illegal
    : the act of secretly planning to do something that is harmful or illegal
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conspiracy

    The people of Pittsfield armed with this information should bring about a recall of this mayor. Obviously not everyone in his inner circle is on-board with it, or else you would not have it in your possession. Hopefully, his own people will turn on him and help get him out of that corner office.
    I am sure he is busy today trying to find the “mole”. When his temper flares it further shows his ugly side.

    An honest mayor who truly believes in transparency would never need to issue such a policy and try to keep a dark dirty secret. Only a dishonest one would.

    Dan, we thank you for your courage in bringing this all in the open so that it sees the light of day.

    • danvalenti
      June 29, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

      Thank you, N, for you participation and your points.

  4. MrG1188
    June 27, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    I mean really…that’s part of what makes this so funny! Press policies are fairly common and pedestrian in private and public sector. To deny it’s existence, then admit that it’s supposed to be a secret just makes it comical. Levitan is spot on. On another note, the policy mentions social media. I saw the mayor just established a Twitter account a couple of days ago! Maybe he’s now managing city communication as well, 140 characters at a clip.

    • levitan
      June 27, 2014 at 11:19 am #

      The Twitter account must be the work of social-genius Julia S.

      • Tim
        June 27, 2014 at 11:27 am #

        She’s no John Krol.

  5. Scott
    June 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    I bet if the mayor though he could intimidate you he’d have you come down to his office.

    • levitan
      June 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

      There is something saddening about a man otherwise successful in life who plays hide and seek.

      If I were Mayor, I’d say come on in. Who gives a heck if you wind up in a piece of satire, afterall? Probably would help more than hurt him.

      • levitan
        June 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

        (hiding behind the skirts of a 22 year old, at that.)

        • dusty
          June 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

          Yah. What’s up with that? Does she present a tough guy image? Can she handle her own with the likes of the Generalissimo? Is she a bulldog like Tricia?

      • MrG1188
        June 27, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

        Sarah Palin went on SNL and faced off with Tina Fey. George Bush did likewise with Dana Carvey, as did Janet Reno. Humanize all of them and improved each ones image! You’d be doing him a favor letting him face the music and participate in the fun.

        • danvalenti
          June 29, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

          Exactly. The mayor has had numerous opportunities to play along. He does the opposite, taking it all far too seriously. He needs to lighten up and laugh.

      • danvalenti
        June 29, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

        That’s what anyone who is reasonably secure in their own skin would do.

  6. Evian
    June 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Oh man just when I thought it couldn’t get more pitiful and comincal(both) for TES and his office.
    Agree that his best option is (and would have been long ago) invite DV in or take him up on any of his numerous invitations that he mentions .
    Impressive though how DV could get a copy of the “secret”press policy so soon after it circulated, dude has some connections.

    • levitan
      June 27, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

      Yes, that is impressive – referring to getting that memo in hand. Nicely done and generously played by the Mayor’s staff.

      • danvalenti
        June 29, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

        We have our pipelines, some of the direct.

        • levitan
          June 29, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

          Sad thing is that those memos should be posted on the bulletin board at City Hall.

  7. Evian
    June 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    sorry for typos, meant “comical” and spacing problems

  8. amandaWell
    June 27, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

    Did LOw get his raise, how about the school committee, where are the numbers? J Mel? You got em?

  9. Ron Kitterman
    June 27, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    How dare you call attention to the expenditures and ask for a comment or explanation, anyone can see all departments are cut to the bone. You have to hand it to Julia she has a future in government for sure.

    • dusty
      June 27, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

      Pliable and mold-able. Just the way they like them groomed for Boston. She has a bright future.

      (as long as self respect is not too important)

  10. Mad Trapper
    June 28, 2014 at 5:53 am #

    Speaking of openness, and mASSachusetts, have you been aware of this:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/06/26/massachusetts-swat-teams-claim-theyre-private-corporations-immune-from-open-records-laws/

    We have a psuedo national socialist party SS corps right here in this State who apparently answers to nobody.

    • Edgar Poe
      June 28, 2014 at 9:37 am #

      Yes folks, tyranny is rolling at US like a freight train.
      For those who think that Bianchi’s latest move is normal press policy or that its funny, its not.
      Not at all.
      Unfortunately, I think people have taken our freedoms for granted for too long now. Perhaps once we’ve lost them, people will then appreciate how valuable they once were.
      There was a reason why the Pilgrims left England.
      There was a reason why we fought the Brittish on Massachusetts soil.
      There was a reason why millions of lives were lost to bring down Hitler.
      Those same reasons are before US today.

      Imagine now “private” corporations have the right to forcefully enter your home, arrest or kill you and answer to no one.
      The billions of rounds of ammo the feds bought and continue buying has to used somewhere and on someone.

      I was watching an old Alfred Hitchcock Hour the other day. In it (while not critical to the storyline) a woman arrives at the airport, hands her ticket to the attendant and walks on the plane. That was once normal.
      No xrays, no groping of her genitals, no body scanners, no fly lists did not exist. That was reality in the 1950’s.

      Hey, maybe snl can do a skit on Massachusetts SWAT teams.
      That would be hilarious. We can all use a good laugh and join in on the fun.
      Let’s all just laugh away our constitutional rights so another generation can fight and die to get them back.

      Funny how this was reported in the Washington Times and not in Massachusetts.

      The only Constitutionally form of law enforcement is the Sheriff, because he is elected by the people and answers to the people.
      If a mayorallly appointed police department gets disbanned, the responsibility to enforce the law falls to the Sheriffs department.

      Did you know that the Pittsfield police department is under no obligation to “protect and serve” while Sheriff Tom Bowler is?

      NSA spying, tracking and monitoring is a hoot.
      Edward Snowden is a comedian.

      “I know you know, ’bout the emperor’s clothes
      You don’t know what you got, until you lose it”
      – John Lennon (1974 Walls and Bridges)

      • danvalenti
        June 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

        EP
        Best line of all: “Edward Snowden is a comedian.” Love it.

    • levitan
      June 28, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      I’ll be dipped in shiet.

      That is amazing.

    • Gene
      June 28, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      This is amazing. Dan, you should re-post this piece. It’s informative…and scary.

      • danvalenti
        June 29, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

        GENE
        We will consider this suggestion. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Mad Trapper
      June 28, 2014 at 9:04 pm #

      And some more on 124 SWAT raids a day in the USA:

      https://www.aclu.org/blog/criminal-law-reform/another-day-another-124-violent-swat-raids

      And lets not forget, in mASSachusetts, these are PRIVATE CORPORATIONS

    • danvalenti
      June 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

      Appreciate the eye opener, MT.

      • levitan
        June 29, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

        Go for Dan. Me, I’m indulging in a shot of bourbon. What else can one do?

        • levitan
          June 29, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

          (Go for it…)

  11. Luke
    June 28, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    I can understand the failure of the mayor to fill the ED of Berkshireworks , now without leadership for some months.

    The distraction of keeping the city hall staff quiet, quashing harassment complaints, cutting ribbons, and putting decals on sidewalks… no wonder he can’t get things done.

    Helping people get jobs matters! Please let him get on with it.

    Of course the interview process and the list of candidates is secret and a personal er.. personnel .. matter. Some transparency in the process will save a lot of grief later on. I’m sure that as usual the most qualified candidate will be appointed to this important (or at least well paid) job.

    • MrG1188
      June 29, 2014 at 7:00 am #

      Again…the Berkshire Works website has no job listings, and hasn’t since at least 5/5, but even those from that week are now gone. I doubt the director was personally responsible for posting the jobs to the site. c’mon people, take some pride in what you do…and DO YOUR JOBS!

      • dusty
        June 29, 2014 at 9:15 am #

        It may be policy not to post any job that must be put before the connected ones first. They may have sons or nieces or unemployed friends you see. Berkshire Works may be a filtering agency for the gob nepotismal circuit.

        • levitan
          June 29, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

          Now now, Dusty, that could never happen here. Patronage in Pittsfield?

      • Pat
        June 29, 2014 at 7:11 pm #

        Basically these are the same jobs posting over and over. So many jobs in Pittsfield have an extremely high turnover rate. I don’t believe its because there aren’t good workers in Pittsfield. I think it’s because the employers are too fussy. The resorts in the area are notorious for this practice of not keeping people for more than a few months.

        • danvalenti
          June 29, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

          Job turnover? Yes! When the new exec is selected for BW, that will make three directors in a little more than a year and a half under Mayor TES.

    • danvalenti
      June 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

      LUKE
      Great points. The fact that hiring is done in total darkness, usually with “favored sons and daughters” coming out on top, has at least — once and for all, conclusively — been exposed here. Bianchi has made it an art form. It is the hallmark of an insecure person, this pattern of hiring people who will cave in and be “yes” persons.

      • levitan
        June 29, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

        It’s always the wife, Dan.

  12. amandaWell
    June 29, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    kerplunkett!

  13. Luke
    June 29, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

    As much as I argue the need of Berkshireworks to get a new executive director, I would note that MrG1188 missed the jobs list dated 6/27/88 on Berkshireworks.. Here is a link to the three pages of jobs that I just found.

    http://www.berkshireworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/click-here-for-job-list-6-27-2014.pdf

  14. Luke
    June 29, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    oopsss… on checking carefully there are in fact 11 pages of jobs listed on the Berkshireworks web site as of 6/27.

    They should make the listings easier to find … the question remains that is there are 11 pages of jobs how well are they matching job seekers with available jobs…

    This is such a vital agency to change people’s lives … it needs quality leadership ..

    • levitan
      June 29, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

      jobquest at mass.gov. It’s good and I found numerous opportunities that otherwise would have been missed.

    • MrG1188
      June 30, 2014 at 5:54 am #

      Lol…oooo, sounds like it’s possible perhaps they posted those in response to my original post here on, I believe, 6/26!!! Or maybe I was just looking in the wrong place…under the Jobs tab, then under current job listings. Don’t know why I would expect them to be there tho!

      • MrG1188
        June 30, 2014 at 5:59 am #

        Hi Luke, just backtracked the way I had been going, as described above. It is now up to date, right up to 6/30 in fact….but before I posted here it hadn’t been touched since 5/5! Coincidence? Whatever…I’m just glad it’s finally being done.

  15. Shakes His Head
    June 30, 2014 at 6:06 am #

    City Hall should have a designated Public Information Officer, although the police department runs independently of the corner office and if pushed, will take their crime fighting toys and sulk off.