Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I turned 39 (2014)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mayor Jim Ruberto - A Pittsfield Regime of Perverse Societal Outcomes! Volume 2. Also see Andrea Nuciforo, Denis Guyer, Carmen Massimiano.

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www.docstoc.com/docs/6415166/Pittsfield__Massachusetts
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www.iberkshires.com/images/site_images/stories/25612.jpg
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"Ruberto Details Plans for Success", By Jen Thomas, -iBerkshires.com-, January 07, 2008
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www.iberkshires.com/story.php?story_id=25612
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Jimmy Ruberto's Good Old Boy REGIME, Volume 1.
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www.jonathanmelleonpolitics.blogspot.com/2007/10/mayor-jim-ruberto-pittsfield-regime-of.html
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Pittsfield's political inbred, dark prince: Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr.! -(below)-
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Wahconah Park Renovations
"Architectural consultant will help city hew to historic preservation rules"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, November 02, 2008

PITTSFIELD — City officials appear to be taking precautions that the issues that held up the construction of the Beacon Cinemas on North Street won't happen with the planned revisions to historic Wahconah Park.

The city has retained the services of architectural consultant Jack Waite to oversee the revisions to Wahconah Park, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Revisions to historic structures that are listed on the National Register are required to follow certain guidelines. City officials know this all too well.

Construction on the Beacon Cinemas was originally expected to begin last year, but was delayed when the National Park Service determined that the design did not retain enough of the historic elements of the facade and entryway of the 90-year-old Kinnell-Kresge building at 49-59 North Street to qualify for $900,000 in federal historic tax credits. Construction didn't begin until September. But the delay increased the project's total cost by some $10 million.

According to Mayor James M. Ruberto, Waite's work on the Beacon Cinemas got the stalled project up and running again.

"He's a highly recognized consultant who deals in historic architecture," Ruberto said. "He saved us on the Cinema Center."

Boston Baseball All-Stars LLC, the new owners of Pittsfield's New England Collegiate Baseball League franchise, have proposed a number of "fan-friendly" improvements to 3,100-seat Wahconah Park for the 2009 season.

"I want to make certain that whatever is done doesn't compromise the integrity of our historic designation," Ruberto said. "That's why we brought him (Waite) in to take a look."

The Park Commission will need to approve a lease before the NECBL team, now known as the American Defenders of Pittsfield, can play at Wahconah Park. Former Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette, formerly the Pittsfield team's sole owner, who is now part of the ownership group, said the partnership is interested in obtaining a three-year lease. The Park Commission oversees Wahconah Park on the city's behalf.

Park Commission chair Sheila LaBarbera could not be reached for comment yesterday, but board member Clifford J. Nilan said he is interested in the proposal.

"I don't know how the Park Commission will view it," Nilan said. "But personally, from what I've heard, I think it would be a perfect fit for Wahconah Park. But that's only my opinion."

Nilan said he also believed the Park Commission would also need to approve any of the changes the new owners want to make to Wahconah Park. According to Ruberto, moving the large steel bat in front of Pittsfield High School, a commissioned work of art that some view as an eyesore, to Wahconah Park would need the Park Commission's approval.

The new ownership group has expressed an interest in creating fan friendly amenities such as a hospitality area, a small replica baseball field for youngsters to play on during games, and a putting green for older fans to use between innings.

They've also expressed an interest in realigning the outfield bleacher seats so that they face home plate. Ruberto said the group is interested in moving Wahconah Park's bullpens, the areas where pitchers warm up during games, from foul territory along the right and left field lines, to centerfield. Both of those adjustments would require a realignment of the park's fences.

Despite Wahconah Park's historic designation, Ruberto said he doesn't believe the city will have a problem moving the fences, a process that he refers to as "temporary modifications."

The park's current grandstand was built in 1950, and Ruberto said the city has a photograph from that time period, which shows an enlargement in right center field that was done to accommodate high school football.

"When you talk about changing the dimensions we're going to put in a four-foot wooden fence that is temporary and can be moved out and put in," Ruberto said.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224
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"Report delays rotary reroute: Officials say bidding for the Park Square traffic circle will begin in December"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, November 07, 2008

PITTSFIELD — The bid process for the Park Square redesign has been delayed.

Officials had hoped the bidding process would begin in mid-September, but it was delayed by a tardy consultant's report. State officials said they now expect the bid documents to be available to contractors next week and hope to open bids in mid-December.

The long-awaited projected will reroute traffic in the city's busiest intersection, creating a straight path between South and North streets, bypassing the rotary. The traffic that once circled Park Square will be blocked off by extending to the park the median divider that separates East Street.

Clark Jessen, spokesman for the state's Executive Office of Transportation, said the delay in bidding the estimated $2.6 million project came from Fuss & O'Neill. He said the consultant did not file its paperwork until this past weekend.

The consultant's documents are a necessary part of the bidding process.

Pittsfield Public Works Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said the delay shouldn't hold up the timetable for actual construction.

"By the time the contractor gets approval and orders materials, the physical work will still have to wait until the spring," Collingwood said.

State and federal funds totaling $1.8 million will cover roughly two-thirds of the project's cost, while Pittsfield's share is about $800,000.

The sluggish economy could work in Pittsfield's favor as construction companies scramble to line up jobs for next summer, according to Collingwood.

"More contractors are hungry for work and that could produce several good bid offers," Collingwood said. "The city has already realized that on some other contracts."

Re-routing Park Square traffic has been an agenda item for Mayor James M. Ruberto since he first took office four years ago. He initially proposed using $400,000 in state road funds to fix the rotary, but he diverted that money toward city roads instead.

Finally in August 2007, the Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization placed the Park Square redesign on the Transportation Improvement Program list — or "TIP" list — to qualify for the state and federal funding.

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"New report cards monitor progress"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, November 07, 2008

PITTSFIELD — Students and parents of Pittsfield's community schools will see a different kind of report card today.

This fall, Morningside Community School will join Conte Community School in being the only elementary schools in the city to produce report cards through the PowerSchool student information system.

The software program now allows teachers to demystify the traditional letter or number grade by providing more detailed and individualized comments on a student's performance and progress.

"It's more informative than a letter grade. The old report card on the back only had a little square to write an overall comment," said Joseph Curtis, principal of Morningside.

Parents of students in grades 2 through 5 will notice the new format when children bring home their report cards today.

The process to install PowerSchool within Pittsfield Public Schools began nearly six years ago. The program is currently used at the middle and high schools.

In addition to tracking grades and producing report cards, PowerSchool can keep electronic records of attendance, demographic data and student test scores. At the upper school levels, parents can access the program from home to view their students' marks and work.

Curtis said the goal is to eventually train all of the school district's employees and parents to access and use PowerSchool.

The principal said teachers seem to enjoy having the program as it eliminates the need for handwriting a paper copy and passing it between all of a student's teachers.

Curtis said installing the program in the elementary schools will "absolutely" help in tracking a student as they progress from grades kindergarten through 12.

"Right now, if a student goes from the Conte school to Morningside it's easy because the first day we have all their info right here at our fingertips. If we got a student from Stearns, for example, they don't do that. We'd have to wait for the paper copy," Curtis said.

By next year, the principal hopes to connect Morningside's parents with PowerSchool to show them how to access their students' grades.

"When parents have access all the time, the traditional report card becomes not so essential. They'll have access 24/7."

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"ESPNU to Broadcast College Baseball's 150th Anniversary Game"
iBerkshires.com - November 07, 2008
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Wahconah Park
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. – When Williams and Amherst colleges next meet on the baseball diamond, it will be broadcast live nationally on ESPNU.

The matchup will mark the 150th anniversary of college baseball at, appropriately enough, historic Wahconah Park in the "Birthplace of College Baseball."

The two teams competed in the first intercollegiate game in 1859 in Pittsfield when a mutual site could not be agreed upon. The city's amateur Pittsfield Base Ball Club offered its original grounds, which now the site of a downtown coffeeshop.

"Pittsfield as the birthplace of college baseball, and the first city in America to play ball is proud to host the 150th anniversary game," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "We are also looking forward to unveiling our new infield and upgrades to historic Nokona Field at Wahconah Park."

(The field is being renamed after Nokona Athletic Goods, owned by some of the partners in the city's new collegiate baseball franchise, the American Defenders of Pittsfield.)

Wahconah Park, site of minor league and key collegiate and amateur games for two centuries, was designated as college baseball's birthplace by the College Baseball Foundation of Lubbock, Texas, last year. The Ephs and Lord Jeffs weren't able to play the scheduled day because of heavy rain, but Williams prevailed 9-4 in a May 4 makeup tilt. A logo to celebrate college baseball's birthplace was revealed in pregame ceremonies.

Williams and Amherst's rivalry date back to Amherst's founding in 1821 by a splinter group from Williams who sought to have that college moved to a more central location, such as in Hampshire County. The spirited competition between the colleges is most obvious in its sports teams, especially football.

The schools originally challenged one another to a "friendly game of ball" in 1859 as players from both schools had competed in "rounders" and "base ball" on sandlot sites and at prep schools before the initial intercollegiate clash. This also was 47 years before the founding of the National Collegiate Athletic Association by President Theodore Roosevelt, so eligibility of contestants was not an issue.

Amherst won the 1859 game 73-32 (that's right) in 25 innings. Teams played (like cricket) in those days until the squads tired, or it was time to hitch the wagons or catch the trains to return to campus. The nine-inning framework for baseball contests followed in the later 1860s and early 1870s.

The Lord Jeffs and Ephs (both members of the New England Small Athletic Conference and solid contenders for the 2009 league crown) finished with identical 24-12 records (Amherst also had a tied to close at 24-12-1) last year and have two of the strongest baseball traditions among New England colleges.

"This 150th anniversary game will be preceded by a re-enactment of the original game under vintage rules with alumni players of both schools participating," said Dan Duquette, a 1980 Amherst alum and partner in the American Defenders. "We are also planning to honor Amherst baseball coach Bill Thurston (longtime head of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee) who will be completing his 41-year Amherst coaching career."

The 150th anniversary game will be carried live nationally on ESPNU on Sunday, May 3, 2009, at 1 p.m.

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"Foul play at Wahconah Park"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters, Monday, November 10, 2008

I am writing in approval of Chuck Garivaltis' letter in the Nov. 4 Eagle ("Nokona raises concerns, questions.") Chuck is himself a legendary Pittsfield sports figure whose name should be included on any list to rename a city park. His letter is correct on every point it raises.

Not Dan Duquette nor anyone else, except for the people of Pittsfield, has the right to rename any city park. The need for sprinklers at Wahconah Park is non-existent. If we get a summer with little rain, that's what they invented hoses and grounds crews for. Have this mayor and the upper echelon at City Hall grown so used to spending taxpayer money with no accountability that they believe they can make deals behind closed doors without being called on the carpet for them? How many World Series tickets will this deal be worth?

The parents of the kids who were displaced from playing their football games at the park pay taxes in the city too. The high schools couldn't play on the field, but there were pictures of the cops and firemen playing there this past weekend. Not that they don't deserve the use of the field, but if they could play on it why Couldn't the high school teams?

I hope that the people of this town will think hard before they elect many incumbents in the next municipal election. Like on the national scene, it's time for a change and I hope we get as good a turnout for local elections as we got for this national election.

JIM GLEASON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Grant future uncertain for Pittsfield Public Schools"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Monday, November 10, 2008

PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield Public Schools are currently relying on nearly $10 million worth of state, federal, and private grants to provide much-needed program and services to students.

The 30 grants, which are part of the city's $60 million school budget, range from teaching students how to lead healthy lives to improving their performance in the classroom to helping high-schoolers make career choices.

However, school officials say the future of grant funding is uncertain, especially if the economy continues to struggle. The state and federal governments have already cut the amounts of a handful of school grants in Pittsfield.

Deputy Superintendent Barbara Malkas told the Pittsfield School Committee last week that reductions have yet to affect the roughly 150 people employed through the grants.

School Committee member Carmen C. Massimiano Jr. said the worst-case scenario is not out of the question.

"The 150 people could come off the books," Massimiano said. "They could conceivably all be let go."

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention program in Pittsfield is one of those vital services that took a huge hit, being reduced from $125,000 to $67,500 when Gov. Deval L. Patrick announced his massive state budget cuts in October.

Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Sally Douglas, said in order to keep funding the program's position, less money will be available for Teen Pregnancy Prevention afterschool activities.

In addition, Pittsfield has to take $5,000 from the $60,000 state grant for academic support services during the school year and use it toward summer school next year.

The only federal grants being reduced so far are the School-to-Career programs at Pittsfield and Taconic high schools, which lost a total of $1,000.

"This governor, as the education governor, did try to protect these grants," Malkas said.

While state grant money is still available, Malkas said the state Department of Education is creating more "target grants" aimed at specific problems in the most underachieving school districts.

"The worse off you are, the more likely you will get these grants," Malkas noted.

Some grant-based programs are funded every year, while others have a short life span.

When those grants dry up and a school district wants to keep the programs they funded, it either seeks other grant money or funds them with local tax dollars.

Malkas said an example in Pittsfield is the federally funded Safe Schools-Healthy Students grant, now in its third and final year.

The $3 million annual initiative has programs to prevent violence and illegal drug use and promote safety and discipline within the city schools.

"We are actively looking at other grants to help defray the financial burden," Malkas said of trying to continue Safe Schools-Healthy Students in 2009-2010.

"It had a three-year life and I'm glad you're looking at other funding sources," said Kathleen A. Amuso, chairwoman of the School Committee.

However, committee member and chairman of the finance subcommittee Angel Ramirez Jr. said he would consider continuing grant funded programs with local dollars on a case by case basis.

He cited the importance of grants with a lasting effect, such as reducing class size in the younger grades.

"If we deal with problems early on, we won't have to deal with them in middle or high school," Ramirez said.

Even if Pittsfield Public Schools continue to receive grant awards, Malkas said the dollar amount received may shrink.

"The grants are out there, but a lot more people are going for the small pool of funds," Malkas said.

Malkas added she and other school administrators will be more aggressive in seeking national grants from private foundations and other sources to offset reductions and/or elimination of current grant funding.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: (413) 496-6233; rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.
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Education
"Raising legal literacy: Superintendent studies legal knowledge among school administrators"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, November 10, 2008

PITTSFIELD — Howard "Jake" Eberwein III spent five years working on his dissertation toward a doctorate in education.

The superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools said he was just hoping the review committee would accept his work so he could get "Ed.D" after his name.

What Eberwein didn't expect was his dissertation getting a national award, spawning spin-offs to his document, and leading to a book.

But that's been the reaction to Eberwein's study, titled "Raising Legal Literacy in Public Schools, A Call for Principal Leadership: A National Study of Secondary School Principals' Knowledge of Public School Law."

National recognition

Eberwein's effort has won him the Joseph C. Beckham Dissertation Award from the Education Law Association based at the University of Dayton in Ohio. The study is the first national assessment of what high school principals know about public school law and how it impacts their daily decisions.

Eberwein will receive his dissertation award and present his paper next week at the national organization's annual conference in San Antonio.

"What we found were principals thinking about and fearful of school lawsuits," said Eberwein, who said recent trends show an increase in school litigation on the state and local level.

"We may all need to be mini-lawyers to protect ourselves," said Mandy Schrank, executive director for the Education Law Association.

Schrank noted her nonprofit organization does not dispense legal advice but provides the necessary information to school officials.

In addition to the national award, Eberwein said "at least one dissertation at UMass" and possibly two others will follow-up his research and a half a dozen articles have been written about his study.

Finally, the two professors who assisted him on his dissertation, David Schimmel at UMass-Amherst and Matthew Militello, now at North Carolina State, are writing a book based on the study's findings.

"It's a primer," Eberwein said. "A resource for principals to be the chief law educator in their schools."

Significant findings

Among the study's significant findings is that 40 percent of the high school principals surveyed across the country did not know the correct answer to questions regarding student and teacher rights and 85 percent would change their decision making if they knew the answers.

"The 85 percent is a cry for knowledge," Eberwein said.

"Administrators need to be more savvy about the law," Schrank added.

Eberwein said the knowledge begins with high school principals taking more education law courses during their training to become school administrators.

Eberwein himself was principal at Pittsfield High School from 2003-07.

"My training had my law course imbedded in other courses," said Eberwein noting a flaw in administrative preparation. "The (law) courses need to be stand-alone and deal with the fundamentals of education law."

"The courses lay the foundation on how to access legal information," said Christopher Sposato, Pittsfield High's newest principal. "In order to be an effective administrator, you need to know education law."

Sposato said he and other high school principals can also keep up on changes in public school law by attending workshops through the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators Association.

Inquiring minds

While school administrators can access their school district's attorney or law firm for information and advice, Eberwein said his study found those principals with inquiring minds do the best.

"Self-starters who use print and electronic sources had the highest level of law knowledge," he noted.

Eberwein said principals must lead the way in keeping their school staff updated on public school law.

"Once we raise the (education law) knowledge among principals, they will be able to pass that along to teachers," Eberwein added.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: (413) 496-6233; rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Two top officers will retain rank"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, November 14, 2008

PITTSFIELD — It will remain status quo for the two men running the Pittsfield police and fire departments.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said yesterday that he plans to keep Captain Michael J. Wynn, the ranking officer in the Police Department, and Deputy Chief James C. Sullivan, the acting fire chief, in place for the foreseeable future and will not seek permanent replacements through the civil service process.

Ruberto said he "couldn't be happier" with Wynn and Sullivan. "If not for civil service, I would make them both permanent."

Civil service requires prospective employees to take an exam, and the employer must choose from a list of the top three candidates looking to fill a vacancy. The civil service provision was initially created to protect public employees from being fired for political reasons, but it also makes it very difficult to remove them from their position for performance problems.

Ruberto appointed Wynn to replace police Chief Anthony J. Riello, who took the chief's job in Falmouth last December. The mayor picked Sullivan to succeed another acting chief, Stephen Duffy, who retired in 2006.

"Officers in the Police Department fully recognize that Mike Wynn has my complete support," Ruberto said. "The firefighters fully recognize the same for acting-Chief Sullivan."

However, Ruberto said he philosophically can't support making the chief positions virtual lifelong posts through civil service.

Pittsfield voters in 1991 returned the police and fire chief to civil service after the city had made the jobs non-civil service in 1978.

Wynn said he's in a "win-win" situation whether he becomes the permanent chief or returns to his regular duties as a captain.

Sullivan was unavailable yesterday for comment.

Wynn said yesterday that his status hasn't affected how he has done his job for the past 12 months.

Yet he admits to being on a learning curve as he moved from responding to cases to being the face of the Police Department.

"I wasn't prepared for going to community events, receptions, and meetings," Wynn said. "But you can't dismiss the importance of the relationship with the public and community policing."

"I did find the police are definitely well regarded in the community," he added. "I wasn't surprised by that, but I didn't always get to see that before."

Wynn, 38, was born and raised in the city and graduated from Taconic High School in 1988. His entire 13-year career in law enforcement has been spent in the Pittsfield Police Department, where he has been a patrol supervisor, criminal investigator, gang intelligence officer and director of the community police academy.

What does Wynn like most about being in charge?

"The best part is my ability to commend and decorate officers who've done well," Wynn said. "I've done that about a half a dozen times so far."

Wynn said what he likes least about his job is having to reprimand an officer for something wrong or inappropriate.

"No one wants to go to the principal's office," he said.

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"Pittsfield Eyes Tax Breaks: Ruberto Tax Proposal Under Review"
By Larry Kratka, Berkshire News Network, November 18, 2008

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Pittsfield Finance Committee is currently reviewing a proposal made by Mayor James Ruberto at last week's City Council meeting that, if approved, would award tax breaks to three city companies.

Ruberto proposed waiving an estimated $203,000 in taxes over a period of 10 years that LTI Smart Glass would pay for the expansion of its building at Federico Office Park. The company hopes to add 70 jobs when the $8 million expansion is completed.

The mayor is also proposing amending an existing tax break package for Interprint and waiving an estimated $257,000 of taxes over a 10-year period for Ice River Springs, a water company that owns the former KB Toy Company warehouse off West Housatonic Street. The Finance Committee plans to review those proposals Wednesday night.

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"Biotech company departing Pittsfield"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, November 21, 2008

PITTSFIELD — A Pittsfield biotechnology firm that once considered moving to the William Stanley Business Park will relocate most of its operations to Worcester by the end of the year.

Nuclea Biomarkers will move all of its scientific operations to Clark University, President and CEO Patrick J. Muraca's alma mater.

The company has leased space for the past year at Clark's Lasry Bioscience Building, where it plans to build a clinical diagnostic laboratory beginning in February, said Muraca, who graduated from Clark in 1991.

"There's no laboratory facilities in Pittsfield that are suitable to build that lab," Muraca said. "Clark University has a beautiful, new, state-of-the-art biosciences building."

Worcester has a thriving biotech industry, with five colleges and the University of Massachusetts Medical School within a few miles of each other.

"Worcester is now a hotbed of biotech," Muraca said. "I think there's like 50 biotech companies that have developed over the last six years. So it's a good place to be."

Mayor James M. Ruberto said he was sad to see Nuclea Biomarkers go.

"It's always disappointing when a company leaves," Ruberto said. "But at the same time, I wish them well. I hope they have a long and prosperous corporate life."

Once the move to Worcester is complete, the company will be known as Nuclea Biotechnologies because it plans to expand its focus, Muraca said. The company's primary focus is in the area of molecular oncology and pathology, but is has the capability of applying that technology to other diseases.

Nuclea's high-performance computing system will remain at the company's current office in Pittsfield after the scientific operations are relocated to Worcester. That office will be staffed by two employees.

Muraca said 14 of the firm's 24 employees have been laid off because of the move to Worcester, and that Nuclea is actively recruiting replacements in Central Massachusetts (three company employees are already working at Clark).

The firm asked the 14 Pittsfield employees to move with the company, but Muraca said they couldn't because they either had children in school here or spouses who work in the Berkshires. The annual salary for those positions ranged from $40,000 to close to $100,000.

"They offered to travel back and forth, but we couldn't do that," Muraca said. "We need to have people on site."

Nuclea Biomarkers came to Pittsfield with 10 employees in March 2006, with plans to build a biomarker chip assembly facility at the Stanley Business Park within three years.

Muraca said Thomas E. Hickey Jr., the executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, has been a "wonderful supporter" of his firm, but that nothing has ever panned out at the business park.

"It just hasn't happened," Muraca said. "When the Stanley Business Park approached us, you have to build a building that they want you to build. That can be a very extensive undertaking for a small company. You can't really spend $5 million of the $6 million in cash that you've raised."

The firm also had trouble locating and attracting the most appropriate scientific personnel in this area, mainly because there are no life science training programs in the Berkshires.

"I know MCLA is starting to put together a life sciences program, but we can't attract people here," he said. "We've interviewed quite a bit over the past year. It just hasn't panned out."

"Pittsfield is not right for biotech right now," he said. "It's not like in the future it won't be. I think Pittsfield has got to support the higher technology companies more as a city, and to be able to supply different types of work support, workforce training. When MCLA comes online with its life sciences program, I think there will be more people that are fed into that."

Ruberto said Pittsfield is the right fit for a variety of industries, and that training programs at the Berkshire Regional Employment Board and Berkshire Community College are creating an environment that will assist the local biotech industry.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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"City Clerk Stepping Down: Jody Phillips Leaving Pittsfield City Hall"
By Larry Kratka, Berkshire News Network, November 21, 2008

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City Clerk Jody Phillips will be stepping down from her office on Jan. 1.

This week's edition of the Pittsfield Gazette reports that Phillips decided to accept a position with General Dynamics. Phillips told the Gazette that it was a difficult decision to make but the opportunity happened at just the right time.

Phillips was elected as city clerk in 1998 and voted to a lifetime tenure by city residents in 2005. In the meantime, Mayor James Ruberto is expected to name an interim city clerk and the position will be on the 2009 municipal election ballot.

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"City Council OKs three tax proposals"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, November 21, 2008

PITTSFIELD — Two businesses new to Pittsfield are one step closer to receiving local and state tax incentives to create new jobs, while a well-established company is near an extension of its tax-break plan.

The finance committee of the City Council is recommending that the full council approve tax increment financing (TIF) plans for LTI Smart Glass, currently located in Lenox Dale, and Ice River Spring Water, a Canadian bottled-water distributor. Both agreements are for 10 years and would begin in fiscal 2010. The committee also supported an extension of a TIF for Interprint, carrying it to fiscal 2021.

All three will continue to pay the full amount of real estate taxes on the base value of their property for the duration of the TIF. The tax break will be on the increased property value due to renovations or new construction. After the final year of each TIF, the three manufacturers will pay the full amount of taxes on all their property and buildings.

"We are phasing in the full amount," said Deanna L. Ruffer, director for the city's Department of Community Development. "Each agreement is designed to help that particular company."

LTI will get a property-tax break on $4.1 million invested in renovations and new construction at a factory at 14 Federico Drive. The company is required to create 70 new jobs within three years to keep the TIF.

Ice River's tax deferral is on $5.2 million in renovations at the former KB Toy Distribution Center on West Housatonic Street.

The project expects to result in at least 61 jobs during a five-year period.

Interprint will get a tax break on a $3.5 million addition at its facility on Route 41, leading to 33 new jobs. Interprint currently employs 132 full and part time workers.

In addition, Interprint, LTI, and Ice River will be eligible for state tax incentives on a $12 million to $14 million investment in new equipment.

Councilor at large Matthew M. Kerwood said Pittsfield is trying to counter the negative headlines about "the failing economy, layoffs and bailouts."

"This incentive is for good headlines with words like growth, investment, innovation, and job creation," Kerwood said.

City Council President Gerald M. Lee agreed.

"While the new jobs are not here yet, the projects have put those in the trades to work," Lee said.

"All three will help insulate our construction industry from the (troubled) economy," added Ruffer.

LTI is currently located in Lenox Dale. It will keep that an operation running even after it expands to Pittsfield.

"Pittsfield will be our headquarters for our more complex product line," LTI co-owner Jeff Besse said after Wednesday's finance committee meeting.

"Lenox Dale will still have 20 to 25 employees handling the routine product line," Besse added after the meeting.

Meanwhile, Ice River, based in Feversham, Ontario, initially expected to be operating one of its two production lines by last Saturday.

The start date has now been pushed to Dec. 15, according to Vice President and co-owner Sandy Gott.

"We've begun recruiting and our plan is to hire locally," Gott told the councilors.

She said spring water will be trucked in from Vermont, bottled, and shipped to its customers in New England and New York.

Interprint's additional 18,000 square feet will house a new digital engraving system. The revised TIF agreement calls for most of the 33 new jobs to be filled toward the end of the deal.

"Interprint is lagging slightly in job creation because of the economy," said Deanna L. Ruffer, director of Pittsfield's Department of Community Development. "But they have more than met the (TIF) requirement for capital investment."

Jens Bauer, the co-managing director for Interprint, said the company is doing well this year, despite the economy.

"Our sales are higher than in 2007 and we have weathered the storm, so far," Bauer told the committee.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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News & Notes: "Ruberto Proposing Budget Cuts"
By Larry Kratka - November 25, 2008, Berkshire News Network

"Mayor Ruberto Preparing Budget Cuts"

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — North Adams Mayor John Barrett III has already proposed several budgets because of the souring economy and it looks like the city of Pittsfield will be next.

Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto will propose nearly $1 million budget cuts to the City Council at Tuesday night's meeting but the details were not released. The city is expecting a shortfall of some $750,000 becuase of declind revenues.

Ruberto said the cuts will affect the entire municipal operating budget and virtually every department will feel cuts. He spent time meeting with department heads last week and have advised them to prepare for the coming reductions.

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Budget cuts get a swift passage: Police, fire department vacancies to go unfilled"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PITTSFIELD — The City Council wasted no time Tuesday night approving nearly $1 million dollars in budget cuts to keep Pittsfield fiscally sound.

The spending reductions are necessary to cover a $750,000 shortfall in local revenue, officials said.

While the councilors endorsed the $952,000 in spending reductions without any debate or discussion, several after the meeting, like Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman, said voting "no" was not an option.

"We all saw it coming," he said. "It's hard not to what with the poor economy."

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop considered the cuts necessary giving the city's cash flow.

"Trim a little now, or a lot later," Lothrop said.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said the city's revenue reduction is mainly due to city funds earning less interest in the bank.

"Local revenue the first four months is below what we expected," Ruberto told the council, referring to fiscal 2009, which began July 1.

Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti said he had two choices — "budget cuts or increased taxes."

He added the council's silence on the issue during the meeting said it all to the taxpayers.

"I wanted to make sure we don't increase taxes," added Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi explaining his reason for supporting the budget cuts.

The City Council next month will set the tax rate for the current fiscal year and Ruberto said the figure should be what he expected six months ago, thanks to the spending cuts.

"We will not exceed the 4.1 percent residential tax rate projected in the June budget," Ruberto said.

While the budget cuts will result in no layoffs of city employees, Ruberto said five city employee vacancies will not be filled, four of them involving public safety.

Pittsfield Police Department Captain-in-Charge Michael J. Wynn said on Monday he will not add two officers as planned. Acting Fire Chief James Sullivan said two firefighter positions that are temporarily vacant will remain so for a few months until the firefighters in those jobs return to active duty.

Police and fire overall are cutting their budgets by a total of $255,000.

Other city departments are reducing their spending in various ways.

Pittsfield Public Schools is saving the city $150,000 through a freeze on any discretionary spending by school building principals and other administrators, according to Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said delaying a study of an old city landfill and not hiring an outside firm to clean storm drain catch basins will save taxpayers another $133,000.

However, several department heads said Monday if further budget cuts are needed, then they will affect staffing and direct services to city residents.

Sherman said his main concern is the budget for fiscal 2010, which is seven months away.

"We need to open the books and really examine how we spend," Sherman said. "Everything will be on the table for discussion."

The city's budget process will begin after Jan. 1, but usually it starts without input from the City Council. Ruberto said this year they will have to take part from the beginning.

Sherman agrees.

"In fact, discussions almost have to start today," he added.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"One last memo: City clerk to sign off: Phillips takes job at General Dynamics"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, December 01, 2008

PITTSFIELD — City Clerk Jody L. Phillips has spent 10 years dealing with the public — and sometimes their pets.

"I remember a customer coming in with his dog to prove he was neutered," Phillips said, recalling the man who was seeking a discounted dog license. "He put the small dog on the counter."

Upon further review, man's best friend got the discount.

Phillips said she will miss that interaction with city residents, her co-workers and other City Hall officials when she leaves her post on Jan. 1 for a job at General Dynamics.

Appointed by Mayor Gerald Doyle to succeed Jacqueline Sacchetti in December 1998, Phillips then won her first of four consecutive city clerk races in 1999. In 2005, voters made the post permanent by changing the city charter.

Prior to becoming city clerk, Phillips worked for Mayor Edward Reilly from 1992-98.

During a recent interview from her office, Phillips said the time was right for a career change, but she may return to city government in the near future.

"Don't count me out for a run at City Council," Phillips said. "I love my city and I want to give back to my community."

Phillips understands how the council works, having been its clerk at meetings and assisting councilors prepare for those meetings.

"I lean on her a lot," said City Council President Gerald M. Lee. "She has tremendous knowledge and if she doesn't know the answer to a question, she'll find out."

"She's the glue that holds us together at City Hall," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "The five years I've been in office, she's been a treasure."

Ruberto has the task of recommending Phillips' replacement to the City Council for its approval. That person will serve until the city election next November.

Ruberto said he's uncertain if he'll make the recommendation in time for the council's Dec. 9 meeting, which will be Phillips' last as city clerk.

He is certain of what he's looking for in Phillips' successor.

"Jody has a welcoming personality, which is a quality I'm looking for in her replacement," Ruberto said. "It's going to be a challenge to replace her."

Phillips said the city clerk should also be "customer-service oriented." Located at the front entrance to City Hall, the clerk's office is often visitors' first stop.

Does that put the city clerk at the heart of city government?

"If you had to judge by the number of phone calls — yes," said Phillips. "We often direct people where to go or get them the information they need."

Phillips' accomplishments as city clerk include replacing the old lever-style voting machines with ones that tally the votes electronically.

She also brought her office into the 21st century by computerizing many records and using a computer, rather than pen and paper, to take minutes of council meetings.

"I never took shorthand," Phillips said of the need for high-tech note taking.

"But we still use typewriters in the office as some state forms we deal with are not yet computerized," she added.

While Phillips appreciates the praise from Ruberto and Lee, she said her successes are due to the voters who elected her and her staff.

"They are hard workers," Phillips said. "They don't get the recognition they deserve for the amount of work they do."

Phillips said, this fall, the staff "went above and beyond" to help people get registered to vote for the busiest presidential election she had during her tenure.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield Police Capt. Michael J. Wynn has written a book about leadership.
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Author, officer: "Wynn pens tome"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, December 05, 2008

PITTSFIELD — "One more time, normal life was interrupted by the incessant chirping of my team pager. I turned and looked at my wife, only to see the expected 'What is it now?' expression on her face.

"I remember thinking to myself, 'Well, at least it's warm and early,' as I walked down the hall to find out what kind of crisis was going to ruin this suppertime. The tiny (pager) screen read, 'Armed, barricaded subject,' and gave the crisis location. I grabbed my badge and my gun and headed for the truck."

That's not a passage from a Dennis Lehane novel about some hard-boiled cop from Southie, forced to juggle the realities of home life with "The Job."

It's a non-fiction passage from the real-life experiences of Pittsfield Police Capt. Michael J. Wynn, chronicled in his new book, "Rising Through the Ranks: Leadership Tools and Techniques for Law Enforcement."

Wynn is the ranking officer in charge at the Pittsfield Police Department, where he has served his native city dutifully for more than a dozen years. Now, the man-who-could-be-chief — Wynn has been the department's de facto chief since Anthony J. Riello left the job last year — can add "author" to his résumé.

Wynn strikes a more colloquial tone as author "Mike Wynn," dropping his rank and other formalities on the book jacket. Inside, however, Wynn strikes a serious tone as he describes the world of law enforcement officers, whose split-second decisions can mean the difference between success or failure, life or death.

A standout college athlete, scholar and Pittsfield police officer since 1995, Wynn said the concept of leadership has always loomed large in his life, ever since his days as a Boy Scout.

"Studying, learning and practicing leadership had become a theme in my life," Wynn writes in the book, which was published this year by Kaplan Publishing in New York City.

"Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I failed. But I always sought to improve."

Wynn will be signing copies of the book from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Chapters Bookstore, 78 North St. The book also is available through Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

The book evolved from the voluminous notes Wynn took as a past Leadership Fellow at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Training Academy in Quantico, Va. During that year-long stint with the DEA, Wynn was assigned to the organization's Leadership Development Unit, where he assisted special agents and studied and researched leadership-related topics.

"It was really an accident," Wynn said, explaining how the book came to be.

A professor's lecture during one DEA workshop in particular struck a chord with Wynn, he said. The professor proclaimed that the management styles of most government organizations — police departments included — are roughly 30 years behind the conventional business models.

"By implication," Wynn writes, "the management styles and philosophies that law enforcement is developing and teaching today were implemented, used and discarded by successful businesses in the early to mid-1970s."

Wynn blended highlights and observations from his DEA experience with anecdotes from his own law enforcement experience to create the 181-page book. He had a little help from fellow Pittsfield Police Capt. John Mullin, who put Wynn in contact with a Mullin family member who works in the publishing industry.

"It was hard," Wynn said of the research and writing process.

Even so, he said, "I would like to try another project."

Wynn envisions lay people and law enforcement officials benefiting from his book.

"People outside law enforcement have read it," he said, "and they've told me it was useful."

Meanwhile, Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto supports Wynn to become the city's next police chief: "Officers in the police department fully recognize that Mike Wynn has my complete support," Ruberto told The Eagle recently.

That could officially happen within the next year, although a lengthy civil service vetting process must first run its course.

Wynn, 38, was born and raised in Pittsfield, where he graduated from Taconic High School in 1988. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., but left to attend Williams College, where he captained the wrestling team. He graduated from Williams in 1993 and received a master's degree in criminal justice from Anna Maria College in Paxton in 2001.

In addition to receiving several commendations from the Pittsfield Police Department, Wynn has won awards for academic excellence and survival Spanish from the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Academy in Agawam. He has taught leadership classes at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., and he has been a guest lecturer at Westfield State College.

As a police officer, Wynn has been a patrol supervisor, criminal investigator, gang intelligence officer and director of the community police academy.

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City: "Tyer to be appointed as Pittsfield clerk"
The Berkshire Eagle Online, Wednesday, December 10, 2008

PITTSFIELD — Mayor James M. Ruberto announced today that Ward 3 City Councilor Linda Tyer resigned from her position on the City Council to become the 20th clerk for the City of Pittsfield.

She will wait the state mandated 30 days, and will officially be appointed during a special meeting on Jan. 9, 2009.

Tyer received her degree from Bay Path College in Longmeadow and has lived in the Berkshires since 1988.

She has worked for Lenox Public Schools for 17 years, and has served as administrative assistant to the superintendent for the past 12 years.

On Friday at noon, there will be a special City Council meeting in the Clerk's Office to approve warrants for a special election for the Ward 3 City Council seat.

Nomination papers will be available in the Clerk's Office immediately after the meeting. Each perspective Ward 3 candidate will need to collect 50 signatures from registered voters in Ward 3 by Jan. 6.

If a preliminary election is needed it will be held on Feb. 24 with the general election to be held on March 31.

The two polling places will be at All Souls Church on Pembroke Avenue and Providence Court on East Street.

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"Clerks on collision course: Tyer: faces voters — and maybe the woman she succeeded"
The Pittsfied Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher, 10.JULY.2009

The rumors were confirmed on Friday afternoon... the hottest race in 2009 may be one of the most unconventional.

Jody Phillips took out nomination papers to challenge Linda Tyer for the position of city clerk.

Mayor James Ruberto appointed Tyer as city clerk earlier this year after Phillips stepped down.

Phillips gave up tenure for a better-paying job at General Dynamics. Now she's decided to see if voters will let her return to her old job, saying that's where her heart remains.

Tyer gave up her ward three city council seat (as well as a job in Lenox) to take the clerk post.

Now they're on a collision course... and in a race where direct campaigning is tough because of the apolitical nature of the clerk position.

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"City clerk: A strange twist"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, Monday, July 20, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- When Jody L. Phillips announced last December she was leaving the city clerk's position after a decade of service, she recommended then Ward 3 Councilor Linda M. Tyer for the job.

Mayor James M. Ruberto agreed, appointing Tyer to succeed Phillips in early January.

Now Phillips wants her old job back at Tyer's expense.

The former city clerk of 10 years has taken out nomination papers to challenge her replacement of seven months in an unexpected political race in this fall's Pittsfield election.

Phillips, who left city government for a private-sector job at General Dynamics, said her campaign is professionally -- not personally -- motivated.

"Being away for a bit gave me a renewed appreciation for working with the public and city employees," Philips said. "My decision [to run] is not at all a reflection on Linda's ability to do the job."

"She's capable of handling the position," she added.

Behind the scenes, city officials -- including several up for re-election -- are stunned at Phillips' campaign. None more so than Tyer who, not being an incumbent and new to the job, expected a challenge, just not from Phillips.

"I'm prepared to run a campaign," Tyer said. "I'm prepared to present my qualifications and vision for the city to the voters and let them decide."

She added, "I see this as a great opportunity for the community to learn the responsibilities of the city clerk."

Prior to being sworn in as city clerk on Jan. 9, Tyer had been elected Ward 3 Councilor for three consecutive terms beginning in 2003. She also served as the City Council's representative on the Pittsfield Community Development Board and worked 17 years for the Lenox public schools, 12 as administrative assistant to the superintendent.

Tyer and her husband, James, a native of Lee, moved to Pittsfield seven years ago and have lived on Ventura Avenue. She has two grown stepchildren.

Phillips spent a total of 17 years at City Hall, before accepting her current job at General Dynamics. She worked for Mayor Edward Reilly from 1992-1998 before Mayor Gerald Doyle appointed her to succeed another veteran city clerk, Jacqueline Sacchetti in December 1998.

Phillips, who currently resides on Congress Street, then won the first of her four consecutive city clerk races in 1999. In 2005, voters made the post permanent by changing the city charter, as long as she stayed on the job.

During her 10-year tenure, Phillips replaced the old lever-style voting machines with ones that tally votes electronically. She also began an on-going process to computerize City hall and its many records.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TVC2L6GJ3525IAIKR
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"Pittsfield City Council sets fiscal 2009 tax rates"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, December 10, 2008

PITTSFIELD — Last-minute calculations by city officials will have Pittsfield businesses paying an extra penny on their property tax rate following the City Council's approval Tuesday night of both the residential and commercial rates for fiscal 2009 which began July 1.

Board of Assessors Chairman William D. Marsele told the City Council the new figure of $28.88 per thousand dollars of assessed value was to assure the state Department of Revenue would approve the new tax rates. Marsele had said on Monday the commercial rate was proposed at $28.87.

"We got notification from the DOR at two o'clock (Tuesday) afternoon to add another $17,000 to our levy limit in order to increase our overlay account," said Marsele in explaining the need to readjust the business rate.

The added tax revenue will accommodate the assessment of telephone wires and poles and the taxing of wireless communications companies for the first time locally, according to Marsele.

The penny increase means typical business owners will pay $514 more on their overall tax bills, compared to the $509 that was first proposed.

The recalculation by the assessors did not change the residential tax rate which the council approved at $13.67. That translates into an $86 increase for the average single family home.

Overall, the typical single-family home will be billed at just under $2,600, while the average business can expect to pay nearly $16,300. Marsele has said the tax bills should be mailed out by Jan. 1.

The significant change in setting the new tax rates is the homeowners shouldering more of the burden in raising the $57.8 million in property taxes needed to fund the city budget.

The tax shift for fiscal 2009 will be calculated at 1.725 percent rather than the maximum of 1.75 percent, the rate used in fiscal 2008 which ended June 30.

"After four years of consistently shifting more of the tax burden on the business community, it was time to show some sensitivity to our small-business owners," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.

The policy change pleased Michael Supranowicz, president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

"The shift away from businesses is greatly appreciated," Supranowicz said. "We really need to take care of small businesses."

The move even won praise from Councilor at large Matthew M. Kerwood, who opposed the past two years how the commercial and residential rates were figured.

"I will support this because it gives businesses some breathing room," Kerwood said.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward had proposed further shifting the tax burden away from businesses, but his colleagues voted against it. Several said the change this year is a step in the right direction for commercial and industrial property owners.

However, one city resident said all Pittsfield property owners need a break from the rising cost of city government.

"If we can increase our budget $27 million in a scant few years, then we can lower our budget $27 million in a scant few years," said Guy R. Noto of 125 Deming St.

Noto said the economic pressures residents are currently living under can't keep pace with government spending.

"We must learn to live with our means," Noto added. "We don't have an option."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pink slips at Plastics"
The Berkshire Eagle - Editorial
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Economic woes have landed with a thud on Plastics Avenue, where Sabic Innovative Plastics has laid off 13 percent of its workforce. It is a painful reminder that the Berkshires are connected to the global economy, that what happens at a chemical plant in the Middle East can change lives in Pittsfield.

Sabic announced on Monday that it was laying off roughly 40 of its 300 Pittsfield employees as part of a companywide reorganization in which 1,000 of the company's 10,500 jobs are being eliminated through layoffs and attrition. The local numbers may be small in the context of the countywide workforce, but they loom large as a symbol, an elite employer cutting some of the most coveted jobs in the Berkshires.

The cuts are the sad but logical result of the economic malaise that has gripped the country and the world. If Detroit is selling fewer cars, it needs fewer plastic dashboards and bumpers. If parents are giving children fewer toys this Christmas, toymakers need fewer injection molded doll parts. From China to Detroit to Pittsfield, reduced demand means reduced supply. Sadly, that means reduced employment.

Sabic is not the first Berkshire employer to lay off workers and it will not be the last. All indicators suggest the recession is hitting harder and digging deeper than economists had hoped. The bedrock of American financial security — the home — has been shaken by the mortgage crisis, and the ensuing financial earthquake is spreading into every corner.

If there is a bright side to Sabic's announcement on Monday, it is that Pittsfield is no longer dependent on a single employer. Once, pink slips from GE could send the city into an economic death spiral. Those days are now a faded memory.

That is small consolation for those now out of work. They are being thrown into a marketplace where there are many applicants for few jobs. The spike in applicants for unemployment benefits in Massachusetts has flooded the state's 37 walk-in claim centers, creating two-hour waits for help. Economists wonder if unemployment — now at 6.7 percent nationally — will hit 10 percent before the recession is over.

We must tend our own garden, support our local businesses and continue to try to attract new employers. When we can, we should help companies like Sabic — which is looking for a new, smaller building for its headquarters — stay and thrive. We should use the few weapons in our arsenal — tax credits, low-interest loans, streamlined permitting — to foster a friendly economic atmosphere.

The new Obama administration may offer hope of a more reasoned economic policy, but it won't be able to reverse the recession with a few pen strokes on new legislation.

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Radon levels raise concern: Health officials are seeking ways to lower gas levels in City Hall"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Monday, December 22, 2008

PITTSFIELD — City health officials are trying to reduce the levels of radon gas in City Hall and they are urging homeowners to do the same.

Pittsfield Health Department Director James J. Wilusz said a temporary venting system has been installed in the basement of City Hall, after testing found radon levels as high as 10 picocuries per liter. That's more than twice the recommended safety level of by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"We'll know in the next few weeks if the levels are down," Wilusz said.

If the radon levels drop, a permanent venting system will be installed.

"We're moving quickly and aggressively to abate the problem," he added.

The city's health department is on a mission to educate other public officials and homeowners that radon levels unchecked can lead to serious health issues — and death — down the road.

"Long-term exposure to radon can cause lung cancer," Wilusz said. "But that can happen in one year or in 30 years."

The EPA states radon, a naturally occuring radioactive gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer and tops among non-smokers who get the disease. The federal agency further claims radon is responsible for more than half of all radiation exposure to the public in the United States.

Despite those alarming statistics, the fact radon is an odorless and colorless gas is one reason few homeowners test for the potential deadly element, most likely found in the basement.

"If it were green, or smelled really bad, then people would take notice," said Bob Drennan, owner of Berkshire Radon Technologies in Great Barrington.

Drennan said he conducts about 15 radon tests a month at a cost of $250 each and the tests are more sophisticated follow-ups to ones conducted by homeowners using retail testing kits.

If professional testing confirms above normal levels of radon, Drennan said the process he uses to draw out the gas from the home will usually cost between $1,500 and $2,500.

He said "subslab depressurization," whereby a vacuum is created in the basement to draw out the gas, has been 100 percent effective in reducing radon levels well below the EPA's recommended limit of 4 picocuries per liter.

"Because radon is naturally occuring, you can't get rid of it 100 percent," said Kimberly Kelly, a health agent with the Tri-Town Health Department, which serves Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge

Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimates 22 percent of homes in Berkshire County may have elevated levels of radon, while statewide the figure is 25 percent or about 650,000 homes.

Drennan said the village of Housatonic and Pittsfield seem to be the hot spots. Above-normal readings of radon gas are rare in the North County. "It can be prevalent in any type of building with limited ventilation," Wilusz said.

However, older homes with porous foundations are more susceptible to radon, especially if surrounded by sandy soil. "My house was built in 1914, and it's being tested as we speak," Wilusz said.

The risk of radon gas exposure is greater if the basement is regularly used by the family, according to Tri-Town Health Department Director Peter Kolodziej. "My house in Leeds, we have a workout area and laundry room," he said, adding he's surprised the building code hasn't been changed to make sure newer homes are designed to deal with radon.

"When you buy a home, people never think about radon," Wilusz added.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Tax agreements
"Giving companies a break: Pittsfield officials won't crack down on firms that can't meet tax incentive obligations"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, December 22, 2008

PITTSFIELD — With the economy mired in recession, city officials say they have no plans to crack down on struggling companies that are unable to meet their obligations under a tax incentive program offered by the city.

Businesses that participate in Tax Increment Financing plans, or TIFs, typically receive tax breaks from the city on a sliding scale over a fixed number of years. In return, they commit to certain job creation projections and private investments in company facilities.

But in light of the financial meltdown that has taken hold of the economy, businesses may fall short of those job and investment thresholds that they initially agreed to.

"There is no way that the city or the government could have anticipated the kind of meltdown in the business cycle that was created in the last six months," Mayor James M. Ruberto said last week. "I will work on behalf of industry to make certain that companies are not penalized by circumstances beyond their control."

The city has granted 36 TIF plans to city businesses since the program began in 1995 — including three awarded last month — and 18 are still active. Of the 18 TIFs no longer in service, 15 ran their course, and three were decertified by the City Council. Two of the companies whose TIFs were decertified, PerferX Optical in 2007, and Guardian Berkshire Life in 2005, elected to opt out of their agreements, city officials said.

Among the TIFs that are currently active is one with Sabic Innovative Plastics, which purchased GE Plastics for $11.6 billion. The company pledged in November 2007 to create 25 full-time permanent jobs over the next two years. Sabic had begun implementing a new worldwide business plan in March, but earlier this month, the firm announced that it would lay off 40 of its 300 Pittsfield employees.

The Pittsfield layoffs are part of a staff reduction in Sabic's global operations, which has seen 1,000 of the company's 10,500 employees worldwide lose their jobs through either layoffs or attrition this year.

As part of the TIF agreement, Sabic also agreed to invest $10 million in renovations and upgrades within three years to its facilities at 1 Plastics Ave. and at the GE building off 100 Merrill Road. Last week, Sabic officials said they are considering either reducing the footprint of their facility on Plastics Avenue, leasing another building from the city, or building their own structure in Pittsfield.

Director of Community Development Deanna L. Ruffer said Sabic's TIF will remain in its current state at least through 2009. According to Ruffer, companies that enter into TIFs with the city are required to file a report with both the city and the state at the end of the fiscal year, which ends on June 30. Sabic's report on its fiscal 2008 employment levels was filed five months ago, and does not include the current layoffs.

The fiscal 2008 TIF reports that companies file with the city are currently under review, and probably won't be presented to the City Council for approval until February, Ruffer said. Sabic's fiscal 2009 report won't be filed until June 30, 2009, and the council probably won't review that data until early 2010, she said.

"The reduction in jobs may or may not impact the company under the TIF," Ruffer said, "Until we receive their report next year about jobs, we won't know."

Under the TIF, Sabic planned to add 15 permanent full-time jobs during the first year of the agreement, and 10 permanent full-time jobs during the second, Ruffer said

Speaking hypothetically, Ruffer said a company could add jobs one year, and eliminate positions the next, but still live up to the terms of the agreement as long as the total amount met the threshold that was originally agreed to.

If Sabic's job levels fall below the threshold agreed to in the original TIF, Ruffer said the company could apply to the city to either amend or modify the original agreement so that the creation of jobs could be spread out over a longer period of time. TIF agreements also include provisions that reflect changes in the marketplace, including the current economic downturn.

Ruffer said that the Department of Community Development and Ruberto could recommend that the City Council approve the decertification of a TIF agreement if a firm arbitrarily changed its business plan.

"My gut feeling is I could not envision making such a recommendation because Sabic has had to respond to the marketplace," Ruffer said. "They're doing what they're doing to be a viable company in the city of Pittsfield. We'd do that with any company."
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224.
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"MCAS bar is raised: Starting with the Class of 2010, students must score proficient in both math and English language arts to graduate from high school."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, December 29, 2008

PITTSFIELD — The bar is now higher for Massachusetts public school students who must pass the MCAS in order to graduate from high school.

Beginning with the Class of 2010, students have to be proficient in math and English language arts by scoring at least 240 on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam. Since the MCAS became a graduation requirement, 10th-graders who took the test only had to score 220, which is the needs improvement category.

This year's crop of juniors, who took the MCAS last spring, also had to pass the science exam but that subject is not part of the proficiency requirement.

The higher standard for math and English is the next step toward the state Department of Education's (DOE) goal of all students scoring in the proficient category by 2014.

If students have initially failed the MCAS, they must still re-take the state exam and pass it while striving for proficiency at the local level.

"Every year, we seem to get one more variable thrown onto the MCAS pile," said Pittsfield Superintendent of Schools, Howard "Jake" Eberwein III during a recent School Committee meeting.

The city school department reports 109 students at Pittsfield and Taconic high school need to reach the proficiency level in English or math, while 254 must do the same in both subjects.

Pittsfield Deputy Superintendent of Schools Barbara Malkas said one option for students to become proficient in both subjects is to pass a specially designed test.

"They can take the MCAS again which would be a locally developed test," Malkas told the committee. "I'm not sure how well this will be received."

But Robert Putnam, who oversees the MCAS for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, said taking the special exam for proficiency makes sense for some students.

"We have a number of kids who were two to four points away from a 240 score," Putnam said. "They would nail (the second test)."

Putnam said the state DOE developed the test, which will be given in mid-January and late April, but local school districts will administer and grade the exams.

If students don't pass the special MCAS test, then they must continue with their Educational Proficiency Plan. The EPP is developed by each school district and it requires students to pass pre-approved math and English courses in order to achieve a proficiency rating.

"We're trying to put a positive spin on this," Malkas said. "We're using the EPP as a tool so students take advantage of more courses."

"It forces us to follow through with students who barely squeak through the MCAS," added Lee Superintendent of Schools, Jason "Jake" McCandless. "We want more kids with more opportunities to do some serious learning."

McCandless said Lee High School has 7 students in the class of 2010 who have yet to reach proficiency in English or math, with 14 needing to perform better in both subjects.

McCandless and Malkas said their high schools have already been planning for their students to become proficient.

"We already have the components in place," Malkas said. "The tricky part is to figure out how to pull those components together into one plan without undue burden on the staff."

While the proficiency requirement is up to local school districts, they must still answer to state education officials.

"We will have a portfolio for each student and we must submit the paperwork to the DOE to prove they are proficient," McCandless said.

Malkas said aside from the legal requirement, having students proficient in math and English will better prepare them for the work place and college.

She reported that students who score higher are likely to have a higher grade point average in college and return for a second year of postsecondary education.

McCandless said the ultimate goal in the Lee public schools is having students proficient in the two subjects, before they reach their sophomore year.

"We're trying to attack this from the other end by shoring up our curriculum at the elementary and middle school level," he said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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The Berkshire Athenaeum has become a technological destination for Internet research, online databases and vastly increased interlibrary loan programs.
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"Rethinking libraries"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Monday, December 29, 2008

PITTSFIELD — Gone are the days of card catalogues and microfiche, replaced by online databases, MP3s and even video games. They're all changes local public libraries have made to remain relevant to younger generations, who are reading less and turning to Google instead of encyclopedias for their information.

"It's no secret that young people don't read as much as we like them to ... but the technology can attract young people to reading in a way that maybe old-fashioned books don't," said Madeline Kelly, supervisor for the reference service department at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield.

Representatives for the Berkshire Athenaeum, the largest public library in the county, have lead the charge locally in new technologies and creative ways to bring teens through their doors.

They have gone from one computer with Internet access 10 years ago to 14 today. They also offer 15 research databases, remote access, wireless connections, DVDs and downloadable books. And while these services are not only for teens, they do connect with what young people are looking for.

"These kind of things offer something that appeals to a young audience," said Kelly.

The increased technology follows a national trend, as the percent of libraries that offer audio-books and podcasts has increased 33 percent from last year, e-books offerings have increased by 13.5 percent and the amount offering high-speed Internet and wireless connections is up 12 percent, according to a 2008 study by the American Library Association, or ALA.

Beyond offering materials in a format that younger generations can relate to, the Athenaeum also offers programs that serve as a social outlet, including offering video game nights several times a month, with games like "Rock Band," and "Dance Dance Revolution" starting in January.

"We like to say that there's something for everyone here," said Kelly.

But it's not just the Athenaeum that is trying to attract teens. Other local libraries are working to increase their digital materials and programs that will attract tech-savvy youths, too.

At the Becket Athenaeum, keeping the interest of teens is a high priority, whether in the form of teen advisory boards in the past, to movie nights and increased selection of DVDs and mp3s.

"If you don't get young adults in your library, then it's just going to be a museum," said Zina Jayne, the library's director.

Jayne said a library can also serve a social function for youths as a community center and a place to learn beyond the classroom.

"In a lot of ways we serve teens informally just by being there, we provide a place where they can come," said Jayne.

They have also started a youth apprenticeship program for teens to produce a professional-quality documentary films about local history.

For the Lee Library Association, attracting teens means poetry slams, graphic novels and books on hip-hop requested by teens.

"That is the hardest age group because all of a sudden they are swamped with school work and maybe all of a sudden it's maybe not cool to read," said Rosemarie Borsody, the public service librarian for the library.

And while library use is on the rise nationwide and the ALA predicts an additional 22 percent increase of use in the next three to five years, luring in teens can be increasingly difficult.

"Teens, they're a tough subject. We're still working on that," said Tom Butler, of the Hinsdale Library.

Butler said bringing in younger generations is a priority for the future, so they have begun increasing materials youths might be more interested in, like an increased DVD collection.

"From my vantage point, teens aren't reading like they did when I was a teen. They are more into the Internet and movies. So if that's what they want, give the people what they want," said Butler.

"Most libraries have trouble reaching kids that age," said Ann Just, director of the Mason and Ramsdell libraries in Great Barrington, which has increased their collection of young adult literature and bolstered their stock of DVDs and audio-books.

"What we need to do, and will do, is try to increase awareness of our downloadables which I think is what is actually speak to them," said Just.

Just said libraries are becoming — and must continue to become — more than just a collection of fiction and nonfiction.

"That's the real change for libraries, not to see themselves as a book repository, but as an information repository," said Just.
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To reach Trevor Jones: (413) 528-3660 or tjones@berkshireeagle.com.
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"Costly election is typical of policy"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters, Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The recent appointment by Mayor Ruberto of Linda Tyer to the position of Pittsfield city clerk is another decision by a mayor who is out of touch with the citizens of Pittsfield.

This appointment will require a special election, or two, to fill the Ward 3 seat that Ms. Tyer now holds. For three months we will have no elected representative in our ward, the ward that holds the future of the city with the PEDA site. Where do we the citizens of Ward 3 turn when we have neighborhood concerns?

A more prudent move would have been to appoint a replacement from within City Hall as an interim position. There are many qualified and well-deserving City Hall employees who could fill this elected position until the next city election in November 2009, saving the taxpayers of Pittsfield from spending thousands of taxpayers dollars on an unnecessary special election and the expense of adding another person to our city's payroll with benefits. An appointment from the many qualified employees within City Hall would add respect and dignity among dedicated city employees, some who have spent many years as public servants.

This mayor is fiscally irresponsible, increasing our city budget by $27 million since taking office. While campaigning, he promised tax relief and with his suitcase in hand, promised jobs for Pittsfield. Instead in the last week we lost 300-plus jobs from Sabic and KB, two of Pittsfield's major employers.

This with the added expense of an unnecessary special election to fill a council seat shows no compassion for our senior citizens living on fixed incomes and trying to maintain their homes, especially during these difficult economic times. He promised tax relief and instead "we the people" have been given tax and spend and the greatest tax increase in our city's history. It's time for the everyday citizens of this city to band together, making their voices heard.

DONNA M. WALTO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/T9GHN4OKUL8S6NMVV
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Mapping out new territory
"At the changing of the guard: City Clerk Jody L. Philips hands on her office to former Councilwoman Linda Tyer"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, January 02, 2009

PITTSFIELD — While Linda M. Tyer won't officially become Pittsfield's new city clerk until Jan. 9, the torch — and a helpful newspaper clipping — have been passed on to her from Jody L. Philips.

Philips, who officially left the clerk's office on Thursday after 10 years, has given Tyer the story of a Pennsylvania man who was arrested six years ago for speaking beyond the time limit at a local town board meeting.

Philips said the article served as a reminder to her and the City Council to be strict about its three-minute rule. The city clerk is responsible for taking the minutes of council meetings and organizing their agendas ahead of time.

That's just one of many duties Philips turns over to Tyer on Jan. 9, when the City Council is expected to formally approve her nomination. Mayor James M. Ruberto picked Tyer to replace Philips three weeks ago.

On Wednesday, Philips and Tyer continued to work on the transition: Tyer's first task will be organizing the agenda for City Council's next regular meeting on Jan. 13.

Tyer that night will be seated at the city clerk's desk in front of council President Gerald M. Lee, rather than off to the side representing Ward 3.

"The first five minutes will feel awkward," said Tyer, who had to resign from the City Council and Community Development Board to become city clerk.

She said it will also feel "very strange" to oversee the special election on March 31 to fill her vacated council seat.

"It'll be good practice on a small scale before the citywide election in November," she said.

However, Tyer said she's already getting used to her new co-workers, who've wasted no time giving her some good-natured ribbing.

"I'll feel bad if they aren't picking on me," she said.

Philips, who's taking a job with General Dynamics, said she'll miss that camaraderie with the other women in the office, which keeps them upbeat when dealing with the public.

"When people come to our counter, they need to see a friendly, cooperative person," said Philips.

And she has led by example, said Donna Cowan, a part-timer in the clerk's office for the past 18 months.

"Jody can go up to the counter and handle any crisis," Cowan said "Besides, it's not easy working with an office full of women. I give her credit for that."

"You couldn't work for a better person," said Doreen Jamross, who arrived in the clerk's office just before Philips did in December 1998.

Malia Carlotto, who became the assistant city clerk in October, said she took the job even though Philips had indicated she might resign.

"She told me up front and I respected her for that," said Carlotto, who was assistant town clerk in Dalton for nearly six years. "She's been incredible to work for, and her leaving is a tremendous loss for Pittsfield."

While Philips leaves with plenty of knowledge and experience at City Hall, which included six years working for former Mayor Edward Reilly, Carlotto said Tyer brings with her an equally impressive resume.

"Linda's performance on city boards and her knowledge of city ordinances are invaluable," she added.

Philips has spent the past month organizing files, clearing off her desk, and dusting around her work space in preparing for her successor.

She said leaving City Hall is like leaving home for the first time. Her separation anxiety includes losing a parking privilege.

"I'll miss my parking space," Philips said wryly. "It's nice parking right next to (City Hall) and walking right in."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"SABIC announces layoffs in Pittsfield, Massachusetts"
Updated: 12/10/2008, 6:52 AM, By: Ryan Burgess, capitalnews9.com

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts -- It's one more sign of a weakening global economy, felt right here on the local level. SABIC Innovative Plastics announced plans to lay off 40 employees from its Pittsfield headquarters.

In a statement, the company says: "We’ve spent the last nine months proactively designing a new sales and marketing model that better meets the unique requirements of our diverse, global customer base. We’ve developed an organization structure to effectively and profitably support customers’ needs. As such, our new model requires fewer, but more focused resources. We are committed to treating impacted employees fairly and to assisting them as they transition to new employment opportunities outside of SABIC Innovative Plastics."

The layoffs represent 10 percent of SABIC's Pittsfield workforce. Most employees live in Berkshire County.

"It is most unfortunate that we're going to see the job loss, but I truly believe in the long run the steps they're taking are going to reflect in job gains and net job gains," said Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto.

When SABIC, which stands for Saudi Basic Industries, bought this plant from General Electric in 2007, the company struck a deal with the city of Pittsfield for property tax deferments, provided it continues to foster new job creation. City officials say this layoff announcement will not jeopardize the agreement.

"It does not. The economic development incentive program is set up in a manner that recognizes that businesses go through ups and downs. It does require the company to make a commitment to job creation over the life of the program," said Pittsfield community development director Deanna Ruffer.

One person with close ties to the company who didn't want to be identified says there are some people working in one large SABIC production facility in Pittsfield who are concerned that more layoffs could be coming because of how expensive it is to heat their building in the winter. But at this point, SABIC says there are no official plans to lay off more employees.

"It's a tough time for many businesses and we encourage the companies to be honest and to deal with their marketplace and to communicate with us," said Ruffer.

According to a company spokesman, SABIC employs 10,500 people around the globe.
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"SABIC announces layoffs in Pittsfield, Massachusetts"
Thousands of Americans are dealing with layoffs in these uncertain economic times. And now some workers in Pittsfield can be added to list of people looking for a new job. Our Ryan Burgess reports on one global company's announcement to eliminate 40 jobs from its Pittsfield headquarters.
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http://capitalnews9.com/content/top_stories/129594/sabic-announces-layoffs-in-pittsfield/Default.aspx
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"Ward 3: Amicable rivalry"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, January 05, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Melissa Mazzeo and Paul J. Capitanio officially — and simultaneously — begin their campaigns tonight in the special election for Ward 3 City Councilor.

Mazzeo's fundraising dinner at her husband Tony's eatery, Mazzeo's Ristorante, on Winter Street will be held from 5-7 p.m., while not far away at the Italian American Club on Newell Street, Capitanio will hold his political fundraiser starting at 6 p.m.

While the two candidates hold dueling campaign kick-off events — coincidentally scheduled at the same time — neither sees themselves as political adversaries.

"I don't feel I'm running against someone, but rather for something, which is Ward 3," said Mazzeo.

"I'm running to help people and not thinking about my opponent," said Capitanio, who noted both his families have "known each other for generations."

Mazzeo and Capitanio barely have enough time to build up support and their political warchest, let alone worry about each other's campaigns.

The special election to replace Linda M. Tyer is March 31, with a possible preliminary election Feb. 24, if a third potential candidate emerges. Daniel Zunitch is the only other person to take out nomination papers, and is still gathering the necessary signatures of 50 registered voters from Ward 3. Zunitch has until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file those documents with the City Clerk's office.

Tyer resigned from the City Council last month, after Mayor James M. Ruberto nominated her to replace Jody L. Philips as city clerk. Philips left the post on Jan. 1 to take a job with General Dynamics. The City Council is expected to confirm Tyer's nomination on Friday, at which point she will be immediately sworn into office.

Tyer and the winner of the special election will remain in office until the citywide general election in November.

If Mazzeo and Capitanio end up the only two candidates, Ward 3 voters will find they have similar resumés.

Both are seeking elected office for the first time, although they have been politically active. Capitanio is on the Ward 3 Democratic City Committee, while Mazzeo has been active in the political action committee WHEN since 2003 and, until recently, its president the past three years.

The two candidates are also constantly volunteering their time because of their children.

Capitanio, who with his parents owns the East Side Cafe, has always supported local youth sports through the business, but stepped up his community involvement after his son, Paul Jr., died in 2003 at the age of 21.

"I buried myself in helping others," said Capitanio on how he dealt with losing his only son. "You name any organization, I'm involved."

Capitanio, who also has two grown daughters, has said he's most proud of co-chairing a committee that raised $10,000 to start Kid's Place in Pittsfield to help physically and emotionally abused children.

Mazzeo, a registered dental hygienist, said having two young daughters has her volunteering for their schools and activities. She also helped organize a citywide cleanup a few years ago and is a member of Zonta International, which promotes the status of women through service and advocacy.

As for the issues facing Pittsfield, such as job creation, Mazzeo and Capitanio both want to see more progress at the William Stanley Business Park.

"I'm keeping a close eye on that," said Capitanio. "The city has several million dollars invested and we need to keep it going."

Mazzeo wants to hear more information on what's being done to attract businesses to the site and whether GE's link to the PCB cleanup is scaring off potential tenants.

"If PCBs are hanging over our head, we need to know," Mazzeo said.

Mazzeo and Capitanio said they plan to listen closely to their constituents when voting on issues affecting Ward 3 and the city as a whole.

"You can't be a 'yes man'," said Capitanio. "You've got to look at all sides of the issues."

"I try to understand where all sides are coming from on an issue," Mazzeo said, "Then come up with a solution that benefits the most people."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Joe Mack walks on the roof of the wastewater treatment plant on Monday (1/5/2009).
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Wastewater treatment plant moving forward: City wastewater facility is recognized by the EPA; upgrades are moving ahead."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, January 06, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield wastewater treatment plant is getting state money for an upgrade, while receiving accolades for how it's been running so far.

The city has received a $400,000 state grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative toward paying part of an estimated $1.7 million to $2 million for a so-called biogas CHP system. The state-of-the-art process will convert methane gas from the sewage into electricity to help operate the facility off Holmes Road.

The result is an estimated 30 percent reduction in the plant's electric bill, saving taxpayers $206,000 per year, according to Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

Collingwood said he will ask the City Council within the next month to approve local funding to cover the rest of the project's cost. If the money is approved, the renewable energy system is expected to be completed by August and pay for itself in five years.

Honored by the EPA

Meanwhile, the federal government is citing plant superintendent Tom Landry and his staff of 22, for "all the fine work" they've done over the years, where Landry has been in charge for 28 years.

The Environmental Protection Agency has written Mayor James M. Ruberto stating the city has received a 2008 Regional EPA excellence award, which will be presented at a luncheon in Boston on Jan. 28.

Landry said the EPA gave Pittsfield the same award in 1991, and the plant has also been recognized in the past by state environmental officials and industry trade groups.

"We have good maintenance people who build and then re-build and re-build some more," said Landry on how the staff keeps the 46-year-old facility going.

"We're working hard to protect the (Housatonic) river and environment," Landry added.

He noted the plant has not had any state or federal discharge violations regarding the release of treated water into river in at least 12 years.

Collingwood said he's not surprised by the plant's track record with Landry in charge.

"He has very high standards for the facility, which he expects his staff to follow," Collingwood said.

New standard for the state

The installation of the new biogas CHP system would also set a new standard for operating sewage facilities in the Commonwealth.

"We would be the first wastewater treatment plant in Massachusetts to use microturbines and to use biogas to produce electricity to run the plant," noted Collingwood.

He added using methane gas will reduce greenhouse gas emissions as the sewage by-product is currently burned off into the atmosphere.

The project will also generate waste heat that will warm up the sewage treatment process.

"We need to heat the pipe that takes in the sludge which must be maintained at a certain temperature," Collingwood said.

Two-phase project

The biogas CHP system is Phase 1 of a $6.6 million overhaul of the treatment plant, built in 1963 with most of its original equipment intact.

The entire project is based on a $40,000 study conducted last year by SEA Consultants Inc. based in Concord, N.H.

Collingwood said Pittsfield is poised to receive a 2 percent loan from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund list that will cover the entire cost.

Collingwood said Phase 2 calls for upgrade the beginning of the sewage plant's treatment process, or "headworks."

"This screens out large items from the sludge, protecting the rest of the treatment system," Collingwood said.

While the design of Phase 2 is complete, plans for the final phase, improving the aeration system are still on the drawing board.

"The sludge needs oxygen to help break it down," Collingwood added.

Collingwood said the wastewater treatment plant is due for an overhaul as the last major upgrade was in the 1980s.

"We need to extend the life of the plant and keep costs down, especially through the (headworks) project," he added.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield City Council
"Race now has three: Daniel Zunitch joins Melissa Mazzeo and Paul Capitanio in the race for the Ward 3 seat left vacant by Linda M. Tyer."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, January 07, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The special election for Ward 3 City Councilor is now a three-way contest.

Daniel Zunitch, of 121 Edward Ave., has joined Melissa Mazzeo and Paul J. Capitanio in the race to fill the vacancy created when Linda M. Tyer resigned from the council last month to become the new city clerk. Zunitch's candidacy became official when city officials certified his nomination papers on Tuesday, the last day for potential candidates to get on the ballot.

Mazzeo and Capitanio, who qualified for the special election before Christmas, officially kicked off their campaigns on Monday with separate political fundraisers.

Zunitch's candidacy compels a preliminary election on Feb. 24 in which the top two vote-getters move on to a run-off election on March 31.

Zunitch, Mazzeo and Capitanio — all of whom are seeking elected office for the first time — are vying to replace Tyer whom Mayor James M. Ruberto nominated for the city clerk's position. Jody L. Philips left that post Jan. 1 for a job with General Dynamics. The City Council is expected to confirm Tyer's nomination during a special meeting on Friday.

While Mazzeo and Capitanio are Berkshire natives well-rooted in Pittsfield, Zunitch said he and his family moved to the city nearly six years ago from Woburn.

Mazzeo and Capitanio "have the names that go back generations, and that may be an advantage," Zunitch said. "But I feel like all three of us are on the same page."

Zunitch, like his opponents, is involved with the city's youth. He's vice president of the board of directors for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Berkshire County and a steering committee member of the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership, which is currently working on a campaign to prevent underage drinking.

Zunitch also teaches alcohol responsibility to those who serve and sell alcohol as part of the company he founded, Business Point Systems.

He and his wife Wendy care for two foster children, along with own 9-year-old son, Jonathan.

"I care deeply about the city and its youth," said Zunitch. "I want to help youth make the right choices."

He also wants the city to make the right decision when it comes to public safety.

"No one likes to hear that open positions in the police department are on hold," Zunitch said. "We must figure out how to reduce the budget without impacting critical services."

He's referring to the two police officer vacancies left unfilled, because the City Council in November had to approve $1 million in spending cuts to cover an anticipated shortfall in local revenue.

As for increasing Pittsfield's tax revenue, Zunitch supports bringing in businesses that will benefit everyone.

"If more businesses contribute to the tax pool, we won't have to raise taxes," he noted.

And those new companies must have good-paying jobs.

"People want jobs that will sustain their families," Zunitch added. "Many are piecing together two and three jobs just to survive."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Ward 3 election
What: Special election for Ward 3 city councilor. When: Preliminary election is Feb. 24; the top two finishers advance to a run-off on March 31.

Who: Paul J. Capitanio, Melissa Mazzeo and Daniel Zunitch.

Term of office: The March 31 winner serves out the term of Linda M. Tyer until the citywide election in November.
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"Pittsfield launches videos on Web site"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, January 12, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The city of Pittsfield has taken a step into the future by launching a series of videos on its Web site.

City officials have produced 10, one-minute streaming videos that highlight Pittsfield in terms of the arts, economic development, education, health care, its history and downtown, tourism, real estate and quality of life.

The opening video is Mayor James M. Ruberto welcoming Web browsers to the "best small city in the Northeast."

"One thing that comes through, to me as mayor, is a true sense of pride," said Ruberto. "(The videos) connect history to the future of the city."

The videos are the latest tool to draw outsiders into Pittsfield.

"This is a huge technological advantage as it puts the city in motion to those unfamiliar with Pittsfield such as prospective businesses and visitors," said Laurie Mick, a specialist with the city's Department of Community development.

Mick and Ruberto's aide, Matthew Dindio, spearheaded the video project at the mayor's request. After the various city departments brainstormed on the featured topics, Dindio and Mick did the research for the topics and collaborated with CGI Communications on the scripts for the videos.

The company based in Rochester, N.Y. produced the videos by editing the raw footage shot by local videographer Alan Mack, of Otis, and matching them up to the voiced-over scripts.

CGI then solicited 31 Pittsfield-area businesses to sponsor one or more of the videos, so the project didn't cost taxpayers a dime.

Dindio said the videos were shot over a three-day period last summer featuring landmarks such as the Colonial Theatre and Wahconah Park. They also show the public and private school offerings, the varied businesses, downtown life and the high quality of health care through Berkshire Medical Center and other facilities.

Dindio said there were some unplanned moments during the tapings, such as the city's public safety services in action.

"We heard an accident and soon began videotaping the police and fire at the scene," Dindio said. "We were at the right place at the right time."

Pittsfield is one of 1,500 cities and towns nationwide that have used CGI to boost its image.

CGI marketing associate Jessica Profetta said the videos can be used beyond a community's Web site.

"A lot of communities will ask us to burn a DVD of their videos so they can give them to prospective businesses," Profetta said.

"The videos can also be e-mailed out or used on community TV, as long as they are not being sold," she added.

In some cases, according to Profetta, the Web videos have helped a community land a new business.

"A town in Alabama landed a new factory, because of its videos," she noted.

The videos can also help longtime residents discover unfamiliar parts of the city.

"I'd been to Pittsfield State Forest before, but never hiked in so far," said Dindio, who's lived in the area for nearly 20 years.

Go to www.pittsfield.com ; click on "City of Pittsfield." The video links are in the left-hand column.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"No spike reported in tax break requests"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, January 13, 2009

GREAT BARRINGTON — While the property tax abatement season has been under way in Berkshire County, homeowners aren't rushing to their local assessors' office seeking a tax break because of the perceived housing slump.

Lee, Lenox, and Great Barrington are among the communities reporting the usual number of abatement requests.

And those property owners seeking a tax break because they feel their property values have fallen due to the volatile housing market are finding that's not necessarily the case.

The 20 property owners in Great Barrington making such a claim had their abatement request rejected, according to the town's principal assessor, Karen M. Avalle.

"They were rejected because the sales of homes coming in are closer to our assessed values," said Avalle.

Avalle noted the town's tax rate jumped just eight cents per $1,000 of property valuation, adding $240 to the average annual bill for a single-family home.

While cities and towns have to use 2007 home sales as a factor in determining property values, some assessors haven't seen much of a fluctuation either in 2008 sales.

"Values are flat across the board," said Christopher Lamarre, principal assessor in North Adams, where the average residential tax bill is up only $57.

Lamarre and other assessors said they just aren't seeing the housing crisis in other parts of the country affecting local property values.

"We're a little slow to adjust in Pittsfield as to the quality of sales, but we're not seeing a 25 to 30 percent drop in sale prices," said Pittsfield Board of Assessors Chairman William D. Marsele.

Marsele and Lamarre said their respective city's property tax bills with the new residential and commercial rates were mailed out a week ago, so abatement applications are just starting to come in. Since Pittsfield and North Adams have a quarterly tax billing system, the state has set the abatement application deadline to Feb. 2.

Besides claiming the assessment is too high, property owners can seek an abatement for a change of use or if they feel they are exempt from paying property taxes, according to state law.

The assessed value of the average single-family home in Pittsfield did drop by $900 in fiscal 2009, but Marsele said that's due to an "in-term" adjustment made in the years between full-blown property revaluations which are mandate every three years in Massachusetts.

"This acts as a buffer, so we don't have (sticker shock) every third year," said Lamarre.

Marsele said he's more likely to see a spike in abatement requests during a revaluation year, which for Pittsfield was in fiscal 2008.

"Last year, we had 850 applications," said Marsele. "God willing, we won't have that many this year."

Normally, the city averages 20 to 40 abatement claims during the off-years, according to Marsele.

In Otis, abatements are usually not an issue, especially with the second homeowners, who account for 70 percent of the residences, according to principal assessor Lee Marcella.

"People who have money to protect invest in a second home, Marcella said. "They are not worried about a mortgage or sending their kids to school here."

Otis is known for its prime real estate along Otis Reservoir and eight other bodies of water and their values have stabilized.

"Waterfront property is still selling, it's just taking longer and about the same price as the assessed value," Marcella said.

Marcella added he does expect home sales in Otis to drop from 85 in 2007 to roughly 50 in 2008.

If you do file for an abatement, make sure it doesn't backfire.

Marsele, who was an assessor in Connecticut before coming to Pittsfield, remembers one homeowner who did increase the value of his property.

"(The owner) put up a second garage behind the first one and we didn't see it," Marsele said. "He never took out a building permit."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"'Irish Idol' plans return visit"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, January 12, 2009

DALTON — While some local residents head to Florida to escape the cold and snow, Irish idol Liam Geddes couldn't wait to return to the Berkshires so he could learn how to snowboard — and sing a little too.

"We don't get much snow in Ireland," said Geddes who hails from Ballina, Pittsfield's Irish sister city. "Besides, I just wanted to come to Pittsfield and visit my new friends."

"I wanted to come back as soon as I got on the plane to leave after the first visit," he added.

Geddes' return trip this week is a birthday present from his parents, as Ireland's singing sensation turns 18 on Tuesday.

He visited Pittsfield in October, to make his American debut by performing a benefit concert at the Colonial Theatre. Geddes won Ireland's version of "American Idol" in 2007 and then represented his country in the Eurovision song contest.

The Pittsfield Irish Sister City Committee brought Geddes across the Atlantic after some committee members heard him sing while they visited Ballina last July.

Geddes' father, Liam Sr., said he also couldn't wait to come back.

"We never seen such a welcome as the one we had in Pittsfield," he said.

His son received a "key to the city" from Mayor James Ruberto back on Oct. 8 which was also declared "Liam Geddes Day" in Pittsfield.

This time, Geddes' is low-key, but he did agree to sing on Sunday for the residents of the Sugar Hill Senior Living Community in Dalton at the request of the owner Pat Sheehan.

Sheehan learned of Geddes' return through Dick Stockwell of the sister city committee.

The mini-concert included several American tunes, including "Mack the Knife," a pair of Irish ballads and a song he wrote. Geddes also re-united with 16-year-old Caroline Sinico of Pittsfield to sing "Nella Fantasia." The duet first performed the Italian opera song during Geddes' concert at the Colonial.

"I was excited to see him again," said the junior from Taconic High School. "He's a fabulous singer."

Sinico said she can't wait to turn 18.

"For my 18th birthday I would like to go to Ireland," she added.

Since Geddes last visited Pittsfield, he has been writing songs, recording a CD and dealing with music industry moguls.

"Top people in music in Europe have taken an interest in my son," said Liam Geddes Sr.

"This is no fairytale beginning," said the younger Geddes regarding his new found fame. "You have to learn your craft. You can't slack off."

Meanwhile, Geddes could return later this year to perform his second formal concert on American soil.

Stockwell said Geddes and his parents will meet with representatives of several different venues before heading back to Ireland.

"I'm 90-percent sure he'll do a concert in the Berkshires," Stockwell said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Tyer in new seat: New city clerk happy in her council debut"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PITTSFIELD — A familiar face at Tuesday night's City Council meeting was seated in an unfamiliar spot — in front of Council President Gerald M. Lee rather than to his left.

Former Ward 3 Councilor Linda M. Tyer was at the City Clerk's desk — reading off the agenda items and taking the minutes — instead of being seated between Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman and Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi.

Tyer resigned from the council last month and officially became the new city clerk last Friday.

"It felt pretty comfortable sitting in that chair," said Tyer referring to where Jody L. Philips sat for 10 years, before she left the clerk's position on Jan. 1 for a job at General Dynamics.

Tyer, who spent 12 years as the administrative assistant to the Lenox school superintendent, had no problem typing the minutes on the computer at the clerk's desk.

"The technology is wonderful, so it's second nature to me," she added.

However, Tyer's new duties go beyond city council meetings. She has spent the past few weeks learning from Philips and the clerk's office staff about the varied daily tasks of being city clerk, before taking office.

Tyer's next lesson: Learn how to run an election.

She is preparing for a Feb. 24 preliminary election, followed by a special run-off on March 31, to fill the Ward 3 seat she held for five years.

"I've been so busy learning the job and focusing on the proper process to running an election, I haven't paid attention to the candidates," added Tyer.

The first step in the process, which is next Wednesday, is picking the order the names of the three candidates will appear on the Feb. 24 ballot. Daniel Zunitch, Paul J. Capitanio, and Melissa Mazzeo are vying to fill the Ward 3 vacancy. The winner, along with Tyer, will still have to run in Pittsfield's city-wide election in November if they want to stay in office.

Meanwhile, Sherman and Bianchi said after the meeting they will have to get used to an empty chair between them, until a winner emerges from the special election.

"It's a little lonely," said Sherman, who found it informative sitting next to Tyer in his first term.

"I don't think I could have had a better seat as a rookie," he added.

Bianchi said he'll miss sharing lighthearted moments with Tyer, but will take advantage of her absence.

"I have more elbow room and space to lay out my papers," Bianchi jokingly said. "We'll miss Linda."

"Wait a minute, she's still here," Bianchi corrected himself as he pointed to Tyer standing by the clerk's desk just a few feet away.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Clearing the air
"Vision for trash: Make less: Brainstorming session seeks 'creative' solutions to waste flow"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PITTSFIELD — They talked trash, but in a good way.

Dozens of residents and representatives from local environmental groups discussed Tuesday night what the state's vision for garbage and solid waste will look like for the next 10 years.

The state Department of Environmental Protection held the fifth installment of its statewide meetings at Berkshire Community College to elicit public input as it moves toward drafting a solid waste master plan.

The master plan sets goals for the state's solid waste infrastructure, like managing construction debris and improving participation in recycling programs.

Massachusetts residents send more than 6.6 million tons of solid waste to landfills and incinerators each year. That's enough to fill Fenway Park four times with trash, and dealing with it comes at a huge cost: $500 million.

Jim Colman, DEP's assistant commissioner for waste prevention, said the priority of the master plan is to increase the state's recycling numbers.

Currently, 46 percent of the state's solid waste is recycled, an amount that has remained steady for the last several years. Colman said the hope is that by 2020, that number jumps to 75 percent.

"Recycling is the preferred option economically and environmentally," he said. "Reduction, reuse, recycle, those are our goals."

Colman asked those in the audience, which included representatives from the Center for Ecological Technology, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, MassPIRG, and Covanta Energy Corp., how DEP could get residents to reduce the total amount of waste entering the stream.

"We need to be creative," Colman said. "No idea is too weird."

Some suggested outlawing bottled water. Others said to install recycling bins in public areas, like parks and downtown corridors. Some suggested educating children on recycling and composting.

"We need education in the schools, all the way up so it becomes routine for the next generation," said Margaretta Morris, director for environmental science at Covanta.

Many said there's too much confusion with what can be recycled and what cannot, while others believe there should be incentives for buying items made from recycled materials.

Even if Massachusetts residents are able to increase recycling totals, there will garbage left to deal with. And one of the issues for the next master plan is whether or not to lift the moratorium on incinerator construction, which was put in place in the last master plan.

It was done because of the questionable levels of mercury released from these facilities. Also, the state started to export its garbage to other states for disposal and there was less of a need.

Morris said the Covanta plant on Hubbard Avenue is well below DEP levels for mercury emissions and that the technology has improved over the last 10 years. Only a negligible amount of carbon dioxide is released, and some argued that the trucks used to transport our garbage to places as far away as Ohio emit more carbon dioxide than incinerators.

With the knowledge that the state's 20 operating landfills will be filled to capacity within 10 years, Colman said there's only three options: build more landfills, build more incinerators or export more garbage.

"Zero waste is our goal," he said. "Reduce, reuse, recycle."
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To reach Benning W. De La Mater: bdelamater@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6243.
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Timeline: Solid waste master plan

Winter 2009: Collect information from the public on what the master plan should look like. Six meetings are being held at points across the state.

Spring/summer 2009: DEP officials will craft a master plan by the end of the summer.

Fall 2009: Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the master plan at public hearings across the state.

Winter 2010: With input from the public, DEP officials will complete the master plan, setting the mission for the state's next 10 years of solid waste management.

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"Area Office Professionals: Group charters, will meet tonight"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PITTSFIELD — A group of office professionals employed at various local firms has formed a Berkshire County chapter of a nonprofit association that provides opportunities for growth through education, community building, and leadership development.

The Berkshire County Chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals will hold its installation meeting at 6 p.m., tonight, at Zucchini's Restaurant at 1331 North St. The chapter's 15 founding members elected four officers in November.

President Beth Larrow, an assistant to Berkshire Economic Development Corp. President David M. Rooney, said the group needed at least 15 members to be chartered by the IAAP, which has 400,000 members and affiliates with nearly 600 chapters worldwide.

"My intention is to help raise awareness of the work that an administrative professional does in the office," Larrow said.

She also hopes to have the group become involved in community service activities.

Founded in 1942 as the National Secretaries Association, the organization's intent is to provide a professional network and educational resources for secretarial staff. The group changed its name to the International Association of Administrative Professionals in 1998 to encompass the large number of varied administrative job titles and recognize the advancing role of a support staff in business and government.

According to Larrow, the IAAP is a professional organization consisting of people employed in similar, related professions who provide both training and education.

Membership is open to all office personnel, including executive assistants, office managers, and receptionists, Larrow said.

Larrow said she decided to form a local chapter in order to give people employed in similar professions a chance to meet and keep each other abreast of their affairs. Larrow said she was able to meet with her peers while working at Canyon Ranch for several years, but found it more difficult after assuming her current position.

With that in mind, Larrow began collecting the addresses of her colleagues, then received over 100 e-mails when she suggested they form a group. She learned of the IAAP from Brian Butterworth, the sales director for the Red Lion Inn, which had hosted association meetings at the Stockbridge restaurant. Chartering a group was first discussed at a meeting in Pittsfield on National Administrative Professionals Day last April.

Besides Larrow, the Berkshire Chapter's other officers are Vice President Pat Salvi of the Berkshire Taconic Foundation; Treasurer Tracy Bassette of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams; and Secretary Melissa James, also of MCLA.

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"Martin Luther King, Jr. Ceremony Slated in Pittsfield"
iBerkshires.com - January 14, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Masss. - Guest speaker the Rev. Leonard Comithier of Macedonia Baptist Church will join Mayor James M. Ruberto and other community leaders in Berkshire County for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

The event takes place on Sunday, Jan. 18, at 4 p.m. at Second Congregational Church at 50 Onota St. It will recognize the legacy of the slain civil rights leader and mark the inauguration of Barack Obama as president.

The program will include the mass choir from the community, directed by minister Mark Alford of Reigning Love Church, and choirs from St. John Church UCC Ministry of Music and Art and the Macedonia Baptist Church choir of Albany, N.Y.

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"City councilors thwart would-be burglary"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, January 15, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Police are crediting two dogged city councilors with thwarting a house burglary last week.

Councilors Lewis C. Markham Jr. and Peter M. Marchetti were at Markham's Weller Avenue home around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, when a female neighbor contacted Markham about two suspicious men lingering outside her home.

The woman was on her way home when she noticed the men, including an ex-con who was charged with a string of offenses, standing near her front door. It was nighttime and the woman was alone, so Markham told her to come directly to his house, where he and his wife and Marchetti were making preparations for the Markham's 20th wedding anniversary party, which was held the following night.

Markham and Marchetti tracked the men, who eventually left the woman's property and casually made their way up Weller Avenue.

"(Markham) went in one direction, and I decided to go in the other," said Marchetti, who kept tabs on the men from his car.

"We kept police advised as to where they were," he said. "Neighbors looking out for neighbors actually makes the difference."

Police strongly endorsed that sentiment: Not only did Marchetti and Markham prevent a potential break-in, police said, but the councilors helped remove a violent criminal from the city's streets.

One of the men, Raymond J. Knapp, 25, of Springfield, recently was released from state prison, where he had served a 7-year term for armed robbery while masked. Pittsfield police caught up with Knapp and the other man, who has yet to be identified or charged, on North Street.

Knapp, who allegedly "got mouthy" with arresting officers, was charged with disorderly conduct, possession of burglarious instruments, and two counts of breaking and entering to commit a felony. The latter charges stem from a series of December break-ins, according to Detective Sgt. Marc E. Strout, one of the officers who responded to the Friday night call.

"This is a perfect example of the community being the police department's eyes and ears," Strout said of Marchetti and Markham, both of whom play active roles in city affairs.

"If people who get out of jail can't stay out of trouble, we'll be happy to send them back," Strout said of Knapp, who might also be linked to series of residential break-ins in Richmond. Those cases are under investigation by Massachusetts State Police.

As of Wednesday, Knapp was still being held at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction in lieu of $10,000 bail.

Markham, a former Berkshire Community College basketball and soccer coach, said he and Marchetti were in the right place at the right time.

"I didn't hesitate to get involved," said Markham, who called the police then jumped in his car and followed the suspects as they left the scene.

Markham said he was surprised by how relaxed the would-be burglars appeared, peering into his neighbor's garage and casually poking around her property. When they eventually decided to leave, they didn't exactly flee the scene, according to Markham.

"I have never seen anything that casual," he said. "They were just sauntering up the road."

Both men were found carrying burglary tools and equipment, police said.

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"Mayor cuts city operating budget"
27 NOVEMBER, 2008

Pittsfield’s operating budget for the current fiscal year suddenly became a little slimmer this week.

Without discussion, city councilors on Tuesday approved a $951,914 reduction in the Fiscal Year 2009 spending plan.

The reduction represents approximately 0.75 percent of the city’s $126.8 million operating budget for the fiscal year that runs through June 30, 2009.

The mayor and council had approved a spending plan in June that increased the annual operating budget by $3.9 million. Separately, they authorized borrowing $8.2 million for a capital budget.

Mayor James Ruberto proposed the reduction because revenues are falling below expectations.

In his written communication to the council, Ruberto wrote that “this action is being taken as a result of anticipated shortfalls in local revenues.”

“As the council knows, local revenues over the first four months ... are below what we had forecast,” said the mayor.

Ruberto said that “the most serious area is earned interest income.” The city derives funds from money kept on deposit prior to expenditure, but these government-backed securities are not yielding the expected interest “due to the financial meltdown.”

The city operates on a fiscal year that runs from July 1 through June 30. Mid-year cuts are rare in Pittsfield, but the mayor said that the economic environment is unique.

Ruberto cautioned that another round of cuts could be necessary “should we see further deterioration in either local or state revenues.”

Governor Deval Patrick cut state spending earlier this month, but left local aid to communities largely unscathed. He has indicated that if state revenue continues to fall short of goals, additional state cuts may be necessary.

The reductions affect 12 areas. Specific cuts are not outlined in the submission.
Impacted areas include:

Health department - $16,742

Building inspector - $17,500

Personnel - $78,000

Finance & administration - $44,000

Maintenance- city - $64,000

Maintenance - school - $40,000

Fire - $95,000

Police - $160,000

Public utilies administration - $100,000

DPW highway - $33,299

Community development - $30,173

School department - $150,000

Unclassified - $123,200

Councilors said five currently unfilled positions will not be staffed. These include two police officers; the city personnel director; the public health nurse; and clerk designated to split time between the assessors’ and treasurers’ offices.

While councilors did not question or comment upon the mayor’s order during Tuesday’s meeting, they voiced support for the initiative afterwards.

“Clearly the situation has changed since when we approved the budget in June,” said at-large councilor Matt Kerwood. “Given that, the cuts that were presented for consideration were reasonable and prudent.”

Kerwood praised Ruberto for “taking the right proactive steps at this point.”

At-large councilor Peter Marchetti said it is disconcerting that the finance subcommittee heard that revenues were on target a couple weeks ago, then faced the news of a shortfall.

“To hear a few weeks later that the revenues were underperforming was a bit of a shock,” he said.

However Marchetti said that the mayor’s decision to seek the cuts is responsible given the new information

“He’s been working with the department heads to manage the finances and we have to trust the department heads to make the necessary cuts,” said Marchetti.
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By Jonathan Levine, Publisher of pittsfieldgazette.com
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Pittsfield City Council
"Grueling race for Ward 3"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The three candidates in the race for Ward 3 Councilor are finding time and old man winter are dictating how they conduct their campaigns.

Paul J. Capitanio, Melissa Mazzeo, and Daniel Zunitch are all feverishly trying to get out the vote by working the phones, going door-to-door, and squeezing in fundraisers prior to the preliminary election on Feb. 24, just five weeks away. The top two vote-getters will have only five weeks more of campaigning before the run-off March 31 to determine who will replace Linda Tyer. Tyer resigned from the City Council in December to become the new City Clerk.

Tyer's successor will serve out her term until the citywide election come November.

While candidates during Pittsfield's regular election can campaign at a steady pace over a few months, not so for the three running in Ward 3 right now.

"I'm find myself talking on the phone while serving the customers," said Capitanio, who owns East Side Cafe. "And if I get calls while I'm busy, I call the people back as soon as possible."

And the candidates aren't looking beyond the primary.

"My strategy is to do everything I can right now, or there won't be a second election," said Zunitch.

"I have to do for the now to make it through the primary," added Mazzeo.

A sure sign a political season is in full swing are the plethora of lawn signs dotting the landscape.

However, with more than a foot of snow on the ground, which itself is frozen, the candidates are improvising to make sure their signs can be seen above the snow banks and stay in the upright position.

"I did by the extra long stakes," said Zunitch.

"However, this time of year signs are high maintenance and if we get another snowstorm, I'll have to run around and stick them up higher," he added.

Capitanio said he "drilled right through the frost" to anchor his campaign signs while Mazzeo is holding off putting out her placards.

"I have a couple of billboard ads coming out instead because their up high, out of the snow," she said.

Mazzeo has actually found the winter weather working in her favor when it came to door-to-door campaign versus calling potential voters at home.

"People would rather talk on the phone than freeze while standing in the doorway," Mazzeo said.

Mazzeo, Capitanio and Zunitch are finding most Ward 3 voters willing to take their calls or speak with them in person about the campaign — or at least remind them there is a special election coming up.

"I'm encouraging people to get out and vote," said Capitanio. "I'm not taking anything for granted."

Capitanio and Mazzeo have name recognition — Mazzeo's husband co-owns a family run restaurant on Winter Street — but both are still trying to capitalize on the connections they've made over the years in Ward 3 and throughout the city to gain an edge in the campaign.

Meanwhile, Zunitch said he's trying to overcome his more well-known opponents by relying on the personal and professional relationships he's developed since moving to the city six years ago.

"I'm also accepting every invitation to go on radio and community television," said Zunitch.

Mazzeo and Capitanio said they too have been hitting the local talk show circuit, grabbing the usual 30 minutes of free air time per show. All three said they will likely hold off on the paid political ads just days before Feb. 24 primary.

Mazzeo is facing one problem her opponents are not — she's listed in the phone book under her maiden name, so voters are having a hard time calling her.

"I had Verizon list me as Mason-Mazzeo, but for some reason when the new phone book came out they dropped Mazzeo," said Mazzeo. "They can't correct it until July."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TSN47CJ2TL925QLJ0
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A private jet rests on the tarmac Monday at Pittsfield Municipal Airport. An additional $3 million in economic stimulus funds would help fund the completion of a taxiway that would parallel a runway extension. (Photos by Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Airport project is Job One: Officials hoping stimulus funds will get expansion off the ground"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The $23 million expansion of Pittsfield Municipal Airport is a top priority should the city receive funding from President-elect Barack Obama's proposed economic stimulus package.

"The airport has $20 million of the $23 million that it needs," Nathaniel Karns, chairman of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said Monday. "Obviously, the stimulus package would be the vehicle to finish it off right."

Mayor James M. Ruberto could not be reached for comment Monday.

Obama, who officially takes office today, has proposed a massive economic stimulus package that includes funding for infrastructure improvements. As part of that effort, Gov. Deval L. Patrick has asked communities to identify public-works projects that will be "shovel-ready" in six months and could be completed within two years.

The Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion, which includes upgrades and expansions to the facility's main runway and safety areas, was first proposed in 1998. The project's proponents, most of whom are members of the business community, have said a safe, modern airport is vital to Berkshire County's economic development.

The opponents — mostly private citizens — have maintained that the project will benefit only a small segment of the community. Those opponents also have expressed concerns about the project's environmental impact.

The expansion would fill four acres of wetlands; to compensate, the city would create 8.2 acres of new wetlands near the airport.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is weighing the Airport Commission's request for a variance of the Wetlands Protection Act that would allow the project to move forward. The DEP held a public hearing on the variance at City Hall last month.

According to Airport Manager Mark Germanowski, the state DEP's deadline to respond to the Airport Commission's application and public comments associated with the variance is Jan. 27.

The Airport Commission has 70 days from the date it receives the information from the DEP before it responds to those issues. After the commission responds, the DEP has an another 40-day period to raise any additional questions.

The DEP can take more than 70 days to file its initial comments with the Airport Commission, Germanowski said, but it often takes less time to review a project. Without disrupting the permitting process, Germanowski said the Airport Commission is trying to make the DEP aware that the project needs to move forward.

"We're not trying to fast-forward through the permitting," he said. "But we're trying to get their attention so they can see it's a priority."

"If we had the permits we'd be shovel-ready," Germanowski said.

If the Airport Commission were to receive an additional $3 million in economic stimulus funds, Germanowski said the money would be used for the completion of a taxiway that would parallel the runway extension. The taxiway can be built, but the Airport Commission would need additional funding for asphalt, edge lighting and other related improvements.

"What the stimulus package is intended to do is to fund gaps in the expansion that we might have," Germanowski said.

The expansion project calls for a 950-foot extension of the airport's 5,000-foot main runway and the installation of a new runway lighting system. Under Federal Aviation Administration regulations, there must be a minimum of 1,000 feet of safety area at each end of the runway. The airport's main runway has less than 200 feet of safety area at each end now.

Inflation in construction costs, fuel and land prices drove the project's cost from $25 million in June 2005 to $40 million in April 2007. But faced with rising construction costs and a finite amount of funding for airports across the country, the FAA in June 2008 scaled the project back to its current level of $23 million.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TBIF0NUUIQJ6LOHUC
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"Sewer odor issue delay: Arrival of winter weather pushes back West Side sewer smell solution to spring."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, January 19, 2009

PITTSFIELD — A West Side neighborhood will have to wait until spring for a permanent solution to its sewer odor, but the temporary measures implemented are still working to control the stench.

Pittsfield Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood had planned to have installed by Jan. 1 on Lebanon Avenue near Donovan Street a system of extracting the sewer gas, filtering it and releasing the less odoriferous air back into the area.

But Mother Nature messed up the timetable.

Cold obstacles

"Winter weather set in quicker than we expected," Collingwood told the City Council on Tuesday during an update on the odor-control project.

Collingwood said the snow and cold of December prevented workers from digging a shallow trench to install the pipes that would carry the sewer gas — hydrogen sulfide — from the sewer main on Lebanon Avenue to carbon filters encased in a small shed off the road.

Meanwhile, the interim measures of venting the gas and flushing the sewer line continue to work well, according to Collingwood.

"We (flush) once a month and it seems to do the trick," he added. "If we have to do it more, we will."

Resident commends city's effort

Daniel Colello of 433 Lebanon Ave.commended the city for keeping the sewer odor at bay.

"Right now, I don't smell anything," he said in a telephone interview to The Eagle on Wednesday.

Last September, Colello spearheaded his neighborhood's petition drive calling on the City Council for immediate action regarding what residents called a "horrendous sewer odor" they've endured for the last four years. The next month, the council directed Collingwood to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

Despite the delay, Colello is confident the permanent solution to the odor will be in place.

"I have faith in them," said Colello of the public works department. "We just want to live in our neighborhood without smelling (the sewer)."

'Irish idol' returns

The City Council Tuesday night also learned that Irish idol Liam Geddes will do his second public concert in Pittsfield on May 23. Speaking on behalf of the 18-year old singing sensation from Ireland, Dick Stockwell of Pittsfield told the council that Geddes has signed a contract to perform at the Barrington Stage Co.

"The Taconic High School choir will join him as well," he noted.

Stockwell arranged Geddes American debut at the Colonial Theatre last October. Geddes and his parents returned to the area last Thursday for a week-long vacation to celebrate Geddes' to celebrate his 18th birthday, which was Tuesday, by learning to snowboard and visit the new friends he made during his first trip.

Geddes' first visit included Mayor James M. Ruberto handing him a "key to the city" and declaring Oct. 8 as "Liam Geddes Day."

"I want to thank the people of Pittsfield for the kindness showed me and my parents," Geddes said to the City Council.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Note: Comment section was removed from The Berkshire Eagle's Topix web-site.
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"Health care, arts, PCBs may be impacted in Obama administration"
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, January 18, 2009

When Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation's 44th president on Tuesday, he'll usher in an administration whose policies and prerogatives could have a profound impact on Berkshire County. With federal funds propping up our health-care system, financing our arts organizations, and fueling the ongoing PCB cleanup in Pittsfield and South County, the change in Washington will mean change in the Berkshires.

The new administration arrives as the Berkshires, the state and the nation are facing increasing pressures from a deep recession.

U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, said that coping with these challenges won't be easy and change won't come overnight, but he expects that Obama's commitment to create jobs, expand access to health care, enhance education programs and build infrastructure "will mean good things for the Berkshires."

Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto said he already is encouraged by Obama's vow to pass an economic stimulus package that will invest heavily in infrastructure.

At Gov. Deval L. Patrick's request, mayors across the state have put together lists of shovel-ready projects. For Pittsfield, that list includes the expansion of Pittsfield Municipal Airport, the second phase of its downtown street improvements, and upgrades to the waste-water treatment plant. All are important items on the city's agenda.

"I think the administration is going to be good for the country," Ruberto said. "It is going to be a fresh, creative approach to a myriad of problems that this country faces right now. As it relates specifically to the Berkshires, I am particularly interested in the stimulus package that President-elect Obama is talking about."

For the Berkshires to weather the economic storm, the county's arts organizations — the pillars of the creative economy — must stay afloat.

Megan Whilden, Pittsfield's director of cultural development, said she is enthusiastic about the Obama administration's commitment to the arts, particularly programs such as the Artist Corps, which would put young artists to work, training them to help low-income schools and their communities.

"I'm sure he (Obama) recognizes the power and potential of the creative sector for our country and our economy," Whilden said. "And I believe very strongly that his economic recovery package should include funding for rebuilding America's cultural infrastructure as well as supporting the cultural organizations that make us a great country."

Obama's arts platform included support for increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, which could translate to increased grants for Berkshires institutions from MassMoCA in North Adams to Jacob's Pillow in Becket.

Obama also pledged to promote arts education in schools, which could help bridge the age gap that has concerned many Berkshires institutions that have watched their audiences grow grayer.

Health-care reform

Massachusetts is in the third year of its massive health-care reform, a revolutionary program that requires every adult to have health insurance or pay a financial penalty.

The law has expanded access to public health insurance such as Medicaid, and created a new mechanism that allows individuals making more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level to buy the same kind of insurance offered in large, employer-based plans.

During the campaign, Obama's proposed national health plan closely resembled Massachusetts' current system. It would require large employers to offer a health plan to employees and allow those who don't have access to such plans to buy coverage though the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Of course, Obama's proposal was unveiled on the campaign trail, when the economic crisis was evolving. While the exact cost of his health plan has never been determined, it certainly will run into hundreds of billions of dollars, and there is serious doubt as to whether such an expensive reform will be feasible in the near future.

Local experts, however, say Obama's affinity for the Massachusetts plan should bode well for the state — and thus the Berkshires — as it tries to keep its health reform working during a recession. Obama is expected to continue a federal waiver that allows Massachusetts to use federal funds to help pay premiums of people making more than twice the federal poverty level, a key pillar of the state's plan.

Charles Joffe-Halpern, executive director of Ecu-Health Care in North Adams and one of the members of the board that oversaw the rollout of Massachusetts' health law, said he expects Obama's economic stimulus package to include funds to help stabilize Medicaid.

"I am feeling very optimistic about health care in terms of (Obama's) intent," Joffe-Halpern said. "This is a severely challenged economy and, in many ways, what Obama wants to do is help other states catch up to Massachusetts ... and he is certainly committed to a process of working closely with Congress on the development of a national health-reform package."

But if that package only re-creates Massachusetts' reform, Dr. Robert Jandl, president of Williamstown Medical Associates, said he'll be disappointed.

"I am concerned that it may not be enough," Jandl said. "Given the deep problems in primary care, with misallocation of resources leading to (doctor) shortages, I am convinced that we are not going to be able to address quality of care and cost until we revitalize primary care."

As the nation experiences a dearth of primary-care doctors, the problem has been particularly acute in the Berkshires, which already is short an estimated 10 doctors. Nearly half of the practicing physicians said they have cut their hours or plan to leave the field, according to a survey led by Jandl and a group of doctors in 2007.

Fixing that local problem will require a national solution, Jandl said, changing the way treatment is reimbursed and putting a priority on primary care and prevention.

"I have a hard time imagining a solution other than a single-payer system," he said. "It is the only way that I can think of where we can introduce a rational process ... that will allow us to set priorities for where money will be spent."

Housatonic cleanup

For more than a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spearheaded a cleanup of PCBs left by General Electric's transformer plant. Under terms of a settlement reached during the Clinton administration, GE has had to bear most of the cost of removing the contamination from its property, the Housatonic River, and residential properties scattered throughout Pittsfield.

Already, the EPA and GE have removed PCBs from the first two miles of the Housatonic. This year, the cleanup will enter a crucial phase, with the EPA scheduled to determine how much more of the river must be cleaned.

The total cleanup is expected to cost more than $700 million, according to an EPA estimate in 2000, but likely will exceed that figure.

The EPA's decision could require GE to clean a dozen or more miles of river and hundreds of acres of its floodplain. GE could appeal the decision, and it would be in the government's response to an appeal that the new administration could have the most impact, local observers agree.

But most of the cleanup is spelled out in a consent decree that was finalized in October 2000, and there is no expectation that the new administration will try to rewrite that settlement.

"The truth is that the process going forward in terms of who does what to whom and the appeals GE has — that is all fairly well spelled out," said Shep Evans, a board member of the Housatonic Valley Association who has participated in the talks surrounding the cleanup since they began in the late 1990s.

However, if GE does appeal the EPA's cleanup order, Evans said, Obama has signaled that his administration will put science before politics, a strong indicator that the new president's political appointees will fight for the additional cleanup the scientists believe should be done along the river.

If GE found no relief in an appeal to the EPA, GE could appeal to a federal court. It is there that local observers believe the Obama administration is more likely to mount a stronger defense of the EPA's decision than the Bush administration would have, choosing science over politics.

"The work that has taken place so far actually spans two administrations, and the EPA is certainly very proud of the cleanup work we have been able to accomplish in the river," EPA spokesman Dave Deegan said. "An enormous amount of PCBs have been removed already and are no longer posing a significant risk to the public or the environment."

One of the overall challenges of the Obama administration will be managing expectations. The new president comes in at a crucial time and with a mostly friendly Congress, but Olver warns that change still will not come "easily or overnight."

"But what will be different and visible right from the start," he said, "is that we will have a president who will work on both sides of the aisle to comprehensively and thoughtfully address our country's problems that have been too long ignored."
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"Wins and losses under Ruberto"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tom Hickey served the city for years at a difficult job, head of PEDA, and did his best to attract desirable business to an undesirable place. He was let go in a very public display. Couldn't Bill Hines and Mayor Ruberto have given Hickey the option of an honorable departure, such as resignation? The way they did it was classless.

I find it curious as to why Hines didn't build the new Interprint factory on the PEDA site. Does he know something about the site to make him not build there? Why couldn't his company have been the first to build there, and therefore attract others to the site as they always say will happen?

Let's compare what we have gained and lost under the Ruberto administration as far as entertainment options go for kids and families. We have gained the Barrington Stage, which cost us money from the GE settlement fund, and costs money to attend. We have gained the movie theater on North Street now under construction, which cost us money from the GE fund and will cost money to attend. The mayor gave the Colonial over $1 million from the GE fund and it costs money to attend for a majority of events.

We have lost ice skating at the Common, which cost the city a small amount to provide, but was free for the public. We have lost the Winter Carnival except for one day in February as well as the Queen competition, which cost the city a small amount to provide but was free for the public. We have lost the pavilion at Wild Acres, as a tree fell through the roof and instead of it being fixed it was torn down. There is usually a fishing derby there in the spring, and but for the efforts of one park commissioner, Chuck Garivaltis, that would have been canceled because the city couldn't come up with $1,000, and was also free for the kids.

This administration says it wants kids to come back after college or stay here and raise families, but if you eliminate all if the traditions that are fun and free, why should they come back or stay in the first place? I hope voters remember these things when Ruberto or his designated replacement run in November. I sure will.

JIM GLEASON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Tradition should have been kept"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Friday, January 23, 2009

"After 63 years of the crowning of the Winter Carnival Queen, the whole thing was dropped this year due to "a lack of willingness to participate"? (Eagle, Jan. 21). They only had 12 girls enter versus double that in years past.

Because they don't have enough girls to pull their own weight, they throw the baby out with the bath water? A tradition doesn't get canceled because there aren't enough participants, that's why it's called a tradition. You suck it up, pull some money out of the coffers and allow the girls who want to participate the thrill of the contest with a shorter field. If this was managed properly, maybe more young ladies would be excited in the process.

Back when I was in high school, it was an honor to be the W. C. Queen. We try so hard to be that "traditional" Norman Rockwell town, nestled in the Berkshire Hills. You can almost smell the cocoa and apple pie. But we can't even keep one little tradition going for the sake of the young ladies who will be gone off to college in a few short years. Very sad.

What's next, or should I say, what's left?

TOM SULOCK
Seattle, Washington
The writer is a former resident of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
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1/23/2009- READER COMMENT-
Jimmy G- Pittsfield MA- wrote:
"Traditions such as the Queen Competition , ice skating at the Common and a full Winter Carnival are not important to Ruberto or his administration. They don't make him or his buddies richer, and, like a person posted earlier on another subject, there are few photo ops, and ti's too cold for the Devil to be outside."
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"Airport is waste of taxpayer money"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Thursday, January 22, 2009

It amazes me that, in these times, the city of Pittsfield thinks the best infrastructure project is expanding the Pittsfield Airport. This seems to me to be a project to take government money and give it to the friends of the politicians — and to take money away from the citizens of Pittsfield.

Are the people of Pittsfield aware that the airport is not self-supporting? Our taxes go annually to pay part of the normal operating cost of the airport. Will the amount we pay go up as the airport has much more land, runway, and other infrastructure "improvements" to take care of each year? Has any cost/benefit analysis been done that takes us, the citizens who are forced to contribute each year, into account?

At the same time that the airport will be needing more of our tax dollars to operate each year, the Airport Commission has taken properties with a value of about $4.5 million off the tax rolls through its "takings" for the proposed airport expansion. That leaves fewer of us sharing the tax burden of this airport.

Perhaps these corporations could save some money, and hopefully some local jobs, by cutting their expenses and by using their corporate jets less — or not at all. We have an international airport less than an hour away.

The Pittsfield Airport costs all the citizens of Pittsfield financially every year. Additionally, we pay the price of pollution going into our air and water from the jet fuel and the noise of these aircraft. And now we will lose rare species and wetlands as well.

With the incoming federal administration proposing a great amount of federal money directed toward infrastructure projects, I would think the citizens of Pittsfield would benefit most from the money being spent on our roads, bridges, and public transportation. Could you imagine the money being spent on a project that improves safety and convenience for everyone who drives on South Street in Pittsfield? Or repair of the mall connector road? Or repair of a retaining wall that is in danger of falling into Route 2? All projects are as ready to go as the proposed airport expansion.

Instead the officials think the expansion of the Pittsfield Airport is the most important transportation infrastructure project? Or can the money be put to use on the infrastructure of our schools? Making our public buildings more energy efficient? That would benefit the taxpayers by producing lower annual costs, rather than the airport; a project that will cost the taxpayers of Pittsfield more every year.

JANE WINN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The author is also executive director of Berkshire Environmental Action Team.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"'Monster' gives city edge"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, January 22, 2009

PITTSFIELD — A huge snow blower that has been chewing up snowbanks on North Street is Pittsfield's latest weapon in fighting Old Man Winter — a battle the city seems to be winning.

The $37,000 piece of equipment was pressed into service for the first time last week, when city road crews began removing the snow that has been piling up since the first of the year.

"If we get a long enough break between storms, we can catch up," said Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

The industrial-strength snow blower is attached to the front of a tractor and harvests the piles of snow that have been pushed away from the curb, throwing them into the back of a large dump truck — much like a combine gathering wheat in a field.

"It's a monster doing the job," said Yvonne Pearson, executive director of Downtown Inc. "The snow is practically removed right down to the cement."

Downtown Inc. represents the needs and concerns of the North Street area. Pearson said merchants are especially pleased that the snowbanks have disappeared, allowing shoppers better access to their stores.

"Many felt the snowbanks were a deterrent to people coming downtown," Pearson added.

Collingwood said once North Street is cleared of snow, Park Square is another area he wants his crews to tackle.

In addition, the city is attacking snowbanks at street corners by scraping off and removing part of the piles in order to improve visibility for motorists.

"We're trying to hit some snowbanks to knock them down," Collingwood said.

Good reviews

Pittsfield's snow removal effort is getting good reviews this winter — so far.

"This is the first year where I've had just one complaint," said Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi, now in his sixth year on the City Council. "(Public Works has) done a great job."

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward said he recently got an e-mail from a constituent on another matter. "The person tagged at the end: 'Oh by the way, the city is doing a great job on the roads.' I almost never get a comment like that."

However, Pittsfield's snow removal has its critics, especially when it comes to clearing sidewalks.

Herbert Plouffe, a legally blind man who lives in the Columbus Avenue area, has said the city and some of his neighbors have been slow making sidewalks useable on the West Side. While he said some progress has been made after his repeated phone calls to various city officials, he still feels his Ward 6 neighborhood is being ignored.

"The highway crews are very good at doing sidewalks not done (by property owners)," said Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi. "There are some businesses and residents who need reminding."

Bianchi referred to the city ordinance that requires homeowners and businesses to clear snow from the sidewalks in front of their buildings within 24 hours of a storm. A violation results in a warning for the first offense, followed by $50 fines for the second and each subsequent offense.

Pittsfield Police Capt. John Mullin said officers usually issue a ticket if they receive a complaint but don't actively look for sidewalk scofflaws. So far this winter, he said, not a single ticket has been handed out.

'Friendly letters'

The Pittsfield Public Schools have been issuing "friendly letters" to residents and business owners reminding them that well-shoveled sidewalks are important to school children, too.

"We have a lot of students who walk to school," said Superintendent of Schools Howard "Jake" Eberwein III at a recent School Committee meeting. "We must provide safe passage for our students."

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop said when it comes to sidewalk snow removal, there are three types of property owners.

"There are people who do it automatically, there are those who won't do it until they are told, and there are those who won't ever do it," Lothrop said.
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A developer has made changes to a proposed condominium plan slated for Ponterril, a former YMCA site in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
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"Ponterril proposal reworked"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, January 22, 2009

PITTSFIELD — A developer proposing a combination of duplexes and single-family homes near Pontoosuc Lake has made several significant changes to the plan first unveiled last spring — mostly in response to neighbors' input.

"We had a neighborhood meeting and walked the site where (residents) pinpointed their concerns," said Brian Cohan, who represents Black Pearl Co. of Pittsfield, during a brief interview on Wednesday.

The site is known as Ponterril, a 77-acre parcel that fronts Route 7 (North Street) and is accessed from East Acres Road. The property was a YMCA camp but has been dormant for years. It was the site of a controversial time-share project in 2005, but that idea eventually died in the face of heavy criticism from nearby residents.

The changes include abandoning East Acres as the main entrance and creating a new road directly to North Street, according to documents on file with city planners. East Acres would serve only as an emergency access road.

In addition, seven proposed half-acre lots along East Acres have been eliminated. The so-called "Form A" lots would have been exempt from the special permit process. Instead, the 45 duplexes and 20 single-family homes will be part of a conventional subdivision. The total of 110 units is fewer than the 129 first proposed last spring before the Pittsfield Community Development Board, which has the final say over the project.

Even the project's name has changed, from "The Lakeside Village at Ponterril" to "The Views at Pontoosuc Lake."

Cohan said the changes are a direct result of listening to the East Acres Neighborhood Association, the watchdog group that has tracked the project.

Black Pearl's initial plans in May 2008 came three years after the firm proposed building up to 375 time-share condominiums at Ponterril. The controversial project died in March 2006, when the City Council voted against a resort development ordinance that would have allowed it.

The new, less-dense project falls under Pittsfield's Flexible Development Ordinance, approved by the City Council two years ago. That regulation allows the developer to increase the maximum number of units if certain criteria are met, such as leaving 25 percent of the parcel as open space.

Black Pearl calculates that 36 percent of the site will be open space and, after meeting other incentives, the developer arrived at the 110-unit figure.

The neighbors weren't the only ones to precipitate changes to the project. Cohan said the development team uncovered some "bad assumptions" in the design process, including the layout. He said the new design makes better use of the site's topography.

It's a case of "good engineering answers leading to good cost answers," Cohan said.

But Cohan is not so sure that the proposed changes will go over well with city officials, especially the subdivision's direct access onto Route 7.

"Any additional curb cut onto a main highway is usually not good practice," he said.
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"Police suggest new sidewalk penalties"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, January 29, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield residents could face yet another set of fines for not keeping their sidewalks clear during the winter.

City officials are proposing stiff penalties for home and business owners who allow water from eaves, gutters and other parts of the building to run off onto sidewalks and streets, where it can freeze and cause hazardous conditions for pedestrians.

Failure to prevent the run off will result in a $50 fine for the first offense, $100 for the second, and $300 for the third and subsequent violations.

The commissioner of Public Works & Utilities, the building commissioner, and the Board of Health — or representatives of those departments — would enforce the ordinance.

Mayor James M. Ruberto proposed the new law to the City Council at its Tuesday meeting. The council referred the mayor's request to its ordinance and rules committee, which will discuss the matter Feb. 2.

City attorney Richard Dohoney said the amendment puts some teeth into the regulation, adding fines and designating three agencies that would enforce the rules.

The ordinance would be in effect year round, but its focus is on the wintertime and creating safer passage for city pedestrians.

Property owners already can be penalized for failure to keep city sidewalks free of snow in front of their homes and businesses. Violators are warned at first, then fined $50 for the second and each subsequent offense.

Ruberto said getting tougher with sidewalk scofflaws is not about the money.

"The goal of any ordinance is not to collect fines, but encourage people to take the policy seriously," said Ruberto following the council meeting.

Nevertheless, a number of residents have complained about snow and ice covered sidewalks in some sections of the city this winter. Pittsfield Police are charged with the enforcing the snow removal section of the sidewalk regulations.

Capt. John Mullin said last week that officers usually issue a ticket if they receive a complaint, but they don't actively look for violations. So far this winter, he said, not a single ticket has been handed out.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, who chairs the ordinance and rules committee, said relying on residents and businesses to shovel city sidewalks has been erratic at best.

"You have properties that are vacant or have absentee owners," Lothrop said after Tuesday's council meeting. "Others are owned by management companies, some of which are very good about clearing sidewalks."

Yet, those property owners who faithfully shovel the sidewalks sometimes find it a losing battle with city snowplows.

"It's frustrating when a plow comes along and dumps heavy, wet snow and you don't have a machine to move it," Lothrop added.
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"City is indifferent to handicapped"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Friday, January 30, 2009

This past Sunday, I went to our Wal-Mart store on Hubbard Avenue. I was not at all surprised to find that, as usual, the store was busy. However, I was shocked to see all of the handicap spaces full in the parking lot. As I walked by, I noticed that a handful of the cars parked in those spaces did not have the proper handicap plates or hanging plaques required to be hanging off the rearview mirror in order to use those parking spaces.

Doesn't the city of Pittsfield or Wal-Mart have a parking control officer on duty? Does Pittsfield ever patrol these shopping centers on the weekends? I've heard it said that our fine citizens of Berkshire County have no respect for our handicapped citizens, and this seems to be quite true in this instance. Where is the enforcement of these blatant violations?

To top things off, on the very same day, while heading home from Wal-Mart, as I was driving down North Street, to the left on School Street, which is around the corner from the Pittsfield police station, I was stunned to see a police cruiser packed in a clearly marked handicap space as well! Something is very wrong here in our city. Doesn't anyone care? Apparently not.

JOE CIMINI
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Slashing, shaving the 2009 Pittsfield budget: City Council to consider $548,000 budget cut"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, February 06, 2009

PITTSFIELD — City officials are proposing a combination of spending cuts and using so-called "free cash" to erase another $1 million budget shortfall — and again city employees are spared from getting pink slips.

Mayor James M. Ruberto announced on Thursday that he will ask the City Council next Tuesday night to approve reducing the current budget from nearly $125.9 million to $125.3 million, or $548,000.

In addition, Ruberto also wants the council to dip into Pittsfield's reserve fund for $500,000 to cover the rest of the deficit, created when Gov. Deval L. Patrick last month slashed the city's state aid by $1 million, part of his $128 million local aid cut across Massachusetts for this fiscal year.

Ruberto's proposed spending cuts — as was the case when the city budget was reduced nearly $1 million in November — avoids layoffs, but will leave some vacant city employee positions unfilled.

"It's been my objective to try and defer as much spending on things, instead of people," said Ruberto who listed supplies, equipment, building and school maintenance among the things the city will spend less money on through June 30.

The police department stands to lose $20,000 if the budget cuts go through, but more importantly, additional police officer jobs will remain vacant.

Acting Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said he was "actively looking to fill" three openings, but that process has come to a screeching halt. Wynn already had to forgo hiring two police officers, because of the first round of budget cuts. Those positions were added to the original budget last June and would have brought the department up to full strength.

So far, the police have been able to handle the job loss through attrition.

"We haven't seen a discernible difference in police coverage, in part because we picked up five new recruits," said Wynn.

While the police department will only drop $20,000, education and public works took the biggest hits, accounting for almost half of the $548,000 reduction.

The school department budget would decrease another $150,000, the same amount it gave up in November. School officials were unavailable for comment on the impact of the budget cuts.

Commissioner of Public Works and Utilities Bruce I. Collingwood said of the $109,000 he's expecting to lose, $19,000 will come from a key community program.

"The household hazardous waste collection this spring will be canceled," said Collingwood. "That's a fairly popular event."

Collingwood said he's glad Ruberto has stood firm against layoffs, but for how long he can is the question.

"We're all wondering what's down the road in the next budget," he added.

What's on the horizon for Pittsfield is a $2 million local aid cut in fiscal 2010, beginning July 1, if Patrick's proposed state budget is adopted, as is, by the Legislature.

But Acting Fire Chief James Sullivan said he's focused on staying in the black through the current fiscal year.

"If we have two or three major fires between now and the end of (June), we're in trouble," said Sullivan referring to calling in off duty firefighters to battle big blazes, thus depleting the overtime budget.

Sullivan said he's had to eliminate all training for specialized rescue teams and hold off on some equipment purchases to cover the fire department's proposed $30,000 reduction.

While Ruberto said he believes Pittsfield will not face further funding cuts from the state, other money sources are in jeopardy.

"I still hold some concern about local revenue, mainly earned-interest on several city accounts," he added.

A significant drop in locally generate funds triggered the initial city budget cuts last fall.
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"Pittsfield teachers get raises, but no promises for next year"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, February 02, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The newly ratified one-year teachers contract in the Pittsfield Public Schools has a modest pay raise, but one veteran School Committee member said there's no guarantee the next agreement will include additional salary increases.

And the teachers union president agrees.

'Reasonable' increase

Carmen C. Massimiano said the 1.5 percent hike for the United Educators of Pittsfield (UEP) was "reasonable" and he was glad the committee could do something now for the teachers. However, he warned against the 590-member union expecting pay raises when negotiations for the next contract begin in March, given the instability of city and state budgets.

"There may not be a pay raise in the future," said Massimiano. "And I'm not trying to scare people."

"We can't continue to ignore that we don't have the ability to give raises, if not given local aid," he added.

While Gov. Deval L. Patrick has vowed to avoid cutting Chapter 70 funding for public schools through June 30, 2010, he's reducing local aid to cities and towns for the rest of this fiscal year and asking the Legislature to do the same for fiscal 2010.

Patrick's spending cuts to further balance the current state budget will cost Pittsfield $1 million through June 30 and another $2 million if his proposed fiscal 2010 budget is approved, as is, by state lawmakers.

'A real possibility'

UEP President Scott Eldridge understands Massimiano's position on the potential for a wage freeze.

"I think it's a real possibility," said Eldridge.

"We recognize the economic times and how cooperative the School Committee has been," he added.

Eldridge and Massimiano commented on the pay hike issue over the weekend, following the School Committee unanimously approving the contract during a special meeting late Friday afternoon. The teachers had already ratified the agreement in mid-January, agreeing to a 1.5 percent increase for those teachers on the 17-step pay scale, while educators beyond the high-end salary will each get a $598 increase in their annual pay.

Uncertainty over local aid also has the School Committee and teachers union possibly negotiating yet another one-year deal. Both sides are anxious to resume collective bargaining as the new contract is retroactive to the end of August 2008 and will expire by Sept. 1 of this year.

One-year deals

Teacher contracts generally run three years, but Pittsfield schools Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said one-year agreements make sense, for now.

"I don't know how you can predict two or three years out with the economy the way it is," said Eberwein. "In talking with other superintendents, you can expect more one-year contracts state- wide."

Eldridge said Eberwein wants to meet later this week with the teachers union and the other collective bargaining units within the city school system regarding school spending, as preparations for a new school budget are under way.

"I'm pleased and appreciate we're being included in the discussions as it's better for all involved," Eldridge said.
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"Pay parity sought for school nurses"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, February 09, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Although city school nurses are now part of the teachers union, their pay is much less than what teachers will make under a newly ratified contract — a disparity the union president would like changed in the future.

The nearly 15 nurses in the Pittsfield Public Schools have a 10-step salary schedule ranging from $37,048 to $44,153, compared to the teachers' 17-step pay scale ranging from $35,415 to $71,231.

The one-year deal reached by the 590-member United Educators of Pittsfield and Pittsfield School Committee included the school nurses for the first time, as they had voted to no longer deal with the city on their own, according to UEP President Scott Eldridge.

Eldridge said on the surface, the switch makes sense, since 96 percent of school districts in Massachusetts contract directly with their nurses.

However, he understands why the newest union members are frustrated their pay is not on par with the teachers.

"I don't disagree they should get paid what teachers get paid as they have a huge amount of responsibility such as handing out medication and a ton of paperwork," said Eldridge. "The teachers have a great deal of respect for nurses."

Such respect also comes School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso, who said they are "important to the schools and do a good job."

But Amuso noted the school nurse salaries in Pittsfield are comparable to what their colleagues make in neighboring school systems.

Eldridge said given the city's financial situation and the current economic climate, nurses' pay wasn't going to be raised to the teacher level right away.

The teachers agreed to a modest 1.5 percent pay hike because of Pittsfield's budget crisis and Eldridge had said the possibility of a wage freeze could be discussed when collective bargaining toward another new contract resumes next month.

Pittsfield's budget crisis is also why both sides agreed last month to sign a one-year contract rather than the traditional three-year agreement, which is retroactive to August 2008 and runs through August 2009.

Neither school officials nor the teachers wanted to be locked into a deal taxpayers might not be able to afford beyond a 12-month period.

Indeed, the uncertainty already has begun to mount.

As the contract was being finalized in late January, Gov. Deval L. Patrick was announcing a $128 million local aid reduction across the Commonwealth to help balance the state budget — including a $1 million loss for Pittsfield from now through June 30.

In addition, Pittsfield stands to lose $2 million in state funding, if Patrick's proposed state budget for fiscal 2010, which begins July 1, is approved as is by the Legislature.

While state aid to schools, or Chapter 70 funding, was not touched in the latest state spending cuts, the Pittsfield School Department was asked to reduce its budget by $150,000 to help the city close its local aid shortfall. The education reduction is part of Mayor James M. Ruberto's effort to cut the city budget by $548,000 and use $500,000 in reserve funds to cover the $1 million less in state funding. The City Council on Tuesday night will vote on Ruberto's latest budget-balancing plan.

While pay hikes for school nurses or any other member of the teachers union is uncertain in the near future, Eldridge will keep in mind the idea of equal pay for all.

"My ultimate goal, as union president is to get nurses (and others) on the same pay schedule," Eldridge said.
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"City Council gives approval for cuts"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, February 11, 2009

PITTSFIELD — City Councilors Tuesday night unanimously approved a series of spending cuts along with a measure to dip into the free cash account to help eliminate a $1 million budget shortfall that may have forced officials to cut jobs in the city's work force.

The shortfall was created when Gov. Deval L. Patrick last month slashed the city's state aid by $1 million, part of $128 million in aid pulled from Massachusetts communities.

Included in the $548,000 in local cuts are $150,000 slashed from the school budget, $109,000 from public works, $100,000 from the maintenance budget, $55,000 from the Berkshire Athenaeum, $30,000 from the fire department, and $20,000 from the police department.

The Council also transferred $500,000 from Pittsfield's reserve fund to the general fund to cover the rest of the deficit.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said the moves will leave some vacant city positions unfilled and slow some of the city's services. A "delayed response" to something like a pothole, an overgrown lot or a clogged catch basin may be the new reality.

And with the financial forecast both locally and nationally growing more ominous, Ruberto said the goal going forward will be to reduce spending in all departments in an effort to avoid layoffs next year.

"We have to structurally develop new ways to deliver the services requested and required by our residents," he said. "Our challenges next year will be significant."

Two open police officer positions will not be filled, and upgrades to the city's equipment, like trucks and computers, will not be made.

Ruberto also mentioned measures like cutting overtime, reducing temporary employees' hours, lowering building temperatures 2 degrees, reducing the number of cell phones used by employees, and eliminating travel, training and consulting budgets.

Councilor at large Matthew M. Kerwood said the moves set the tone for the council with regards to debating the budget for fiscal year 2010, which will happen this summer.

He urged for a "community conversation" that involves keeping residents informed of the budget process.

On the horizon for Pittsfield is a $2 million cut in local aid for fiscal 2010 — beginning July 1 — if Patrick's proposed state budget is adopted by the Legislature as it currently stands.

Ruberto said an increase in tax title property revenue may provide some solace going forward, but simple things like turning the lights off during the day and cutting down on postage expenses may be the trends of the future.

"We are looking at every possible way to save money or increase revenue," he said. "We are at the bottom."
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To reach Benning W. De La Mater: bdelamater@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6243.
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Pittsfield Public Schools
"Budget could fall short"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, February 12, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Public Schools are in danger of running out of money before the current fiscal year ends June 30, but School Department officials have vowed not to let that happen.

Sally Douglas, assistant superintendent of business and finance for the district, told the School Committee on Wednesday night that the school budget could end up with at most a $268,000 deficit. However, Douglas said if several financial factors fall into place, the budget shortfall could be much less or not happen at all.

"I'm gambling at this point, but I project we can cover the severance account with $100,000 less," she said, referring to the money used to pay those teachers and staff who will retire when school ends in June.

Douglas is also relying an early start to spring to help reduce energy consumption by $33,000 worth.

"We need more days like today," she said, referring to Wednesday's 50-plus degree temperatures. "When we get five to six days straight of cold, that hurts."

If the money does run out come June 30, Douglas said a reserve fund is available, but at the expense of future spending.

"We can cover the shortfall with school choice revenue, but this will cause trouble for next year," said Douglas referring to the estimated $420,000 in the school choice account which is earmarked for use in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

"My hope is to balance (the budget), without dipping into the reserves," said Douglas.

The Pittsfield school budget is already $300,000 lighter than when the original spending plan of $49.5 million was approved last June. Officials made the first of two $150,000 budget cuts last November to help the city close a $1 million local revenue shortfall. The latest spending reduction, approved by the City Council on Tuesday night, went toward covering Pittsfield's $1 million reduction in local aid from the state.

Douglas said she'll have monthly budget updates now through June and "will continue to monitor it carefully" so the spending cuts will not impact the students.

Meanwhile, the school administration keeps reminding all teachers and staff to save the school system money by copying on both sides of paper, unplug unused items such as coffee makers and turn off all lights and computers when they aren't being used.

The athletic director of Pittsfield and Taconic high schools has gone so far as to multi-task and combine sporting events to save money.

"The other night during the basketball game at Taconic, we cut down to one ticket taker and I filled in as the other," James Abel said during the finance subcommittee meeting, prior to the full School Committee gathering in the Pittsfield High library.

"I was also the site director and worked the scorer's table," he added.

Abel noted those are all paid jobs staffed by teachers as required by their contract.

In addition, the Pittsfield-Taconic boys' and girls' varsity and junior varsity basketball games will all be played Friday at Pittsfield High, with the first game tipping off at 3:30 p.m.

Abel said besides saving money, he hopes the quadruple-header of hoop — complete with a hot dog-eating contest — will boost ticket sales as the revenue helps pay for the athletics budget.

"My responsibility and the coaches responsibilities are to draw more people to games," he added.

School Committee member Erin Sullivan said she's noticed a lack of fan support this winter.

"Surprisingly, there's been low attendance at some games I thought would be sold out," she said.

While city school officials continue to streamline spending and find ways to increase revenues for the current budget, Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said the new spending plan due July 1 could include layoffs if there is a further reduction in state aid.

"I don't think this (budget crisis) is a one-year bump in the road," he said. "This could last at least a couple of years."
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"City must collect hazardous waste"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Saturday, February 14, 2009

I was disappointed to read that money is going to be cut out of the Pittsfield budget for hazardous waste collections. It took a long time for the city to have collections of this type and they have proven to be beneficial to all those wishing to dispose of this kind of waste.

Perhaps a small fee could be collected to defray the cost of disposal from the people who wish to dispose of this type of waste in a safe manner. It would be better for all rather than allowing it to be left in the environment as PCBs have been for so many years. We have to pay to dispose of old TVs and computer monitors now and perhaps paying for disposal of other kinds of items will make us more aware of safe products when we purchase household and garden supplies.

NORMA PURDY
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"What became of insurance savings?"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Sunday, February 15, 2009

On January 28th, it was reported in The Berkshire Eagle that the Pittsfield teachers union had reached a one-year deal. In that deal, it was agreed that teachers would join a state-sponsored health insurance program, along with all of the other city's unions. This is expected to save Pittsfield taxpayers millions of dollars. This health insurance switch starts July 1, 2009.

Now here is where it gets confusing. On February 6th, it was reported in The Eagle that the City Council is considering a $580,000 budget cut, $150,000 of that to be cut from our city's schools. Where are the millions of dollars from union health insurance savings going?

I realize the state slashed our aid by a million dollars, but doesn't that make it a wash with the insurance savings?

The decisions made by the City Council are putting our children at risk. If the children don't pass MCAS, as a result of this confusing budget cut, this leaves the city wide open for more problems with the state, and especially with the parents of kids who failed MCAS.

C. WEHRY
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Pittsfield agencies urged to apply for funding"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Despite Pittsfield's budget crisis, city officials are still encouraging local organizations to apply for the next round of human services funding from the city — and do so quickly.

The Human Services Advisory Council is giving applicants until Feb. 27 to submit their proposals to the Department of Community Development at City Hall, which will be forwarded to the volunteer committee. The nine-member panel will review them and make recommendations to Mayor James M. Ruberto.

While several agencies who've been funded in the past do serve all of Berkshire County, Council Chairman Christopher Meehan said the money must be spent on Pittsfield residents, since it's their tax dollars at work.

While Pittsfield doled out $430,000 in fiscal 2009, how much money will be available in fiscal 2010 which begins July 1 is unknown as the city has just begun its budget process. The city is already facing a potential $2 million cut in local aid if the proposed state budget from Gov. Deval L. Patrick is approved.

"It's too soon to say how much money there will be," said Robert Cornwell of the community development office who oversees the funding program. He did note that the human services account is funded by the city and the federal Community Development Block Grant Program.

No matter the funds available in the new fiscal year, Cornwell expects the demand will be greater than the supply, as evident last year when the 13 requests — all of which did receive money — totaled $590,000.

"Historically, the requests have always outstripped the money available," he said.

Nevertheless, not all agencies are looking for funding increases every year, according to Meehan.

"Some request what they received the year before and some tailor their request to what they need," Meehan said.

In recent years, several human service agencies have banded together to seek funding, something Cornwell said city officials have been encouraging the past seven years.

"We recognize the need for agencies to come together in ways not done in the past," he said.

United Cerebral Palsy Association of Berkshire County was the lead agency of one such collaboration funded in 2008. UCP Executive Director Christine Singer said the $17,675 awarded was shared between her organization, Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires and Ad Lib Inc.

All three put the money toward programs to help the disabled, funding Singer said is greatly appreciated.

"No matter how small, any amount of money we get, every penny is put to use," she said.

A family consortium of 10 agencies lead by Berkshire Children and Families received the largest award from Pittsfield last year, totaling $277,000, followed by more than $84,000 given to a collaboration of four homeless programs spearheaded by Berkshire Community Action Council. In all nine of the 13 requests funded were collaborative proposals.

Meehan said whether the requests are from a group of agencies or a single organization, all proposals must stand on their own merits.

"We really want solid programs," said Meehan, "because a little bit of money can go a long way."

Meehan noted applicants in April will make their funding presentations before the committee, which are shown by Pittsfield Community Television.

"It provides an excellent opportunity for the public to learn more about the great work that agencies are doing in Pittsfield," he added.

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"Upgrade from Boys' Club is needed"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Sunday, February 22, 2009

Although I am proud and pleased with the way our city is progressing with the arts and the many theaters we have available in our midst, I think we have missed a very important art — our young people.

We have Third Thursday, the ethnic fair, and the concerts on the lake in the summer months as well, and I think they're great and so many people attend these events they must feel the same way as I do. We need family-oriented events.

However, I do think we need to address another important family need for the city, and that is a new sports/civic center. I have been to the Boys' and Girls' Club and have enjoyed the hockey and swimming events that my grandchildren participate in, and besides the lack of parking is the fact that it is outdated and not user friendly. The Berkshire Bruins Hockey League has tried to spruce up the area, but it is just too old.

I realize the rink was an afterthought, but the kids have to drag the ton of equipment they use up and down three flights of stairs. I have been to the rinks in Williamstown, North Adams and Springfield, and they all have beautiful accommodations for the kids.

These kids use the rinks constantly and find it hard to get ice time. The rink isn't even regulation size and the sideboards don't have any absorbency when the players hit them.

Sports help keep these kids occupied and out of trouble, and yet the city hasn't done anything to address this much-needed project. It's not just for hockey that we need a new arena but a combination of sports such as basketball, soccer, figure skating, track, swimming and so on. We have plenty of free land available in Pittsfield to accommodate such a center.

I would like to see some of my tax dollars applied for such a center. Put the adult arts on the back burner for a while. A new civic center would be a benefit for everyone. After all, aren't sports just another form of art? I find it a bit strange that so many much smaller cities have these things and not our fair city of Pittsfield. As is said, "Build it and they will come."

JAN PERKETT
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Ruberto raised $12,000 at December event"
The Pittsfield Gazette, Jonathan Levine, 29.JANUARY.2009

With a handful of exceptions, 2008 featured nominal fundraising by municipal politicians.

Annual campaign finance forms filed this month showed only Mayor James Ruberto engaged in major fundraising.

Ruberto held a December 10 fundraiser that raised more than $12,000 — topping the combined fundraising of all other city fundraisers.. After expenditures, he ended the year with $14,436 in his campaign war chest.

Despite paying back most of his 2001 and 2003 campaign debt at the end of 2007, Ruberto still has $12,650 of liability from loans he personally made to the campaigns, the most expensive in city history.

The only other politician with major 2008 fundraising was Matt Kerwood, who raised $6,914, most of which he spent to pay lingering 2007 expenses.

Kerwood ended the year with just $508 in his war chest. He too carried over liabilities: $2,464 of loans he made to his campaign.

Peter Marchetti also had a fundraiser, raising $1,200 with a low-cost pasta dinner, netting a couple hundred dollar profit. He ended the year with $385 in his campaign war chest but is still saddled with $3,434 of loan liability. Unlike Ruberto and Kerwood, Marchetti raised all his funds with modest gifts, all below the $50 threshold that requires itemization of donors.

A few other politicians have war chests with leftover money from prior years.
Mike Ward has $2,688 in his campaign account, while Jonathan Lothrop has $2,450.

In the school committee field, Churchill Cotton has $1,225.

The political action committee WHEN spent $308 during 2008 and ended the year with $4,910.

Ward 7 councilor Anthony Maffuccio has failed to submit his required campaign finance form and could be subject to fines. Even politicians with no fundraising or expenditures must file.

Ruberto’s expenditures included $1,677 for a campaign luncheon held at the former Spice restaurant. He also spent $2,592 for catering and supplies for his December fundraiser.

Ruberto’s 2008 donors of $50 and greater are listed here. Individuals are limited to $500 donations during a calendar year to any candidate:

Joan Bancroft $150
Syd Blatt 250
Norman Boyd 100
Joan Callahan 150
James Canavan 100
James Ciullo 100
David Coggins 200
Deborah and W. Kelly Collins 250
David Comalli 250
Steven and Beth Como 100
Steven Conroy 100
Louis and Joy Costi 75
Remo and Bertha Del Gallo 100
Eugene Dellea 100
John Derossa 500
George and Linda Diehl 100
John Downing 100
Donald Feigenbaum 500
Steven Fogel 100
Barbara Garrity 500
Emil George 100
Sherwood Guernsey 150
George Haddad 400
Shari Haddad 400
Thomas Hamel 100
John Herman 100
Bill Hines Sr. 500
Bill Hines Jr. 250
Stuart Hirshfield 100
Al Ingegni Jr. 100
Brian and Pam Johnson 100
John Krol 100
Peter Larkin 200
Christopher Light 500
James Maxymillian 250
James McRory 100
William Murray 100
Kenneth and Suzanne Nash 100
Lance Northwood 200
Andrea Nuciforo 500
Beth Pearson 250
Normalyn Powers 100
Marshall Raser 100
Paul Raverta 100
Mary Rentz 200
Denise Richardello 100
Lawrence Rosenthal 500
Linda Ruberto 100
James Scalise 250
Gary and Carol Scarafoni 500
Angelo Stracuzzi 100

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"Meeting Set To Assess City's Needs"
iBerkshires.com - February 23, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts – The Pittsfield Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC) will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 7:00 p.m. at the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA), One Columbus Avenue (the transportation center) where residents are invited to come and speak about the human services needs in Pittsfield.

According to HSAC Chairman Christopher Meehan, “We want to give the public an opportunity to meet with us directly so that they can describe what the human service needs are in Pittsfield and what agencies they turn to when needing assistance.” The HSAC will use the information to help them prepare funding recommendations for human service programs for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2009.

This meeting is part of a multi-month process undertaken annually by the HSAC that culminates in recommendations being made to Mayor Ruberto and the City Council. Last year's recommendations resulted in 36 human service programs receiving a total of $450,000 from the City general fund and from the federal Community Development Block Grant Program.

The BRTA is wheelchair accessible. Anyone not able to attend the meeting may submit comments, orally or in writing, to the Pittsfield Department of Community Development, 70 Allen St., Pittsfield, MA 01201 or by phone at 413-499-9450 (teletype 413-499-9340).

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"Pittsfield sewer plant may get solar power: The $13.4M in federal stimulus funding for the Pittsfield wastewater treatment plant could make it a national model."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, February 25

PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield's wastewater treatment plant may soon be a shining national example, relying on solar power and energy saving measures to help run the plant, city officials said.

Pittsfield is poised to receive a nearly $13.4 million grant from the federal stimulus package to install a solar photovoltaic system, according to Commissioner of Public Works and Utilities Bruce I. Collingwood. He said the solar power could further reduce the plant's dependency on Western Massachusetts Electric Co., but how much has yet to be determined.

"We would become a model plant," Collingwood told the City Council at its Monday night meeting, where the 11 councilors unanimously agreed to accept the funding — once it arrives.

Councilor at large Matthew Kerwood told Collingwood "job well done" toward landing the renewable energy project, which may require city funds to pay for the engineering work.

"The pay back of the project will far exceed whatever we pay into it," added Kerwood.

Collingwood said the project could begin this summer with solar panels placed on the ground and roof of the treatment plant.

Solar power is just the latest energy-efficient upgrade to the 46-year old plant off Holmes Road. As part of an ongoing, $6.6 million overhaul, the facility is being fitted with a system that uses methane gas from the sewage to generate energy, reducing the utility bill by as much as 30 percent, saving taxpayers $206,000 per year. In addition, the system will reduce the plant's greenhouse gas emissions.

While the council had no problem accepting federal funds for the solar project, several councilors were concerned about the way the city will get the money.

The federal funds are being funneled through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program.

"The word 'loan' makes me nervous," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti, worried Pittsfield would have to pay back the money.

"We're being told right now these are grants," assured Mayor James M. Ruberto. "Should something else change, we'll be back before you."

"Meanwhile, let's take the money and run." Ruberto added.

Collingwood said he is also confident that the nearly $13.4 million is Pittsfield's to keep, plus another $3.6 million in grants for the plant upgrade that are already coming through the same revolving loan program.

"Everything I've seen to date says, 'grant,'" Collingwood said. "If we went to a loan, the impact on user fees would be tremendous."
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"More recycling will benefit Pittsfield, Massachusetts"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Friday, March 06, 2009

Solutions. That's what I look for when I read about unfavorable situations happening in my region, especially my city. Too many times the only answer is "we need more money." With the economy struggling and the reduction in state funds, it's the perfect time to start using our brains a bit to get things in order. So here's one.

Everyone is aware of the massive negative affects on the environment by our constant selfish, wasteful wants conveniently disguised as needs. Much of this is called "trash," "garbage," "waste" and "rubbish." I'm constantly disappointed to see so many houses with trash bags at the end of their driveway with plastics, tins, papers, etc. in them and with no recycle bin of any sort. There is no excuse for this lack of conscientiousness.

A few months ago there were a few articles written in the Eagle about Pittsfield's ridiculously low curb-siding recycling participation and other statistics that had no solution or ideas for improvement. Just last year the city's trash removal bill increased enough that City Hall almost started charging households fees to cover it. I am against pick-up fees and I strongly believe that we should be given a chance to fix it first. Instead I believe there should be fines for those that refuse to separate out the recyclables, renters and businesses included.

So how about first finding out who isn't recycling? Have a drive around on trash days and record every household address that doesn't have recyclables out front, renters too. Put a notice on their door and make a list. I would recommend the lists go to the ward representatives so they can take the leading role into making the huge strides our curb-side recycling needs, and update us in one month.

They can start by assisting those that need bins to get one. Make it fun by making it a competition, ward vs. ward, with a reward for the best. With less real "garbage," pick-ups can be reduced to every other week, saving our city hundreds of thousands of dollars just like that.

I'd like to ask those who don't have their bin yet to go to City Hall and pick up your bin with the recycling rules. It's very easy. Use any box if the blue bins are too large for your space, stack neatly, and fold down cardboard boxes. Of course if you use less and purchase products wisely, you'll have less waste. Let's get that improvement report by mid-April.

LISA M. BOYD
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Colonial is prime Berkshire feature"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Monday, March 9, 2009

I recently attended a dinner meeting sponsored by the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE). John Hogan, director of operations at EDM, showed slides and spoke of the restoration of The Colonial Theatre with an emphasis on electrical power.

I was amazed at the amount of work and talent that went into the restoration, much of which is not visible in the completed theater. The Berkshires are fortunate to have a gem like the Colonial Theatre. It truly is one of the best features of the area.

My husband and I make it a point to attend as many shows as possible and have never been disappointed. Arlo Guthrie is a particular favorite. We are looking forward to the spring shows

This wonderful theater is an A+ project! Well done!

PATRICIA M. PRITCHARD
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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The Pittsfield City Council has named a committee to find ways to restore the 82-year-old bronze World War I memorial on Veterans Way off South Street.
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"Committee to work to restore Pittsfield war memorial"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, March 11, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Rosanne M. Frieri, a staff sergeant in the Massachusetts Air National Guard Reserve, was first enthralled years ago by Pittsfield's Veterans Memorial off South Street while he was a student at Berkshire Community College.

"When I was young photographer, one of my first assignments at BCC was to take a picture of the monument," said Frieri, now the city's veteran's agent.

"The magnitude of the structure is amazing," she added.

Frieri and 14 others now face the task of restoring the memorial, nearly 83 years after the monument to Pittsfield's World War I veterans was erected.

15-member committee

The City Council on Tuesday night established a 15-member Veterans Memorial Committee and filled 10 of the seats by appointing Frieri, the Rev. Peter Gregory, Thomas Landry, Council President Gerald M. Lee, Rabbi Harold Salzmann, Rebecca Smith, Ralph Stofflino, David Yon, Jeff Thompson and retired Lt. Col. Gregor Young, vice commander of Pittsfield American Legion Post 68.

The council will fill the other five positions at a future meeting.

The panel will be raising funds and making recommendations regarding the restoration to Mayor James M. Ruberto and the council as the monument sits on city land in Memorial Park at the end of Veterans Way.

Young and Thompson said prior to the council's vote, they have already been speaking to veterans groups and civic organizations seeking their support for a project Thompson estimated will cost between $50,000 and $80,000.

"We want money from organizations," said Thompson, who was a sergeant in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. "But it's the individuals in the community who donate $5, $10 or $25 who will put us over (our goal)."

Momentum

Young said the project has gained momentum since he first broached the idea prior to Pittsfield's Veterans Day ceremony last November — held every year at the memorial.

"I just went (Tuesday) into a printing shop where they were excited about it," Young said.

Thompson said checks can be made out to the Veterans Memorial Trust, and sent to City Hall, care of the veterans agent who over sees the fund originally established in 1926 with money left over from the monument's dedication.

Since then, the statues of four soldiers surrounding the goddess of war — carved by Daniel Chester French protégé Augustus Lukeman — have been battered by both weather and vandals. Young said a decade ago, the pedestal and inscription were restored, now it's time to complete the job.

Educational value

He said the committee's mission will also include educating school children and the general public the real meaning of the memorial that it represents peace, not war.

"I have to agree with Gregor," said Frieri. "We all look forward to peace."

She also views the monument representing more than just World War I veterans.

"It's not only a memorial for them," she added, "but for everyone who's served."
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"Restoring Pittsfield's war memorial"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Friday, March 13, 2009

Carved by Daniel Chester French protégé Augustus Lukeman, the 82-year-old bronze World War I memorial off Veterans Way on South Street in Pittsfield is a powerfully evocative monument — and one in dire need of restoration. Weather and vandalism have taken their toll, but the restoration concept broached only last Veterans Day by retired Lieutenant Colonel Gregor Young, vice commander of Pittsfield American Legion Post 68, is building momentum with the establishment of a 15-member Veterans Memorial Committee by the City Council this Tuesday. The restoration will cost an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 and donations from individuals will be sought, as well as from organizations. A restored WW I memorial will pay greater tribute to those who fought in that war, and all wars, as well as educate younger generations about an historic conflict that still reverberates today.

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"Auction of KB's antique toy collection may net $1M"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, March 14, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The auctioneer calls it the "king of all toy collections": An assortment of antique toy cars, trucks and motorcycles belonging to a former owner of KB Toys has made its way to a New Jersey auction house, where the valuable collection could fetch "millions" during a three-day bidding war scheduled to commence next week.

The private collection of 78-year-old Donald Kaufman, whose family launched a Pittsfield-based wholesale candy business in 1922 that later morphed into a successful national retail toy chain, reflects his lifetime passion for collecting high-quality, handmade toys, including American cast-iron toys, European tin toys, pressed steel trucks and so much more.

Jeanne Bertoia of Bertoia Auctions in Vineland, N.J., described the antique assortment as "the king of all toy collections," which, she estimated, could fetch "in the millions." Some individual items easily are worth five figures, she said, while others could reach into the six figures.

Bertoia officials did not specify the precise number of collectibles up for bid, although scores of items are featured in a catalogue promoting the auction and dozens more are included on the company's Web site, www.BertoiaAuctions.com.

Kaufman, who now splits time between homes in Richmond and Florida, parted ways with KB Toys in 1981. That's when the company was sold to the Melville Corp., later known as CVS Corp.

When Kaufman announced his intention to sell off his impressive collection, which even includes antique pedal cars — sort of like a tin-plated predecessor of the Big Wheel — he made one firm stipulation: The collection must be sold in its entirety, "with no exceptions and no cherry picking."

"He collected the very best of the best," said Bertoia, noting that Kaufman's decision to part with his beloved collection had nothing to do with the economic downturn.

"Don had made the decision to sell the collection before all of the disaster with our government went down," Bertoia said.

When Kaufman was asked why he would give up such a vast and valuable collection, which includes items that are among the most coveted collectible antique toys in the world, he replied, "It's time."

"I want to have as much fun selling the collection as I had in building it," he said.

Bertoia, whose company specializes in antique toy auctions, said Kaufman's children weren't interested in taking over the extensive collection, which grew to include hundreds of items in the nearly 60 years he spent as a collector.

A unique collection

Kaufman is a legendary figure in the field of toy antiquaries, or those devoted to gathering these unique items from around the world. He's famous for studying catalogues ahead of time, doing his homework, and learning everything about an item or collection.

Once he knows everything there is to know, he likes to play "the intimidation card," according to Bertoia, albeit "in a good-natured way." That might include connecting a U-Haul trailer to his car and parking it in front of an auction house, she said, just to let "everyone know that he meant business."

That kind of confidence helped him amass a collection that was so big, it required 10 Bertoia employees and three trucks — including two 26-foot-long box trucks — to cart all of the items from Richmond to New Jersey.

For those who can't make it to the South Jersey auction house next week, absentee bids can be submitted ahead of time by logging on to Bertoia's Web site. Pre-auction bidding ends on Wednesday, however. People may also place online bids at www.liveauctioneers.com during the three live auction periods.

Kaufman caught the collection bug after his very first buy — a cast-iron truck that he purchased from an ailing antique toy car collector from Canaan, N.Y.

"I asked him if he wanted to sell it. He said OK, and I bought it for $4," Kaufman said.

Items became antiques

In the nearly 60 years since then, Kaufman's collection grew to include hundreds of items, including rare early-20th century British biscuit tins shaped like cars, trucks and various other vehicles.

For those who are in the know, his collection also includes the entire Lehmann motorcycle series, the complete series of Hubley Royal Circus cast-iron vans, and valuable items from the legendary Perelman Antique Toy Museum.

The auction will take place Thursday through Saturday at 6 p.m., 1 p.m. and 10 a.m., respectively.

For KB Toys, the company that Kaufman helped grow into a retail powerhouse, the end came fast after the Pittsfield company declared bankruptcy in December.
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To reach Conor Berry: cberry@berkshireeagle.com; (413) 496-6249.
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"Innovative pilot program"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The "Ready by 8" pilot program developed by Pittsfield school officials is an innovative concept that will reward diligent students by giving them a leg up on high school and college. The program would enable some Herberg and Reid middle school students to complete their requirements in the seventh grade and spend the eighth grade on honors college preparatory courses for high school credit. Schools must encourage students to achieve, and we hope the School Committee will follow the recommendation of its curriculum subcommittee and approve the program for fall.

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"Memorial funds roll in: $2,400 raised already toward restoration of 83-year-old World War I monument"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The Veterans Memorial Committee — formed just two weeks ago — has yet to officially begin soliciting funds to restore the city's bronze World War I monument, and already nearly $2,400 in donations has come in toward the estimated $50,000 to $80,000 project.

Pittsfield's Veterans Agent Rosanne M. Frieri, who oversees the Veterans Memorial Trust, said the checks range from $10 to $1,000; the larger amount comes from a veteran contributing toward the restoration.

"I am confident it will be done in an outstanding manner and be a source of pride for all of Pittsfield," the veteran wrote in a note accompanying his check.

The donations will be added to the $8,700 already in the fund originally established in 1926, which had money left over from the monument's dedication.

Since then, the nearly 83-year old memorial at the end of Veterans Way off South Street has been battered by both weather and vandals. Project organizers say the restoration will focus on the statues of four soldiers surrounding the goddess of war — carved by Daniel Chester French protégé Augustus Lukeman.

The monument is the back-drop at the city's Veterans Day ceremony and has come to represent all from Pittsfield who've served their country, not just World War I veterans.

Retired Lt. Col. Gregor Young, vice commander of Pittsfield American Legion Post 68, who began spearheading the project last fall, said a more formal fundraising campaign will begin soon.

"Letters will be going out to business people and individuals in the community," said Young, a member of the Veterans Memorial Committee charged by the City Council on March 24 to officially oversee the project.

The council has already chosen and appointed 10 people to the 15-member panel; three more appointments are coming tonight, and the final two will be made at a future council meeting.

Committee member Jeff Thompson, a veteran of the Vietnam War, said he "hopes the community will embrace the project with a thousand smaller checks" which will be as important to the restoration as the larger donations.

He noted the grass roots support has grown in the past couple of weeks.

"People are moved by restoring this piece," Thompson said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Paul Capitanio, left, speaks during Monday night's Ward 3 City Council debate with fellow candidate Melissa Mazzeo at Pittsfield Community Television's studio. The election will be held a week from today.
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"Ward 3 City Council Debate: Capitanio, Mazzeo agree on budget cuts, public safety"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The two candidates for Ward 3 city councilor said Monday night, if elected, they would make cuts in the city budget to bolster the Pittsfield Police Department so it can tackle the increase in violent crime and drug activity.

"This is not the time to take police off the street," said Paul J. Capitanio.

"I would give up my trash collection to keep my street safe," said Melissa Mazzeo.

Public safety was the only one of several topics Capitanio and Mazzeo agreed on completely during their hourlong discussion of the campaign issues broadcast live from the studios of Pittsfield Community Television.

Debate at the TV studio

Capitanio and Mazzeo appeared on PCTV in their only scheduled public meeting prior to the March 31 special election to replace Linda M. Tyer, who resigned from the City Council last December to become the new City Clerk. The winner will serve out Tyer's term until the November election.

Moderator Daniel Dillon informed the viewing audience the two candidates would have a "conversation," not a debate, on issues that ranged from economic development and cleaning up blighted areas in Ward 3 to public education and the continued remediation of PCB's.

The lack of progress on attracting companies to the yet-to-be developed William Stanley Business Park has been a bone of contention with Capitanio, who called on the Ward 3 city councilor to be appointed to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority which oversees the project.

"It's been 10 years and the residents don't know what's going on with the property," Capitanio said. "They don't have a clue and neither do I."

Mazzeo agreed there needs to be more accountability from PEDA, but she said fill the director's position is also a priority.

"We need to look outside our circle of friends," she said, "and do a nationwide search."

Concern about East Street

As for the former Grossman's Lumber building on East Street in Ward 3, which both candidates have called an eyesore, Capitanio said he's ready to cleanup the site.

"We have to demolish that building without a doubt," he said, if the city ever takes control of the property that is still privately owned by Kevin Pennell, of Lenox.

Since Pennell is actively selling the property, Mazzeo said, "We need to invite Mr. Pennell to the table and ask his intentions."

On the topic of the public education, Mazzeo has heard from many voters there's "too much focus on MCAS," the state standardized test high school students must pass to graduate.

"I've had people say, 'We didn't have MCAS and we went to college,' " Mazzeo said.

Capitanio urged parents to be more involved in their children's school work.

"(Education) starts at home," said Capitanio. "Parents have to work more with students."

The candidates also conversed on the topic of further PCB clean up by General Electric, with Capitanio saying "GE should be held 100 percent accountable" for Silver Lake, once a PCB dumping ground for the company.

"It's right in the middle of the city," he said. "It's a beautiful spot that could have walkway all around the lake."

Mazzeo called on city officials to proceed with caution, before signing off on any new cleanup work — especially if it includes dredging.

"Make sure any dredging done isn't' going to back flow (PCBs) into what we've already done," she said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"KB office supplies in liquidation sale"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Most employees have left KB Toys' corporate headquarters at 100 West Street.

The furnishings are going, too.

The 87-year-old national toy retailer, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December with the intention of going out of business, will hold a liquidation sale today to sell all of its office equipment.

The items on sale include furniture, office supplies, copiers/printers, desktop printers, desktop computers and scanners. The sale will take place between 3 and 6 p.m., and all purchases will be on a first-come, first-served basis. All purchased equipment is required to be removed from the building by Sunday.

Neither Ann Kerwood nor Ray Borst, who are listed in a notice sent to the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce as having information about the sale, returned calls seeking comment from The Eagle.

All 225 full-time employees who worked at KB Toys' corporate headquarters are expected to gone by May. The company has been letting employees go since December once their job responsibilities have been completed.

When KB filed for bankruptcy protection on Dec. 11, it owed more than $190 million to more than 25,000 creditors.

KB's 72,000-square-foot corporate headquarters building, which is owned by a New York City real estate firm, is on the market. The building and the 1.8-acre parcel that it sits on are valued at $5.4 million, according to the Pittsfield's assessor's office.
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"Mayor Ruberto Appoints Angelini and Belair to Employment Board"
iBerkshires.com - March 25, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Mass. - As the Lead Elected Official for the Berkshire Workforce Area, Mayor James Ruberto has appointed Richard Belair from Hillcrest Educational Centers and Katherine Angelini from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission to the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board (BCREB).

As one of 16 workforce investment boards in Massachusetts, the BCREB oversees all publicly funded employment and training programs in Berkshire County, and serves as the link between employers, training providers, and the workforce.

Richard Belair

Rich Belair has nearly 20 years in the Human Resources field. His strong generalist experience ranges from leading the human resource function at a small non-profit to leading a team of human resource professionals at a large private health resort. Rich has recently joined the senior management team at Hillcrest Educational Centers, Inc. serving as their Director of Human Resources. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management with a concentration in Labor Relations and is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources by the Society of Human Resource Management.

Katherine Angelini

Kate Angelini is a Berkshire County native, born in Pittsfield and grew up in West Stockbridge. Kate was appointed the Area Director for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission’s Pittsfield office in January 2009. She graduated from Monument Mountain Regional High School, obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from The University of Massachusetts and a Masters in Education (Counseling) from Boston University. Kate was a counselor and Outpatient Program Director for the Berkshire Council on Alcoholism and Addictions, Inc. in the 1980’s.

Since 1988 Kate has worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and unit supervisor for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission in Pittsfield, helping people with disabilities prepare for employment. She has been involved with Berkshire County Chamber of Commerce’s Job Fair Committee for several years, and has formed effective partnerships with BerkshireWorks, area schools and community organizations in order to develop our County’s future workforce.

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"School budget plan unveiled: Spending could rise by 4.8 percent"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, March 26, 2009

PITTSFIELD — In order to provide the same level of education in the next fiscal year, Pittsfield Public Schools would have to increase spending 4.8 percent, officials said Wednesday.

The School Department Wednesday night presented to the School Committee a preliminary operating budget of $51.7 million for fiscal 2010 which begins July 1 — up from the current spending plan of $49.3 million.

However, school administrators are still weighing the impact of several variables on the budget such as a yet-to-be negotiated new teachers contract, how the district can spend federal stimulus money and if the city can afford a $2.4 million increase in education spending.

"It's hard to determine a budget right now as the money is uncertain," said School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso.

Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said the School Department is "in for significant challenges in the next two months," in crafting a final budget plan.

Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance Sally Douglas said that possible pay hikes haven't been considered, since the committee has to settle contracts with eight of the 10 union and non-union bargaining groups.

Only the salaries of Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III and his three assistant superintendents are known as they have agreed to a wage freeze, saving the school system between $17,000 and $30,000.

School officials also said they are not assuming city schools will receive $2.1 million of the $168 million in stimulus funds awarded directly to the state, because they are still subject to legislative approval. Until that happens, Douglas said, the added revenue has been left out of the budget proposal.

Douglas did say she anticipates city schools getting $2.8 million in direct federal stimulus money for reading and other specified educational programs, but the guidelines for spending it remain unclear.

"Every single day I get new information regarding the stimulus," said Eberwein. "Those numbers seem to be changing and the stipulations of how to spend the money."

While Gov. Deval L. Patrick has vowed not to cut state aid to public schools — or Chapter 70 funds — school officials have said any budget increase would put pressure on the city to spend more on education. Pittsfield is already bracing for at least an estimated $2 million reduction in local aid for fiscal 2010.

School officials hope the $2.1 million in stimulus money through the Commonwealth will help close that shortfall.

Another unknown is how much of the $9.5 million in state, federal and private grants currently being spent, will be available to the Pittsfield Public Schools come July 1.

"We don't know how many grants will be level-funded, decreased or eliminated altogether," said Douglas, who noted the money pays for more than 150 positions within the school system.

School administrators are also bracing for less state reimbursement money for special education costs, which Douglas had estimated at $200,000 during an interview with The Eagle.

Eberwein said all these budget variables had him scratching his head prior to the School Committee meeting.

"I wish it was July 1," Eberwein added, "and knew what was ahead for the new fiscal year."

Eberwein said he'll have more budget information and his spending priorities for the School Committee at the April 30 meeting.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pittsfield high schools under review"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, March 30, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The head of the state School Building Authority plans to tour the city's two public high schools by mid-April to assess their condition — before the SBA decides on what type of high school building project the agency will support.

SBA Executive Director Katherine Craven told The Eagle that "within the next couple of weeks," she and her staff will tour Pittsfield and Taconic high schools.

"We want to go out and take a look and get a feel for Pittsfield High and Taconic," Craven said during a phone interview from her Boston office.

"We can't make a decision without seeing," she added.

Craven's visit is welcome news from the co-chairs of the Pittsfield School Building Commission.

"I'm really pleased with this approach," said Tricia Farley-Bouvier. "The fact she is coming here will make a difference."

"I'm pleased the state is paying attention to Berkshire County," added School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

Pittsfield's need for improved high schools is one of 47 potentially new school building projects across Massachusetts. Craven said the SBA has already approved eight to the funding list, while the remaining 39 — including Pittsfield — are still under review.

Last November, the Pittsfield School Committee sent the SBA so-called "statements of interest" which detailed the high schools' condition, what renovations have been done to date and what improvements are needed to better educate students in the 21st century.

While the School Committee and building commission have not committed to any specific building project, Mayor James M. Ruberto has been a staunch supporter of merging Pittsfield High and Taconic into a single campus.

Craven said all options need to be explored.

"I have a lot of respect for Mayor Ruberto's vision," said Craven. "But (the SBA) wants to help Pittsfield get what it needs and what it can afford."

Since the state's school building funding process was restructured a few years ago, Craven cited how the SBA now seeks a "mutual agreement" with each community on what school building project is eventually built.

"There's no reason we can't together on this," said Farley-Bouvier.

The old process was devoid of such a partnership.

"The state relied on what the community said was needed," Craven said, "and the state assumed (the project) was needed."

While the SBA is more involved in each community's project selection, Craven noted the agency doesn't have a "master plan" for school building projects. She said in some cases a new school is the answer and in other scenarios "some really good renovations" will work.

Whatever the solution to Pittsfield's high school situation, Farley-Bouvier said doing nothing is not an option.

"Most people I've talked to certainly having the feeling something has to be done," she said, expecting plenty of public input before a project is chosen.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"PEDA's vacant position on hold - Thomas E. Hickey's successor as executive director may not be named until 2010."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, March 30, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority has received 17 applications from candidates seeking to replace Thomas E. Hickey as the quasi-public agency's permanent executive director. But it's possible Hickey's replacement won't be on board until next year.

PEDA's interim Executive Director William M. Hines Sr. said the organization's Board of Directors will wait until April 30 to decide when to hire Hickey's permanent replacement. That date is also the application deadline for the permanent executive director's position.

Hines, who also chairs PEDA's board, said he would prefer waiting until the beginning of next year to fill that slot because it would be more prudent to hold off adding another full-time salaried position at a time when the recession has brought economic development to a virtual standstill.

Hines, who replaced Hickey on an interim basis in February when the board declined to renew his contract, has spent the last two months working on a new marketing and communications plan that he said is designed to make PEDA more accessible to both the public and business recruiters.

"I think that maybe I want to continue on for the rest of the year to get the project moving forward rather than introduce it to a new executive director coming in from the cold," Hines said. "It takes times for someone to get up to speed on all the issues. That's a 10-year process in itself."

Of the applications for Hickey's position, between 50 and 60 percent are local candidates, Hines said. The position was advertised in a national construction industry publication, so PEDA has also received applications from as far away as Arizona and Texas, he said.

Pittsfield's Director of Community Development, Deanna L. Ruffer, was rumored to be a possible candidate for the position. But Hines declined to say whether Ruffer had filed an application.

"I don't think it's appropriate to say who has or hasn't applied," Hines said, adding that he would prefer not to release any names because the candidates are employed elsewhere."

Formed by the state legislature in 1998, PEDA is charged with the redevelopment of the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, which is located on the site of General Electric's former transformer manufacturing facility.

Since its formation, PEDA has often been criticized for a lack of transparency regarding the development of the business park, of which there are currently no tenants. The new plan is designed to change that perception.

"I think people are speculating about what is or isn't happening over here without actually knowing," Hines said. "We've never been forthright in making sure that the message is out there. This is as much of a marketing and internal communications — by internal I refer to the local community — project as anything else. We need to make sure those interested parties, such as the City Council, the state government, state agencies and the local community, know exactly what's going on over here.

"We will be working on a communications effort to enhance and improve that image," he said.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6224.
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"GE will reuse former facility - The company will hire 25 workers in a three-month project to help develop and install a subsea oil pump."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, April 1, 2009

PITTSFIELD — General Electric Co., which sold its Pittsfield-based plastics division two years ago, plans to use a portion of its former facility to develop a subsea oil exploration project and hire 25 local workers to help carry it out.

GE Global Research, the company's technology branch, plans to install and test a prototype oil pump inside the Polymer Processing Development Center on East Street. That building — as big as three football fields and the city's largest building — once belonged to GE Plastics. It is now owned by Sabic Innovative Plastics, which purchased GE Plastics for $11.6 billion in 2007.

GE plans to hire 25 workers to prepare and install the test system — a three-month job.

"We will look, wherever possible, to fill those positions from local trades in the region," said Todd Alhart, a spokesman for GE Global Research. "Electricians, plumbers, steam fitters, steel workers, and millwrights represent many of the positions we will be hiring for."

An additional 10 technical workers will spend the next two years in Pittsfield conducting research on the new pump system, but they will be existing GE employees who work at the company's global research headquarters in Niskayuna, N.Y.

Alhart said GE Global Research looked at several buildings in New York's Capital Region before settling on Sabic's Polymer Processing Development Center.

"We were looking for a large building to install and test," Alhart said. "The (Polymer Processing Development) Center has the right infrastructure, and it's within close proximity to our research lab in Niskayuna.

"It's the ideal location," Alhart said.

GE's manufactured large transformers there until 1988. In June 1989, it became GE's Polymer Processing Development Center when the company decided to focus on its plastics operations. Polymer is a word for plastics.

Berkshire County business officials have lately been touting the area's proximity to three areas of semiconductor production, including a proposed microchip factory in Malta, N.Y., as a possible location for related or spin-off industries.

On Tuesday, Mayor James M. Ruberto joined the chorus.

"We have some hi-tech work performed in businesses located in and around Pittsfield," Ruberto said. "I'm most hopeful that an announcement like this shows the community beyond the Berkshires that we are conveniently located for high-tech work."

In December, Sabic announced it was considering moving its polymer processing development facility to a location elsewhere in the Berkshires or to a similar facility it owns in Selkirk, N.Y.

"The GE announcement does not affect our decision," Sabic spokeswoman Jodi Kennedy said by e-mail on Tuesday. "We're still considering our options."

At the facility, GE plans to develop a test pump that could one day be used to harvest oil deep in the ocean at depths currently unobtainable using conventional pump technology.

"It's a goal of the GE subsea research program to develop the technology that is needed to do subsea exploration for oil," Alhart said. "We want to harvest oil in parts of the sea that are currently not available with the conventional pump technology that exists today."

The company is interested in developing what amounts to a submersible oil platform that will rest on the seabed. According to GE, only 30 percent of the available oil is recovered before a well is abandoned. GE's goal is to double the yield of offshore oil wells with this and other technologies that it is developing with its customers.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224
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"Cake maker shut down"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, April 4, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Robert Maselli and Randi Dugan knew at least one wedding decision would be easy: finding a cake maker.

They called Dave Polcaro, aka The Cake Man.

He's been making wedding cakes for 51 years. Past customers include Dugan's sister and Maselli's parents, so the couple saw something fitting in the fact that Pulcaro could bring the families full circle with a confectionery centerpiece.

He agreed.

That was last year. Two weeks ago, he called to cancel.

The Cake Man was told to put the mixer down and step away from the flour — no more wedding cakes until he complies with a state health law.

You see, Pulcaro and his wife, Rosalie, both 69, bake and design cakes inside their Doreen Street home kitchen. Pulcaro started the "hobby" at age 18 when he organized a 25th wedding anniversary party for his parents.

Short on money, his aunt told him "Make one yourself," so he did. That night, two family members asked him to bake their wedding cakes.

He hired a helper when he married Rosalie 49 years ago. They even baked their own wedding cake — a cherry-nut cake "with vanilla frosting and royal blue and pink roses," Pulcaro quipped.

"He still remembers," Rosalie said, smiling.

She bakes the cakes, Pulcaro designs them, about a dozen per year for family, friends and friends of friends. The Cake Man has built up a reputation as one of the best around.

They don't have a residential kitchen permit, though.

So when someone recently handed a business card of Pulcaro's to Jim Wilusz, director of Pittsfield's Board of Health, Wilusz had no option other than to investigate. A cease and desist order was issued soon after.

That's when Polcaro had to call Maselli and Dugan and six other couples.

"To have to call those couples and cancel ... it was like putting a fist right through my face," said Pulcaro, a retired city employee.

With an April 17 wedding date, Maselli and Dugan went scrambling to find another cake maker, which they did. But the incident didn't sit well with the groom-to-be.

"I take this personal," said Maselli, 43, an employee in the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office. "When you're a few weeks away from the wedding and you lose your cake, I mean, there's a ton more things to worry about in this city than a man who makes cakes."

Maselli called City Hall and complained. Other long-time customers launched a phone attack on the mayor's office. Some called city councilors, some of whom have had Pulcaro make cakes for them.

It was an all-out cake crusade.

Matthew Dindio, aide to Mayor James M. Ruberto, said the city is working to minimize any health threats by getting establishments in accordance with state law. He said the mayor supports Wilusz' decision to shut down noncompliant kitchens.

"But we're willing to work with businesses to keep them open," Dindio said.

In 1999, Massachusetts adopted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration food code, and it deals with permitting rules for vendors, caterers and B&Bs.

Under the law, residents can bake cookies and cakes and make candy inside their homes and then sell the goods to the public. All it takes, Wilusz said, is a residential kitchen permit. Pay a $50 fee, fill out a form, submit plans and allow an inspector into your home. If it passes, you can bake away.

There are roughly a half-dozen such operations in the city, Wilusz said.

Wilusz and Pulcaro met shortly after the order was issued, and Wilusz informed him of the rules. Pulcaro said the form seemed complicated for his small operation and that Wilusz suggested amenities like "a triple sink, drainage and shelves for stock" could be required in some instances.

"I told him I have no stock," Pulcaro said. "I buy the flour and sugar and eggs on Monday, and the cake is made by Friday."

Wilusz feels Pulcaro misunderstood some of the regulations he explained. The meeting ended on a sour note.

Pulcaro, who knows of other cake makers who are operating without permits, said even though he didn't know about the law, he feels targeted.

"This came as a total shock," he said. "This has really taken away from my life. My wife and I loved doing this."

Wilusz said if Pulcaro applies for a permit, he can have an inspector out to his house within hours. He said if the Pulcaro kitchen is clean, he doesn't see why The Cake Man wouldn't be permitted.

Pulcaro agreed to meet with Wilusz again next week.
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To reach Benning W. De La Mater: bdelamater@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6243.
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"Baker shutdown shames Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Tuesday, April 7, 2009

While my husband and I were having lunch Saturday, I glanced over at the newspaper on the couch and saw in bold print "Cake maker shut down." I started reading the article to my husband and as I kept reading I was getting angrier and angrier.

How many people in the city of Pittsfield who cook for their churches for a bazaar and others and charge for their wares, know they have to have a permit to do this? I bet not many! I can understand establishments that feed the public having to have permits, but a person who bakes in his or her kitchen having to have a permit because they make cakes for friends and people who ask them to bake, because of their great reputation, having to have a permit? I also read the city charges $50 for this permit!

Something surely is not in balance in this city. With all the problems the city is having with crime and so on, all we have to worry about is shutting down our residents from baking, for making people happy!

MARGARET P. FILLIO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Teacher pay hold weighed: The School Committee is negotiating a new contract, and wage freezes are a possibility."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, April 9, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield School Committee and the city's largest union have begun negotiating a new contract and the talks may include discussion about a wage freeze.

The committee's negotiating team and leaders of the 600-member United Educators of Pittsfield (UEP) officially began the collective bargaining process this week and have schedule three more meetings in May.

The current one-year agreement — ratified by both sides in January and retroactive to August 2008— expires Aug. 25.

When asked if the wage freeze issue would come up, School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso told The Eagle, "Wages will definitely be discussed."

"Wages are always a consideration," added UEP President Scott Eldridge.

The current teacher's contract has a modest 1.5 percent salary increase and was shortened from the traditional three years to one, because of Pittsfield's volatile budget situation.

The issue of teachers and other municipal employees forgoing pay hikes in fiscal 2010 due to the local and state budget crisis has already polarized the town of Lee. The teacher's union there, the Lee Education Association, initially rejected a wage concession two months ago, because salary increases had already been negotiated. The current contract is entering the final year of a three-year deal.

Lee School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless has said zero pay hikes would save taxpayers $275,000 when the new town budget takes effect July 1 and possibly avoid teacher layoffs.

Eldridge said his union realizes the city's budget situation is not good, with Pittsfield standing to lose at least $2 million in local aid under Gov. Deval L. Patrick's state budget proposal. While Patrick doesn't want to reduce school aid — so called Chapter 70 funds — less local aid could affect the city's ability to pay its portion of the proposed school budget of $51.7 million.

"We're aware there's not a lot of money out there," said Amuso.

Amuso noted any talk of salaries right now is premature, until local aid figures are finalized in a new state budget.

"It is very difficult to negotiate the financial of a contract when you don't have solid numbers," Amuso said.

"This is a budgetary morass right now," Eldridge added.

Until the financial picture is clearer, both sides expect the first few bargaining sessions will focus on non-money issues. Amuso said the length of the new contract will be "one of the first things we talk about."

Despite several uncertainties, Eldridge hopes talks conclude in a timely manner.

"I would like to get this resolved before the current contract ends," Eldridge said.

Meanwhile, the School Committee Wednesday night approved a one-year contract — retroactive to August 1, 2008 — with Pittsfield Educational Administrators Association. The PEAA represents vice principals and deans of students at the middle and high schools, as well as several directors positions and school psychologists among others.

Amuso said the smaller bargaining unit also received a 1.5 percent pay hike, keeping in line with the current UEP contract. In addition, PEAA members with at least one year of service in the union will get a one-time payment of $600.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"[Berkshire] County schools get fed funding: Title I aid will benefit 13 Berkshire districts"
By Matt Murphy, Berkshire Eagle Boston Bureau, Friday, April 10, 2009

BOSTON — Millions in federal stimulus dollars are expected to flow to high-poverty school districts under a plan announced Thursday by Gov. Deval L. Patrick to prop up local schools.

The grants will come from the federal Title I program, designed for schools and districts with a high concentration of low-income students. The money will go to 258 school districts, regional, technical and vocational schools and charter schools.

Massachusetts stands to receive an additional $163 million from the Title I program.

Pittsfield would benefit the most in the Berkshires from the stimulus dollars, with $481,279 in new Title I funding heading back to the city courtesy of President Obama's federal stimulus package.

Preserving programs

Pittsfield Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said the extra money will help preserve programs in schools that serve the city's neediest students while allowing the district to invest in lasting advances, like better technology, up-to-date curricula, and personnel.

"We are looking at the stimulus money and thinking very carefully about how we can use it to protect programs but also build programs that we can sustain beyond the stimulus," Eberwein said. "That's the challenge. We know we have to protect what we have, but we also have to develop and invest in new programs."

Maintaining support

Under the plan announced by Patrick yesterday, 13 districts in Berkshire County, including North Adams, Lee, Lenox and the Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School, would all receive funding.

"In these difficult budget times, we must maintain our support to help promote improvement in schools so that all students receive an education that prepares them for a future of success," Patrick said.

So far, Patrick has pledged $620 million in federal stimulus money for Massachusetts to K-12 education in the form of local aid, special-education funding and Title I. The state received about $233.3 million in Title I funding last year, helping schools hire and retain teachers who specialize in reading and math, purchase books and new technology, and pay for professional development for teachers.

Sen. John F. Kerry said the funds are being invested where they are needed most — "in our state's high-risk schools. It will help tailor learning to the unique needs of our most vulnerable students, giving them the educational tools they need to be successful. I am grateful Governor Patrick is working to ensure that Massachusetts students are prepared to compete and win in today's global economy."

The first half of the Title I funds will be distributed in July; the rest will be allocated in the fall.

"Our communities can use these funds to help prevent teacher layoffs as well as to hire additional teachers and broaden curriculums where necessary," U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas said.

Many superintendents, however, are reluctant to use the money to hire additional staff because they know the stimulus money will run out in two years.

Lowell Superintendent Chris Scott said she has been advised by the state that 50 percent of the new Title I money is to be used for "stabilization" and the other half to "build capacity." Scott anticipates using at least some of the money for professional development for teachers.

"That will be a focus, and a greatly needed one," she said about the ability to cushion the budget deficit by funding professional development. "I greatly appreciate it."

She warned, however, that restrictions on how the stimulus money is spent could put school districts in the awkward position of boosting areas like professional development at the same time some teachers are getting laid off.
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"Transportation Secretary Lauds Pittsfield's Projects"
By Tammy Daniels - iBerkshires Staff - April 10, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Pittsfield is embarking on four major streetscape projects this summer designed to transform the downtown into a more pedestrian friendly area and to smooth traffic flow.

A total of $5.7 million in state highway funds are being pumped into the downtown and anchored around Park Square, including a $1.2 million Public Works Economic Development grant approved by State Transportation Secretary James A. Aloisi Jr.

Aloisi was on hand Friday afternoon to toss a ceremonial shovelful of dirt and congratulate the city on the winning the competitive grant and its "visionary" Mayor James Ruberto who had him hunkered over plans to beautify Pittsfield's main artery the first time they met.

"I said, ... 'I don't know you from Adam but I think you're a visionary mayor and I want to support what you're doing,'" Aloisi recalled. "And I'm looking at the beautiful buildings and the vistas here, and what you're doing here is about what Massachusetts should be about. It's about finding ways to make public investments and transportation investments that will improve the quality of life for people."

The PWED grant will be used to narrow North Street from Park Square to the Columbus Avenue/Eagle Street intersection through the use of pedestrian bumpouts that will calm traffic and improve safety, said Deanna Ruffer, the city's director of community development. It will also include sidewalk improvements, benches, plantings and lighting.

The North Street facelift will complement work already begun on South Street and Park Square. Once completed, traffic will flow north/south along the main way and southbound traffic will no longer have to travel around Park Square. The oval park will become more teardrop-shaped, which Ruffer said will provide better access for pedestrian use.

The first phase of the North Street project — from Park Square to Depot Street — is expected to begin this summer; the second half from Depot to the Intermodal Transportation Center will begin next summer. The first phase should be completed in time for the opening of the Beacon Cinema Center, an $18 million project being constructed in the former Kinnell-Kresge building a stone's throw from Park Square.

"I promised the Beacon theater that when it opens Dec. 14, it will be shiny brand-new," Ruberto told a gathering of public and transportation officials and local businessman at Park Square on Friday afternoon. He was joined by City Councilors Peter Marchetti and Jonathan Lothrop; Kathy Quinn from the office of Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo, D-Pittsfield; Pittsfield Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood and Peter Niles, MassHighway District 1 director, who was lauded for his work.

The mayor ticked off a list of other multimillion projects over the past few years that have been "winners": the $22 million Colonial theater restoration, Barrington Stage Company and the Berkshire Museum renovation and addition.

The streetscape projects include the $1.9 million Park Square reconstruction, the $1.4 million sidewalk reconstruction, lighting, signage and crosswalks on South Street from Housatonic to West/East streets and a secton of Union Street and $1.1 million for the same work for another 820 feet of South Street and a section of Housatonic Street.

Also planned are nearly $900,000 in improvements to Center and West streets; $5.5 million for McKay Street parking (mostly in federal stimulus money) and nearly a $1 million for parks on Columbus and Eagle streets in anticipated future grant funding.

Ruberto described the North Street plan as gestating for five years, but some of the work under way has been in the planning stages for more than 20.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, told how is father, a county commissioner, had come home with a plan to have traffic flow directly south onto North Street. "Now it's under way," said Pignatelli. "Pittsfield is the hub of the county, as my dad always said, 'so goes Pittsfield, so goes the county.' I think this is a wise investment in our capital city."

Aloisi said more projects will be beginning in the county, including paving work on Route 116; resurfacing of River Street and sections of Routes 2 and 8A in North Adams and other streetscape improvements and, hopefully, the Mall Connector Road in Lanesborough between Routes 7 and 8 if an agreement can be reached.

Stimulus funding will also be flowing into the county, he said, once shovel-ready projects are determined. "We are going out of our way working with folks at the local level," said Aloisi.

Despite the financial crisis, forward-thinking like what he was seeing in Pittsfield was imperative. "If we allow ourselved to delcine now we'll never catch up."

David Rooney, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., said any improvements to traffic flow and pedestrian access can't but help the area.

"I think the secretary is right, I think these kinds of projects can spur economic development," said Rooney. "You hear about the theoreticals but here you see it at the ground level, being practically applied."

Ruberto, Pittsfield's No. 1 booster, was pleased.

"We will have everything going that will show Pittsfield to be the urban center of Berkshire County," he said. "And it will continue to move us forward to be the best-darn small city in the Northeast."
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www.iberkshires.com/story/30489/Transportation-Secretary-Lauds-Pittsfield-s-Projects.html
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RELATED LINK: www.iberkshires.com/story/28353/Pittsfield-Cinema-Project-Breaks-Ground.html
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"State team to assess high schools' needs"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, April 11, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Officials with the state's School Building Authority will tour Pittsfield two public high schools next week to assess their condition — a first step before the authority decides what type of high school project it will support.

Executive Director Katherine Craven and her staff of educators, planners and engineers will tour Pittsfield and Taconic high schools on Wednesday.

Pittsfield's need for improved high schools is one of 47 potentially new school building projects across Massachusetts the School Building Authority is considering to fund. Craven has said the agency has already approved eight to the funding list, while the remaining 39 — including Pittsfield's — are still under review.

"I'm very encouraged the (School Building Authority) is coming to Pittsfield, considering the current economic situation," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.

Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said the tour will be brief. The School Building Authority wants to see first-hand if the two high schools' conditions match what was described in the so-called "statements of interest." Last November, the Pittsfield School Committee sent those documents to the School Building Authority, which not only describe the current state of Pittsfield High and Taconic, but what renovations have been done to date and what improvements are needed to better educate students in the 21st century.

"I think the School Building Authority needs to see both (high schools) in relation to the educational process," said Ruberto.

Eberwein added the discussion of a high school project is "not just talk about bricks and mortar, but what happens inside the walls."

Since the state's school building funding process was revamped a few years ago, School Building Authority officials say they now enter into a mutual agreement with each community on what school building project is eventually built.

The old process was devoid of such a partnership, Craven told The Eagle. Previously, the state assumed what project the community said it needed was needed.

"We're very happy to enter into a partnership with the SBA regarding our educational future," Eberwein said.

While the Pittsfield School Committee and city's school building commission have not committed to any specific building project, Ruberto has been advocating for a merger of the two high schools into a single campus.

Craven said all options — including renovations — will be explored.

Whatever the solution to Pittsfield's high school situation, Ruberto said now is the time to plan a building project —before the economy recovers.

"When the iron is hot," Ruberto said, "we'll be ready."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pittsfield's master plan mapped out"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, April 13, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The vision of Pittsfield's future is now contained in a 215-page master plan that took three years to complete and could take twice as long to implement, according to city officials.

The document provides guidelines Pittsfield should follow when dealing with land use, housing, economic and cultural development, transportation and open space/recreation.

While the Master Plan Advisory Committee gathered in a timely fashion the necessary public input and data when the master plan process began in 2006, according to Department of Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer, the committee found it needed more than the original 18-month schedule to formulate the plan.

"The challenge was boiling (the information) down to how best to achieve our vision," Ruffer said.

The master plan states its "major thrust" is improving the quality of life — or "people climate" — which is crucial to Pittsfield's economic growth.

City officials said creating a livable community requires protecting Pittsfield's historic and urban character, while maintaining strong neighborhoods and healthy natural resources.

Community Development Board, which unanimously adopted the master plan last week, is charged with implementing it, said Ruffer, adding a number of tasks may take five years or more to complete, "due to the economic times," while others can be done immediately.

"The use table in the zoning ordinances needs updating," said Ruffer, "and we're already doing it."

Ruffer said new zones may be needed to provide adequate commercial growth. "We can't expect all industry to locate in one place," she added.

Albert A. Ingegni III, chairman of the Pittsfield Zoning Board of Appeals, said it is subject to change.

"We should at least revisit it once a year," Ingegni told the Community Development Board, "to see if we're off base and if so, why?"
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"Business park plan takes a step forward"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, April 16, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The William Stanley Business Park is moving a step closer to accepting tenants — in fact, one is waiting in the wings — as the year-long process of making the site ready for new or expanded businesses has begun, finally pleasing some city officials.

Phase 2 of converting 26 acres of the former General Electric factory complex bordered by East Street and Silver Lake Boulevard into buildable commercial lots is under way and should be completed next January, according to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. PEDA is spending $5.8 million to market and develop the first half of the business park, as demolition of vacant GE buildings continues on the other 26 acres which the agency will eventually control.

PEDA interim director William Hines Sr. told the City Council Tuesday night that Phase 2 consists of installing, water, sewer, utilities, and drainage.

"It's not a building going up," said Hines, "but good work is happening."

Hines even noted that PEDA has begun talks with Advanced Building Solutions, a start-up company tied to a New York-based firm that could bring an estimated 110 jobs to the business park. The potential first tenant would manufacture modular buildings designed to be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Hines' positive report was welcome news to Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop. "Time for talking is over," he said. "Now is the time to do stuff."

Afterward, Mayor James M. Ruberto said, "It's time for (Pittsfield) to look forward to what the William Stanley Business Park can become, rather than look backward."

Still, Lothrop still expressed concern that PEDA has taken four years since gaining control of the 26 acres from GE to start developing the property. Lothrop expressed his displeasure with former PEDA Executive Director Thomas Hickey, who the agency's Board of Directors let go four months ago.

Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi said, based on PEDA's track record, maybe the board needs a makeover. "Either (PEDA) doesn't have enough horses," he said, "or the right horses."

But Hines wants PEDA and the City Council focusing on the marketing of the business park, not reliving PEDA's past. He outlined to the council how local company executives will help recruit business park tenants from around the world and even in Berkshire County. "Existing businesses account for approximately 70 percent of all new investment and job creation in a community," noted Hines.

Hines conceded the marketing plan is competing against a poor economy and neighboring states like New York with better tax incentives. However, Councilor at large Matthew M. Kerwood said now is the time to pitch the business park.

"It's more crucial to do these marketing strategies when the economic situation is not great," Kerwood said.

Finally, Hines vowed PEDA will do a better job of regularly updating city officials and residents on the progress of the William Stanley Business Park — beginning with more current online information.

"The existing (PEDA) Web site is outdated and needs serious revamping," Hines said.

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"Pup joins Pittsfield police"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, April 16, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Pittsfield police on Wednesday introduced the latest addition to the force, a 14-month-old German shepherd named Raimo.

Raimo, originally from the Czech Republic, now calls Pittsfield home, where he'll lend a paw to help fight crime in the city.

Several dozen people showed up to meet Raimo at the Berkshire Crossing Price Chopper, where supermarket officials and representatives of Milk Bone, the dog-biscuit company, donated $5,000 to the Pittsfield Police Department to help defray the cost of the $7,200 dog.

Raimo showed off some of his best take-down moves in the supermarket parking lot in front of a large crowd of Price Chopper employees, local students, city officials, and curious shoppers.

Raimo replaces Ki, a German shepherd who died in January from post-surgical complications following an infection. Ki had been with the department for about two years.

Police dogs generally come partially trained and can cost thousands of dollars. With Pittsfield facing a fiscal crunch, the Police Department was unsure if it could raise the money to purchase a new dog, according to acting Chief Michael J. Wynn.

Steve DeSanty, store manager for the Price Chopper at Berkshire Crossing, said he heard about the loss of Ki and wanted to do something to help the city. Price Chopper then partnered with Milk Bone, whose Canine Heroes Program has donated more than 800 police and service dogs since 1997.

As a result, a $5,000 check was presented to Wynn during a brief ceremony inside the grocery store on Thursday. Next, it was outside for a K-9 demonstration as police officers took the department's three dogs — Nero and Ciro are the other two shepherds — through various training maneuvers.

Wynn donned special bite-proof gear and assumed the role of "bad guy," as Raimo clamped down hard on the chief's protected forearm. When asked if Raimo had a strong bite, Wynn replied, "You saw me; I couldn't get my glove off!"

The Police Department relies on its K-9 unit "every day," said Wynn, whether for drug investigations or criminal apprehensions.

The Pittsfield Veterinary Hospital and the Humane Society helped raise the balance of Raimo's bill by soliciting special donations. Any surplus money will go into a special Humane Society account, which will benefit all Berkshire County K-9 units, according to Wynn.

On Saturday, a K-9 fundraiser featuring a pancake breakfast, bake sale, raffle, and police-dog demonstration will be held from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Applebee's restaurant at Berkshire Crossing. Tickets are $6 for kids and $8 for adults and are available at Pittsfield police headquarters, 39 Allen St., or at local animal shelters and most local veterinary offices.
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(PHOTO)
The Pittsfield Police Department's new canine officer, Raimo, will be handled by Officer Dwane Foisy.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"SBA tours local high schools"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, April 16, 2009

PITTSFIELD — A team from the state School Building Authority came away with a "very clear idea" of the conditions at Taconic and Pittsfield high schools. But SBA officials stopped short of suggesting what type of building project is needed to improve the city's high school education, following their tour of both schools on Wednesday.

"We have a very clear idea of the inventory of each building," said Executive Director Katherine Craven. "We now need to get the SBA board to recognize which high school should be done — unless (a project) is packaged as one."

The tour was part of the agency's process to work closely with communities seeking state funding for new school building projects. Pittsfield is one of 47 cities and towns trying to get on the funding list this year; so far, the SBA has agreed to eight project requests.

School officials have said both city high schools have a laundry list of physical needs such as a new heating and ventilation system. Pittsfield High was built in 1930, with a major renovation and expansion done in 1975. Taconic has had some upgrades since it opened in 1969, but McNally said it's basically the same building that was erected 40 years ago.

"We would love your consult on this," said Tricia Farley-Bouvier, co-chair of the Pittsfield School Building Commission. "I believe the community would be open to your advice."

While city and school officials spent five hours with SBA officials detailing the physical and educational shortcomings of Pittsfield High and Taconic, they did not lobby for a particular school building plan. The SBA study team did ask about a consultant's report last year that suggested a single high school concept costing an estimated $180 million — a figure that stunned the state officials who said it could be done cheaper.

Taconic Principal Douglas McNally wasn't surprised by the cost projection. "When you get past just patching up both schools," noted McNally, "you get above $100 million pretty quickly."

Mayor James M. Ruberto has been a staunch supporter of merging both schools, but the School Committee and School Building Commission have been non-committal, awaiting the SBA's decision.

However, all three do agree the two buildings don't physically meet Pittsfield's vision of high school education for the 21st century.

School officials explained how the current layout at each high school prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can chose a career course of study.

"The horticultural space (at Pittsfield High) is miles away from biology class," said School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III, a former principal at Pittsfield High.

Farley-Bouvier said whatever the educational philosophy, the high schools are crucial to economic development. "It's critical we grow our own workforce," she told SBA officials.

School officials also pointed out the need for larger classrooms and vocational space at Pittsfield High and Taconic. "We keep looking back at our science labs and they're weak for (education) in 2009," said School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso.

While Ruberto said "both schools are in desperate need of improvement," he cited how the city has been aggressively making repairs and renovations to both buildings in recent years. "We just spent $1.5 million on a new roof at Pittsfield High," noted Ruberto.

The city's continued investment in its school buildings and educational programs is something Craven said the SBA considers when deciding if a community is worthy of a state-funded project.

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"Will city budget balance?"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, April 17, 2009

PITTSFIELD — While Pittsfield's budget has stabilized after city officials erased a $2 million shortfall, the question remains: Will it stay balanced?

Finance Director Susan Carmel is confident the $125.3 million spending plan can avoid a third round of cuts — barring any unforeseen circumstances between now and when fiscal 2009 ends June 30.

"Expenditures are tracking fairly well," Carmel told the finance subcommittee of the City Council on Wednesday night. "We're in good shape going to the end of the year."

Mayor James M. Ruberto said on Thursday he simply wants to "survive" the rest of the fiscal year "without making cuts or using reserve funds."

Carmel also said property tax collection and most other revenues are coming into city coffers at the same rate as this time last year, despite the poor economy.

The upbeat third quarter budget report — covering January through March — follows Pittsfield running a $2 million deficit for the first six months of fiscal 2009 due to shrinking local revenue and a $1 million reduction in state aid. The City Council approved two rounds of cuts and dipped into a reserve cash account to balance the spending plan — thus avoiding city employee layoffs.

While Pittsfield is financially healthy — for now, Councilor at large Matthew M. Kerwood said he believes the city budget could be cut again in the final three months of the budget year.

"My biggest fear is we'll have another round," said Kerwood. "I don't think we're done."

However, the City Council's finance subcommittee chairman, Peter M. Marchetti, said Pittsfield is prepared for another round of cuts, because city is well managed, according to a recent audit report.

"The financial stability of the city is 10 times better than it was 10 years ago," noted Marchetti.

City officials said that's due to fiscally responsible department heads.

"I must commend all departments for monitoring their budgets," Carmel said, "and being tight with expenses."

"And we must maintain that financial discipline," added Ruberto.

Despite the good news, Pittsfield's budget still has a few individual accounts running a deficit, which can be dealt with without making cuts, according to Carmel.

The biggest is snow and ice removal which is $490,000 over-budget, or nearly double the $530,000 city officials anticipated it needed for plowing, salting and sanding roads this past winter. Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood apparently will enough unspent money to cover the shortfall, Carmel said.

Pittsfield may have survived fiscal 2009, but city officials must now prepare a spending plan for fiscal 2010, which begins July 1, facing a significant local aid reduction due to the state budget crisis. While Gov. Deval L. Patrick's spending proposal has the city losing $2 million, the House version of the 2010 budget could have that figure higher.

Marchetti said the uncertainty of what and when the final figures are known may force the City Council to a adopt a budget just before its due date.

"The best advice we got (Wednesday night) was to sit back and wait," Marchetti said, "and if we have to pass a budget June 30, so be it."
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"Tyer steps down as head of board"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, April 20, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The Samuel Harrison Society's first president has left the organization and her successor could come from within — as soon as today.

Linda M. Tyer has resigned as head of the nine-member Board of Trustees saying she no longer had "the energy to devote" in leading the nonprofit group's restoration of the historic Harrison house on Third Street.

Since becoming Pittsfield City Clerk three months ago, Tyer said learning her new job has been time consuming, forcing her to make a tough decision. However, her enthusiasm for the nearly five-year project hasn't waned.

"I assured the board I am here to support them," she said.

The Samuel Harrison Society was formed in 2004, charged with preserving the home Harrison built in 1858 after moving to Pittsfield from Newark, N.J. The freed slave, civil rights leader and longtime minister of the Second Congregational Church died in 1900 at the age of 82 and is buried in Pittsfield Cemetery.

Tyer's resignation was regrettably received by the Board of Trustees, last month.

"We were kind of shocked and disappointed," said board treasurer Churchill Cotton. "But we understood she had a lot on her plate."

"We hope (Tyer will) come back to the board in some capacity," Cotton added.

Meanwhile, the Society's new president will likely come from the remaining board members, said Cotton, when the board holds a reorganization meeting this afternoon at the Second Congregational Church.

The board is also awaiting an answer to its request for $18,000 in emergency funding from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to help pay for unexpected water damage to the foundation of The Harrison House in mid-December. The unforeseen repair and the rest of the exterior work is finished, said Cotton, and the interior restoration is going out to bid.

Society members have said the overall $174,000 project should be completed by this fall, with the historic home being operated as a museum so the public can learn more about Harrison, his descendants and local African-American history in general.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Assessing future of PEDA project"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Monday, April 20, 2009

I commend Pittsfield City Councilor Dan Bianchi for asking the right questions for the public to hear about the PEDA project at the April 14 council meeting. It was a useful, informal and informational session for the Pittsfield citizens and the general public.

If we have had only two viable bids for business at the site, and with this recession, why not discuss and clarify its goals and reorganize this project until America gets on its feet?

Unless PEDA is part of a stimulus package, I don't see why companies would to rise to the occasion when other neighboring states like New York offer more attractive incentives to start a business in their area.

I agree with Councilor Bianchi that PEDA meetings should be televised so the public will be more informed of the progress and process of each PEDA meeting.

This site was the economic foundation for families in the past and should be in the future. Paving the way for creative and green interested parties should come from the visibility of PEDA planning.

I also appreciate William Hines coming forward, and hope his role as director opens the gate for a successful economic future for Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

BARBARA ARPANTE
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Pittsfield cement plant clears one more hurdle"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, April 19, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The Zoning Board of Appeals is the latest city board to back the proposed cement processing plant at Downing Industrial Park off Hubbard Avenue, leaving the Pittsfield Conservation Commission the only one left to sign off on the project.

Following a sparsely attended public hearing on Thursday night, the ZBA voted 4 to 1 to grant a special permit and variance to Bonded Concrete Inc. to construct a "batching' plant on the 12-acre site at the end of Downing Industrial Parkway — the last remaining undeveloped lot. The Colonie, N.Y.-based family-run business plans to lease the property from Valley Mill Corp. of Lee.

The Community Development Board has already supported the project by unanimously approving the site plan on April 7. Bonded Concrete must now convince the Conservation Commission the project will not impact nearby wetlands. The commission will resume its review on April 30.

ZBA member John J. Fitzgerald echoed the majority opinion that the cement batching plant "is a good situation for that lot." Colleague Sylvia S. Stein praised the developer for a "very complete plan."

However, Thomas W. Goggins, who cast the lone dissenting vote, couldn't support fellow board members granting a variance, so the project could be built closer to the property line, than the 100-foot zoning setback regulation requires.

Project engineer James Scalise of SK Design lobbied for the variance, because only two acres of the 12-acre site is developable due to wetlands and high voltage service lines running through the property, limiting Bonded Concrete as to where it could locate its two buildings.

The batching will occur in a 2,000-square-foot structure, while another 3,200-square-foot office/garage is for employees and company vehicles.

Bonded Concrete also plans to recycle left over cement and re-use waste water generated by the daily washing of the cement mixing vehicles in the smaller building.

Since the facility will be operating Monday through Saturday for 11 hours a day — 10 on Saturday — the ZBA was pleased the company agreed to direct its truck traffic away from homes on the south end of Hubbard Avenue and toward Dalton Avenue.

"Living in that area, I see a lot of trucks go the other way," said Fitzgerald. "If you're amenable to that (traffic change) — great!"

While several local contractors spoke in favor of another ready-mix cement plant in Pittsfield, a competitor of Bonded Concrete was not thrilled.

"Competition is always good," David Dowd, of Becket, said. "It helps keep prices down."

Company officials have said the plant is necessary to be closer to projects in the Pittsfield area.

But for Steven Murdock, the general manager of County Concrete Corp. on Hubbard Avenue that employs 30 people, Bonded Concrete is already too close.

"If they come (to Pittsfield), they will gain half my business and half my employees," Murdock told the ZBA. "Being near Sheffield is close enough for me."

Bonded Concrete is currently hauling ready-mix cement from either its plant in Canaan, Conn., along the Sheffield town line, or West Sand Lake, N.Y., both some 30 to 40 miles away. Company officials had said they plan to employ up to 15 people at its Pittsfield facility.

ZBA member Ben Kaplan welcomed another new business to the city and finally filling a business park created some 50 years ago.

"I'm happy to see the last lot at Downing be developed," Kaplan said. "Now we can move on to PEDA.

Kaplan referred to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority looking for its first tenant in the William Stanley Business Park.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Child Abuse Prevention Event Slated in Pittsfield"
iBerkshires.com - April 22, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Step up for Prevention, a local event recognizing the importance of child abuse prevention efforts in Berkshire County, is being held this Friday, April 24, at 1:30 at City Hall.

The public is invited to view the 115 pairs of children's shoes placed on the steps in front of City Hall to represent the average number of children who are confirmed as abused and/or neglected each month in Berkshire County.

A short speaking program about the importance of prevention activities in Berkshire County will include, Suzin Bartley, executive director of the Massachusetts Children's Trust Fund, Mayor James Ruberto, Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, District Attorney David F. Capeless, Anne Nemetz-Carlson, executive director of Child Care of the Berkshires, and a parent who will receive a Family Recognition Award from the Children's Trust Fund.

The event is being planned by the trust fund, the state's leading organization dedicated to child abuse prevention, and Child Care of the Berkshires, a Berkshire County agency that has been providing child care and family support programs since 1969.

For more information, call 413-664-4821.

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"Park Commission needs shaping up"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Saturday, April 25, 2009

While watching the April 21 Park Commission meeting I was amazed by the temper displayed by Commission Chairman Sheila La Barbara. Commission member Chuck Garivaltis was questioning two city employees on the lack of a promised report from the city solicitor, to which building maintenance foreman Ernie Fortini replied that they would have it next month when you're (Garivaltis) not here anymore. (This was Mr. Garivaltis' last meeting as his five-year term has expired).

After Garivaltis continued questioning Fortini, Mrs. LaBarbara exploded when Garivaltis referred to her as "part of the peanut gallery." She slammed down her folder of events and declared the meeting to be adjourned, at which point the camera cut away. If a city official cannot maintain his/her level of decorum when being questioned or criticized, they don't belong in a position of making decisions that affect all of the people of the town.

As for the fact of Mr. Garivaltis leaving the commission, I'd like to extend my gratitude for a fine job against overwhelming odds foe the past five years, and remind people that this now leaves two vacancies on a five-member commission.

The mayor of this city has been in violation of state law for over two years by having one vacant spot here. How long will the City Council allow him to be in this state of violation? I have talked with two members of the council who said they had submitted names to the mayor for consideration to be named to these positions. What's taking so long, Mr. Mayor?

JIM GLEASON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Pittsfield to mull WorkshopLive deal"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, April 27, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The City Council will consider on Tuesday the termination of the economic development agreement that the city of Pittsfield and WorkshopLive Inc. signed almost four years ago.

The $750,000 economic incentive agreement, which went into effect on July 1, 2005, was tied in part to the number of jobs that WorkshopLive created.

WorkshopLive received three $150,000 payments from the city through the General Electric Development Fund by meeting employment thresholds specified in the agreement. But the company currently has just seven employees, according to CEO David Smolover, far short of the 60 it needs to qualify for the next incentive payment in July.

Monitoring progress

Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer said the city had been monitoring WorkshopLive's progress over the last few months, and that officials began discussing the situation with Smolover when it became apparent his company might not reach the next incentive level.

"As a result of those discussions we proceeded with the termination," Ruffer said.

Realizing how difficult it would be for WorkshopLive to reach the next payment threshold, Smolover said he decided to bow out of the agreement so that the city could use the funds slated for his company for something else.

"We felt obligated to give them the opportunity," Smolover said.

'The world tells you what it wants'

"We started out with one business plan and ended up with another one," he said. "The world tells you want it wants, and you've got to follow it up."

According to Ruffer, this is the first time in Mayor James M. Ruberto's five-year tenure that the city has asked the council to terminate an agreement that includes payments from the GE Economic Development Fund.

"The more it became clear I think that this was the appropriate decision to make," she said.

The agreement, however, does commit WorkshopLive to maintain its operations in Pittsfield through November 2012. As long as the company remains in Pittsfield, it doesn't have to pay back the city for the funds that have already been dispersed, Ruffer said.

WorkshopLive does intend to remain in Pittsfield, Smolover said, but he is looking to move the company to a smaller location. The company has occupied 7,500-square feet of the Guardian Berkshire Life Complex at 877 South St. since its inception.

"We're going to look for a more appropriate space," Smolover said. "Within the next month or so we'll move."

A purveyor of online music lessons, WorkshopLive, the sister company of the National Guitar Workshop, a pioneer in the field of music education, was hit hard by the economic recession. It has lost 14 employees since late September 2008, when it signed an agreement with Best Buy to become the national retail giant's online music educator. That agreement is still active, Smolover said.

The company was down to nine employees earlier this year when Smolover said he was trying to make the business as lean as possible to attract capital.

"It's going to take us awhile to reach the next level," he said.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224
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"Pittsfield assesses new insurance plan"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PITTSFIELD — As city employees continue to enroll in the state-run health insurance program, city officials are preparing to determine Pittsfield's actual cost savings of joining the Group Insurance Commission — or GIC.

The active municipal and school employees and city retirees have until May 15 to sign up for one of the 11 health coverage plans offered through the GIC and to help them make a decision, they can attend today's GIC Health Fair from noon to 5:30 p.m. at Berkshire Community College's Patterson Field House.

City officials and representatives from the seven private insurers and four Medicare plans will be on hand to explain the GIC process.

Pittsfield is switching from Blue Cross Blue Shield to the GIC after the city and its 17 collective bargaining units last October agreed to sign a three-year contract with the GIC, effective July 1. City officials have estimated the move will save taxpayers and workers a combined $5.6 million.

The joint Administrative-City Council Ad-Hoc Committee on Health Insurance will be that vehicle to determine the actual cost savings. Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop persuaded his fellow councilors Tuesday night to reactive the panel, which was established last year, to provide the estimated savings.

While the city is expected to save more than its employees, Lothrop said prior to the meeting, "What's important is the total cost, not how the savings is split."

Scott Eldridge, president of the 600-member United Educators of Pittsfield — the city's largest union — urged fellow city workers to attend today's health insurance fair and get the facts about the GIC.

"I got a lot of e-mails from people saying it costs more money," said Eldridge. "Yes, the co-pays are higher, but even the most expensive plan is cheaper" than the current health insurance plan.

"My premium was cut in half," he added.

Under the GIC agreement, Pittsfield will pay 85 percent of the union workers' health insurance premiums, while the employees pay 15 percent. The split is 80-20 under the current plan.

In addition, the city is seeking a special act of the Legislature to grandfather retirees at a 10 percent share, otherwise the GIC would require the same 85-15 split for them as well as active city employees.

Mayor James M Ruberto said an "unheralded" aspect of the GIC is if a city worker dies, his or her spouse remains covered, which is not the case now.

"Employees will get as good a series of health plans as the governor gets," Ruberto said.

"We've gone from one option to a lot of options," added Eldridge.

Once the GIC open enrollment ends May 15 — which Eldridge said is a hard and fast deadline — city officials will immediately begin assessing the actual cost savings — crucial to setting a city budget for fiscal 2010, starting July 1.

"This is the most critical element in our budget process," said Ruberto. "How much (money) is saved will truly mean (city) jobs saved."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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City: Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Mayor Ruberto to seek 4th term" - (with video) - 5/1/2009

PITTSFIELD — James Ruberto will seek a fourth term as mayor of Pittsfield.

Ruberto, accompanied by his wife, Ellen, took out nomination papers this morning at the city clerk's office.

"In these times, Pittsfield needs an experienced hand," Ruberto said afterward, "someone who knows the budget inside and out, someone who understands how to get money from Boston, someone who has a vision to move the city forward."

In 2007, Ruberto was re-elected with 72 percent of the vote. The coming election is in November.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/T0RBAP0A1UUGEJPOC
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www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_12272102
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Fourth and goal for Mayor Ruberto"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, May 2, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Walking hand-in-hand with his wife, Ellen, Mayor James M. Ruberto walked into the City Clerk's office one hour after it opened on Friday and took out nomination papers on the first day they were available for his fourth term as Pittsfield's chief executive.

If elected, Ruberto would become Pittsfield's first four-term mayor since Charles L. Smith stepped down in 1987 after eight years in the corner office. This is actually the 61-year-old Ruberto's fifth consecutive run for mayor. He lost to Sara Hathaway in his first attempt in 2001 before winning the rematch two years later.

Ellen Ruberto has had ongoing health issues since contracting cancer during Ruberto's second term four years ago. Despite those concerns, Ruberto said the couple decided he should run for a fourth term to help guide Pittsfield out of the current economic recession.

"We thought long and hard about this fourth term," Ruberto said on Friday. "What we know is that the next two years will be — from a financial and fiscal point of view — the most difficult we will be facing.

"We feel — and when I say, we, I mean, Ellen and I — we're the right team to continue to lead the city of Pittsfield," he said.

The national economic recession created a budget shortfall at the state level, and recently caused Gov. Deval L. Patrick to cut $128 million in fiscal 2009 funding to state city's and towns. In Pittsfield, the cuts in local aid have led the City Council to approve two measures over the last seven months that eliminated $1.5 million from the current city budget.

"The issue is understanding and managing through this fiscal crisis," Ruberto said, "how we come out of it better than we came into it."

Ruberto said Pittsfield's priorities, which he listed as public safety and education, "have to be supported and reinforced in this difficult time.

"The economic downturn has a great deal to do with my decision to run," he continued.

Referring to a theme he has touched on in previous campaigns, Ruberto said his administration has "restored faith" in city government and has worked hard to forge a partnership with the City Council.

"People forget now that the joke of the month used to be the City Council's two monthly meetings," he said.

Restoring the Colonial Theatre, constructing the Beacon Cinemas, and the Barrington Stage Company's decision to relocate from Sheffield to Pittsfield, are the results of his administration's partnership with the council, Ruberto said.

"I anticipate that partnership will continue with me as mayor," he said.

The Rubertos declined to comment on the state of Ellen's health. But Ruberto said his wife's condition caused the couple to do some "soul searching" as he considered a fourth term.

"We recognized that Ellen has some health issues," he said. "But Ellen said, 'I want you to run.' I want folks to see me in January so I can wear a bright red suit."

Ellen Ruberto said the couple are taking her health issues one day at a time.

"We're going to live every day the way it should be lived," she said, "and take things as they come."

Five other mayoral candidates obtained nomination papers on Friday. First in line was Stephen R. Fillio, 44, of 84 Sheffield St., whom City Hall staff spotted outside the building on Friday morning waiting for it to open. Fillio ran for mayor two years ago, but was eliminated in the preliminary election.

Also obtaining papers were Rick E. Moon, 45, of 1520 West St.; Nicholas J. Caccamo, 23, of 173 Long View Terrace; Jeffrey W. Farrin, 41, of 148 Holmes Road; and Paul Kwasniowski, 53, of 26 Williamsburg Terrace.

The last day for candidates to obtain nomination papers for any office in this fall's municipal elections is Aug. 4. Papers also must be submitted to the registrar of voters.
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"Mayor Ruberto runs again"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Saturday, May 2, 2009

The mayor of Pittsfield will face many difficult problems that defy easy solution when 2010 dawns. Nonetheless, James M. Ruberto hopes he is still that mayor.

Mayor Ruberto took out nomination papers from the city clerk's office Friday, the first day they were available, the initial step in his bid to become Pittsfield's first four-term mayor since Charles Smith. Five other potential candidates did so as well, and they may be joined by others in the process of collecting the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot.

For Mr. Ruberto, the decision to run for re-election was made while considering the health issues facing his wife, Ellen, who has dealt with cancer since his second term in office. Ellen, who came to City Hall with the mayor yesterday and joined him in an interview, said they "take things as they come," which now includes the possibility of two more years as Pittsfield's mayor for her husband.

The mayor said the economic downturn had much to do with his decision to run for another term, and the downturn, which has led to cuts in state aid for communities, does pose a threat to his goals for Pittsfield. Education has been a priority, and nearby Berkshire communities are considering the possibility of teacher layoffs. The poor economy has posed challenges for the cultural institutions crucial to the revival of downtown. High-profile drug-related crime is another knotty problem that could hinder Pittsfield's economic growth.

All of these issues and more, including the disappointing lack of progress in the William Stanley Business Park, will be subject matter for the anticipated mayoral campaign. We hope that whichever candidate or candidates make the ballot to challenge Mr. Ruberto can engage in the kind of thoughtful discussion of these complex problems that the city was deprived of in each of the last two races. City Councilor Richard J. Alcombright's candidacy against incumbent John Barrett III will give North Adams that kind of positive, issue-oriented race, and Pittsfield would benefit from a similar campaign this fall.

Mr. Ruberto deserves credit for elevating the discussion in Pittsfield, and with the City Council, ending the farcical bickering that distracted officials. A campaign for mayor and the at-large and ward council seats that reflects this progress should make for an election season that will be good for the city and its voters.
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www.iberkshires.com/images/site_images/stories/30726.jpg
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Mayor James Ruberto wants another two years at City Hall. (iBerkshires file)
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"Ruberto to Run for Fourth Term in Pittsfield"
By Larry Kratka - Berkshire News Network - iBerkshires.com - May 01, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Mayor James Ruberto made it official this morning when he formally announced that he would run for a fourth term in office.

Ruberto made the announcement on "Good Morning Pittsfield" on 89.7 WTBR-FM in Pittsfield and said he was going to run a hard campaign to show residents how interested he is and how much he believes that in these difficult economic times, Pittsfield will come out better off then when the economic downturn began.

The mayor said there were success stories in the downtown area, including the current construction of the Beacon Cinema, newly opened restaurants on North Street, the future redevelopment of the old Pittsfield Plaza on West Housatonic Street and the development of the former auto dealership on Center Street. Ruberto said he was taking out his nomination papers around 9:30 Friday morning at the city clerk's office.

There had been a lot of speculation in recent months that Ruberto would not run for a fourth term because of his wife, Ellen, who is battling cancer. But sources said the mayor and his wife talked it over and she encouraged him to run for another term despite her illness. Both Rubertos were at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday.

During the winter, several names were thrown around as possible mayoral candidates including former Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Thomas E. Hickey Jr.

Ruberto said he doesn't know if anyone will run against him, but he plans on running a busy campaign regardless. The mayor said he wants to continue the work he's begun in bringing downtown Pittsfield back to life.

Ruberto ran unsuccessfully against then Mayor Sara Hathaway in 2001 but defeated her in 2003 to win his first term in office. He easily won other terms in 2005 and 2007. It's unknown if any Pittsfield mayor has ever won a fourth term in office.
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www.iberkshires.com/story/30726/Ruberto-to-Run-for-Fourth-Term-in-Pittsfield.html
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Related link: www.goodmorningpittsfield.com
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"GIC is no bargain for city, workers"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters - Thursday, April 30, 2009

In reference to Wednesday's article about the city's new health insurance plan, I felt compelled to write this letter after reading the comment made by the mayor. The mayor claims that the employees of the city of Pittsfield "will get as good a series of health plans as the governor gets." It is necessary to point out that the comment is entirely wrong. The governor and all state employees with GIC coverage have a different set of plans. The GIC has two separate schedules of benefits, one for state employees and a one "GIC Light" that is for municipal employees. The benefits are very different as I'm sure Jonathan Lothrop can tell you.

The other issue I'd like to address is the ultimate savings. The city budgets close to $25 million for BC/BS. The GIC is supposedly a $20 million line item.

Now take into account that the city has given its employees two "health insurance" holidays over the last fiscal year. The "holidays" come when the city has over-budgeted its self-insured policy and has to give some back under the 80/20 split. In other words the employees didn't have as many bills as the city projected. Now you do the math, two months of "holidays" at about two million a month. I am very interested to find out as a taxpayer and a city employee how much savings the city will see. The insurance our unions agreed to with the GIC is not nearly as good as BC/BS. I voted No!

THOMAS HICKEY
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"State takeover starting to wane: Schools' restructuring appears to be on hold because of the economy and budget constraints."
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, May 3, 2009

When schools were marked for "restructuring" — for failing to meet mandated test scores and attendance figures — they faced the threat of a state takeover of operations and staff.

Now, as the system for assessment and accountability faces budget cuts in a state hamstrung by the economy and with a redesign looming for the system in general, the ability of the state to intervene on behalf of struggling schools appears to be waning.

"In terms of state intervention, they can and they have," said Christopher Jacoby, principal of Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield. "But the state doesn't want to get into the business of running schools."

Earlier this month, Herberg sent home a "report card" based on state and federally tracked data, and a letter informing parents it was under the "restructuring" status for a second straight year. Based on the school's 2008 Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report, the data shows the school missed its performance goals in English and math on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

No aid forthcoming

A statement received Tuesday from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) indicates it's up to Herberg to fix the problem: "The DESE is not currently providing direct assistance to the school."

DESE spokesman J.C. Considine said that the Pittsfield school is not in dire straits to the level that the state would intervene on site, and appears to be on the right track for improvement.

"Our expectation is that the district is guiding the annual development, review and implementation of a school improvement plan that is focused on improving the areas of greatest weakness highlighted by student performance and other data," Considine said.

Herberg is one of five Berkshire County schools currently identified for restructuring after missing their AYP goals. Schools in their second year of restructuring also include Great Barrington's Monument Valley Regional Middle School for math and North Adams' Conte Middle School for math. Two other schools — Adams Memorial Middle School for math and Reid Middle School in Pittsfield for English and math — are in their first years of restructuring.

No direct intervention

As is the case with Herberg, principals at Adams Memorial and Monument Valley said the schools have not experienced direct intervention from the state.

"I think the state wants to focus on the schools that are wholly failing," said Monument Valley Principal Jane Furey.

Calls placed to administrators of Reid and Conte middle schools were not immediately returned.

"Regardless of the labels or the mandated direction from the state, the bottom line for us is that the measurements address individual students," said Alfred Skrocki, superintendent of the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District.

One criticism of AYP report cards and the status labels is that student performance is factored. By the class as a whole, as well as subgroups such as special education and low-income students. Another is that the labels are given within a two-year cycle, and refer to a grade level where the class being assessed has already continued on to the next grade.

In March, state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced it is in the process of developing a new framework for its district and school accountability system and how it provides assistance to schools struggling to make AYP. This process began with shifting full responsibility for district accountability from the former Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA) and included setting new goals, drafting a framework, and establishing a new advisory council and a new Center for School and District Accountability.

Another component includes the governor's plan to launch regional "Readiness Centers" across the state. Considine said through the centers, "districts like Pittsfield could access services and support that is designed to meet their specific improvement needs."

Howard "Jake" Eberwein III, superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools, said he's been following the system overhaul and noted that changes may include renaming the labels a school is given based on its AYP performance level.

In addition to quantitative data like MCAS scores and graduation rates, the level of progress in the future may also include qualitative factors like the cohesiveness of a curriculum plan and the governance of a school.

"The question then becomes what will (the state's) response be when schools are at these various levels?" Eberwein said. "I feel like we're in a really good position with all these things, but the new system can help us by giving us some leverage to obtain some resources and providing these (readiness) centers so we can become a part of a network."

DESE spokesman J.C. Considine said state funding will affect its progress and the depth and breadth of state intervention in struggling schools. Though the numbers are still in calculation, he said, "Significant cuts are already proposed for the state budget's targeted assistance account, so we are expecting to have to refocus and target our funds even more closely" in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Though Eberwein said the funding issue is a concern, he said the real issue is closing the achievement gaps and helping students progress, with or without the state's help. He said Pittsfield and other local school districts have been and will continue to do just that.
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"Pittsfield's Park Square project highlights road season"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, May 4, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The last of four projects designed to improve the downtown traffic flow at or near Park Square is ready to start, with all the road work going into high gear this month and lasting most of this summer.

City and state public works officials said the nearly $600,000 traffic signal project at the intersection of West and Center streets will begin this week. The upgrade is long overdue, according to Pittsfield Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

"The intersection has one of the old style signal systems controlled by gears rather than electronics," said Collingwood.

MassHighway, which is managing the project, expects the new traffic lights to be fully operation by Labor Day.

The other three projects MassHighway is overseeing began about a month ago and include road work around Park Square, along South Street from Park Square to West Housatonic Street, and at the South and West Housatonic intersection.

Collingwood is pleased with the their progress, saying workers have been "very fortunate" to have good weather during the early stages of construction.

In all, the four projects — being done by four different contractors — total $6.4 million and "The majority of the work should be done by the end of summer," Collingwood said.

The $2.6 million centerpiece is the elimination of the rotary traffic pattern at Park Square by creating a straight path between South and North streets and extending to the park the median divider that separates East Street.

New traffic signals will be installed and other improvements are being made to the intersection of South and West Housatonic streets.

Finally on South Street from West Housatonic to Park Square, road, sidewalk and median construction will continue and new planters and period lights installed to enhance the area. When this project is completed, city officials plan to formalize the parking along that section of South Street.

"Historically, the parking spaces have not been painted," said Collingwood. "We want to maximize the parking in this area."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"WHEN Meeting to Focus on 'Dream Act'"
iBerkshires.com - May 04, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The next membership meeting of WHEN! will take place on May 6 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church, 67 East St.

After the usual business reports, immigrant students from Berkshire Community College will talk about their experiences as legal immigrants.

These students will explain in some detail the "Dream Act" that is now before Congress. The act is bipartisan legislation that addresses the tragedy of young people who grew up in the Unites States, graduated from high school, but whose future is circumscribed by our current immigration laws.

The Dream Act would permit certain immigrant students to apply for temporary legal status and to eventually obtain permanent status and become eligible for U. S. citizenship if they go to college. The measure would also eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.

In Massachusetts, it would make BCC affordable for many more students. Advocates say the bill is significant because it could make the difference between offering hope and encouraging a higher drop out rate.

Mayor James M. Ruberto has frequently stated the importance of education for minorities and immigrants. In his 2007 inaugural address, he pledged support for education for Pittsfield’s immigrant population.

"Immigrants have always been an important part of Pittsfield and they provide the hope for the future. This pledge confirms our recognition for the need to respect and celebrate diversity in our community and in all communities," he said then.

All WHEN! members and the public are encouraged to attend the meeting; child care will be provided. For more information: www.PittsfieldWHEN.org.

READER's Comment:

Support the revised (SAVE) Act as it targets employers with stiff penalties for hiring illegal aliens, secures the northern and southern border by adding 8,000 new border patrol agents and increases interior enforcement by allowing for additional federal district court judges and provides more resources for law enforcement officers. In this package E-Verify would be mandatory, in-perpetuity driving illegal labor from the workplace. Rep. Heath Schuler's e-verification program, would require federal agencies, contractors and employers to verify the eligibility of --ALL EMPLOYEES--within one to four years, depending on the size of the company. Using this procedure, identity fraud wrought through fake social security numbers and bogus ID's would be reduced significantly.

This is not about discrimination because E-verify is activated after someone has been hired,” Shuler said. “This helps to ensure that local officials can identify who they arrest. Interior enforcement is crucial.” It's essential that Americans back him and his sponsors when the act is introduced in the next few weeks. This is namely after Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) silently neutralized E-Verify, plus 48 other members of the Senate. We cannot trust these pro-illegal immigrant--PARIAH--cheap labor--BUSINESS politicians. With over 12 million Americans out of work and large numbers of new veterans entering the workplace, nor can our own kids get Summer jobs. We just cannot accept any legalization of 13 to 20 million foreign nationals and the huge costs sustaining them. Offer your support to Rep.Shuler (D-NC) on his gov website. Phone: 828-252-1651 Learn more at NUMBERSUSA

Enforce the 1986 Simpson/Mazzoli bill, the Immigration Reform & Control Act as enacted.

from: Brittanicus on: 5-4-2009

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Pittsfield: "GIC sign-up ends Friday (May 15, 2009)"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Active and retired city and public school employees have until Friday (5/15/2009) to join the state-sponsored health insurance program that's expected to save them and Pittsfield taxpayers millions of dollars.

City officials said May 15 remains the hard-and-fast deadline for the more than 2,400 people eligible to enroll with the Group Insurance Commission, or GIC.

Nearly 1,800 current and retired workers have applied for one of the 11 health coverage plans offered through the GIC, according to figures released Tuesday by City Hall. The GIC enrollment is nearing the 1,950 who currently have city health insurance through the privately run Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Those who do not sign up for the GIC will have to find their own health insurance, but they can switch to it during next year's open enrollment.

Pittsfield is dropping Blue Cross in favor of the GIC after the city and its 17 collective bargaining units last October agreed to sign a three-year contract with the GIC, effective July 1.

City officials have estimated the move will save taxpayers and workers a combined $5.6 million. The newly reactived joint Administrative-City Council Ad-Hoc Committee on Health Insurance will help determine the actual cost savings.

Once the figure is known, Mayor James M. Ruberto has said it will be a "critical element" in creating a new budget for fiscal 2010, a spending plan that is facing at least a $2 million reduction in state aid, starting July 1, 2009.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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National Police Week
"Pittsfield police chief takes moment to remember"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PITTSFIELD — With a 24 percent spike in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty nationwide so far this year, local law enforcement officials and dignitaries on Tuesday honored the men and women in blue during a brief but poignant ceremony outside Pittsfield police headquarters.

To date this year, there have been 46 deaths, which is 9 more deaths than at this point last year, according to acting Police Chief Michael J. Wynn.

Wynn made that sobering revelation as he stood at a podium on a portable stage outside the Allen Street police station, where he was joined by Mayor James M. Ruberto, Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless and other dignitaries.

The officials assembled under a gloomy sky, which only added to the somber mood, to pay homage to the nation's fallen officers as part of National Police Week, which runs from May 10 to May 16, 2009.

They were joined on stage by Monsignor Michael A. Shershanovich, pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Pittsfield; Rosanne M. Frieri, the city's director of veteran's services; city councilors Gerald M. Lee and Louis A. Costi; Pittsfield Police Capt. John Mullin; and U.S. Secret Service Agent Stephen D. Ricciardi, the special agent in charge of the New England region.

Shershanovich prayed for and celebrated the nation's law enforcment community, "those who serve us with pride and dignity."

Ruberto said that "we must give them our undying support," referring to the Pittsfield Police Department's 89 men and women.

The mayor, citing national data, said that of the roughly 60,000 assaults on police officers annually, roughly 16,000 of them result in serious injuries.

Wynn cited more grim statistics by highlighting recent police slayings, including three, ambush-style killings of officers in Philadelphia, Oakland and San Francisco.

"I think it's important that we (honor police officers) to remind ourselves and our citizens of the risks that we face in our jobs," Wynn told The Eagle.

The ceremony also hailed the memories of Capt. Michael Leonard and Officers Leo Sullivan and Timothy Shepard, Pittsfield police officers who died in the line of duty. Leonard died in 1898, Sullivan in 1956 and Shepard in 1988.

The memory of Secret Service Agent William Craig — the first agent to die while protecting a U.S. president — also was invoked. Craig died in Pittsfield on Sept. 3, 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt's horse-drawn carriage was struck by a trolley on South Street.

The impact threw the occupants of the open-air carriage to the road. Craig, 47, landed on the tracks and was run over by the trolley.
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To reach Conor Berry: cberry@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6249.
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Pittsfield Public Schools
"Principal search grows: District struggles to fill position at Taconic; Elementary post opens"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The search for a new Taconic High School principal is taking longer than expected, and at the elementary school level, a second principal's job has opened up in the Pittsfield Public Schools.

The Taconic search committee interviewed three finalists from a pool of nine applicants, but decided to re-open the search for a candidate who can handle a comprehensive approach to the school's academic and vocational needs, according to Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

"We're looking for someone with a background and qualities that fit Taconic," Eberwein said Tuesday. None of the final candidates were from Berkshire County.

"It's more important to take the time to find the right person than rush the process," he said.

Despite the extended search, Eberwein said mid-June remains the target deadline to find a successor to Douglas McNally — who's retiring after 18 years as Taconic's boss — allowing time for a transition between McNally and the new principal.

While the seven-member search committee made up of parents, teachers and administrators is hoping for more resumes the second time around, Eberwein isn't counting on it.

"Finding a high school principal is challenging," Eberwein said. "The candidate pool statewide is not deep."

Meanwhile, a second elementary school principal's job in Pittsfield is available.

Karen Senus decided in late April she will leave her post at Egremont Elementary School when the school year ends in June. Eberwein said Senus will become a classroom teacher again, after two years as principal.

The search for Senus' successor will be combined with the one to find Mary Ellen Trumbull's replacement at Capeless Elementary School. Trumbull announced in January she was retiring after 11 years at Capeless, known as Highland Elementary when she became principal in 1998.

Eberwein said a single search committee is treating the nearly 20 candidates who've applied as if they are after either principalship, with the top two applicants being considered for the two positions.

The goal is to have the two new elementary school principals chosen before the school year ends next month.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pittsfield Public Schools: Budget shortfall could spur staff cuts"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, May 21, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The proposed $50.1 million city school budget for fiscal 2010 calls for teacher and staff layoffs — but how many depends on the amount of local, state and federal money spent on the Pittsfield Public Schools starting July 1.

School administrators on Tuesday night unveiled to the School Committee a level-funded spending plan considered a "worse-case scenario" that could see at least 32 positions — mostly teachers and teacher aides — eliminated either through attrition or people outright losing their jobs.

And the threat of layoffs is growing.

"We have 11 or so positions we fund with grants that are questionable," said School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance Sally Douglas said the budget could be bumped up to $51.9 million — thus saving most of those jobs — if the schools receive federal stimulus money through the state.

"We don't want to depend on stimulus dollars if we don't get them," Douglas said in explaining why that revenue wasn't factored in.

While the $50.1 million is virtually the same figure the committee approved last year, school officials had to reduce several line items by a total of $1.75 million to make up for the $1.75 million in increases elsewhere in the budget. The majority of the increase — $1.1 million — is for scheduled pay raises.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said even discussing budget maneuvering is premature given the uncertainty of state aid to Pittsfield.

"To talk about $1.7 million in cuts will rain terror in the community," Ruberto said, noting he won't discuss the city budget situation, until the amount of state funding is known.

Furthermore, Ruberto said he's unsure if the city taxpayer contribution to the fiscal 2010 school budget — $13.8 million — will match the amount in the current budget year.

The lack of solid state revenue figures, usually available by now, have made the budget process extremely difficult this year, according to School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso.

"What we have is our best guess at this point," Amuso said, "and we may have to move things around."

Eberwein added, "We can reorganize our resources that have a great impact (on education)."

The School Committee will wait until June before adopting a final budget, but decided it will go ahead with is scheduled public hearing on the spending plan next Wednesday night.

"At this point, it's really imperative the public give us feedback on the budget," said School Committee member Erin Sullivan.

Even the current budget remains in dire straits.

Douglas said Pittsfield faces a $3.76 million shortfall in Chapter 70 money through June 30, because Patrick wants cut $412 million in school aid to help the state deal with its on going budget crisis. She said Pittsfield Public Schools can make up the lost revenue by applying for federal stimulus money.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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What's next:

What: Pittsfield school budget public hearing.

When: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 6 p.m.

Where: Pittsfield High School Library.
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Published May 21, 2009
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"Pittsfield election season begins"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, May 22, 2009

PITTSFIELD — While the mayor's race is quiet in the early going of Pittsfield's election season, a pair of City Council contests are emerging.

Melissa Mazzeo and Daniel Zunitch, who both ran unsuccessfully in the Ward 3 special election won by Paul J. Capitanio in March, have taken out nomination papers for at large City Council seats, according to the city clerk's office.

At large incumbents Matthew M. Kerwood, Peter M. Marchetti and Kevin J. Sherman are also circulating nomination papers, while Council President Gerald M. Lee has yet to do so.

Meanwhile, Kevin J. Morandi is once again trying to unseat Ward 2 City Councilor Louis A. Costi, who won a third term by 28 votes following a recount a month after the 2007 general election in November. Morandi has turned in the required number of signatures to be on the ballot, while Costi has yet to return his papers to City Hall for verification.

A third potential Ward 2 candidate, Peter T. White, also has taken out nomination papers.

While Mayor James M. Ruberto announced May 1 — the first day city election papers were available — he's seeking a fourth term as Pittsfield's chief executive, he has yet to make it official by returning his paperwork. So far, Paul Kwasniowski is the only mayoral candidate of the six who took out papers who's officially in the running, having returned his papers.

All possible candidates for mayor, City Council, city clerk and the school sommittee have until Aug. 4 to obtain and return nomination papers to the registrar of voters for certification. If approved, candidates then must submit papers to the City Clerk's office by Aug. 18 in order to appear on the ballot.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"3-family homes could see trash fee"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, May 28, 2009

PITTSFIELD — Owners of three-family dwellings could be added to the list of those who pay to have the city pick up their trash.

Pittsfield officials want to implement a monthly fee of $52.50 for three-family residences in the controversial ordinance that assesses a $70 monthly fee to owners of four-family apartments. Landlords who live in the buildings would be exempt from the fee, as is the case now for the four-family residences.

The original ordinance generated much debate on the City Council over the course of several meetings until councilors finally adopted the measure by a vote of 7-4 on Oct. 10, 2006.

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony V. Maffuccio, who was among the majority three years ago, and said he would support including three-family apartments in the ordinance and that the $52.50 surcharge "looks reasonable."

However one of the naysayers from 2006, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, said he's "fairly skeptical" of charging three-family dwellings as well.

The City Council's Public Works & Utilities subcommittee will initially review the ordinance change, before the Ordinance and Rules subcommittee chaired by Lothrop debates the measure and decides whether entire City Council should vote on the issue.

Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said on Tuesday the reason for garbage pick-up fee now is the same as three years ago — Pittsfield needs the money.

"The primary drive is the status of the budget," said Collingwood.

Pittsfield is facing at least a $2 million reduction in state aid for fiscal 2010 starting July 1, and city officials are looking for various ways to cut costs and boost its revenue.

Collingwood said the new fee will generate "about $100,000" a year to help offset the city's cost of its residential trash hauling service. That's roughly the same amount brought in by charging four-family residences — nearly $107,000 in fiscal 2008 according to Pittsfield's Finance Director Susan Carmel. She projects the same figure for fiscal 2009 which ends June 30.

Meanwhile, another proposed change to the city's trash collection program before the City Council would limit participating homeowners to placing one, 65-gallon garbage container — or tote — at the curbside per week.

The totes will be provided free-of-charge and Collingwood said the size should suffice for a large majority of households.

"For some people," he said, "a 65-gallon tote will be huge."

Furthermore, city officials said going to a single, large container will hopefully discourage residents from piling up at curbside more than their fair share of garbage.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to clean up our streets," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.

"The bulk waste program has helped stop some of that (piling on)," noted Collingwood.

Since late September, homeowners who rely on Pittsfield's trash collection program have been able to buy a $15 "bulk waste sticker" for each unwanted item they want picked up during their regularly scheduled collection day. The stickers and information what items they can be slapped on are available at City Hall.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Changes in trash collection"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Friday, May 29, 2009

Pittsfield has long enjoyed an extremely generous trash collection process in terms of what can be picked up, which was just about anything, and its low cost. That is changing, and while it requires adjustment, for reasons of financing and practicality it has to happen.

City officials want to introduce a monthly fee of $52.50 for three-family residences as part of the ordinance assessing a $70 monthly fee to owners of four-family apartments approved amid much debate in the fall of 2006. That ordinance did not place a huge burden on apartment dwellers and it succeeded in producing much-needed revenue for the financially strapped city. The new proposal will do the same, generating an estimated $100,000, according to Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce Collingwood, at a time when the city is facing an approximate $2 million cut in state aid for fiscal 2010, which is a little more than a month away.

The plan to limit homeowners to one 65-gallon garbage container to be left at curbside each week is a good idea as well. The container, or tote, to be provided free of charge, will hold plenty of garbage while discouraging the piling up of excessive garbage on the street that for too long was a Pittsfield trademark. The introduction of the $15 bulk waste sticker helped address this situation, born of a too generous collection policy, and the totes will further discourage this practice.

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"Chasing down taxes in Pittsfield: The campaign to reel in delinquent property taxes has netted the city about $525,000 to date"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, May 29, 2009

PITTSFIELD — An aggressive campaign to reduce the number of property tax scofflaws has infused more money into a cash-strapped city and could lead to cleaning up a few blighted properties in the process.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said the program has collected roughly $525,000 in unpaid taxes in the current fiscal year, almost double what the city had received in the prior fiscal year.

The treasurer's office reports another $3.5 million in property taxes is owed. Nearly half that total represents penalties and interest accrued on the late payments.

The stepped up effort against tax delinquents began in October, when approximately 280 property owners were put on notice, according to the city's attorney Richard M. Dohoney.

"We sent each a letter and gave them three choices: Pay your taxes, give us your property, or see you in court," Dohoney told the City Council this week.

As a result, city finance officials say nearly 60 property owners are either paid in full, on a monthly payment plan, or have started paying down their tax bill. Dohoney said another 66 are in "active foreclosure" in the state Land Court — a process that usually takes two years.

The third option for tax delinquents — to relinquish their real estate to the city — has been around for several years but was only recently used in Pittsfield. Dohoney said a state statute enacted seven years ago allowed a city or town to forgive the taxes owed if a property owner voluntarily agrees to give up his or her land.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved Pittsfield taking three small vacant lots that owe nearly $53,000 in overdue taxes. The parcels on Briggs, Stanton and Dewey avenues range from one-tenth to 1/4 of an acre.

Another 15 property owners have indicated interest in such a trade off, according to Dohoney, the majority of whom have vacant, unbuildable lots.

While the money owed is less than the assessed value of the properties ($39,600), city officials said the trade is financially and aesthetically worth it to Pittsfield.

Since Pittsfield will likely never collect from the tax delinquents, Ruberto said, the city is better off controlling those properties.

"Do we want (the land) to stay in current hands," Ruberto asked the council, "when nothing good comes from it?"

"It's much better to control such property, (and) to keep the blight down," he said, adding that swapping properties for a zero tax bill will save the city money in the long run, avoiding the lengthy foreclosure process.

Ruberto said the city would maintain the lots until they are sold or some use for them is found.

Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi said that selling the land to abutters would add value to their properties and get it back on the tax rolls.

The increased pressure on property tax scofflaws targeted those who've owed the city for several years, up to fiscal 2007.

However, the city getting tough on them apparently has impacted the recently named 101 tax delinquents from fiscal 2008 — some of whom also owe from previous years. Since the list was published three weeks ago, city officials report, about 35 have paid their bills. Pittsfield property owners considered delinquent in their fiscal 2009 tax bills have yet to be identified.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pay up, please"
City of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, The Berkshire Eagle, Friday, May 29, 2009

Owner(s) Amount owed What owed Property(s) location

Adam Lee Hall $20,774.78 Demolition lien, water Danforth Avenue

Chester J. Johnston $6,959.07 Property, water 179 West Housatonic St.

Stephanie W. Johnston 175 West Housatonic St.

John A. Massery $6,552.94 Property, water 40 Vista St.

Toni M. Massery 69 Boylston St, (&) 45 Merriam St.

John A. Massery $3,797.08 ** Property, water, 23 Abbott St.,

Toni M. Massery trash

Jeffrey D. Pierce $3,633.32 Property 14 Dalton Ave.

James E. Cantarella $3, 417.69 ** Property 82 Lafayette St.

Robert North Jr. $3,354.88 Property 3 Briggs Ave.

Peter J. Cavish $3,267.78 Property 357 Elm St.

Olsen Family Realty Trust $3,103.49 Property Three parcels Knox Road

John E. Raymond $3,102.94 ** Property 105 Lyman St.

Elaine B. Raymond

** Indicates the amount has since been paid.
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"GIC disappoints Pittsfield retirees"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Sunday, May 31, 2009

My wife and I, along with all the other city employees, had to sign up for the GIC insurance. This insurance change was presented as a major savings for the city and its employees. It was not an easy selection process to say the least. Searching for a policy that included all the doctors we use in our family, and where they are tiered, was quite an ordeal. No plan met all our needs, but one had four out of the five doctors.

With Blue Cross and Blue shield we never had to worry about traveling. Now, we had to find a plan that would allow us to leave Berkshire County and not go through a hassle if we needed coverage. That eliminated some more plans.

Selecting a policy that met our medication needs was the final crusher of this whole process. If you think all generic medicines are equivalent to the brand names you are now using, you are wrong. Through Blue Cross and Blue Shield, one medicine we have to get cost us $20 for a three-month supply. That will now become a charge of $110 for the same prescription, quite an increase.

With the GIC we will be paying more for co-pays, more for medicine, and a higher premium for the same coverage we had with Blue Cross and Blue Shield. There will not be any savings for my family.

We also have a number of questions that never seem to get fully answered. Why were we not allowed to have Blue Cross and Blue Shield present at a forum so that we could see how they compared to the GIC? How many retirees are there compared to other groups that bargained for this insurance? Did we get equal representation by member size? If the premiums change, other groups can compensate through pay raises, retirees can't.

At one of these forums, we asked a GIC representative about the percentage breakdown individual group's pay. The city keeps saying this rate is set by the state. This is true for the total cost of each insurance plan, but the cost per enrollee is determined locally. So why does the city say it needs the state's OK to keep retirees at 10 percent? As far as we can see, the city on its own could set the retired members' rate back to 10 percent and it doesn't need the state's permission as it claims. This is pointed out on page 12 of the May 2009 issue of "The Voice of the Retired Public Employee," the newsletter of the Retired State, County and Municipal Employees Association of Massachusetts. What is the real answer?

JOHN FITZGERALD
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Needless attack on PHS students"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Thursday, June 4, 2009

I urge Mayor Ruberto to use restraint when he is speaking about our city's youth and our historic city high school. The words he chose at the School Committee meeting to describe our students were offensive and out of line.

In my classroom I uphold the dress code that the mayor as a School Committee member instituted on a daily basis. In addition, I took time this week to further investigate how many students actually went against the dress code. There were only a few and to make them comply only took the removal of a cap.

I question what he considers "appalling and absolute disgrace." Was it a black hoodie? An oversized T-shirt with pants below the waist? Or was it tank tops and shorts? All of these, while most likely not his fashion sense, are still well within the limits set forth by the School Committee.

Ironically, at a recent staff meeting, we were shown a variety of potentially offensive attire and asked whether or not we as teachers were legally allowed to discriminate. It was clear the lines were fuzzy, and what some found offensive, others found completely harmless.

On another note, I am hurt that the mayor has again put Pittsfield High School in the press and public eye for something so negative. Last year was difficult for the image of PHS. We were unfairly thrust into the public eye for a variety of negative incidents that were somewhat out of our control. Much of this was happening in other parts of the city and county but because of our city location we were always in the limelight. I am sure the appalling attire you are so offended by is seen in every other high school in the county. Take a walk up West Street and you may see the same.

This year has been one of pride and success for our students. In the 12 years of teaching I have never had such a wonderful group of seniors. They have shown incredible heart and responsibility as well as talent and community involvement. Many have chosen state and community colleges in order to help their parents out and many have chosen honorable career paths to help our community. This year has truly fulfilled our commitment as a school to empower students to become contributing members of the global community.

To have our final weeks of a positive school year shrouded in negative comments is sad. It behooves the mayor to read and educate himself on the dress code that he approved before he attacks it and our students. It also behooves a man in his position to model behavior and thinking that is not rash, uninformed and insensitive.

LISA OSTELLINO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is a visual arts teacher at Pittsfield High School.
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"Welcome words on appropriate student dress"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bravo to Mayor Ruberto for speaking out about the lack of an appropriate dress code in some of our community's schools before the School Committee.

Worse than the fact that many kids wear such outrageous and obnoxious garb are those principals who don't even try to enforce specific aspects of current dress codes that could help clean up the image of their own school (and ultimately our community). Sure we can say that encouragement of proper school attire start at home, but unless we have the right policies in place and assurance that such policies will be enforced, the parents will be fighting a losing battle.

C'mon principals, do your job, and the parents will do theirs.

T.J. CHIARETTO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Those darn kids"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Friday, June 5, 2009

The manner in which the nation's youth dresses today is guaranteed to raise the ire of their elders — that is undoubtedly part of the attraction. There is nothing new about this, nor is the dismay of Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto about the appearance of Pittsfield High School students expressed before the School Committee recently surprising. The mayor wants his city to look nice, and that includes he kids in it.

There is, however, an element of judging a book by its cover in criticizing students for the way they dress or wear their hair. Much of this comes down to nothing more than choices of style, reflecting current trends within the popular culture. Picking out the good students from the bad students, the disciplinary problems from the model citizens, from the way they look in school would, if attempted, undoubtedly prove to be a highly inexact science.

Much of youth involves acting out, including adopting unsightly methods of dress, before settling down in adulthood. When it comes to improper apparel, an adult who should know better wearing a baseball cap while dining in a fine Berkshire restaurant or attending a concert at Ozawa Hall while clad in sweatpants and flip-flops is quite arguably far more offensive than a high school student attired in a T-shirt and baggy pants.

The Beatles, those baby-boomer icons, infuriated the elders of the '60s by inspiring youth to grow their hair by a couple of inches. Many of the long-haired, bearded, hideously dressed young people of that decade and the '70s grew up to be today's teachers, business leaders, bankers and politicians — pillars of the community. We expect the same of the city's high school students, regardless of what they may look like today.

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"Thinking outside of the birdcage"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I recently met an out-of-town friend at Dottie's coffee shop. Sitting by the window, she noticed seven empty birdcages hanging from a nearby telephone pole. That's Pittsfield, I told her, where we are rethinking new uses for old artifacts. With Mayor Ruberto and Megan Whilden in the lead, the city's support of the creative economy has opened the cage doors of myopic thinking to give us a broader view of art and culture as an economic engine.

Pittsfield has had a history of creating things to make life better, from woolen mills and manufacturing to electricity and plastics. Now in these difficult times, the empty cages remind us that we are free again to imagine and explore creative possibilities that inspire new beginnings of prosperity.

Whether birdcages or buildings, city streets, theaters or Third Thursdays, Pittsfield is being transformed with a new, vital energy that will take us back to a flourishing future!

REBA H. EVENCHIK
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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A Reader's Comment - "Groggy" (IP location: Cotati, CA) wrote:

"Empty birdcages, reimagined or not, don't pay the rent! If art & culture are the "economic engine" currently driving Pittsfield then the engine is seizing and in desperate need of overhaul or replacement. People need JOBS, careers. Waiting on wealthy tourists' tables for 3 months out of the year does not qualify, and even those wealthy tourists won't be around long enjoying art & culture if they see the filth, drugs and crime that are eroding the city's emotional as well as structural foundation. One or two knife-point holdups, one art patron shot while emerging from a gallery and the whole art & culture economy is dead. Art & culture are a fine adjunct to a thriving community, but we need to reimagine Pittsfield as part of a thriving community with careers and reasons for families to move here and raise their children. Hooking on with the burgeoning nano-technology boom 40 miles West would be a start. attracting new-energy corporate investment is another. Let's get our heads out of the sand, put them together and re-imagine a Pittsfield...a Berkshires, that works and is sustainable."
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"The high cost of special ed: School systems in Berkshire County grapple with how to best educate special needs students."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, June 7, 2009

Since age 3, Pittsfield High School sophomore Katie Jodoin has been classified as a special-needs student.

A generation ago, Jodoin, who has a genetic learning disorder, might have been educated in a classroom only with other children identified as needing extra help, students with afflictions ranging from vision or hearing impairments to autism.

But thanks to her school's policy of inclusion — weaving students such as Jodoin into classes with the general student population — she takes both regular and special-education classes and participates in Pittsfield High's culinary arts program.

Her mother, Michell, said her daughter's success is due in part to being welcomed as just one of the kids.

"They have always accepted Katie in the classroom," Michell said. "Kids have always wanted to help her. She just wants to be like everyone else."

Special education for school districts, however, is a tricky and costly proposition, especially when it comes to students who don't integrate into the classroom as well as Katie has and who require more intensive learning environments.

In Massachusetts, about 17 percent of the nearly 1 million students have been identified as special-ed students, and budgets for their education account for 10 to 20 percent of a local school district's expenditures.

In Berkshire County, administrators are grappling with how to best educate special-needs students with their current resources as they design programs and collaborate in an effort to minimize the number of costlier out-of-district placements.
'Part of the public schools'

It is a school system's responsibility to educate all students, but sometimes, a youngster's needs go beyond programs offered by a local district. Occasionally, a student's educational challenges might be so great that he or she would best be served living in a school designed for such students.

And when the cost of special education in the Lee Public Schools jumped nearly $500,000 last year — primarily due to three students being placed in private schools outside of the district — Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless feared such a large increase would create taxpayer resentment toward those students.

McCandless said that wasn't the case.

"The feeling in town seems to be that all kids living in Lee belong to Lee and should be part of the public schools," he said.

The same opinion might not hold true everywhere.

Pamela Kenyon, the director of special education in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, said there's "most certainly" a few people with harsh feelings.

"(But) would they openly (admit) it? Maybe not," she said.

Education officials say in-district programs are beneficial because they lower costs and keep higher numbers of special-needs students in a regular school setting.

In Berkshire County this school year, more than 3,000 of the nearly 16,800 public-school students are in the special-education category, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), formerly the Department of Education.

Those special-needs students have one or more of the following conditions: autism; development delay; communication, health, intellectual, neurological, physical, sensory or emotional impairments; or a specific learning disability.

Out-of-district increases

As of Oct. 1, 2008, only 50 special-needs students in the county's public schools were in residential programs, according to the DESE. But that number is up from 31 in 2006 and 42 in 2007.

Public school officials cite two main reasons for the increase:

Students once educated locally require more services than school districts can offer;

Parents of special-ed students already in private schools have moved to the Berkshires, making the local districts legally and financially responsible for those students.

Officials from several local school districts said it costs between $100,000 and $150,000 a year to educate each special-ed student out of district. The DESE said the average cost statewide is $164,000 to $186,000.

McCandless said that if Lee didn't invest more in local programs and services, the number of students sent away would increase, and the cost "would be more like $750,000 to $1 million."

"Any one kid could end up going out of district," he said.

Meanwhile, the Pittsfield Public Schools are developing a public day program that could significantly reduce the number of students placed outside the district by educating them within the city's school system.

Pittsfield Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said 28 special-needs students are enrolled in private residential or group home settings. He said he initially expects 12 of those students to participate in the day program, scheduled to start in the fall of 2010.

Eberwein said federal stimulus money will pay for the program initially; eventually it will become a local taxpayer expense. The cost of the program will be worked out over the next year, he said.

Despite adding the expenses of staff, equipment and a place for the program to the school budget, Eberwein said the long-term savings will more than offset the yearly expenses.

"The goal is to keep kids in the community — even if in local group homes," said Stephanie Case, the director of special education for the Pittsfield schools.

Rising autism rates

One of the fastest-growing segments of special education in the state is autistic children who are educated in public schools. The percentage of those students rose from 3 percent in 2003 to 5 percent in 2007, according to the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy in Cambridge.

Case said the increase is due to a better diagnosis of the affliction, especially of high-functioning autistic students.

The number of autistic students in the Pittsfield public schools has risen from 50 to 63 in the past four years, requiring expanded programs, such as three added in the middle schools. Those programs serve autistic children moving up from the elementary grades.

An increase in Lee, from three to 15 autistic students in the past three years — primarily in the elementary school — prompted the Lee School Committee in December 2007 to hire a second full-time special-ed teacher.

Lee Special Education Director Alice Taverna said the rare mid-school-year hire freed up a staff member to work with non-autistic students.

Because Lee's autism program is based on inclusion, Taverna said, having well-trained teachers is important to "keeping (autistic) kids as much in the classroom as possible."

To enhance those students' education and to possibly save money, the Lee, Southern Berkshire, Lenox and Berkshire Hills Regional school districts will team up this summer to offer a pilot program for autistic children.

The Southern Berkshire Educational Collaborative is sponsoring the program, which will accommodate 17 students from the four school districts. The districts will share the $34,000 cost, SBEC director Peter Kopcha said.

While it's too early to calculate the savings, Kopcha said the program is worthwhile because it provides students with summer instruction, preventing them from falling back in their development.

Kopcha said the program could be a starting point for further collaborations. Although such efforts might not save the school districts money, he said joint participation can provide better services and programs for the same amount.

Early intervention, public school officials said, also is key to keeping special-ed costs in check.

"The most important thing is to intervene at the pre-school level," said Kenyon, the Southern Berkshire Regional's special-ed director. "If you get to (students) then, they are less likely to need special education in later years."

Case in point is the 7-year-old autistic son of Jennifer — she requested that her last name not be published — who found that the special-education services her son began receiving in pre-school have allowed him to thrive in first grade.

"Working with people who knew what they were doing made all the difference," Jennifer said.

She noted that after four years, her son no longer needs as many services and can forgo a summer-school program designed to bridge the gap between the school years.

"This summer," she said, "he gets to be a kid."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts - "Trash talk gets hearing"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, June 6, 2009

PITTSFIELD — The city's plan to add three-family dwellings to the list of those residences paying extra for trash pick-up, will get its first public airing on Monday night.

The City Council Public Works Committee will hold what could be the first of several meetings on an issue that divided the council nearly three years ago when it approved, in a 7 to 4 vote, a $70 monthly fee for four-unit dwellings.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers.

The City Council Ordinance and Rules Committee will also debate the measure — at a meeting yet to be determined — and decide whether the City Council should vote on the issue.

Under the latest trash fee proposal from Mayor James M. Ruberto, three-unit apartments would pay $52.50 per month — a fee assessed to the landlord. Those owners living on the premises would be exempt, as is the case now for the four-family residences.

Opponents to the original fee adopted in October 2006 feared the cost would be passed onto tenants.

However, Ward 1 Councilor Lewis C. Markham Jr., chairman of the Public Works Committee, said he hasn't heard any "hue and cry" that landlords increased their rents due to the trash fee.

"The deafening silence indicates to me the fee has been a success," added Markham.

The success is Pittsfield raised nearly $107,000 in fiscal 2008 and the same amount is expected when fiscal 2009 ends June 30, according to city financial officials.

While the cost of Pittsfield's residential trash hauling program is factored into the property tax rate, city officials have said the added revenue is still needed to help offset the cost. The proposed new fee could also generate "about $100,000," according to Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

However, Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, who sits on the Public Works Committee, still fears "the extra fee is going to fall on tenants" and that's why he requested his panel review the matter more thoroughly before it's referred to Ordinance & Rules.

Even though the fee for the four-family dwellings is on the books, Bianchi said the new fee shouldn't automatically be approved.

"I'd also like to hear from owners of two-family dwellings," he added, "because that's where this fee is headed."

If you go ...

What: The Pittsfield City Council Public Works Committee will discuss the proposed trash pick-up fee for three-family dwellings.

When: Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Council Chambers at City Hall.
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"Wise, worst-case budget"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editor, Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto's proposal of a modest tax hike generating $2.3 million in revenue paired with $4.1 million in spending cuts is a responsible way of addressing a fiscal 2010 budget rendered tight by anticipated drops in revenue. The city may be able to reclaim some cuts if state aid comes in higher than expected, but the mayor's adopting of a worst-case scenario is definitely wise given current economic realities.

In his proposal presented to the City Council Tuesday, the mayor noted that there will be a handful of layoffs and some workers will have reduced pay and hours, which puts City Hall in the company of many private businesses in the city and region. More cutbacks and/or a larger hike in taxes would have been necessitated had the city not saved roughly $2.6 million in health care costs by joining the Group Insurance Commission, a critical move that became reality after the city's union's responsibly signed off on the mayor's plan to enroll Pittsfield in the state program.

The $70,000 hike in the Police Department budget is defensible in light of the city's gang and drug problems. It will be even more necessary if the state cuts funding to help communities deal with those twin issues, as seems likely.

Beacon Hill, which is still wrestling with budget cut plans and a likely increase in the sales tax to address major drops in revenue, will soon begin pulling its traditional all-nighters to finalize a budget by July 1. The city can't wait for Boston, and even if the mayor is flying blind to some extent, his budget appears clear-eyed and realistic.
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"Pittsfield weighs funding options: Talks of how the city will handle its $122.7M budget dominate the first of several hearings."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, June 18, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- How Pittsfield will fund its new budget -- rather than what the city will spend starting July 1 -- dominated the debate Wednesday night as the City Council began reviewing the fiscal 2010 spending plan.

The $122.7 million proposal is down from the $126.8 million approved last June for the current fiscal year. The reduced spending coupled with spending and increased property taxes is Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan to erase an anticipated $6.4 million drop in local revenue and state aid to the city and its schools.

But the thought of the average property tax bill increasing $90 for a single family home and $670 for a typical business didn't sit well with several councilors.

"I would like to see the tax increase lowered," said Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi.

Bianchi suggested applying any increase in state aid to lessen the budget's tax impact.

However, Ruberto strongly urged such a windfall be used to minimize the use of so-called "free cash," saving more of the surplus funds for the next couple of fiscal years, which are expected to be worse than fiscal 2010.

"I believe public safety will be compromised if we don't save as much free cash as possible," Ruberto said.

Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti questioned why city officials predict a decrease in excise tax revenue to the city when the amount received so far in the current fiscal year is higher than expected.

"The way the economy is going, most people are not buying new cars," said city Finance Director Susan Carmel, "or they are cutting back to just one."

The City Council eventually got around to discussing the expenditures, preliminarily approving line items for the mayor's office, City Council, City Clerk, Fire Department and a $1.1 million capital budget. At press time, the council was still discussing funding for emergency management and the police department.

The City Council will continue the budget hearings tonight, with Public Works and the Health Department highlighting the discussion. Additional budget meetings are scheduled for June 22, 24 and 25, with the June 22 hearing devoted solely to the school budget.

The School Committee will present a $51.6 million spending plan, which it approved on Wednesday night. While the proposal shows a $1.7 million increase over the current budget, school officials still had to eliminate about 24 jobs worth $640,000 in order to help erase a $3.1 million deficit for fiscal 2010. The rest of the shortfall would be covered by $2.5 million in federal stimulus money.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield mayor James Ruberto discusses his proposed budget with City Council members Tuesday.
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"Pittsfield to trim $4.1M"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto yesterday unveiled a budget that would slash city spending by $4.1 million in anticipation of a major reduction in the funds Pittsfield receives from the state.

Despite the spending cuts, Pittsfield's property tax bills would still increase when fiscal 2010 begins on July 1.

Mayor James M. Ruberto on Tuesday officially presented his budget during a special noon meeting of the City Council. He would spend $122.7 million, down from the $126.8 million approved last June for the current fiscal year.

"Today, the budget I respectfully submit to you -- though austere -- continues to reflect the values that this community holds dear," Ruberto said. "While this budget contains some truly painful cuts, it focuses on more efficiently delivering an educational experience to our children, a responsible but less aggressive capital plan designed to improve our roads and sidewalks, a commitment to keep all our fire stations open, and increasing the size of our police force to combat the rise in gang and drug-related criminal activity."

The reduced spending and increased taxes are Ruberto's answer to a $6.4 million drop in local revenue and state aid to the city and its schools.

The residential tax rate would jump from $13.67 per $1,000 in assessed value to $14.13. That translates to $90.29 more a year for the average single-family home worth nearly $189,000. The commercial and industrial tax rate is expected to increase from $28.88 to $29.87 -- or an average of $671 for property valued at $567,000.

In order to keep the tax increase to a minimum, Ruberto has asked the City Council to use $1.7 million from Pittsfield's reserve funds to help balance the budget.

The City Council will begin its budget hearings at 7 tonight in City Hall, with additional meetings scheduled for June 18, 22, 24 and 25.

Ruberto said he based his spending plan on the worst-case scenario of the Senate version of the state budget. He said the local budget crisis would have been worse had the city failed to join the state-sponsored health insurance program.

"Had we not received approval from the city unions to join the [Group Insurance Commission], the budget would be $2.6 million higher in health care costs," he said, and emphasized that "this has saved a lot of jobs," without giving a specific number.

Ruberto said "less than a half-dozen" municipal workers will be laid off if the budget is approved in its current form, though an unspecified number of employees will face reduced hours and pay.

Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said he was fortunate to keep all his employees, but he still had to trim his budget by more than $480,000.

Collingwood said he expects his department to survive the reductions -- for now. "We're holding steady with what we have," he said.

Ruberto has proposed more money in four areas -- including police protection. He defended the Police Department's nearly $70,000 and said he hopes to put "a couple more" officers on the street.

Acting Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said the added dollars won't directly translate into more officers but will allow him to maintain the staffing levels he advocated for during last year's budget process.

"We're still trying to fill [four] vacant positions," he said.

The other city departments receiving an increase are Veterans Services ($232,000), the Airport Commission ($9,800) and RSVP ($3,900) -- the volunteer service organization based at the Berkshire Athenaeum.

The City Council has received the budget proposal two weeks later than last year, a delay caused by the slow pace of the state budget on Beacon Hill. Ruberto said it was no longer prudent to "wait for word from Boston to deliberate over our budget, since it is uncertain when the state's numbers will be finalized."
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"Pittsfield Public Schools: Panel poised to OK school budget"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- As the City Council begins its budget hearing process tonight, the Pittsfield School Committee at the same time is expected to adopt a revised school budget of $52.3 million.

The School Committee will again meet in the Pittsfield High School library at 6 p.m. after gathering there Tuesday night to hear school officials deliver the latest version of the spending plan for fiscal 2010. Tonight's vote will follow final public comment and committee member input on a proposal with its own deficit to eliminate.

Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance Sally Douglas said a combination of necessary budget increases, reduced state aid and $1 million less in taxpayer money to pay for education add up to a $3.1 million shortfall.

To make up the difference, school officials want to use $2.5 million in federal stimulus money coupled with staffing cuts. While 64 full and part-time have received layoff notices, school officials have said some likely will be called back once the City Council approves the entire city budget.

"The proposed cuts really look at the need within the system and where we need to prioritize," said School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

The school budget -- like the city budget -- is based on Senate version of the state budget passing, which cuts school aid to Pittsfield by $715,000 -- a worst-case scenario that Eberwein said could get worse.

"The numbers being discussed in the Legislature still need to be played out," Eberwein said. "We may have to go deeper [with budget cuts] and we're prepared to go deeper," Douglas noted it's uncertain if the state will allocate the anticipated federal stimulus money for education.

"I can't stand here and say it's for sure," she said.
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"Failure rate too high"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PITTSFIELD --The school dropout dialogue continued on Tuesday, as the Pittsfield public school system held its third forum on the issue in two years.

The previous meetings were held in February and June 2008, with school administrators, educators, staff, and community and civic leaders in attendance.

This year's audience of nearly 70 people included a six-student panel, demonstrating the belief that everyone has a stake -- and should have a voice -- in the dropout discussion.

"The high school dropout issue has exploded at the national level," said Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

He said that nationally, 1.3 million students failed to graduate with the high school class of 2009. A total of about 15,000 of those students were from Massachusetts, including 150 from Pittsfield.

And though the combined graduation rates of Pittsfield and Taconic high schools improved -- 74 percent in 2008, up from 70 percent the previous year -- the consensus at Tuesday's meeting was that it's still not good enough.

"It's better, but far from acceptable," Eberwein said. "We need our students here in Pittsfield to graduate."

Under the federally funded Safe Schools Healthy Students initiative, the district formed five task groups last year to focus on dropout-related issues, including graduation requirements, alternative education pathways, identifying risk factors, early intervention/family support, mentoring and community alignment with the workforce.

This year, the first group successfully gained school committee approval to reduce the number of credits required to graduate from 260 to 244 credits, to better accommodate a seven-period school day.

That group has since been replaced with a subgroup known as the transition team, which has focused on helping students successfully transition from Grade 8 in middle school to their first year in high school.

"We've put programs in place to ease these students' fears," said Anne Beauregard, director of alternative education at Hibbard Alternative School.

This fall will bring some new programs under this umbrella, including a "shadow day" where eighth-graders will be able to go to a high school with a secondary student. Also for the 2009-2010 school year, Herberg Middle School will pilot the "house structure," which has had success already at Reid Middle School. This learning model creates smaller learning communities within the school at large.

Beauregard said there will also be an increase in academic support for students as well as more collaboration between the Pittsfield schools and the Juvenile Resource Center.

"We can always do more," she said.

A number of new, tangible efforts will also be put into effect for the upcoming school year, including:

n The closing of Hibbard Alternative School and transitioning students and staff into Herberg Middle School and the two city high schools.

n Running professional training sessions and hosting parent and student meetings over the summer to prepare for these transitions.

n Developing a day school program for special education students.

n Inducting 12 high school students into the Positive Options credit-recovery program at Berkshire Community College.

n Expanding the one-to-one student mentoring program at Herberg.

n Publishing fact sheets on topics such as early literacy, attendance and social promotion for Pittsfield parents.

n Partnering with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to research ways to better use student data to prevent students from dropping out of school.

n Creating a computer-based data tracking system to monitor dropout and graduation rates.

Amanda Marcotte, an assistant professor in the School of Education at UMass at Amherst is working with Pittsfield school counselors and psychologists on the district data project.

Pittsfield is one of 17 urban school districts to volunteer for the Dropout Prevention and Recovery Work Group created by the state Department of Early and Secondary Education.

"Pittsfield is right on par with what other school districts are doing or more," said Marcotte, who noted the district's attempts to streamline its efforts. "This is the shift in education these days. There is a need to evaluate if what you're doing works."
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"Too much testing in schools?"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 6/21/2009

Tests. Tests. And more tests.

Depending on the grade level, kids today face an alphabet soup of exams.

The SAT. The AP. And the state-mandated MCAS, which Berkshire County students in elementary, middle and high school just finished taking for the year.

Tests add up to valuable hours -- an estimated two weeks of the school year is spent taking state exams.

"It's way too much," said Marci Hinman, a junior at Taconic High School in Pittsfield.

Hinman isn't alone in that view.

The time spent on testing -- and the number and kinds of tests students are required to take -- has come into question this school year.

State education officials say they are committed to reducing the overall testing time for students, but with talk of less comes evidence of more, as everyone from local school boards to President Obama have called for education reform to prepare children with 21st-century skills.

These skills include knowing world languages, having financial literacy, possessing creative and critical thinking abilities, being literate in media and technology, and demonstrating leadership, among other qualities.

None of these subjects is currently tested or graded universally.

Test mania

In Berkshire County, students are given benchmark tests on academic progress and individual development throughout the year, in addition to the common classroom quizzes and year-end exams. All of those tests require preparation time and practice testing.

In late April, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) approved and awarded a five-year, $146 million contract to Measured Progress, a company that creates and distributes the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams.

In a statement briefing DESE board members on the contract, state education commissioner Mitchell D. Chester wrote: "The enhancements that the company has committed to implement include a reduction in overall testing time for students."

A DESE spokesman told The Eagle that proposed test changes include a reduction of one test session for each student in English Language Arts (ELA) across all grades, and a 15 percent reduction in the average time it should take students to finish math and science exams.

Also, a major overhaul of the federal No Child Left Behind Act is on the horizon. Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, has called the mandate "toxic."

Enacted in 2001 by former President George W. Bush, the law, in part, enforces the use of standardized tests to ensure that all children in the country's public schools are making "adequate yearly progress." The law dictates that all children must pass state tests, guided by the federal standards, by the year 2014.

That's why educators have dubbed the practice of using these assessments as "high-stakes testing." The threat is that underperforming schools could be taken over by government education boards or, in dire situations, closed.

In 2006, the Center on Education Policy published a report called "Ten Big Effects of the No Child Left Behind Act on Public School."

The research found evidence that test scores have improved and that schools are using data and best teaching practices to determine what schools should teach and how children should be taught. But the effects also include students spending more time testing, having more government involvement in schools, and teachers spending more time teaching math and English Language Arts at the expense of other subjects that aren't mandated.

With the current calls for national, state and local education reform, the number of hours students spend on test-taking is tipping toward more.

In a June 15 press release from the U.S. Department of Education, Secretary Duncan said the department will commit up to $350 million of its $4.35 billion in stimulus money from the "Race to the Top" Fund to develop "rigorous assessments linked to the internationally benchmarked common standards being developed by states."

"Perhaps for the first time, we have enough money to really make a difference. We have proven strategies for success in schools all across America. This is where reform will play out. It will filter up from classrooms and schools, districts and localities, but then it will arrive on your desks," Duncan said at a June 14 meeting with the National Governors Association.

Time out for testing

Currently, the amount of time spent test-taking varies by individual students. The MCAS is an untimed test, as are similar exams in other states. There is little data available on exactly how much time students spend on testing.

Asked about that total time, outgoing Taconic High School Principal Douglas McNally said it was "adequate."

"We need to do some global assessment," McNally said. But he added, "Much more time would negatively impact instructional time."

In Massachusetts, the MCAS is the No. 1 testing component. MCAS tests have been in constant development since the Education Reform Act of 1993. First administered in 1998 for English Language Arts and mathematics, MCAS combines multiple-choice and composition formats and became a high school graduation requirement in 2000.

For many high schools, this past week was full of finals: end-of-the-year exams given by teachers to determine how well students learned the subjects they were taught. Earlier this month, all public-school students in the state in grades 3 through 8 and Grade 10 finished the math and English portions of the MCAS. (Students have the opportunity to retake the tests in grades 11 and 12 if they fail them in Grade 10.)

Students in grades 5 and 8 and some high school students also took MCAS tests in science and technology/engineering.

The state board of education piloted MCAS science and history exams in 2006 and 2007. And though the Class of 2010 will have to pass the science tests to graduate, the state board of education voted to hold off two years on giving the history test, largely because of cost.

Though MCAS tests are untimed, the average third-grader spends 41 2 hours in test sessions, and the average 10th-grader spends nearly 10 hours, according to state data.

Additional school-required exams vary from 10 minutes to three hours in length.

Those are in addition to nationally given SAT and Advanced Placement tests at the high school level. SATs are used by colleges as a screening tool for admission; students who pass AP tests can receive college credit.

Teachers have to adapt their lesson plans to fit the state tests.

"Our feeling here in terms of curriculum is that we teach the [state] frameworks whether we test or not," said Jeff Lang, a history and journalism teacher at Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield. "We have it down pretty much to a routine."

So, apparently, do the students.

"I've taken, like, 30 tests in my lifetime," said Nick Perrault, a Taconic High sophomore who said his main objection is the early- morning test time. "So really, it's the timing of it. Otherwise it's not that big of a problem."

Testing the test

This past spring, Susan Hollister, a fifth-grade teacher at Stearns Elementary School in Pittsfield, completed a thesis titled "High-stakes Testing: The Assessment that Has Left All Children Behind" for a master's degree in education from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

In the introduction she wrote: "High-stakes standardized testing not only compromises the level of curriculum being taught, it also compromises the quality of education, as the amount of time taken away from the classroom instruction to administer standardized tests has increased."

Hollister referred to tests such as DIBELS, or Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, which is a widely used series of evaluations usually administered at the elementary school level, at the discretion of the school. Another of those tests is Galileo, which monitors individual progress.

Those systems, along with the MCAS, are administered during the school day.

In her research, Hollister interviewed nine area teachers and administrators about their observed effects of testing on the education process, anonymously reporting their accounts. An elementary-school math teacher estimated that a quarter of the school year is used between testing and practice testing vs. curriculum instruction.

The math teacher told Hollister, "The time taken away from education for practice tests is increasing. It's increasing exponentially. And going all the way down to second and first grade."

Whether this is too much or too little is debatable.

Great Barrington resident Nancy Missaggia, a parent of an elementary-school student and a high-school student, posed a thought: "How much time is too much time? How much is too little? Is there a guideline in regards to how much time should be spent with our children preparing them for the now-required MCAS testing?"

Massachusetts requires all primary-school students to complete 900 hours of "structured learning time" each year, and secondary students to complete 990 hours. This time is directed to classroom instruction in core subject areas such as English Language Arts, mathematics and science, and in other fields of study, including physical education and art.

It limits the amount of unstructured time of the school day, such as study halls.

However, the DESE doesn't limit or have guidelines on how much time should be spent on annual standardized and benchmark testing, the preparation for the assessments, or the actual taking of the exams.

Analysts of testing in Massachusetts say the time spent on test preparation should be a concern.

"The trend is more and more toward test prep," said Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an author and educational consultant.

But how will schools, working with the state and federal governments, ultimately figure out how much time to spend on testing and on what subjects?

Wagner said the answers will have to come from institutions of education and from the workforce, for which schools ultimately are preparing the students.

"It will be the CEOs speaking up for the skills that matter most to them," Wagner said. "It will take a coalition of business leaders and educators to advocate for change."
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Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6239.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Council supports school budget"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, June 23, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- While the City Council is backing the Pittsfield Public Schools' budget for fiscal 2010, there's concern the $51.6 million figure will be too much to sustain in fiscal 2011.

The council on Monday night voted 10-1, with Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi against, appropriating $48.6 million in city taxpayer dollars to fund education starting July 1, with federal stimulus money and other funds making up the difference.

Costi tried to reduce the expenditure another $486,000 to lessen a proposed property tax increase, but his motion failed, 10-1.

The City Council will continue to review the overall $122.7 million budget proposal on Wednesday and Thursday and vote on it June 30.

Even though the School Committee approved laying off at least 24 employees to save $640,000 in order to erase a projected shortfall, school spending still increased 3.5 percent over the current budget of $49.9 million.

If predictions of fiscal 2011 being worse that 2010 come true, several councilors worried the school budget increase and relying on a one-time $2.3 million federal stimulus package will lead to deeper cuts in education in 2011.

"A school closing needs to be on the table," Ward 1 Councilor Lewis C. Markham Jr. said.

"In a fiscal crisis, everything is on the table," said School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III. However, he cautioned such a move would not be made until considerable discussion is held before the School Committee.

Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance Sally Douglas added if a school recently renovated were chosen, the city would lose the state funding used to pay for the renovations.

While Eberwein has prepared a list of additional cuts, if necessary, he said they will impact programs that have seen student test schools rise, drop rates fall and generally improve student achievement.

"Do I think the school system would take a step backward?" Eberwein said. "Yes."

Councilor at Large Peter Marchetti hoped Pittsfield schools would "continue on the road to progress" even during difficult financial times.

The new school budget isn't even set, and already officials are already faced with another reduction in state funding. The proposed $2.3 million in federal stimulus money appropriated through the legislature is $216,000 less than school officials had anticipated.

But since Pittsfield is expected to receive $500,000 more in general state aid, Mayor James M. Ruberto vowed to "see that a couple hundred thousand be transferred to the school budget."

School officials said if the $216,000 reduction holds true, they will deal with revenue shortfall after Gov. Deval L. Patrick and state lawmakers finally agree on a state budget.

And once the city and school budget is set for fiscal 2010, school officials will use the summer to immediately prepare for fiscal 2011.

"I don't know if [Eberwein] will let us take a vacation," Douglas quipped.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Health Dept. lab on site at City Hall"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The newest office in City Hall is not an office at all.
It's a laboratory.

Pittsfield Health Department officials have converted a small room inside their second floor space into a lab for a new comprehensive bacterial sampling program.

Instead of contracting out for water sample tests, the city will be able to analyze the local samples in-house.

Health Department director James Wilusz said it will save the city money and enable Pittsfield to be more proactive in the attempt to reduce waterborne illnesses.

The city tests public and semi-public pool water, public beaches, wells, and restaurant ice dispensers.

"It's all about prevention," Wilusz said. "This will help us get quicker results. We'll save time."

Wilusz said the city generally sends out between 1,500 and 2,000 water samples each year to be tested. Costs can exceed $5,000, which comes out of the general fund balance.

In the past, the samples were driven to Berkshire Enviro-Labs in Lee. Now, city inspectors are trained to do their own testing inside the City Hall laboratory.

Factoring in the cost of the equipment, Wilusz said the city will see a return on the move in about a year. The lab will offer professional testing services to the local business sector, too.

But the implementation of the program wasn't just about money. Mayor James M. Ruberto said the lab will keep Pittsfield ahead of the curve on any issues that could arise in certain water sources.

"The health, safety and well-being of our residents and visitors is one of our top priorities, and this lab will assist in keeping everyone protected," he said.

The lab is the second municipally owned bacterial laboratory in Berkshire County. Wilusz got the idea to bring a lab to Pittsfield from his previous job at the Tri-Town Health Department, the Stockbridge, Lee and Lenox department that first implemented a lab.

"I been wanting to do this since I first started here a year ago," he said. "This will make our health department stronger."

The lab will also help the department with its new initiative of voluntary ice testing. Wilusz said there are no federal or state regulations for testing ice machines and dispensers, yet they are known harbingers of bacteria.

Wilusz is also attempting to start a program where restaurants volunteer to have their machines tested.

"Waterborne illnesses have been increasing across the country, and some don't view ice as food but there are issues," he said. "We're trying to be proactive."
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To reach Benning W. De La Mater: bdelamater@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6243.
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"City isn't certified for lab testing"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I am sure that the city of Pittsfield would not allow a business to open without possessing all necessary professional state licenses -- barbers, manicurists, funeral establishments and so on. If this is true, why is the city Health Department selling bacterial water testing services without possessing a state license to perform said testing?

About 30 years ago, the EPA developed a system of licensing laboratories to test the waters of this nation to protect public health. In Massachusetts this is called certification and is overseen by the DEP. Your Health Department is selling its services to test private drinking water wells, yet it doesn't hold the certification necessary to test the city's own drinking water. It is selling their services to test local beaches and pools yet holds no bacterial analysis certification. It also wants local businesses to "buy" into its ice testing program, frozen drinking water, again without any professional laboratory certification.

Laboratory certification is a complex and expensive process. That is why the city closed its Health Department lab several decades ago. If you check the DEP Web site of certified labs you will note that we are listed with 16 separate bacterial certifications, which are necessary to cover all of the needs of a city like Pittsfield for drinking, waste and ambient-environmental bacteriological water analyses.

To give you an idea of costs to run a certified lab, last year we spent more money to pay for state Inspections of our lab, performance evaluation samples and other required specialty quality control supplies, as well as man-weeks of time maintaining our bacterial certifications then we charged for all bacterial testing within the city limits: All drinking water, pools and beaches. Even though there are four "laboratories" selling bacterial water testing services in Berkshire County, two private and two public, only one is certified to due so.

I am very happy that the Health Department has reinstituted a laboratory, but the city only needs a good general public health quality control lab, which does not require certification. If you need to generate income, develop a series of reasonable comprehensive inspection fees, instead of hustling local businesses to "buy into a program or you will not be listed on our Web site," so that every business is fully inspected and you protect all of the citizens of Pittsfield.

Please remember that the purpose of laboratory certification is to protect public health by making sure that the waters of this nation, including the city of Pittsfield's drinking, waste, beach and other environmental waters, are tested to the same rigorous standards.

WILLIAM S. ENSER, JR.
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is director, Berkshire Enviro-Labs.
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"Needless costs of special education"
By Dorothy van den Honert, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, Wednesday, June 24, 2009
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts

It has taken nearly 80 years for scientists to figure out what causes the curious reading problem we call dyslexia. God help us if it takes another 80 to get the knowledge out of the labs and into the brains of educators. For one thing, we will go broke because the astronomical cost of special education is not, as a recent Eagle article hinted, mainly due to kids with lifelong handicaps like autism, cerebral palsy, or retardation. The truth is that all those groups combined only represent about 7 to 8 percent of any population. Estimates of the prevalence of dyslexia, on the other hand, are at least double that.

In America alone, there are more than 46 million children in school, of whom more than 5.5 million are in special education. Two-thirds of those kids have reading problems. That means there are roughly 3.5 million kids in the U.S. who are dyslexic, and these figures will never go down as long as people continue to have babies. The supply is permanent and the demand is not a matter of taste. Dyslexia is very democratic, showing no preference for race, gender, age (it is never outgrown), ethnicity or upbringing.

The moral of the story is that there are a lot more dyslectic people in this world than will ever be taught to read, and not just because they will never be identified. The cost, we are told, would be staggering, Well, yes and no. It would be if you keep on teaching them the way educators are currently doing it.

In Pittsfield last year, we had 1,162 children on the special education roles with IEP's (Individual Education Plans). Nearly 1,100 of those are dyslectic. We have a couple of hundred teachers and paraprofessionals for this group, at a cost of $5.5 million. That doesn't even include school psychologists, adjustment counselors, special education caseworkers, supplies and -- hold your breath -- contracted services, with residential placement for a few incorrigible kids (not always reading related) coming in at another cool million dollars.

But it gets worse. The unvarnished truth is that all those special education teachers don't get their dyslectic students to read at normal levels no matter how long they work or how much it costs. So, after blowing all that tax money, we still have kids graduating from high school with reading levels of fifth grade after years of being in special education. Or maybe not graduating.

Which brings up another sore subject. Dropouts. Your true dropout rate is a measure of how many of your ninth graders don't go on to graduate from high school. In many schools, ours included, something like 30 percent don't finish. That's pretty much the same group that couldn't read.

Students who are good readers very rarely drop-out before getting that diploma. But you don't have to wait until ninth grade to find them. The dyslectic readers are easily identified by sixth grade by comparing their grade level of reading with their IQs. Bright kids who can't read are almost invariably dyslexic. Until they are 16, they can only keep on suffering in school because they are not allowed by law to quit. Understandably, many of them figure that when they turn 16 they will leave school as quickly as possible and get into some sort of job that doesn't humiliate them eight hours a day. However, a simple test to find a mismatch between ability and achievement years earlier would catch them before it is too late.

Pittsfield does a pretty good job of identifying its dyslectic students and putting them in special areas like resource rooms for extra help. Yet, it still has dropout rate of the same 30 percent as the rest of the world. Apparently, whatever teaching methods are in use are not working.

In dyslexia, there is a serious timing problem in a bridge of tissue in the middle of the brain called the corpus callosum (CC). Signals from the eyes and ears must cross this bridge and must work in synchrony. When it is out of shape, one signal is out of sync with the other. When the signals don't come together, they don't operate together. Bad reading. Worse spelling. It's called dyslexia.

Obviously you can't change the shape of your corpus callosum, but a person can be taught to read without using it. If bypassed, the timing problem is gone, phonics "take," the student learns to read and the taxpayers get a big break.

Today, elementary school children may have intensive phonics instruction, but in spite of this, the dyslectic child's reading never gets up to his grade level. By high school, most teachers have long given up the idea that students can be taught to read at their grade levels and just want to get them through their MCAS tests.

This flawed delivery system is costly, and not just in terms of money. The payment for wasted talent, jail terms, underutilized intelligence and welfare assistance all come out of somebody else's budget, not the school board's. The taxpayer gets socked for the millions of special education dollars that don't cure the reading problem and once again for the social costs of poor reading.

The lucky kids are given taped textbooks, untimed oral tests and training on a word processor. The unlucky ones? They usually drop out after ninth grade. The great majority of male juvenile offenders in local lockups and extremely poor readers and investigators have found large numbers of dyslectics among them. They are put in jail and returned to society later with their reading just as poor as ever. The sheriff knows them well. They keep coming back.

If a special education teacher is taught the methods of bypassing the CC, wiring the auditory and visual signals together, she can have them reading at or sometimes above their grade level. No years of special education, no MCAS special tutoring, no school adjustment counselors. So why don't educators bone up on their neurology and morph the information into teaching techniques. Or, conversely, why don't scientists figure out ways to make their research useful?

Sadly, there is just as big a gap in attitude between teachers and scientists as there is in the transfer of information. Scientists write in professional jargon. They write for each other. Teachers think scientists are ivory tower types and they don't have time to learn their jargon.

They are both right and wrong. Today's disgruntled taxpayers are paying a heavy price for intellectual snobbishness. Remember the 80-year gap for a few milliseconds delay? The poky CC is easily bypassed. The big problem, human nature, isn't.
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Dorothy van den Honert is a former Pittsfield School Committee member.
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"Oversimplified special educ. solutions"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 6/27/2009

As a Pittsfield Public Schools special education teacher, I found the June 24 op-ed "Needless costs of special education" commentary to be demeaning and full of inaccurate and misleading information.

First off, writer Dorothy van den Honert uses "reading problems" and "dyslexia" interchangeably. Not all students who have reading problems are dyslexic. The term dyslexia refers to a learning disability faced by some students in the specific area of word decoding. While the ability to decode words is the foundation for reading, it is not the sole reason students face reading challenges. Some students can decode adequately but have problems in the areas of reading comprehension and /or retention.

Specifically in regards to Pittsfield Public School students, the author states that last year there were 1,162 students on IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and that almost 1,100 of them have dyslexia. This would mean that almost 95 percent of all of the students with special educational needs in Pittsfield have been diagnosed with dyslexia. I would like to ask where this author obtained her information as this is not what many of our special educators see reflected in our classrooms.

Van den Honert also fails to fully outline the criteria for dyslexia. Individuals who are truly dyslexic have at least an average level of intelligence. So, our author is then inferring that 95 percent of our students with special educational needs don’t have intellectual challenges.

It was difficult to take this author’s gross generalizations in the field of special education seriously when in 2009 she is still throwing around terms like "retardation," "dyslectics" and even "she" in referring to special education teachers. I know many excellent special educators who are male. I also take offense to van den Honert’s reference to students who need residential care as being "incorrigible." My own son has severe autism and is nonverbal. He spent several years in a fine residential program which could best address his specific needs at the time. Never once did any professional refer to my son as "incorrigible."

While I have taught in several different school systems within Western Massachusetts, I can truly say that I am proud to be a member of the Pittsfield Public Schools special education staff. We do not narrow-mindedly lump 95 percent of our students’ needs into one oversimplified category. We offer a wide variety of special educational services to meet the needs of students with emotional, physical, neurological, behavioral, and cognitive challenges. We address these needs in diverse ways in an ongoing attempt to meet the specific needs of each child. Are we perfect in our delivery system? No, of course not but at least we realize there isn’t a "one size fits all" solution to meeting the needs of all students on IEPs.

LORI CHARTIER
Cheshire, Massachusetts

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"Dyslectics and the neurology gap"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Saturday, July 18, 2009

On June 24, I wrote an op-ed column which inadvertently hurt the feelings of a very nice lady who is director of the local chapter of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. I was complaining about the science education gap which prevents teachers from using information available from neurology labs to teach a dyslectic person to read normally. The science-education gap I referred to was the gap between neurology and education.

Unfortunately, when the director thought "science-education gap" she was apparently thinking about a technology-education gap, which as my mother used to say, is a gray horse of another color. She pointed out that Recording for the Blind has an impressive array of hi-fi gadgets that could record and play back thousands of pages of script and innumerable tunes and was freely available. In addition, the volunteers who do the recording will cheerfully record textbooks and the like if someone needs them.

They are wonderful people. If you are blind and can't get your education through your eyes, they will enable you to get it through your ears. But that isn't what dyslectics need. They need to learn to read for themselves so they don't have to be read to. But if you can't read for whatever reason, you are missing a lot more in life than just what is in textbooks. You can't read the thank you note from Grandma. You can't read birthday cards, street signs, comic strips, stories to your kids, ingredients on food packages, directions, weather reports, invitations, or the fine print on something you are being talked into.

The ability to read comfortably can be taught to a dyslectic person by morphing knowledge gleaned from neuro labs into certain teaching techniques. Reading from scratch is based on these techniques, and it succeeds in producing normal readers because what it bridges is not the technology-education gap but the neurology-education gap. It enables a person to read whatever he wants rather than being restricted to what others read to him.

I wish educators were as up-to-date on what's new in neurology as the Recording for the Blind people are about the latest advances in technology. But they're not. In fact, they're 32 years behind.

DOROTHY VAN DEN HONERT
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Dyslexia is not same as illiteracy"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dorothy van den Honert's recent letter to The Eagle following her June 24 op-ed "Needless costs of special education" have brought about an important dialogue regarding special education and learning disabilities.

In her July 18 letter to the editor, "Dyslectics and the neurology gap," she states that dyslexics ". . . need to learn to read for themselves . " and implies that all dyslexics can be taught reading skills my "morphing knowledge gleaned from neuro[logy] labs into certain teaching techniques." To clarify, dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder, one that leads to varying degrees of inability to decode print.

True that those with mild dyslexia can be taught techniques to circumvent their print disability, as the hearing impaired can be taught to lip read, but implying that this is true of all dyslexics demonstrates a significant misunderstanding about the disorder.

Ms. Van den Honert provides numerous examples of the problems resulting from illiteracy. Dyslexia is not simply illiteracy. True that one can predetermine the other, the blanket implication that dyslexia and illiteracy are one in the same is blatantly incorrect, and is exactly the decades old prejudice to which she refers.

I'd like to clarify what we do here at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. RFB&D records textbooks in an indexed format allowing our members to navigate the recording by page, chapter, and other subdivisions in accordance with the table of contents.

For example, imagine yourself a student using our product in a class. Your teacher asks you to turn to page 138. On your special player, you can instantly access that page and hear what the other students can read and follow along, to the degree that you are able. Without this technology, you may be left staring at a page of meaningless indecipherable characters. Nationally, RFB&D has more than 250,000 members, over 13,000 of them in Massachusetts alone, and a library of more than 50,000 recorded titles available.

As a veteran educator, I take personal issue with the insinuation that we are ignorant of current research in neurobiology, but that is a topic for another day.

I encourage those interested in learning more about dyslexia to visit the RFB&D Lenox Studio in the Aspinwell Plaza and the RFB&D Web site www.rfbd.org.

JIM CURRIE
Lenox, Massachusetts
The writer is preproduction coordinator, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic.
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"City's ongoing airport boondoggle"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Saturday, June 27, 2009

North Adams proudly reports that Harriman And West general aviation airport recently received a $5.5 million grant to replace and reposition its 4,300-foot runway. (Eagle, June 16). Jammed between Hawthorne Avenue and Luce Road, there were no taking of properties via eminent domain or applications for waivers of runway overruns, just a straightforward need of replacement. The point? Grant money is available to general aviation airports.

On Feb. 11, the Dept. Of Environmental Protection (DEP) again denied Pittsfield Airport's request for a variance that would allow the rape of the pristine wetlands adjacent to our airport's Runway 26/08 to accommodate both runaway overruns and a 750-foot extension of the airstrip. Taxpayers should take notice that, in denying Pittsfield's request, the DEP pointed out that, ". . . the [requested] runway extension is not mandated to meet FAA standards . . ." And, "The variance asserts that the extension will enhance safety however; documentation within the file is insufficient to substantiate this claim." The insufficient documentation comes as no surprise to those of us who have been watching this fiasco unfold over the last 10 years.

There are at least two obvious issues here. While the FAA has mandated 1,000-foot overruns, or Runway Safety Areas (RSAs), the mandate did not apply to general aviation airports. Pittsfield's decision to add 2,000 feet of RSAs to Runway 26/08 was a matter of pure whim. The Airport Commission added 750 feet to the project to "enhance safety." Pittsfield's runway is already safe, else the FAA would have long since closed it down. One can't make the runways "safer" by adding another 750 feet. More useful? Maybe, but safer? No.

Years ago, Stantec Consulting Services was given a contract to design the proposed project. Stantec, after 10 years of negotiating with the DEP, has been unable to justify the devastation of pristine wetlands, relocating South Mountain Road, etc. And now, rather than save money by getting on the telephone himself, our airport manager, under the guise of satisfying the DEP, has given Stantec the task of doing a cost-benefit study of an option the FAA offered commercial airports (Engineered Materials Arresting System, or EMAS) that are hemmed in by railroad tracks, highways, wetlands, or what have you. Again, while Pittsfield is certainly free to do all of the above if the DEP approves, the FAA's EMAS option does not apply to general aviation airports. It is not in Stantec's financial interest to settle the problem. Resolution, if it is even possible, will end Stantec's annual stipend.

From its onset, this project has been an exercise in gross mismanagement and semantic subterfuge. As a result of our airport commission's whim, 15 private properties have been removed from Pittsfield's tax rolls via eminent domain at a minimum cost of $4,850,500. The loss of the tax revenue is being made up by Pittsfield's taxpayers. Property taxes are being raised. Mounting budgetary restraints call for penalizing teachers, cutting back on medical and housing services, etc. Even our fire department is taking a hit.

With upcoming elections, Pittsfield's voters should hold Mayor Ruberto's feet to the fire not only for failing to rein in this incredible boondoggle, but for dogmatically supporting it.

ROBERT W. ALLARDYCE
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Beacon Cinema paying off loan by city: Pittsfield has been repaid $363,012 of a $600,000 loan toward the construction of the downtown movie project."
By Tony Dobrowolski. Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, June 28, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The City of Pittsfield has been repaid a portion of the $2.1 million it allocated toward the construction of the $22.4 million Beacon Cinemas project in the historic Kinnell-Kresge building on North Street.

Project manager Richard Stanley, of Egremont, has repaid the city $363,012 of a $600,000 loan the city approved last year in order for construction to begin in September 2008 following a one-year delay. The funding has been deposited in the GE Economic Development fund, an account that the city uses to fund those types of projects.

"I'm thrilled to have this much back already," Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer said.

The delay in the start of construction caused the project's total price tag to skyrocket from $12.6 million to $22.4 million. The project's complicated financial plan includes city, state, federal and private funding.

The remaining $1.5 million of the city's total allocation is structured as a 35-year long-term loan with a 2 percent interest rate. Repayment of the long-term loan will not occur until 11 years after the cinema center opens, but it contains a 20-year amortization, or payback, period.

The $600,000 "bridge" loan, and a similar $1.25 million loan that was provided by five local financial institutions, are so named because they were awarded to Stanley under the condition that he continue to apply for state historic tax credits. According to the city, the Beacon Cinemas has been awarded an additional $2.15 million in tax credits from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

"This bridge loan is part of the overall loans that the city of Pittsfield has given, and through Richard's diligent efforts to apply for state historic tax credits, the city has seen a fast return in a very short period of time," said Mayor James M. Ruberto in a written statement.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission awards state historic tax credits on a tri-annual basis, Ruffer sad. Based on estimates made when the financing closed last year, Ruffer said the project could be eligible for a total of $3.38 million in state historic tax credits, which would be $230,000 more than what Stanley has already received.

Stanley also received $1 million in state historic tax credits when the financing was approved last year.

"We're not at the maximum yet," Ruffer said. "Pursuing the maximum amount of historic tax credits is critical for the financial viability of the project."

The sum total of the state historic tax credits that Stanley has already received is based on how much he has sold those incentives for, which according to the city of Pittsfield, is 87 cents on each dollar. The sale proceeds are then applied proportionately against the terms of the two bridge loans.

Stanley did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Nine years in the planning stages, the Beacon Cinemas includes the renovation of the 91-year-old Kinnell-Kresge building at 48-55 North St. into a structure that can house six cinemas with stadium-style seating, offices, and retail space that includes a restaurant. The project is still on track to be completed by December.

Construction was originally scheduled to begin in 2007, but was delayed when the National Park Service determined that the design did not retain enough of the historic elements of the facade and entryway of the Kinnell-Kresge building.

The City Council approved a $1 million allocation from the GE Economic Fund before construction was originally expected to begin, and an additional $1.1 million following the delay.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: Tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Council vote tonight"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, June 30, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- While Pittsfield could receive $500,000 more in state aid than they have been expecting, city officials are not counting on the additional funds for fiscal 2010, which starts Wednesday, until the state finalizes its budget.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said on Monday he will still ask the City Council tonight to approve the $122.7 million city budget he presented two weeks ago, which is based on state revenue that is less than what the Legislature has proposed. Gov. Deval L. Patrick approved the state's budget late Monday afternoon.

However, Ruberto does want to use $200,000 of the extra revenue to offset the difference in federal stimulus money the city's school system had budgeted for -- $2.5 million -- and what the state is willing to allocate to local public education -- $2.3 million.

"I will first use whatever excess to support the school budget as it was presented," said Ruberto.

Several councilors have urged the additional state aid be used to lessen the tax impact of the new city budget, which shows the average property tax bill increasing $90 for a single-family home and $670 for a typical business in Pittsfield.

Taxpayers will get to voice their opinion on the spending plan during a public hearing tonight at 6:30 in City Hall, with the City Council budget vote to follow.

The $122.7 million spending plan is down from the $126.8 million approved last June for the fiscal year that ends today. The reduced spending, coupled with increased property taxes, is the city's answer to erase a projected $6.4 million drop in local revenue and state aid to the city and its schools.

The budget cuts include laying off at least 24 school employees and another nine full- and part-time city employees, plus leaving two vacancies unfilled.

Ruberto tonight will ask for an additional cut of $50,000, based on the recommendation of the City Council during its budget review last week. The council suggested lowering the workers' compensation account based on the number of cases pending before the city.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Maffuccio
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"Pittsfield councilor charged with assault"
By Jack Dew, New England Newspapers: The Berkshire Eagle & The North Adams Transcript, Friday, July 3, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio and his live-in girlfriend were arrested Thursday, each charged with assaulting the other following an alleged domestic dispute at their Danforth Avenue home.

Maffuccio, 38, and his girlfriend, Kristina Biasin, 36, were charged with assault and battery. They were released on personal recognizance after Judge Fredric D. Rutberg entered not guilty pleas on their behalf at an arraignment Thursday afternoon in Central Berkshire District Court.

According to police reports, the couple told starkly different stories to officers.

Maffuccio said Biasin returned home at about 1 a.m. Thursday after a night of using cocaine, according to the reports. He said she often takes his car when she uses cocaine, which prompts him to file reports that his car has been stolen.

When the two awoke on Thursday morning, according to the police account of Maffuccio's statements, he tried to take the keys from her and they argued. She began hitting him in the arms and chest, and an officer said he could see visible red marks on Maffuccio's body from apparent blows.

Maffuccio said he tried to call 911, but Biasin grabbed the phone from his hands, the report stated, and threw it against the wall. When he grabbed a different cell phone, she broke it in half, he said.

Biasin, however, said that she and Maffuccio have been together for two years but have been fighting frequently over the past three months.

They argued on Thursday morning and, when she tried to leave to go to work, Maffuccio grabbed her wrist to stop her, she said, and told her she couldn't use his car.

She told officers that she handed Maffuccio a cell phone and told him to call her employer to say she wouldn't be coming in, but he took the phone and broke it in half.

Maffuccio then punched a wall, the report states. Biasin said she tried to make him stop, but he grabbed her by the neck. The officer noted that there were red marks around her throat and wrist.

Maffuccio did not return a call Thursday seeking comment.

If convicted, Maffuccio and Biasin could face up to 21 2 years in the house of correction. Rutberg warned them that, if they are charged with a crime while the assault charges are pending, they could be jailed without bail.

Maffuccio and Biasin are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 15 for a pre-trial conference.

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"No political fallout for accused councilman"
By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 7/8/2009

PITTSFIELD -- Though Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio is facing an assault charge, there does not appear to be a movement afoot to cut short his political career. No candidate has surfaced to challenge him in the November election, and his fellow councilors appear content to leave the matter alone.

"It's an unfortunate thing," said City Council President Gerald M. Lee. "I don't know anything about it other than what I've read in the paper, and I don't know what will happen when he goes to court. I'm going to stay out of it and, if it happened to me, I'd hope he would stay out of it, too."

Maffuccio and his live-in girlfriend, Kristina Biasin, were arrested on July 2 following a domestic dispute. Each has accused the other of assault. They pleaded not guilty in Central Berkshire District Court and are due to return on Sept. 15 for a pre-trial conference.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said he would not comment on the charges against Maffuccio but said he did not think the case would "impact his ability to serve on the council. I think we have seen independent decision making from Tony Maffuccio before this incident, and I expect, as he continues to serve, he will serve with the same level of professionalism."

Ward 1 Councilor Lewis C. Markham agreed. "Everyone has ups and downs and, because he is a public official, there is more limelight, but other than that ... I don't think this will affect his ability to continue as councilor."

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop said the real question is "what does the public think? ... There are two sides to each story, and I really don't know. I just hope that, for [Maffuccio's] sake, he and his family are well."

Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, who is running for mayor, did not return calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

The last time a sitting city councilor was arrested was in 2002, when Ward 1 Councilor Robert G. Tuttle was charged with assaulting a Lanesborough woman.

Tuttle was accused of grabbing the woman's hair at least five times and pulling her while the two were riding in his car. The woman was charged with slapping Tuttle. A district court judge dismissed the charges after Tuttle and the woman said they did not want to pursue the matter further.

Dismissal is a common result in domestic assault cases when there are cross-complaints. While Maffuccio could face up to 2 1/2 years in jail if convicted, attorneys said that outcome is extremely unlikely.

While Pittsfield has a recall provision that allows the voters to force a sitting councilor out, the process is slow and complicated and would require a groundswell of opposition to Maffuccio that does not seem to have surfaced. The recall petition must be signed by 25 percent of city voters and the recall election would have to be held in 60 to 70 days.
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To reach Jack Dew: jdew@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6241.
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"Pittsfield city councilor exonerated"
By Conor Berry, The Berkshire Eagle, Saturday, August 8, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- A judge has dismissed the criminal cases against Pittsfield City Councilor Anthony V. Maffuccio and his girlfriend, both of whom were charged in connection with a domestic dispute at their city home last month.

"From the get-go, it was a big misunderstanding. We were both emotional that morning," Maffuccio, 38, said of the July 2 incident involving his live-in girlfriend, Kristina L. Biasin, 36, at their Danforth Avenue residence.

Each accused the other of assault and pleaded not guilty at their arraignments in Central Berkshire District Court. They were due back in court for a Sept. 15 pretrial conference, but that is no longer necessary.

On Tuesday, Central Berkshire District Court Judge Paul M. Vrabel threw out the charges despite an objection from the prosecution.

Vrabel cited numerous reasons for accepting the "accord and satisfaction" agreement reached by the couple, including the fact that Maffuccio and Biasin continued to live together after the alleged incident and the fact that Biasin never sought a restraining order against Maffuccio.

The agreement states: "The court accepts the accord and satisfaction reached between the alleged victim in this matter and the defendant and orders the criminal complaint pending against the defendant to be dismissed."

Despite the amicable conclusion, prosecutors objected to the dismissal. A phone call Friday seeking comment from the office of District Attorney David F. Capeless was not returned.

The attorneys for Maffuccio and Biasin moved to have the charges dropped on behalf of their clients. Dismissal is a common result in domestic assault cases with cross-complaints.

Biasin initially accused Maffuccio of grabbing her wrist and of preventing her from leaving their home as she headed for work on the morning of July 2, according to police reports.

However, Biasin signed the accord and satisfaction, which states: "I have received full satisfaction for any injuries sustained as a result of the conduct committed by the defendant and respectfully request that the charges in this matter be dismissed."

Asked Friday by a reporter if his relationship with his girlfriend is sound, Maffuccio replied, "Most certainly."

The couple continues to live together on Danforth Avenue.

"I'm glad it's behind us," Maffuccio said.

The political career of Maffuccio, who represents the city's 7th Ward, didn't nose dive after the allegation surfaced. Rather, he continued to serve the city and his fellow councilors appeared content to leave the matter alone.

"I'm going to stay out of it," City Council President Gerald M. Lee told The Eagle for its July 8 edition. "And if it happened to me, I'd hope he would stay out of it, too."

To reach Conor Berry: cberry@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6249.
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"Pittsfield disguises tax hikes as fees"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In regards to its elected officials longevity, Pittsfield has held dearly to an old adage. In order to satisfy their constituents and not risk their wrath at the polls, it clearly and emphatically states that three things must be taken care of: fill the potholes, plow the streets and pick up the garbage, all in a timely manner. This does not mean to start plowing or fixing streets at the convenience of the department heads. Also, it is of the utmost importance that the garbage is disposed of quickly and cleanly at the ease of the citizens of Pittsfield. These services have always been and should continue to be, under the umbrella of the property tax.

With the new garbage proposal, the current administration and most councilors are now trying to change this process for the sake of bringing in added revenues disguised as a fee for service. Do they think that the electorate is so ignorant or naive that they won't know that these fees are nothing more than a way of increasing taxes?

The city now requires the homeowner, with risk of a new and higher fine structure, to remove snow from the city owned sidewalks in front of their homes. What is coming next, a fee to fill the holes, paint the lines and plow the snow for their portion of the street? Perhaps a chart offering to remove snow by the inch? In a 12-inch snowfall if you are fortunate to own an SUV you could ask for just the top six inches removed at a discount.

I am being somewhat facetious but where does it end? We are now being asked to pay for services in more and more departments of city and state government that once was covered through our property taxes only.

Remodeling permits, marriage, birth and death certificates have increased significantly. Hardly a city department provides a service without fees attached. Charges for police and fire alarm response, sewer and water meters and now trash-pickups, have mercy!

Maybe it is time for another proposal like Proposition 21/2, perhaps something stringent enough so that our current leaders (if they are still around) cannot override or sneak around. Any thoughts?

CHARLES L. SMITH
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is a former Pittsfield mayor.
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"Pittsfield considers trash can limit"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, July 8, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- City households may soon be limited to a single, large trash container in an effort to increase recycling and reduce waste among the thousands of residences that rely on Pittsfield's weekly trash collection service.

A proposed ordinance before the City Council would require homes to use so-called "toters" -- a 64-gallon or 32-gallon garbage container on wheels -- rather than leaving an unlimited number of trash barrels by the curb.

Every household would receive one free toter, but pay for each additional container needed on a regular basis, according to city officials. Allied Waste, the city's contracted waste hauler, will actually provide and maintain the toters.

Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said a single toter should suffice for most residences.

"A 64-gallon toter seems to meet the need of a high majority of families," said Collingwood. He expects the toter system can be just as successful in Pittsfield as it has been in Lowell and several other Massachusetts cities with municipal trash service, where recycling rates are up and the amount of trash generated is down.

"We underestimate our population's ability to recycle and reduce waste," added Collingwood.

His remarks came before the City Council Ordinance and Rules Committee which recommended on Monday night the entire City Council approve the new ordinance at its July 14 meeting, but cut in half the proposed fees for the extra toters.

"I find these numbers outrageously high," said the committee's chairman, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop. "The second bin should be for a nominal fee."

The committee reduced the $278.40 for a 64-gallon toter and $139.20 for a 32-gallon toter to $139.20 and $69.60, respectively.

Lothrop and several other councilors also felt the Pittsfield's recycling rate would improve if city officials better informed the residents.

"If you have a government that educates, this program can work" said Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman.

Collingwood noted recycling information is available at City Hall and online at Pittsfield.com.

While Sherman also felt a limit on trash containers can reduce the amount of solid waste generated by city households, he was concerned about three times during the year when most homeowners have more garbage than usual.

So the committee recommended at Sherman's request the ordinance's trash restrictions be lifted during the Thanksgiving and Christmas week holidays and the last week in April for the traditional spring cleaning period.

Bulky waste items such as couches, beds would still require a fee-based sticker from the public works department.

If the City Council approves the toter-system, Collingwood expects the containers to be ready for use by Oct. 1.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Duo vies for councilor seat"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, July 9, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- A former City Councilor from a decade ago and a well-established lawyer are seeking the Ward 6 Councilor seat being vacated by mayoral candidate Daniel L. Bianchi.

Jamie R. Williamson, councilor at large from 1996 through 1999, and David W. Murphy Jr., who has some local and state government experience, took out nomination papers shortly after Bianchi announced last week he was challenging Mayor James M. Ruberto in the city election this fall. Williamson has already returned her paperwork and been certified to be on the ballot while Murphy is about ready to do the same.

All candidates have until 5 p.m. on Aug. 4 to file nomination papers with the city election officials.

Following a 10-year hiatus from the Pittsfield political arena, Williamson, 46, "wants to get back into the game" after being "benched by the voters" in her 1999 re-election bid.

"I love being a public servant," she added.

Shortly after her loss, Williamson enrolled at Smith College where she earned a degree in government and urban studies in the spring of 2003. Since graduation, the Pittsfield native has been the executive director for the federally funded Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, which has an office in Pittsfield. Williamson had been living in Holyoke until a year ago when she returned to the city, residing at 83 Mountain View Drive.

Murphy, 55, of 41 Le Roi Drive, is a partner in the law firm Katz, Murphy & Greenwald, who wants to be as much of an advocate for Ward 6 as he's been for his clients during his 25-year legal career in Pittsfield.

"My primary role is seeing the residents of the ward receive a fair share of city resources," he said.

While Murphy is seeking his first elected office, he's no stranger to city government, having served on the Pittsfield Mobile Home Park Rent Control Board from 1996-2007. During his college days, Murphy served on the staff of then Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III and later was a legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Silvio O. Conte, R-Pittsfield, in the congressman's Washington, D.C., office.

So far, the only other ward race is between Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi and Kevin J. Morandi. It's a rematch of the 2007 contest that ended with Costi winning a third term by 28 votes, following a recount a month after the general election in November.

Meanwhile, another former city councilor briefly contemplated a comeback, but has decided not to pursue a councilor at large position. Richard A. Scapin had taken out nomination papers on Monday, but on Wednesday he told The Eagle he had "second thoughts" due to family obligations.

Scapin last served on the City Council in 2003, only to lose his re-election campaign for Ward 5 Councilor that year. In 2005, Scapin attempted a return by seeking one of the four councilor at large seats, but finished seventh among the eight candidates.

The current list of councilor at large hopefuls includes three challengers and three of the four incumbents, with Council President Gerald M. Lee still undecided about seeking a sixth consecutive term.

"I'm keeping my options open," Lee said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Tax structure holds back Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Sunday, July 12, 2009

The July 6 lead article "Diverse economy" was very long on optimism for the future of Pittsfield, but, regrettably short on facts. For a healthy revitalization of Pittsfield the population must increase and the tax structure must be welcoming. Neither is.

The U.S. Bureau of the Census lists Pittsfield's population thus: 1990-48,622; 2000-46,743; 2007-42,931. This is down from the peak of more than 50,000 after WW II.

Pittsfield also has the highest tax rate in the Berkshires: the residential rate is $13.67 per thousand of assessed value and a punitive $28.68 per thousand on businesses. This is a gilt-edged invitation for businesses to leave.

People are voting with their feet. This is a death spiral. As more and more people leave, more businesses leave (who can blame them with that tax rate?). As that happens, the tax base shrinks. That leaves fewer and fewer people to pay more and more taxes. The budget never goes down. It is, in fact, a death spiral.

Ironically, the ill-advised two-rate tax, with a lower rate on residences and a higher rate on businesses, was instituted to keep residential taxes lower, but, as more and more people and businesses leave, the taxes they don't pay are shifted, in large part, onto the remaining residences.

Can all this be reversed so that Pittsfield can enjoy a real revitalization? It certainly can. To revitalize Pittsfield the tax structure must be changed to be "user-friendly." The tax on buildings should be gradually reduced and, simultaneously, the tax on land should be increased.

Eventually, there should be no tax on buildings at all, both residences and businesses buildings, only a tax on land. When there is no tax on buildings and no punitive tax on businesses, people and businesses will move to Pittsfield, the tax base will increase and Pittsfield will revitalize itself.

Why tax land? Where there are no people, land has no value. People come together and form communities. The community invests in infrastructure: roads, schools, water lines, sewer lines, etc. People and their community investments make land valuable. It's reasonable for the people to get a return on their investment by taxing land.

Buildings are the result of people's labor. Land contains no labor; it is the gift of nature. It's better to shift taxes off labor, on to land. It lets people keep more of what they earn.

Who owns the valuable land? Certainly not the poor! And not the middle class either! All valuable land is owned by wealthy individuals and corporations. They would pay the most land tax. Shifting taxes to land also shifts taxes up, to the people who can better afford them.

This idea, land value taxation, is used in many places around the world. Twenty cities in Pennsylvania use it and recently, a law was passed in Connecticut to allow New London to use it.

Let's shift taxes to the land and really revitalize Pittsfield.

AL HARTHEIMER
Lanesborough, Massachusetts

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"Trash Pittsfield’s garbage proposal"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 7/13/2009

Not since Arlo Guthrie in the 1960s dumped some garbage behind one of the "summer cottages" has this much attention to garbage been paid in Berkshire County.

The garbage proposal put forth by Mayor Ruberto is the latest faux pas during his administration. Unfortunately, it is the everyday citizen, the least fortunate and the seniors in our city who will be carrying the burden for all.

This proposal is again being pushed forward at breakneck speed without proper debate and discussion. Not only that, the fees are an added tax since our taxes already cover the rate for garbage pick-up. Perhaps a better proposal would be a well thought out way to be able to have a center where citizens could drop off gently used items to be recycled into something else or reused by someone else. We need to find a similar small city as a model for us that has initiated a program, that while keeping a regular garbage pick-up, also incorporated recycling of not just cans, bottles and papers but also used items in good condition, much like the system in Stockbridge with the Talbot Center for second hand items.

Where’s the Green Commission with leadership ideas for creative recycling and disposal of trash? Education in our schools is number one. Composting and recycling are teaching green education to our youth. With the home grown green movement afoot and organic gardening in vogue, proper composting techniques would compliment the natural home vegetable and flower gardens. Let us not forget our agricultural background and heritage and incorporate education and recycling into our city in the country culture.

The system of garbage collection proposed by Mayor Ruberto is seriously flawed. Here’s hoping that our City Council has the common sense and foresight to table this proposal until due diligence and careful consideration are given. Making a quick decision on an issue as important as garbage collection if not properly done will have a negative effect on our city’s future and that is the future of our children. Maybe we can ask Arlo Guthrie to lead us in a garbage walk.

DONNA WALTO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"SBA considers funding"
The Berkshire Eagle, By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 7/13/2009

PITTSFIELD -- Three months after touring Pittsfield and Taconic high schools, the state’s School Building Authority is still mulling over Pittsfield’s request for state funding toward some type of a building project.

While the SBA staff forwarded its site-visit reports on both secondary schools to its board of directors at a June 3 meeting, agency officials on Thursday said they have yet to recommend the board include Pittsfield on the state reimbursement list.

"We are still in the phase of doing assessments of the district’s information," said SBA spokeswoman Carrie Sullivan.

However, she added, "I would anticipate Pittsfield being up for discussion at a future meeting."

The seven-member SBA Board of Directors, chaired by state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, is scheduled to meet three more times in 2009: July 29, Sept. 30 and Nov. 18.

In addition to the SBA staff report on the April 15 visit, the board is also reviewing "statements of interest" the city submitted, detailing the physical shortcomings of Pittsfield High and Taconic and how they will hinder the city’s vision of high school education in the 21st century.

While the two schools were built 39 years apart, school officials state that both have a laundry list of needs, such as a new heating and ventilation system. Pittsfield High was built in 1930, with a major renovation and expansion done in 1975. Taconic has had some upgrades since it opened in 1969, but is basically the same building that was erected 40 years ago.

School officials have said the current layout at each high school prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can choose a career course of study.

Chicopee faced the same dilemma several years ago, which the city solved by building two new high schools -- Chicopee Comp being the vocational school -- replacing two older buildings, at a cost of roughly $150 million.

"They made a purposeful decision to put their [vocational programs] at the center of the school," said Tricia Farley-Bouvier, co-chair of the Pittsfield School Building Commission.

Farley-Bouvier and other commission members last month visited the two new schools, because she said Chicopee had the same debate Pittsfield is having now -- two high schools versus one. The two school systems also have similar high school enrollments with Chicopee at 2,600 students and Pittsfield nearly 2,000.

"I thought the visit brought us a good perspective," she said.

While Mayor James M. Ruberto is among those who support merging Pittsfield High and Taconic, the commission and School Committee have been non-committal, awaiting the SBA’s decision.

Pittsfield is one of 47 cities and towns seeking approval for new school building projects, several of which the SBA has already agreed to put in the "capital pipeline," according to Sullivan.

"Those projects were relatively small in scope," she said, "and financially we can move them along quicker."

While a consultant’s report in May 2008 suggested a single high school concept would cost Pittsfield taxpayers an estimated $180 million, neither local or state officials haven’t calculated a definitive price for improving the city’s high schools.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Mark Firehammer, of Easthampton, loads his boat onto the trailer after spending the day on Onota Lake. Pittsfield officials are urging the state to allow the city to close the boat ramps at Onota and Pontoosuc lakes to prevent the spread of the invasive zebra mussels. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"City ‘begging' to protect lakes"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, Tuesday, July 14, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- City officials are "begging" the state to close the boat ramps at Onota and Pontoosuc lakes to prevent an infestation of the destructive zebra mussels first reported in Berkshire County last week.

Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto said he's had "extensive discussions" with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and Division of Fish and Game seeking their permission to close the ramps. So far, those agencies have said "no," according to the mayor.

"I believe the action taken in Stockbridge is the right thing to do," Ruberto said Monday. "I'm begging to be allowed to do the same."

While only the state has the authority to close a boat ramp, Stockbridge, along with Becket, Hinsdale and Richmond, have announced since Friday the boat ramps they manage are off-limits to boaters for fear their watercraft will transfer the mussels from Laurel Lake in Lee or another infested body of water in the region.

Since first discovered in U.S. waters more than 20 years ago, the mollusks have invaded the neighboring states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

State officials have only closed the Laurel Lake boat ramp on Route 20 as of July 8, after the zebra mussels were discovered earlier this month -- apparently by chance -- in the 170-acre body of water on the Lee-Lenox town line.

Jack Hickey, president of the Lakes and Ponds Association of Western Massachusetts (LAPA-West), believes the zebra mussels were found by accident in Laurel Lake, since water tests last summer showed no signs of the thumbnail-size creatures. Armed with a $10,000 grant from the DCR, Hickey said his organization has tested several other Berkshire lakes, all with negative results.

Nevertheless, Hickey, who lives on the Lanesborough side of Pontoosuc Lake, added, "It makes sense to temporarily shut down the boat ramps to get the message across to the public they need to clean their boats."

Local and state officials fear the mollusks because they can destroy the ecosystem of a lake or pond and cause considerable damage by encrusting boat engines, clogging water pipes and other objects in the water.

On Monday, Richmond Town Administrator Matthew Kerwood said the Board of Selectmen voted on Sunday to block off the Richmond Pond boat ramp as a preventative measure until the state develops a response plan to the crisis.

State environmentalists last Friday did give communities permission to ban all boats that had used Laurel Lake in the past 30 days, unless they were thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. However, this requires boat ramp monitors, which some communities can't afford to provide.

"We don't have the manpower to be at [Richmond Pond] to check boats if they've been in Laurel Lake," said Kerwood.

City officials have managed to recruit volunteers boat ramp monitors at Onota and Pontoosuc, but they're are relying on complete cooperation from boaters.

"I'd say 95 percent of them have heard about the issue and are more than willing to allow us to check their boats," said Pittsfield's harbormaster James McGrath.

Nevertheless, some city lakeside residents believe closing the boat ramps is the best temporary solution, until a permanent one is found.

"We need to do that until we get this under control," said Manny Schmaizl, a 15-year resident of Lake Onota.

While state environmental officials plan an update on the zebra mussel problem at public meeting on Wednesday, 3 p.m., at Pittsfield City Hall, Hickey said don't expect them to have that permanent solution.

"Once you get zebra mussels," noted Hickey, "no one has any knowledge how to get rid of them."
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"Waste limit plan trashed"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, July 15, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has scrapped plans to set up a uniform residential trash collection system and to charge three-family apartments an additional fee for garbage pickup.

The councilors last night voted to place on file, which in essence killed the proposal limiting each Pittsfield household to a single, so-called "toter" -- a 64-gallon or 32-gallon trash container on wheels. Each residence would get one toter free and pay an annual fee for additional toters.

The City Council also filed the plan to assess three-family dwellings $52.50 a month, unless the buildings are owner-occupied. The $70 monthly fee for four-family houses approved by the City Council three years ago remains in effect.

While both proposals were debated twice at the subcommittee level before returning to the full council, several members called for more public debate.

"I feel a lot more conversation on the issue is needed," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop. "It touches everyone in the city."

Lothrop added he's had more phone calls and e-mails from constituents on the trash issues than any other he can remember.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward was among those who suggested city officials start from scratch and come up with better plans to make Pittsfield's residential trash collection program more efficient and economical.

"I have a plan that would be fair and equitable to three-family homes and reduce waste and increase recycling," said Ward, who did not offer any details.

The City Council did suggest the Resource Recovery Commission have public debate on the issues first, before city officials offer any new proposals. The advisory panel was formed to make recommendations regarding changes in Pittsfield's solid waste programs.

"[The proposals] should have gone there in the first place," said Council President Gerald M. Lee, who conceded the panel was inadvertently omitted from the process.

If the commission does meet, Ward 1 Councilor Lewis C. Markham Jr. wants it soon, possibly before the City Council's Aug. 11. meeting.

"I don't think we need to prolong this any further," said Markham.

City officials had hoped to raise about $100,000 each year from the three-family fee to help offset the cost of providing residential trash pickup, which is already factored into the Pittsfield property tax rate. The city currently collects more than $100,000 annually through the fee for four-family residences.

As for the toter system, Commissioner of Public Works & Utilities Bruce I. Collingwood was counting on it to reduce waste, increase recycling and in turn save taxpayers money by lowering trash collection costs.

While the single trash container plan has its critics, Councilor at large Matthew M. Kerwood said any revisions will not make it perfect.

He noted, "You're not going to have a fully vetted program that runs flawlessly from Day One."
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Ellen M. Ruberto, 62
iBerkshires.com - July 22, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Ellen M. Ruberto, 62, Spadina Parkway, wife of Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, died peacefully at home on Wednesday morning, July 22, 2009, after battling a rare form of cancer.

Born in Pittsfield on Jan. 14, 1947, daughter of Francis J. and Winifred McLaughlin Reynolds, she graduated from St. Joseph's Central High School in 1964 and from Berkshire Community College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

A teacher, Mrs. Ruberto first taught at Highland Elementary School, now Capeless Elementary School. She continued to teach as her husband pursued executive positions at several companies across the country. They resided in in Delaware, Illinois, California, and Texas before returning to Pittsfield shortly before her husband's first, unsuccessful, run for mayor in 2001.

She was a communicant of St. Charles' Church. A community activist, she was involved with a range programs, including sitting on the boards of the Pittsfield Prevention Program, Colonial theater and Zonta Club.

She was a strong supporter of her husband's political career, accompanying him to the city clerk's office when he took out papers in May to run for a fourth term.

She and her husband began dating after attending their senior prom together. They were married Aug. 23, 1969.

Besides her husband, she leaves two brothers, Francis J. Reynolds of Chatham and John L. Reynolds of Boston, and four nieces and three nephews.

She was predeceased by a sister, Ann Furey, on Nov. 13, 2001.

FUNERAL NOTICE — A Liturgy of Christian Burial for Mrs. Ruberto will be celebrated Monday, July 27, at 10 a.m. at St. Charles' Church by the Rev. Peter A. Gregory. Burial will be private.

Calling hours will be Sunday, July 26, from 3 to 7 p.m. at St. Charles' Church to accommodate the large number of people expected to pay their respects. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the St. Charles' Church Reaching New Heights Elevator Fund or the Colonial theater, care of the Dwyer Funeral Home, 776 North St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.

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Ellen Ruberto accompanies her husband, Mayor James M. Ruberto, on North Street in Pittsfield in September 2007 as he prepares to announce his candidacy for a third term. “We’re going to live every day the way it should be lived,” the first lady declared at the time. (Eagle file photos)
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"Pittsfield's ‘special first lady' dies"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/23/2009

PITTSFIELD -- Ellen M. Ruberto, the wife of Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, died peacefully at their Spadina Parkway home on Wednesday morning after battling a rare form of cancer. She was 62.

The Rubertos, who met as students at St. Joseph Central High School and graduated together in 1964, would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on Aug. 23.

The former elementary school teacher was admitted to the hospital on Monday for complications associated with the cancer, and she died shortly after returning home on Wednesday.

Diagnosed in 2005, Mrs. Ruberto underwent treatment and was given a clean bill of health later in the year. However, the cancer returned in 2007. Mayor Ruberto has never publicly commented on the type of cancer his wife had, except to say that it was a rare form of the disease that required several operations.

Despite the setbacks in her health, Mrs. Ruberto continued to make public appearances with her husband, and remained his most fervent supporter.

In the spring of 2007, when the couple took out his mayoral nomination papers at City Hall, Mrs. Ruberto declared "we're going to live every day the way it should be lived."

The Rubertos made it clear that they made decisions in running for mayor together, and considered her illness in choosing to run for election. The couple decided the "best course of action was to move forward," the mayor said the night he was re-elected in November 2007.

On May 1, a smiling Mrs. Ruberto, her head barren of hair from the cancer treatments, again accompanied her husband, hand in hand, to City Hall where he took out nomination papers to run for a fourth term this fall. It was these moments that captured her endurance and exemplified the strong bond that existed between the Rubertos.

Ruberto declined to discuss his wife's health situation that day, but admitted that her condition had caused him to do some "soul-searching" as he considered another run for the corner office.

"We recognized that Ellen has some health issues," he said then. "But Ellen said, ‘I want you to run.'"

The Rubertos began dating after they accompanied each other to their high school senior prom, and married shortly after they graduated from college. Mrs. Ruberto referred to the couple as "a team" in an article that was published in The Eagle in 2004.

"It was like best friends," said William M. Hines Sr., the retired former CEO of Interprint Inc., who has served as Mayor Ruberto's campaign manager since 2003.

"Whenever they went anywhere he always called her his bride," Hines said. "It was like they were still on their honeymoon. They had that kind of relationship."

One of four children of Francis J. and Winifred McLaughlin Reynolds, Mrs. Ruberto was born in Pittsfield on Jan. 14, 1947. She graduated from St. Joseph's High School, Berkshire Community College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She began her working career as a teacher at Highland Elementary School, now the Capeless Elementary School, in Pittsfield. Mrs. Ruberto continued to teach as her husband pursued executive positions at several companies across the country.

The couple lived in Delaware, Illinois, California, and Texas before returning to Pittsfield shortly before James Ruberto embarked on his first mayoral campaign in 2001.

Since returning to Pittsfield, Mrs. Ruberto had been a member of several community service organizations, and served on numerous boards, including the Colonial Theatre.

"Ellen was one of those always enthusiastic, always helpful people whom you treasure," said David Fleming, the Colonial's executive director. "It's rare to have someone so upbeat and so giving, who always wants to make things happen and wants to help."

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Ruberto leaves two brothers, Francis J. Reynolds of Chatham, and John L. Reynolds of Boston, and four nieces and three nephews. She was predeceased by a sister, Ann Furey, who died on Nov. 13, 2001.

The funeral will take place at 9 a.m. on Monday at the Dwyer Funeral Home, 776 North St., Pittsfield. A Liturgy of Christian Burial will follow at 10 a.m. at St. Charles Church, where she worshipped, celebrated by the Rev. Peter A. Gregory. Calling hours are Sunday, from 3 to 7 p.m., at the funeral home.

The burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the St. Charles Church Reaching New Heights Elevator Fund or the Colonial Theatre, care of the Dwyer Funeral Home in Mrs. Ruberto's memory.
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"Ellen Ruberto"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 7/23/2009

In an Eagle article five years ago, Ellen Ruberto, the wife of Pittsfield's mayor, described the couple as a team, and that was how James and Ellen were seen by many throughout the city. The couple shared a passion for their native city, and whatever was a cause for one was a cause for both.

Ellen Ruberto died Wednesday morning of a rare form of cancer that was first diagnosed four years ago. A graduate of St. Joseph's High School and Berkshire Community College, she taught school in Pittsfield and elsewhere as her husband served in executive positions at companies in several states. When they returned to Pittsfield, Mr. Ruberto ran for mayor, winning on his second try, and Mrs. Ruberto enthusiastically jumped into city affairs as a member of a variety of community organizations and boards.

Downtown revival was of critical importance to the teammates, and Ellen Ruberto helped spur it with her work on behalf of Downtown Inc. and the Colonial Theatre. Yesterday, those who worked with her at those organizations and others, among them the Berkshire United Way, Pittsfield Prevention Partnership, Berkshire Red Cross and the Berkshire Museum, remembered her determination and selflessness, her charm and compassion.

Mrs. Ruberto continued that work even as she carried on a fight against cancer that must have been difficult, though for James and Ellen it was a fight to be conducted largely in private. On May 1 of this year, with Ellen's hair gone because of cancer treatments, the couple arrived at City Hall so the mayor could take out nomination papers for another term. She showed a quiet dignity that day that went well with her enthusiastic but forceful determination to make her beloved city a better place. Which she did.

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"A tireless Pittsfield advocate"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, July 23, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Ellen M. Ruberto was a "big cheerleader" for the city she loved, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to improve her hometown.

That's how colleagues and friends of Ruberto, 62, remember the wife of Mayor James M. Ruberto, who died on Wednesday following a lengthy battle with cancer.

"She was a class act," said North Adams Mayor John Barrett III. "Pittsfield lost a very special first lady."

"If we needed something, we could rely on her to help us out," added Yvonne Pearson, the executive director for Downtown Inc. "She was a big cheerleader for the downtown."

Downtown Inc. was one of the 12 civic, business, health and education organizations Ruberto was actively involved with after she and her husband returned to Pittsfield nearly nine years ago.

And Ruberto greatly influenced every one of those groups, according to her friend John Bissell.

"Everything she got involved in got better," said Bissell. "She had a radiant personality."

Ruberto and Bissell, a vice president with Greylock Federal Credit Union, volunteered together for several organizations including the Berkshire Untied Way. Bissell said his proudest moment was introducing Ruberto last month as she received the United Way's prestigious Robert K. Agar Jr. Volunteerism Award. Despite her failing health, Bissell said Ruberto was determined to receive the award in person and turn her acceptance speech into a rallying cry seeking added support for agencies funded by the United Way.

"She was completely focused on helping everyone else," said Bissell.

Ellen Ruberto was also focused on helping her husband remain the mayor for two more years. When James Ruberto announced his re-election bid on May 1 at City Hall, his wife -- bald from recent cancer treatments -- was by his side. Even though she knew her picture would be in The Eagle the next day, Barrett said Ruberto refused to wear a wig to hide the effects of her illness.

"I called her up and said, ‘I never saw you look more beautiful,' " he said.

No one understood Ellen Ruberto's defiance more than Barrett, who saw his first wife Eileen eventually lose her battle cancer with cancer while he was in office 19 years ago. Barrett said he found Ellen to be a lot like Eileen, especially when it came to dealing with disease and supporting their husbands political life at the same time.

"They were two very classy ladies," he said.

Barrett also praised his counterpart for balancing his public life with having a seriously ill spouse.

"To do the job of mayor and be by his wife's side is double duty," he noted. "I hope people understand that."

Ellen Ruberto was also one of those rare wives who enjoyed their husbands being in the spotlight, according to City Council President Gerald M. Lee.

"I think she enjoyed [James Ruberto] being mayor as much as he does," Lee said.

And Ellen Ruberto had some influence in the corner office, as Matthew Dindio found out two years ago when he applied to be mayor's public affairs coordinator and met Ruberto's wife for the first time.

"If you made it past the first interview with the mayor, you'd have a second interview with the actual boss [Ellen]," quipped Dindio.

"They were definitely a team," he added. "They were always there for each other."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Ellen Ruberto's wake location moved"
By Benning W. De La Mater, The Berkshire Eagle, Friday, July 24, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Sunday's wake for Ellen M. Ruberto, the wife of Mayor James M. Ruberto, has been moved from Dwyer Funeral Home to St. Charles Church.

Organizers said the location change is due to the threat of inclement weather and an expected large attendance.

Mrs. Ruberto, 62, died on Wednesday at her home following a lengthy battle with cancer.

Matthew Dindio, the mayor's public affairs coordinator,said St.Charles is a more suitable location for calling hours, which will run from 3 to 7 p.m. The time has not changed.

"We think there's going to be a large group of people who will want to pay their last respects to Ellen," Dindio said. "And this gives us a large enough space."

Mrs. Ruberto's funeral will also take place at St. Charles Church, 89 Briggs Ave., on Monday at 10 a.m. with a Liturgy of Christian Burial celebrated by the Rev. Peter A. Gregory.

St. Charles was Ruberto's longtime church.

The burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the St. Charles Church Reaching New Heights Elevator Fund or the Colonial Theatre, care of Dwyer Funeral Home in Mrs. Ruberto's memory.
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To reach Benning W. De La Mater: bdelamater@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6243.
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Friends, family and local politicians gather on Monday for the funeral of Ellen Ruberto, wife of Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, seen above. Ellen Ruberto died at the couple’s Pittsfield home last Wednesday following a four-year battle with a rare form of cancer. She was 62. (Photos by Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Hundreds mourn Ellen Ruberto"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- More than 400 family, friends and local political dignitaries gathered at St. Charles Church on Monday to pay final respects to Ellen M. Ruberto, remembered for her smile and a spirit that was contagious to all who met her.

Ruberto, wife of Mayor James M. Ruberto, died at the couple's Pittsfield home last Wednesday following a four-year battle with a rare form of cancer. She was 62.

On a warm and sunny morning, the former elementary school teacher was eulogized during the funeral Mass as someone who shone brightly on everyone she knew.

"[Ellen] had such warmth and enthusiasm that seemed natural," said childhood friend Mary Ann Downing-Matthews, who noted you couldn't help but become Ruberto's friend.

"She would smile her great smile and reach out to us," added Downing-Matthews. "She drew us in because she was such a joy."

Ellen Marie Ruberto's friendships not only stretched along the Berkshires but across the country as well. She and her husband of nearly 40 years -- with whom she graduated from St. Joseph's High School in 1964 -- would eventually live in Delaware, Illinois, California and Texas before returning to their hometown of Pittsfield almost nine years ago. Shortly thereafter, James Ruberto lost his first mayoral campaign in 2001, but rebounded to win the first of three consecutive terms as Pittsfield's chief executive in 2003.

Despite his wife's failing health the past few months, Ruberto was encouraged by his spouse to run again in this fall. This was another example of Ellen Ruberto's unselfishness -- even while she was suffering -- said Rev. Peter A. Gregory, pastor at St. Charles.

"Ellen was always self-sacrificing to be there for others," said Gregory during his homily. "She was never resentful, never angry about the pain, never asking, ‘Why me?'"

Gregory said even from her death bed, Ruberto was constantly give her nieces and nephews encouragement.

"She was a woman of faith who gave us strength," added Gregory. "A valued woman -- a gem beyond price."

In good health and bad, Ellen Ruberto devoted much of her time and talent to the 12 business, civic, health and education organizations for which she volunteered since returning to Pittsfield. Downing-Matthews said Ruberto's involvement in the community was genuine as "Ellen chose to be tenacious in her commitments."

"She wasn't trying to look good," she noted, "She was trying to do good."

Downing-Matthews' upbeat remembrance of Ruberto drew a standing ovation from those attending the funeral and a warm embrace from James Ruberto, who was flanked by close relatives and friends, including North Adams Mayor John Barrett III.

The entire Pittsfield City Council, School Committee, numerous other city officials and the Berkshire delegation to the state legislature were also in attendance.

The two Berkshire mayors have become close friends, talking frequently about balancing a political career and taking care of a seriously ill wife. Barrett was in office 19 years ago when lost his first wife to cancer.

While Ellen Ruberto has left this world, Gregory, speaking directly to her husband, said "she will continue to guide you, until you are called to her side."

Following the 90-minute mass, the funeral procession left St. Charles for a private burial ceremony.

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"All candidates deserve coverage"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 7/23/2009

In the recent article about Pam Malumphy’s announcement that she is running for mayor of Pittsfield, I was surprised to see that only a few of the mayoral candidates were mentioned. I was also intrigued by the fact that The Eagle claimed that candidate Nicholas J. Caccamo could not be reached for comment. As Mr. Caccamo’s election committee chair, I know for a fact that all of his contact information, as well as mine, have been recorded with his election committee materials.

It is unfair for a few candidates, namely Mayor Ruberto, Dan Bianchi, and Mrs. Malumphy, to receive all of The Eagle’s media attention while only briefly mentioning the slew of other candidates. The Pittsfield Gazette recently published an online article covering Mr. Caccamo. I am hopeful that Pittsfield residents are advocates of the democratic process, and see the upcoming mayoral primary as an excellent example of democracy at work. It is inequitable to hinder lesser known candidates by paying sole attention to "high profile" candidates.

This will surely be an uphill battle for the eight candidates not named Malumphy, Bianchi, or Ruberto, and The Eagle seems to be ensuring that those other eight candidates stand even less of a chance. I have witnessed Mr. Caccamo campaigning door to door, visiting households and businesses across the city. He has attended every City Council meeting since January, including budget hearings. He has already booked a campaign event August 5 at the Italian American Club in his own Ward 3.

I have seen other candidates attending events and acquiring nomination signatures to ensure that their names end up on the primary ballot, as only Mr. Caccamo and Paul Kwasniowski have completed the nomination process thus far. The low profile candidates such as Mr. Caccamo deserve recognition for their hard work and dedication in this campaign. It is dishonorable to handicap their campaigns by giving unnecessary attention to a few local favorites.

RYAN M. LAROCHELLE
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Three eye Ward 2 seat"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, Friday, July 24, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- A three-way race -- and possible rematch -- has emerged in the contest for Ward 2 Councilor in this fall's city election.

Incumbent Louis A. Costi is being challenged by Kevin J. Morandi and Peter T. White, creating a preliminary contest in September with the top two vote-getters squaring off in the Nov. 3 general election. If Costi and Morandi move on, they will repeat their head-to-head contest which Costi won by 28 votes following a recount a month after the general election in November 2007.

Costi said had he hit the campaign trail, the first race wouldn't have been so close.

"I did absolutely nothing last time," he said. "I didn't take him seriously and that's my fault."

Morandi views the loss as a building block toward this year's campaign, rather than motivation for another showdown with Costi.

"The fact it was so close," he said. "I was very encouraged the way the voters responded two years ago."

Morandi added, "I'm just focusing on my campaign."

White is taking a similar approach, as he looks to prevent a Costi-Morandi rematch.

"I'm running for the ward," he said, "not running against anyone."

Nevertheless, White welcomes a three-way race, saying it "gives voters a choice and shows there are people who really care about [Ward 2]."

Costi, 57, is a Pittsfield native seeking a fourth consecutive term because he's "committed to the city" and would "hate to see someone come in without experience."

In addition to his City Council duties, Costi is the council representative on the Community Development Board and actively supports the continued revitalization of North Street, such as new restaurants and the Beacon Cinema project.

"Anything we do downtown helps the whole city," he said.

Costi, who manages several commercial buildings, lives at 132 Unkamet Drive with his wife and he has two grown children.

Morandi, 53, is also a businessman, owning a barber shop in is native town of Lee for 27 years. Even though he's still new to ward politics, Morandi said he understands how to reach out to voters and rely on door-to-door campaigning for voter support and listening to their concerns.

"If I'm a councilor," he said, "I'll do what the constituents ask me to do."

Morandi said that includes whether to limit the amount of residential trash picked up by the city and improving snow removal in the winter.

"These are small things, but very important to the taxpayers," he added.

Morandi resides at 19 South Carolina Ave. with his wife and 5-year-old son.

While White, 31, also lost his first attempt at a council seat in 2003 -- losing in the at large preliminary race -- he said, "It was a good experience and got me involved in the community."

Since then, White joined the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade Committee, the city Traffic Commission, the Morningside Initiative and the Ward 2 Democratic City Committee. He said the next logical step is getting on the City Council.

"Politics is a way you can help people and get things done," he said.

White, who lives at 29 Plunkett St., is a program coordinator with the Brien Center: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in Pittsfield.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Supporter takes on incumbent"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, July 28, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- A former supporter of Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward is now challenging the incumbent in the city election this fall.

Christopher J. Connell has announced he's running for the City Council seat he considered seeking four years ago. That year, Ward himself defeated an incumbent, Ozias "Chuck" Vincelette, for the first of two consecutive terms. Since Connell's political ambition was suddenly put on hold for personal reasons in 2005, he decided to support Ward that year after meeting him on the campaign trail.

"I thought he was a better choice than the current councilor to make changes" Connell said. "I really haven't seen that."

Connell cited how Ward 4 "doesn't seem to get our fair share of city services" such as repairing sidewalks torn up by snowplows and some roads plagues by potholes.

"Bishop Parkway is almost a mine field," he noted.

In rebuttal, Ward affirmed that, "I actually have delivered services to the ward." He cited several projects such as refurbishing of Kirvin Park and Colt Road and the "long awaited" improved drainage system for Leona Drive.

As for Bishop Parkway, Ward said it was on the road repair to-do list he submitted to Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. He noted the City Council can't just simply spend what it wants on roads, even though the council does have the final say on the city budget.

"We're given a red pen only to make budget cuts," Ward said, "not a black pen to add to the budget."

Ward, 42, is a Pittsfield native who works for the computer technology firm of Lenox Softworks. He's relied on his professional background to help stay in touch with his constituents on a regular basis by e-mailing a weekly newsletter to residents who want one.

"I try to engage people to attend public meetings," Ward said, "and give [brief updates] on what's going on in the ward and city."

Ward, his wife Jennifer, son Brendan, 3 and four-month-old daughter Fiona live at 73 Whittier Ave.

Connell, 50, moved to Pittsfield several years ago and owns several investment properties, mostly residential. He believes his previous experience as a regional manager for Cumberland Farms would translate into him "making intelligent decisions for the city and ward." Connell cited how he handled a budget for over 40 convenience stores "which far exceeded the city's total operating budget." Pittsfield's current spending plan is $122.7 million.

Connell resides at 105 Dawes Ave. with his wife Dawn.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"A busy season for Pittsfield politics: Mayor Ruberto and incumbents on the City Council are facing an ‘unusually high' number of challengers for re-election."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, August 6, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- A crowded mayoral field and high interest in the City Council ward races is producing one of the busiest local political seasons in several years, city election officials said on Wednesday.

Mayor James M. Ruberto and nine challengers are vying for the corner office at City Hall as all the candidates who took out nomination papers returned them to the Registrar of Voters by Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline. So far, six have been certified to be on the ballot for the Sept. 22 preliminary election: Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, Paul Kwasniowski, Nicholas J. Caccamo, Jeffrey W. Ferrin, Stephen A. Fillio and Rick E. Moon.

Ruberto, Patricia, "Pam" Malumphy, Lisa Boyd and Mark A. Marciano are in the process of meeting the certification deadline of Aug. 18.

Meanwhile, four of the five ward races will also go through round one with the voters in September, in which the top two finishers in all the races listed -- including mayor -- advance to the general city election on Nov. 3.

Not since 2003 when five ward councilors were ousted and Ruberto defeated Mayor Sarah Hathaway for his first term, have incumbents been so heavily challenged.

"It is an unusually high number of candidates," said City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, "But it's good for the community."

Tyer happened to be one of the five ward challengers to win six years ago, defeating Mark T. Brennan in Ward 3. She won two more terms before resigning last December to become City Clerk, when Jody L. Phillips left the position in January after 10 years to take a job in the private sector. Now, Phillips is challenging Tyer in November to get her old job back.

So why the sudden interest in city government? Several candidates suspect voters want a change, despite a more cooperative relationship between the current City Council and mayor, compared to 2003.

"It's been pretty much the same [council] for the past six years," said Ward 1 Councilor Lewis A. Markham Jr., another first-time winner from 2003. "Maybe people feel that's been long enough and it's time for a change."

Christine Yon said that's one reason she decide within the last two weeks to oppose Markham. The Pittsfield native said she's not campaigning against her opponent, but on the issues such as crime, drugs, education and the difficulty in paying higher taxes.

"So many people have lost their jobs, taken a cut in pay to keep their jobs, or are paying more for health insurance," Yon said.

Markham was "surprised by the last-minute candidate," but said he welcomes the political battle.

"Whomever runs against me will have to prove what I haven't done," he added.

Markham cited how he's constantly in touch with his constituents and city officials in dealing with crime and other issues of concern.

While the Markham-Yon matchup is the most recent ward race to emerge, it'll take a back seat to Wards 2, 4, 6 and 7, which must first go through the September preliminary election, before joining the Ward 1 race in November.

All are three-way contests, with Ward 7 possibly expanding to a foursome, if J.D. Hebert is placed on the ballot. Incumbent Anthony Maffuccio already has opposition from Joseph C. Nichols and Loren V. Paduano.

The Ward 2 race has been on the political radar screen for some time as Councilor Louis A. Costi, Kevin J. Morandi and Peter T. White all took out nomination papers when the city election season officially began on May 1.

Yet the races in Wards 4 and 6 each added a third candidate just last week. John M. Krol Jr., a former aid to Mayor Ruberto, joined David W. Murphy Jr. and former Councilor at large Jamie R. Williamson in a bid to replace Bianchi in Ward 6.

Krol said he can best represent the ward because, "I know my way around City hall and have a great rapport with the staff."

In Ward 4, Terry M. Kinnas will take on Christopher J. Connell and incumbent Michael L. Ward.

"I've been thinking about this for some time," Kinnas said of a City Council campaign. Kinnas lost in his bid for an at-large seat in 2005, but sees no difference in running seeking a ward position this time around.

"Both ward and city issues; you can't separate one from the other," he noted.

Paul J. Capitanio, who succeeded Tyer by winning the Ward 3 special election on March 31, and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop are the only ward incumbents running unopposed.

Meanwhile, Melissa Mazzeo, who lost to Capitanio, is the only one taking on the four at-large Councilors Peter M. Marchetti, Kevin J. Sherman, Matthew M. Kerwood and Council President Gerald M. Lee.

Finally, seven candidates will vie for the six seats on the Pittsfield School Committee, with all but one committee member seeking re-election.

Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso, her colleagues Churchill Cotton, Erin Sullivan, Daniel C. Elias and Carmen C. Massimiano are joined by Katherine L. Yon -- Christine Yon's sister-in-law and Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga, who currently sits on the city's Community Development Board.

Angel Ramirez, who has served more than 23 years on the School Committee, said he is not running again because he is moving out of the area.

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August 6, 2009

Re: The Good, The Bad, & Luciforo

I like retired Judge Barbalunga, too. He is a very good man who stood up for many people, including my family, who needed the advocacy of a good man in the community. He and his family will always have my respect and admiration. If anyone made a bigger difference in helping my family, by standing up for my Dad during Luciforo's persecution of my family in the mid-to-late-1990's, it was Alfred Barbalunga!

www.jonathanmelleonpolitics.blogspot.com/2008/05/andrea-nuciforo-jonathan-melle-month-of.html

However, I feel the opposite about long-serving Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C Massimiano, Jr. He acted as one of Luciforo's many henchmen during Luciforo's many years of layered bullying of me that started when I was only 20 years old in the Spring of 1996 and continues through this day -- or for over 13 years now.

www.luciforo.blogspot.com

Now, I know that Carmen lobbied the late-Governor King to appoint his cousin to his Judgeship in Pittsfield. However, Carmen put politics over principle, and chose the dark path of Luciforo's vindictive and abusive ways instead of being like Mr Barbalunga. After I left Berkshire County in the Spring 2004, Carmen Massimiano told me that he knew that I know what they (meaning Luciforo and his political henchmen) tried to do to me, but that I should not talk about it, and if I do, not to feel safe in New Hampshire, which is where Carmen Massimiano attended college at Saint A's many years ago. Carmen had no apologies, regrets, or sympathy for the utter Hell that Luciforo and he put my family through while trying to get my Dad fired from his state government Courthouse job, if not for Judge Barbalunga deciding otherwise, via Luciforo's politically-charged "ethics" complaints, and also them trying to jail me while they also conspiratorially put me through many layered bullies to shut me up while they persecuted my Dad for speaking out as an elected Berkshire County Commissioner. I was never more afraid than when Luciforo tried to send me to Carmen's jail when I was only 22-years of age by making hypocritical and false reports to the Pittsfield Police Department while and after swearing out multiple "ethics" complaints against my Dad.

I know that Luciforo must be stopped before he would be elected to US Congress. Too much power would be very dangerous to many good people in his corrupt and abusive hands!

- Jonathan Melle
I WILL ALWAYS SPEAK MY GOOD CONSCIENCE AS LONG AS I LIVE!
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Program should fund $13.4M plant upgrade"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, August 7, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The $13.4 million solar energy project at Pittsfield's wastewater treatment plant likely will be completely covered by federal stimulus funds, city officials said on Thursday.

In order for Pittsfield to receive the federal money, it must take out a loan through the state in which the principal and interest will be 100 percent reimbursed. This is the same process Lee must follow for the $801,000 energy upgrade of its water treatment plant.

The City Council in June voted to borrow the funds, provided state guaranteed the reimbursement in writing.

The city is close to getting that guarantee, according to Pittsfield Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood, who has a verbal commitment from the Department of Environmental Protection.

"Everything points toward the project being a ‘go,'" Collingwood said. "I'm still excited about this."

The project calls for the installation of a solar photovoltaic system at the 46-year-old sewer plant off Holmes Road. City officials expect the energy upgrade will save taxpayers about $300,000 in energy costs and transform the facility into a national model for other communities to follow.

The $13.4 million being spent is part of the city's overall $33.6 million effort to upgrade and improve the efficiency of both the water and sewer systems.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Fifteen hours after the last rain, Wahconah still resembled a lake.
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"Flood creates Wahconah Lake"
The Pittsfield Gazette, Published by Editor Jonathan Levine, 30.JULY.2009

Extraordinary precipitation overnight Wednesday led to several floods in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The most shocking occurred around Wahconah Park.

Kids swam, adults waded and kayakers looped around the parking lot and the entrance to the city-owned stadium.

The massive flood comes after the city spent a couple hundred thousand dollars on controversial parking lot improvements, adding to the impervious surface.

Jenny Hersch, an environmentalist who owns property in front of Wahconah, has submitted more than one petition to the city council inquiring about the legality of the work and seeking a detailed cost breakdown. Councilors and Mayor James Ruberto have ignored her calls for disclosure.

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"Parking lot or sand castle?"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 8/11/2009

I can’t believe in these hard economic times, with employees losing their jobs, taxes rising and services continually being cut, that Pittsfield would throw away some $775,000 on the parking lot and other projects at Wahconah Park before the major problem there has been corrected.

It’s no secret that Wahconah Park floods in the rainy season. When children make sand castles at the beach they know that when the tide comes in it will be washed away, and this is no different. For the City Council to say it needs more info on this subject and continue to go on with the project does not make any sense.

Councilors, please pull your heads out of the sand before you spend any more taxpayer money on this. Grant money or not it’s still taxpayer money.

ERIC J. WALGER
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Council mulling hotel tax rise: The proposed increase, from 4 percent to 6 percent, could generate $135,000 in revenue."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- While many surrounding towns are holding off on hiking the hotel/motel tax, Pittsfield could approve an increase that would generate an additional $135,000 in local revenue for the current fiscal year.

The City Council is considering a proposal from Mayor James M. Ruberto to raise the so-called "hotel/motel tax" from 4 percent to 6 percent beginning Oct. 1.

In 2008, the last fiscal year for which revenue figures are available from the state, Pittsfield collected nearly $371,000 in the lodging tax.

In June, the Legislature in June agreed to allow Massachusetts cities and towns to increase the local hotel/ motel tax by as much as 2 percent and implement a new local meals tax by three-quarters of a percent, all in the name of raising more money for cash strapped communities. The Legislature did so out of deference to an decrease in state aid to cities and towns.

Ruberto will present the hotel/motel tax hike at tonight's council meeting, at 7, at City Hall. His proposal comes on the heels of town officials in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge deciding to delay -- for now -- voting on a higher lodging tax to boost local revenue.

Council President Gerald M. Lee doubts the increase will hurt city hoteliers if Pittsfield adopts the tax hike first.

"It's $2 per $100," Lee said. "Not enough to drive people elsewhere."

Lee is among several councilors who told The Eagle on Monday they are initially supporting the tax increase to bolster city coffers.

"I got to be honest with you, we need the revenue," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

While Lothrop is "leaning in favor" of the tax hike, he's in no hurry to approve the measure without plenty of public debate.

"I want to hear feedback," he said, "especially from the lodging industry."

However, for Pittsfield to begin collecting the added revenue by Oct. 1, the City Council must approve the tax hike at two separate meetings by Aug. 31. This would mean forgoing the usual review by the City Council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules, which Lothrop chairs. He indicated he's willing to delay a final vote until after committee meets on Sept. 14 and makes a recommendation.

"The public needs the opportunity to hear the details," Lothrop said.

"I don't see a need to rush it," added Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti.

If the City Council decides to vote after Aug. 31 but before Dec. 1, Pittsfield would collect the added rooms tax revenue starting Jan. 1. However, the amount would be less than the projected $135,000 as that figure is based on a Oct. 1 start date.

No matter when the collection begins, Lee said boosting the rooms tax is worth pursuing because the money could translate into a "couple of teachers or a couple of firefighters."
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Room tax vote postponed"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, August 12, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield's room tax will remain unchanged -- at least until 2010.

The City Council voted Tuesday night to delay voting on Mayor James M. Ruberto's proposal to raise the so-called "hotel/motel tax" from 4 percent to 6 percent until after it's reviewed by the council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules, which meets on September 14, 2009.

Councilors could have bypassed the subcommittee and adopted the measure by taking votes at two separate meetings before September 1, 2009. This would have allowed Pittsfield to collect an estimated $135,000 from the increase from October 1, 2009, through next June 30, 2010.

Now the amount will be less, as the earliest Pittsfield can assess the 2 percentage point hike is January 1, 2010, if the City Council adopts the increase by December 1, 2009.

"We do need to gather more information," said Councilor at large Matthew M. Kerwood on why the council didn't rush to increase the rooms tax.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop said the impact of the tax hike on the local lodging industry needs to be weighed against the revenue it will generate for city.

"We probably should get a closer review from the hospitality people," said Lothrop, who chairs Ordinance and Rules.

In June, the Legislature agreed to allow Massachusetts cities and towns to increase the local hotel/motel tax by as much as 2 percentage points and implement a new local meals tax by three-quarters of a percentage point, all in the name of raising more money for cash-strapped communities. The Legislature did so out of deference to a decrease in state aid to cities and towns.

While increasing the rooms tax will hardly offset Pittsfield's more than $4 million state aid reduction for fiscal 2010, any added revenue would be welcome by city officials.

"We need to approve before December 1, 2009, so we can factor [the increase] into our revenue stream for the second half of the fiscal year," said Council President Gerald M. Lee.

So far, North Adams is the only other Berkshire County community considering an increase in the rooms tax. Mayor John Barrett III had said if approved, the city would pick up another $50,000 in added revenue annually.

Officials in Lenox, Stockbridge and Lee have all held off on adopting the 2 percent hike, in part so as not to burden an already struggling tourist industry this summer.
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It's official: incumbent joins nine challengers
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"Ruberto joins ballot"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Editor & Publisher, 10.AUGUST.2009

James Ruberto this morning officially became the tenth candidate on the mayoral ballot.

The incumbent had planned to place his name on the ballot nearer next week's deadline, but apparently decided he needed to formally join the field to quell any rumors about his intentions.

His action finalizes the ballot with ten official mayoral candidates (unless someone drops out before August 20). The field of ten will be whittled to two finalists on September 22 when the city holds its preliminary election.

Ruberto ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2001 but won the position two years later.

Also formally placing their names on the ballot Monday were ward 4 council candidate Terry Kinnas and school committee candidate Carmen Massimiano.

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Ann L. Hartstein takes the oath to become the new secretary of Elder Affairs from Gov. Deval L. Patrick on Wednesday afternoon in Pittsfield. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Hartstein: Right person for Elder job"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, August 13, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The newest advocate for senior citizens from the Berkshires to Boston is being touted as "the right person" to become the state's new Secretary of Elder Affairs.

Ann L. Hartstein, a 30-year veteran of assisting the elderly in Massachusetts, was formally sworn into office by Gov. Deval L. Patrick on Wednesday during a ceremony at the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center on North Street. She replaces Michael E. Festa, who left the position several months ago.

"I am absolutely confident Ann Hartstein is the right person for this job right now," Patrick said.

"She is the right person for the position," added Deb Banda, state director for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), "because she knows the senior community."

The high praise of Hartstein is based on her resume and her vision of how senior citizens should live out their lives in the Commonwealth.

Hartstein, a native of St. Louis, Mo., arrived in Cambridge in the late 1970s to be a social worker at a nursing home. She would eventually spend 11 years as director of Needham's Council on Aging, followed by a six-year stint in the Executive Office of Elder Affairs where she oversaw programs for seniors, including the implementation of a new prescription drug plan. Hartstein went on to become the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans, before returning to state government.

With the state's population continuing to get older, Hartstein said it's important the elderly decide what help they need in order to stay in their own home.

"My goal is that ageism is eliminated," Hartstein said, "and we all have the ability to live where we want to."

Executive Director of the Massachusetts Councils on Aging, David P. Stevens, said with the state having "more seniors than kids under 18 in the coming decade," a complete review is needed of all government services and programs for the elderly.

"Do we need to tweak things," Stevens asked the gathering at the senior center, "or do we need to augment [those programs]?"

Yet, Hartstein said "being old doesn't mean being needy," and she, along with other elder advocates, want senior citizens to remain a vital part of their communities.

"We need to tap into the talents of an aging population to benefit our communities," said Banda.

Whatever the role the elderly play in shaping the state's future, Hartstein's supporters said she will lead the way.

"She is another secretary who will make a large difference," Stevens said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Grants will help combat crime"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/16/2009

Two Berkshire police departments plan to use federal crime-fighting funds procured through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to deter gang violence and to hire a new police officer.

The grants, totaling $369,415, will help combat crime in Pittsfield and North Adams, the county’s only two cities.

Pittsfield officials announced this week that the city received a $178,113 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant to counter gang activity in the city, while North Adams officials learned late last month that the city received a $191,302 Justice Department grant to hire a new officer.

"In these tough economic times, seeking out grants becomes critical," Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto said.

Over the past several years, Ruberto said, Pittsfield’s Gang Intelligence Unit "has evolved from simply an intelligence-gathering and analysis team into a fully capable street enforcement unit."

The stimulus money will help Pittsfield expand the unit’s scope, including heightening awareness about gangs through education and increasing the level of street-level interdiction training for gang unit members.

"The Pittsfield Police Department is committed to aggressive gang enforcement in Pittsfield and the surrounding areas," Chief Michael J. Wynn said.

Meanwhile, North Adams’ $191,302 grant comes from a pool of nearly $29 million in stimulus funds directed to 13 Massachusetts police departments. The grant is administered by the Justice Department’s office of Community Oriented Policy Services, or COPS, which covers 100 percent of the approved salary and benefits for entry-level police officer positions for a three-year period.

North Adams Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco was unavailable for comment Friday, according to a department spokesman.

"These COPS funds are vital," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said in a statement announcing the awards. "Police departments across our commonwealth must have the resources needed to have enough officers on the streets to keep our citizens and our communities safe."

The Boston Police Department received the lion’s share of the COPS money, or $11.8 million of the $29 million, which it will use to hire 50 new officers. Holyoke, the only other Western Massachusetts municipality to apply for COPS funds, received $1.3 million to hire six new officers.
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"Funding projects will lend big hand: State grants will enable two Berkshire County schools to help students who struggle in the classroom."
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/16/2009

The state is funding two projects in Berkshire County designed to develop ways to help struggling students succeed.

On June 30, the governor’s administration announced that 16 public school districts across the Commonwealth as grant recipients under the state’s "Readiness Schools" initiative.

A total of $200,000 in funding was distributed. The Pittsfield school district garnered $10,500 to assist Conte Community School. The Adams-Cheshire Regional and North Adams public school systems are sharing a $10,500 grant, in partnership with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to help struggling students in Grades 6 through 9.

The districts will have until Aug. 31 to use the money to prepare and submit a readiness plan to the state by September.

The Readiness Schools concept involves giving schools with low-income and under-performing student populations increased flexibility and autonomy with curriculum, budgeting, staffing, scheduling and school district policies.

State and school officials hope allowing Readiness Schools more autonomy in these areas will help schools to help students raise test scores and put them on a track to graduate high school and go to college.

The state has outlined three types of Readiness Schools, which can either be developed as new schools or as conversions of existing schools, and, if a proposal is accepted, the school will operate under a performance contract that sets specific goals for student achievement and school improvement.

Neither of the local projects aim to create new schools at this time.

"It’s developing more of a school within a school," said Donna Leep, principal of Conte Community School in Pittsfield.

On Thursday, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Conte will hold a community forum in the school’s cafeteria for any interested parents, teachers, administrators and community members to attend. The forum will be led by Jim Flanagan from the Boston-based Public Consulting Group, with whom the school has been consulting with for this project.

"He’s going to outline what the school might look like and what can happen for us," said Leep.

Among the ideas Conte will look at is the school day, and how schedules can be better blocked or hours can be extended.

"I’m hoping that it gives a really creative influence to schools to really look at what’s working and what’s not, and to look ahead at the future and what our students today really need," Leep said.

In North County, the North Adams and Adams-Cheshire schools initially announced that they were looking into at a "virtual school" plan for their middle grades. But the direction has shifted.

"The kinds of things we have talked about are programmatic, such as sharing resources and staffing within the school day, MCLA providing professional development and training for our staff and exploring the feasibility for an extended day," said Adams-Cheshire Superintendent Alfred Skrocki.

He said a common goal between the two districts is to get students who have scored low on state exams of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System to reach a passing level of "proficient" or "advanced."

Skrocki also said the virtual program component may still have a place, as in providing education through broadcasts between the school districts and the college.

Ultimately the goal of both Berkshire projects is to submit a Readiness School proposal in September that will find approval, and logistically, more funding, from the state.

From the state’s perspective, the goal is to have strong enough Readiness School plans to attract federal education funding through what is known as the "Race to the Top" program, which will provide more than $4 billion to states to promote education reform.

"It’s a work in progress at both ends," Skrocki said.

He noted that superintendents across Berkshire County have heard presentations on Readiness Schools.

"We’re still raising questions to the funding and the impact of the programs," he said, "But from my personal standpoint, I’m approaching this step by step."

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"Phillips will not run for city clerk: Tuesday marked the last day for candidates to be placed on the ballot for the fall general election."
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- There will only be one declared candidate for city clerk in the upcoming election.

Former city clerk Jody L. Phillips, who took out nomination papers July 10, has decided not to run for her old job. If she had, it would have been a race between her and incumbent Linda M. Tyer, who was appointed in January to fill the position Phillips left in December.

Tuesday was the deadline for candidates to return their certified nomination papers to the City Clerk's office to be placed on the ballot for this fall's general election. Phillips arrived at City Hall five minutes before the 5 p.m. deadline and released a written statement.

"After much consideration, I have decided that I will not be submitting my certified nomination papers to become a candidate for the city clerk's position on this year's municipal ballot," the statement read.

In her statement, Phillips said she was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement she received to consider re-election and was thankful to everyone who signed her nomination papers and solicited signatures on her behalf.

Asked to comment further, Phillips said the decision not to submit her nomination papers was a tough one and that she had gone "back and forth" before deciding.

She then met behind closed doors with Tyer for several minutes. Following the meeting, Tyer declined to comment on what was said.

Phillips had served as city clerk for a decade before resigning in December to take a position in the private sector. Mayor James M. Ruberto appointed Tyer, who was serving her third term as Ward 3 Councilor, to replace Phillips in early January.

Meanwhile, 39 candidates are seeking election in this fall. All 10 candidates for mayor returned their certified nomination papers by Tuesday's deadline, setting up the largest preliminary election for that office since 2001. The preliminary election will take place Sept. 22.

The last time 10 mayoral candidates qualified for the preliminary election was in 2001. The 2003 race featured only two candidates, while there were three in both 2005 and 2007. The general election between the two finalists will take place on Nov. 3.

There will also be preliminary elections for councilor at large, and in wards 2, 4, 6 and 7. Five candidates qualified for the four at-large councilor seats. There are three candidates in each of the ward races.

A drawing to determine placement on the ballot for the preliminary election will take place at noon on Thursday in City Council chambers, Tyer said.

"Once we know the order of the ballot, we can get started with the next step, which is the administrative pieces of it," Tyer said.

The deadline for city residents who plan to register to vote in the preliminary election is 8 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 2. The deadline to register to vote in the general election is 8 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 14.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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Ruberto: plans September 1, 2009, park event
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"Ruberto sets park kickoff"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher & Editor, August 18, 2009

Incumbent James Ruberto plans to formally announce his candidacy for reelection to the position of mayor on Tuesday, September 1 at 4 p.m.

Ruberto plans to deliver a speech at Sottile Park, where he has launched his recent campaigns. Sottile Park is located at the corner of North and Eagle streets.

Ruberto also appears to have opened a campaign office at 1 Fenn Street, where he has maintained an office in the past. According to a sign in the door, the office is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be reached by calling 395-9733

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"Krol plans park kickoff"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher & Editory, 18.AUGUST.2009

Ward 6 council hopeful John Krol plans to formally announce his candidacy on Monday, August 24 at 12:15 p.m.

The candidate has formally requested the use of Tucker Playground for his speech. The parks commission is scheduled to consider the request tonight.

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"The race is on"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Thursday, August 20, 2009

Following the relative calm of the 2005 and 2007 election seasons, this year's campaign in Pittsfield is a throwback to the volatility of earlier this decade. Issues that have been simmering just below the surface for the past few years, such as the future of the William Stanley Business Park, the philosophy of downtown development, the crime that afflicts some neighborhoods, should get a thorough airing out in the weeks ahead.

The mood in the city in 2001, as much as such an amorphous quality can be assessed, was a general dissatisfaction that exploded in anger in 2003, when voters turned out a mayor and all five incumbent ward councilors. After two quiet election campaigns, the mood today is akin to 2001, and that unease is reflected around the state and the nation. Voters are nervous about economic stagnation and a brutal job market, and not optimistic that improvement is on the horizon.

There are 10 candidates for mayor this year, the same number as in 2001, the last time a double digit number of candidates vied for the top office. In 2001, however, there was no incumbent running for mayor, and a large number of hopefuls was anticipated. However, this year, incumbent Mayor James Ruberto, who had faced two challengers each in the preliminary elections of 2005 and 2007, will share the ballot with nine other candidates on September 22. Those candidates must sense something in the wind for them to take on a three-term incumbent.

What to make then, of the small field for the City Council at large berths? There were nine at large candidates in 2001 but only five this year, including the four incumbents. Perhaps there is the perception that residents are happy with their at large councilors, or maybe the candidates who would normally run for those berths saw a better opportunity in the mayor's race.

In the ward races, Lewis Markham Jr. had an easy time of it in 2003 when he defeated incumbent Rob Tuttle, whose confrontational manner symbolized those tempestuous times. After two elections without a challenge, he has an opponent this year. Ward 2 is known for its close races and incumbent Louis Costi meets two challengers in the preliminary election. Ward 4 incumbent Mike Ward also has two opponents and with incumbent Daniel Bianchi running for mayor, three candidates are bidding to succeed him in Ward 6. Ward 7 incumbent Anthony Maffuccio breezed to re-election in 2005 and 2007, but three challengers emerged after criminal charges were brought against him and his girlfriend in connection with a domestic dispute in July. None of the three challengers made much of the charges, which have since been dropped.

The stage is set for an intriguing election year. If a vigorous issue-oriented campaign ensues, it will be good for Pittsfield.
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www.iberkshires.com/images/site_images/stories/32039.jpg - City Clerk Linda Tyer did a random drawing on Thursday to determine the order of names on the preliminary election ballot.
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"Pittsfield Preliminary Election Ballot Set: Caccamo Takes No. 1 Spot"
iBerkshires Staff Reports - Thursday, August 20, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The ballot order for the preliminary election on Sept. 22 was decided on Thursday with the spin of a box by City Clerk Linda Tyer.

The random drawing determined placement for the 10 mayoral candidates vying for two spots in the general election and the three ward races, also for two spots each in November.

Names were placed in small envelopes and placed in the tumbler; the nine candidates attending the drawing were dropped their own envelopes in. Tyer spun the tumbler in between pulling each name.

Coming up in the first position for the mayoral was Nicholas J. Caccamo, followed by Patricia "Pam" Malumphy, incumbent James M. Ruberto, Mark A. Marciano, Rick E. Moon, Daniel L. Bianchi, Paul Kwasniowski, Stephen A. Fillio, Lisa M. Boyd and Jeffrey W. Ferrin.

In Ward 2, Peter T. White is in the No. 1 spot, followed by Kevin Morandi and incumbent Louis Costi.

In Ward 4, Christopher Connell was the first name drawn, followed by incumbent Michael Ward and Terry Kinnas.

In Ward 7, incumbent Anthony Maffuccio took the top spot, followed by J.D. Hebert, Joseph Nichols and Loren Paduano.

An expected preliminary race in Ward 6 did not emerge after former at-large councilor Jamie R. Williamson pulled her name from contention on Wednesday, a day after names had to be submitted for certification by the city clerk. David W. Murphy Jr. and John M. Krol Jr. will run in the general election. The incumbent, Bianchi, is running for mayor.

In other election news, Jody L. Phillips has abandoned her quest to return to City Hall. The former city clerk left for another position earlier this year; Ruberto appointed Tyer in her place. Phillips submitted nomination papers but on Tuesday, the last day for certification, she decided not submit her signatures and so will not appear on the ballot. Phillips reportedly declined to give reasons for her decision, according to The Berkshire Eagle.
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(picture) - Ward 2 Councilor Louis Costi places his name in the tumbler.
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"Mayoral forum September 14, 2009"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Editor & Publisher, 8/20/2009

The Pittsfield Gazette, working with other organizations, will provide debates/forums for all contested 2009 municipal races.

The Gazette has coordinated more than 150 televised debates, including ward three special election events earlier this year.

The debate series is coordinated by the Gazette; televised by PCTV; with major events hosted by Berkshire Community College.

TENTATIVE SCHEDULE - SUBJECT TO CHANGE

August 31: ward council debates for races contested on the preliminary election ballot - times are approximate
6:00-6:50 p.m. Ward 7
7:05-7:40 p.m. Ward 4
7:50-8:25 p.m. Ward 2
Berkshire Community College, room K11, small auditorium (opposite Boland Theatre)

September 14: forum for mayoral candidates; Berkshire Community College, Boland Theatre, 7 p.m.

October 19: ward council debates, PCTV studios (not open to public except guests invited by candidates due to limited seating; telecast live)

October 20: at-large council debate, BCC, small auditorium, K111

October 20: school committee, BCC, small auditorium, K111

October 26: Mayoral finalists, BCC, small auditorium, K111

GENERAL FORUM AND DEBATE NOTES
- All candidates on the ballot are invited
- Most events feature a single moderator/host who poses questions to the candidates
- Candidates are seated in ballot order
- With the exception of the in-studio debates on October 19, all events are free and open to the public.
- On nights with multiple debates, members of the public are welcome to come to all or some debates or portions thereof, but are asked to enter and depart quietly.
- All events are televised live with frequent repeat telecasts. Schedules are posted at www.pittsfieldtv.org
- While audience members are not invited to ask questions or comment during the event, questions submitted in advance in writing or via email to the Gazette will be forwarded to moderators, who have the option of incorporating them.

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News & Notes: "Pittsfield Preliminary Election Debates Take Shape"
By Larry Kratka, Berkshire News Network, Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — The only mayoral forum planned before the Sept. 22 preliminary election was set Monday, Sept. 14, at Berkshire Community College. Now there is word that another mayoral debate will be produced and hosted by author and former radio talk show host Dan Valenti.

Valenti said all 10 mayoral candidates have been invited to attend and the debate will be recorded Friday, Aug. 28, at 2:30 p.m. at the Pittsfield Community TV studios on Frederico Drive. The date of broadcast is yet to be announced but Valenti said the debate will run about two hours.

The Pittsfield Gazette, meanwhile, has published the lineup of debates for ward races included in the preliminary election. The debates will all take place on Monday, Aug. 31, with Ward 7 candidates debating at 6, Ward 4 candidates at 7:05 and Ward 2 candidates at 7:50 p.m.

The debates will take place at Berkshire Community College in Room K-111, the small auditorium. PCTV will televise the debates. Additional ward debates are planned for Oct. 19, prior to the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3. The Gazette will also host a mayoral forum on Sept. 14 at the Boland Theatre at BCC.

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"Pittsfield Receives State Grant to Improve Housing"
iBerkshires.com - Monday, August 24, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city of Pittsfield has received a housing grant from the state Department of Housing and Community Development in the amount of $70,000 to help improve the quality of its housing.

The funds will supplement the city's existing housing rehabilitation program, which is funded through the Community Development Block Grant Program. Since its inception, the program has assisted with the renovation of more than 1,000 housing units in the city. Many of the renovated housing units are located in the Morningside and Westside neighborhoods.

"Bringing homes up to code is an issue that I take very seriously," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "Our code enforcement team has been working very hard to make sure harmful substances, such as lead, are removed from our housing stock – thus helping us improve the quality of housing available to and providing safer homes and neighborhoods for Pittsfield's families."

The Lead Paint Hazard Control Grant Program under the DHCP is designed to expand lead inspection and abatement activities in private housing. The grant will be administered by the city's Department of Community Development. Funds will be used for inspections to identify lead-based paint risks; lead hazard-control abatement work and relocation expenses for households temporarily displaced during abatement activities. The funds can be used for de-leading activities in both owner-occupied housing and rental property.

"The Community Development Department is aggressively pursuing every possible funding sources to help our urban neighborhoods. We are pleased our efforts have been rewarded with this award," said Deanna Ruffer, Pittsfield's community development director. She went on to say, "This grant will increase the number of families we can assist with renovating their homes."

The residents of units assisted by grant funds must meet income eligibility guidelines and a strong preference is given to any household in which children under age 6 reside or spend a significant portion of time visiting. The funds must be utilized over a 30-month schedule and it is anticipated that 10 units of housing will be de-leaded as a result of this funding.

For more information about the Lead Paint Abatement Program or the Department of Community Development's Home Improvement Program, contact Justine Dodds at 413-499-9367.

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Berkshire Athenaeum will cut hours again"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, August 29, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- In the wake of budget cuts and the current financial crisis, the Berkshire Athenaeum has taken another hit.

Less than a week before the start of the school year, Pittsfield's public library has decided to close early on Monday evenings, beginning Sept. 1.

"It's been very busy here. But the problem is the budget," said Ronald Latham, director of the athenaeum.

In the past year, the library has sustained cuts to its budget for new books and materials, and has eliminated part-time staff positions in the young adult department.

At the start of fiscal 2009, Latham said the Berkshire Athenaeum had a budget of $150,000 for the purchase of new materials, which range from new bestseller books to large print additions to new media.

During the middle of the year, the city ordered the library to reduce that budget by $25,000.

At the start of fiscal 2010, that budget has been further reduced to $100,000.

A call seeking comment from Mayor James M. Ruberto's office on Friday was not immediately returned.

Latham said significant cuts in programs and budgets at the library have been happening steadily since the early 1990s.

Those cuts have led to the closing of Berkshire Athenaeum branches that were once based at the Morningside and Conte community schools; the loss of an outreach program in local hospitals; and the loss of a book mobile.

"As we lost those programs, they've never come back," said Latham. He said the library has previously been forced to scale back its hours, but unlike the above programs, they would eventually be restored.

"I'm hoping it's only going to be a temporary setback," Latham said.
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"Ruberto Seeks Re-Election to Keep Pittsfield on Track"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, Wednesday, September 2, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — With only three weeks to the preliminary election, Mayor James M. Ruberto formally announced his run for re-election on Tuesday surrounded by dozens of supporters at Sottile Park.

Touting the changes the city's seen for the better over his past three terms, Ruberto said now was not the time to sit back, that it needed strong, experienced, responsible leadership.

"Just as we see the city reawakening," he told the cheering crowd, "I am running for mayor again to make sure we keep moving on the same path."

The three-term mayor is starting his campaign a little late, although not as late as two years ago when he kicked off his campaign five days before the preliminary election. That time he won handily against his two challengers; this year, he has nine opponents vying for the two spots on the November election.

Ruberto was one of the first to take out nomination papers in May, accompanied by his wife, Ellen, who strongly encouraged him to run again. She had been battling cancer through his last term and died July 22.

On Tuesday afternoon, Ruberto ticked off many of the same issues he faced when winning his first term in 2003: crime, education, city services, economic revitalization and governmental relations.

Many of the same topics have been raised by his challengers, most recently at a taped forum on Friday, which focused heavily on the city's finances.

Ruberto, however, pointed to the city's A1 bond rating and the nearly $2 million in new revenues brought in through the sale of timber and surplus property, and hundreds of thousands in fees charged for solid waste collection and use of the waste-water treatment by other communities during his tenure. Savings in health insurance costs by negotiating increases in municipal employees' contributions and joining the state health insurance pool "is something which has made Pittsfield the envy of all my colleagues, the gateway city mayors," he said.

The city's been honored by the Massachusetts Cultural Council this year as "most creative community," it was among the first in the state to adopt a streamlined process for permitting that has made it easier for businesses move here, and millions have been invested in the downtown in entertainment, business, restaurant and residential units, he said.

"Everything we do is focused on making Pittsfield a better place to live and a better place to work and a better place to play," said Ruberto, adding that critics claiming they can cut taxes and still provide services "are selling you nothing more than a fantasy."

Still, the need to continue to create jobs of all types — from service to industrial — is imperative, he said. "You're going to hear that service jobs and jobs related to the creative economy are not real jobs ... To that I say hogwash. Every job is a real job."

He stated confidence in the Police Department's ability to control what has become "criminal on criminal" violence and lauded Chief Michael Wynn's strategy and relationships with local, state and federal law enforcement entities. The city has funded school resource officers, added three uniformed patrolmen and raised funding for the drug task force from $20,000 six years ago to $200,000. The most important thing, he said, was learning the importance of patience.

"Because the goal is not just to apprehend the scum that commits crime," said Ruberto. "The goal is to do so in a way to that provide hard evidence needed to convict the scum."

When the Rubertos returned to the city in 2001, "we had a hard time recognizing the place." There was infighting on the City Council and with the School Department, and the city was suffering from decades of neglect, he said. "People were no longer believing their elected officials could bring about any change. ... Government was paralyzed."

While it has changed for the better, there is still much to do, said Ruberto.

"The next two years will be some of the toughest we have faced some businesses will suffer ... and you know as well as I that we need strong leadership to keep downtown progress going."

A sore point is the empty William Stanley Business Park being overseen by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. PEDA has come under fire for what many say is a lack of transparency and incompetence. Ruberto defended PEDA while admitting it should have performed better. The public's perception was based on PEDA's inability to explain the difficulties of redevelopment and "in large part the fact that there are no buildings and no jobs on the site."

"Yes, I am frustrated and I am disappointed that progress hasn't moved as quickly as we had hoped and expected," he said. "No more excuses. I will take the blame for the lack of progress of PEDA."

Ruberto said he hoped to solve the problem by handing marketing strategy over to David Rooney of the Berkshire Economic Development Authority and forging relationships with MassDevelopment and experts in brownfields reuse.

"I've had to ask myself if this election really matters," he said. "You know what? I concluded it does. This eletion matters because this election will determine whether we go forward and improve our city or whether we go back to those days of hunkering down and looking to assign blame."
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Mayor James M. Ruberto announced his campaign at Sottile Park in a nearly 40-minute address dozens of supporters.
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"Pittsfield Mayoral Candidates Spar on Finances, Accountability"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, Monday, August 31, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — A free-flowing forum on Friday with nine of the 10 candidates for mayor focused on finances and government transparency.

Incumbent James M. Ruberto, seeking a fourth term, defended his administration's financial acumen and his ability to shepherd the city through the continuing economic crisis. He cited the success of his tenure for sparking one of the largest mayoral races in some time.

"I think one of the reasons why we are seeing such interest in this mayoral race is because we've shown over the last six years what progressive government does," he said. "It produces results and it allows everyone to feel that the more engaged they can be in the process, the greater their opportunity to serve."

But his challengers said Ruberto's administration has seen property taxes go up and has failed to fully reveal budget details and certain project funding.

Moderated by local commentator Daniel Valenti, whose columns appear in The Pittsfield Gazette and The Berkshire Eagle, the 90-minute session was taped at Pittsfield Community Television. Valenti put the forum together at short notice because only one other forum, sponsored by PCTV, the Gazette and Berkshire Community College, has been scheduled before the Sept. 22 preliminary election.

Seated from left to right at two tables slightly facing each other and according to their position on the ballot, were Nicholas J. Caccamo, Patricia "Pam" Malumphy, Ruberto, Mark A. Marciano, Rick E. Moon, Daniel L. Bianchi, Paul Kwasniowski, Lisa M. Boyd and Jeffrey W. Ferrin. Stephen A. Fillio did not attend.

Valenti asked questions and also allowed responses between candidates. Ruberto, Bianchi (Ward 6 councilor) and Malumphy (a former councilor) dominated much of the conversation.

Malumphy said her work as regional director for the state Office of Business Development gave her insight into the needs of businesses to grow jobs while Bianchi pointed to his past service as the city's financial officer and on the control board that oversaw spending when the city was in financial crisis some years ago. Both called for greater cooperation and collaboration with surrounding communities.

Caccamo, a recent graduate of Champlain College, said the city should look to sustainability and efficiency to save costs. "When we cultivate a 'Buy Berkshires' mindset it'll allow us to take more control over our economic sitution and will allow us to weather national economic trends."

Marciano and Kwasniowski both said the city should look into energy savings, with Kwasniowski also adding that public safety should be the No. 1 priority: "We need to get these gangs out of Pittsfield."

Boyd, an accountant, said better planning and budget analysis could find savings. Several candidates pointed to specific spending items they said should be eliminated or changed to save money, such as outsourcing services, relying on paper mail rather e-mail, and freezing hiring.

Ruberto disagreed with Ferrin's assertion that supplying city workers and police with global positioning systems and cell phones was wasteful spending. "When [police] get on the squawk box, not only do you know they're coming — the druggies know they're coming, too."

The candidates split on whether to impose a 2 percent local rooms tax, which Ruberto supports. "If it passes, we will take those revenues and we will offset ... property taxes," said Ruberto.

Malumphy said she could support at most a 1 percent increase because "it feels like we're taxing our way out of everything." Ferrin agreed, as long as there was accountability. Marciano's, Moon's and Kwasniowski's answers were all no; Caccamo's and Boyd's both yes. "Taxes are going up for everyone, why not for them, too?" said Boyd.

Bianchi said it was an issue for cooperation with other communities, "to make sure the city of Pittsfield isn't disadvantaged."

The talk of taxes lead to issues of government transparency. Ferrin complained that his quest for cell-phone costs for the city resulted in a counter demand for $2,145 to compile the information. "If someone walks into an office and asks for this information, it should be readily available," said Ferrin.

Boyd, too, said her efforts to track down spending items, including the $750,000 of work on Wahconah Park, was stymied. "There's no reason why numbers aren't available two weeks out."

Malumphy said the lack of transparency was one of the "tipping points" that had propelled her candidacy. She had helped Wahconah abutter Jenny Hersch file a petition for details on work there that has gone unanswered two months later. Bianchi, however, targeted the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority for not operating in a transparent manner: "Anything of any substance goes in executive session."

Caccamo, when asked by Valenti, said the city's budget process is "about as open as it gets."

Ruberto said initiatives undertaken during his tenure have been open, starting "with a conversation, they move forward in some cases with public hearings, in some cases with ad hoc committees, in some cases with neighborhood groups."

There's also an effort to ensure full information is available, because "incomplete information will lead to more questions," said Ruberto, adding the Wahconah numbers will be released after all "the expenses are duly reported."

Moon's take was more philosophical: "You don't fight the darkness; you turn on the light and make it go away,"

Marciano launched a spirited attack on Malumphy and Bianchi, questioning what they had done to further openness and claiming Malumphy had ignored the calls of a North Street business. Ruberto jumped to Malumphy's defense, saying it was unfair to use anecdotal evidence against anyone. (Malumphy later provided iBerkshires an e-mail from the business in question, thanking her for speaking with them.)

The candidates also touched lightly on the role of PEDA, public safety and education. The entire, unedited forum is scheduled to be broadcast on PCTV on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at 8:30 p.m.; Sept. 2 at 3:30 and 11 a.m., Sept. 5 at 5 p.m. and Sept. 6 at 1 and 10 a.m.

The candidates will next meet in BCC's Boland Theatre on Monday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m.
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www.iberkshires.com/story//Pittsfield-Mayoral-Candidates-Spar-on-Finances-Accountability.html
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Readers' Comments

It was good for all Pittsfield voters to see all the candidates. if only the Berkshire Eagle would stop protecting Mayor Ruberto and start to cover this election.
from: Voter on: 09-01-2009

Thanks Dan for stepping up and facilitating the debates - it's important for people to learn as much as possible about the candidates.
Kudo’s to the Gazette for organizing the debates. We are very lucky to have the Gazette in town.
from: Joe Trzcinka on: 08-31-2009

I have received much interest in this filmed debate, most of it positive. Some critics have leveled charges that I set this up because I am in some way trying to "engineer the results" by engaging in "king making." Not true, of course. This forum came together in three days, for which all the candidates must be thanked. With this many in the mayoral mix, faces need exposure. No organization other than the Pittsfield Gazette stepped forward, and that's why I got involved. Despite concerns about the brief window of opportunity, it got done, showing that when you cut through the bureaucratic and political gobbledy-gook, the wheels have a chance of moving rapidly. We filmed this live, in one take, to ensure as much spontaneity as possible. What we saw is what viewers will get. An alleged Svengali manipulating behind the scenes would not, and could not, work this way. Special thanks to State Rep. Denis Guyer for coproducing, to Dave Cachet and the folks at PCTV, and the crew, who did a great job.
til next time!
from: DAN VALENTI on: 08-31-2009
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Nicholas J. Caccamo, Patricia 'Pam' Malumphy, Mayor James M. Ruberto, Mark A. Marciano and Rick E. Moon prepare to match wits in the PCTV studio.
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Daniel L. Bianchi, Paul Kwasniowski and Lisa M. Boyd wait for a question from Daniel Valenti. (Jeffrey W. Ferrin is also seated at the table.)
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Mayor James M. Ruberto was the last candidate out of a 10-person field to officially kick off his campaign for mayor. (Caroline Bonnivier / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Mayoral election heats up"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, September 2, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Lawn signs are sprouting and the door-to-door campaign is knocking as the 10 mayoral candidates have less than three weeks to convince city voters they should be the finalists for Pittsfield's mayor.

The top two finishers in the Sept. 22 preliminary election move on to the Nov. 3 general election with the winner taking control of the corner office in City Hall occupied the last six years by Mayor James M. Ruberto.

On Tuesday, Ruberto was the last candidate to officially kick off a mayoral campaign that has been well under way for his challengers.

Since taking office, Ruberto said the downtown is on the rebound, the school system has improved and more jobs have come into the city.

"But we have to do more and that's why I am asking you for a fourth term as mayor,"
Ruberto told a crowd of supporters gathered for a political rally at Sottile Park on North Street.

Before Ruberto can continue as Pittsfield's chief executive, he must defeat a varied field of candidates ranging from the notable to the virtually unknown.

Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi and former Councilor at large Patricia "Pam" Malumphy may have name recognition and can tout past political successes, but they are not resting on their laurels.

"I have a great base of support in Ward 6 to work with," said Bianchi, "but I'm still reaching out to a lot of people and groups because the whole city is important."

While Malumphy is a veteran of a citywide campaign involving 10 to 12 candidates seeking four Councilor at large seats, only one political prize is available this time and she said she can't take any voter for granted.

"There's more unknowns in this race as you don't know where the vote will be split," she said. "At the end of the day, it's all about going door-to-door and dropping off pamphlets."

It's a strategy the field has employed to gain name recognition among the voters.

"I've been going door-to-door since May," said Nicholas Caccamo, 23, who is also reaching out to young voters through social networking. In fact, Caccamo, said his campaign began in January, when he began attending City Council meetings to get a handle on the issues.

"People remember someone who took the time to talk to them," added Jeffrey W. Farrin. The city public works employee has found voters want "politics as usual to stop" and support him because he's willing to do things "against the norm."

Paul Kwasniowski not only wants to unseat Ruberto, but feels voters should oust all the candidates for re-election if the city is to move forward. He also believes in a 100-percent self-financed campaign.

"I'm not going out asking for money," he said. "No one has an extra $20 or $30 to donate."

Rick E. Moon is trying to get voters to remember his name by being running a more positive campaign. He's asking them what Pittsfield is doing right as well as what city officials have failed to accomplish.

"A leader has to make people feel good about their city," Moon said.

Several candidates vow to be constantly accessible to the public once in office -- not just during an election season.

"I'll be one of the most visible mayors the city has even seen," vowed Stephen R. Fillio. His open door policy at City Hall will be such that he'll "take the door right off the hinges."

Not only the mayor's office, but the entire city government must be more accommodating to the residents.

"People going to City Hall are not getting the information they need," said Lisa Boyd. Her business background has taught her that people dealing with the public must be "trained to meet and exceed customer expectations."

If elected mayor, Mark A. Marciano said voters can expect him to "stay clear of being a politician" despite running for political office.

"I want to be like Donald Trump and hit problems head on," Marciano said.

He also urged Pittsfield residents, not registered to vote, do so if they want to cast ballots on Sept. 22. Today is the deadline to enroll with the Board of Registrars, which will remain open until 8 p.m. for last minute signups.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TNP5QFL7AFFUPFAK0
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"Ward candidates debate"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, September 2, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The campaigns of the three contested City Council ward races in Pittsfield's preliminary election have heated up, thanks to separate debates where the challengers distanced themselves from the incumbents on most issues.

Voters in Wards 2, 4 and 7 will decide on Sept. 22 who they want to run in the general election, as the top two vote-getters in each race will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.

The most crowded contest is Ward 7, which includes incumbent Anthony Maffuccio and three political newcomers, Joseph C. Nichols, Loren V. Paduano, and J.D. Hebert.

The other two are three-way races, as Terry M. Kinnas and Christopher J. Connell are challenging Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward, while Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi squares off against Kevin J. Morandi and Peter T. White.

All 10 candidates were on display during Monday night's political forum held at Berkshire Community College and broadcast over Pittsfield Community Television.

WARD 7

The Ward 7 debate proved the most contentious, especially over the issue of alleviating the flooding of the parking lot at Wahconah Park, which has been exacerbated by the heavy rain this summer. Nichols and Paduano were the most upset over the city spending $750,000 -- mostly a federal grant -- to upgrade and renovate the ballpark without addressing the drainage problem which has existed for decades.

"It's really a disgrace to see that money under water," Nichols said.

"Anyone wanting to kayak can do it there," added Paduano, "and not have to go to Onota Lake."

But Maffuccio said the flooding problem is a complex one to mitigate and will "cost a few million dollars to repair."

Listening to the experts, Hebert added, will be necessary to improve the drainage.

He also called for a frank discussion on whether Pittsfield should increase the hotel/motel tax from 4 percent to 6 percent -- the latter pending a City Council vote.

However, Nichols and Paduano were vehemently opposed to the tax hike, again putting them at odds with Maffuccio, who supports the measure.

"We are a sinking ship and need to come up with every revenue possible to give homeowners a break [on their property taxes]," Maffuccio said.

Nichols countered by calling the higher lodging fee a "temporary patch on a great economic crisis. We need growth, not new taxes."

Paduano worried an increased hotel/ motel tax could hurt the tourist industry, as "people won't want to come here."

WARD 4

Cutting the city budget had the Ward 4 challengers most at odds with the incumbent.

Connell said additional spending reductions can be made across the board, as "some expenses are repeated throughout each department."

Kinnas calculated big savings by consolidating purchasing, business and human resources for both the city and school department.

"You're probably talking $750,000," Kinnas said.

Ward cautioned his opponents about recommending specific cuts, which are best left to the department heads.

"I find it a little presumptuous that any elected official knows where to consolidate," he said.

As for boosting budget revenue through new local taxes, all three rejected instituting a city meals tax. Kinnas also said no to boosting the local hotel/motel tax, while Ward and Connell want more information regarding the proposed increase before rendering a decision.

All three candidates did advocate more community involvement in reporting and preventing crime.

WARD 2

The Ward 2 debate found Costi most at odds with his opponents over the controversial issue of added trash pick-up fees. The two challengers took aim at Costi wanting to add two- and three-family homes to the list of four-family buildings paying more for the city's garbage collection program.

"If not owner-occupied, all three should be treated fairly," noted Costi.

"Owner-occupied or not," replied White, "the city has an obligation to collect the trash or it ends up in our parks."

Morandi said, "If we upped our tax base, we wouldn't be talking about garbage fees" to raise more revenue for the cash-strapped city.

Earlier this summer, the City Council scrapped the measure, as an advisory group didn't properly review it before it was sent to the council for a vote.

As for the yet-to-be-developed William Stanley Business Park, which Ward 2 shares with Ward 3, Morandi called for ward representation on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

PEDA has opening up more to the public in recent months on how it operates, Morandi noted: "it took complaining from citizens around the city to get some answers."

Costi disagreed with Ward 2 having a seat on PEDA and felt the organization has moved forward in the past few months.

"I know there are three companies looking at the [business park]," Costi claimed.

While White "is not happy there's nothing on the site" that's been 10 years in the making, he's glad PEDA is showing signs of attracting new companies to Pittsfield.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Budget cuts decimating our library"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 9/2/2009

Regarding Ruth Bass’s column in the August 31 Eagle ("Shrinking the library hurts city,") as a part-time shelver in the library’s circulation department, I have great co-workers and enjoy my job a lot. None of my hours have been reduced, but some of the part-timers hours were reduced to virtually zero. I felt terrible for those part-timers as they are all wonderful people.

The Pittsfield Public Library is one of Pittsfield’s most vital city organizations. The library provides books to read, a comfortable building to read your books in or do studying/homework, a reference department with very dedicated librarians to help a patron find library material, a very high-quality children’s department with great books and programs, an auditorium for performances, a local history department -- the list goes on and on.

Losing coverage in the young adult department left a large void in the entire library employee hierarchy. I cannot remember how many times since coverage there was eliminated that I have been asked for help there and all that I can is divert the patron to the Reference Department. That action does leave me feeling as if I am not really doing what I can to help the patron. Since that situation is due to the budget cuts, I suspect that I am not the only library employee feeling that way.

As Ruth Bass wrote, the elderly do not constitute the major portion of the library’s patrons. Many of the patrons that I see are younger people up to their early 30s. A good portion of the library visitors are also in their 30s to their 60s, and use the library for reasons ranging from a job search to researching a particular topic or issue.

To me, the library is one of the best uses of the taxpayers’ money. Imagining our community without it is a horrible thought. Yet any community’s local library suffers the most when loss of local budget money occurs.

I can remember how up until the Proposition 2 1/2 era that programs in the local schools and library seemed to be numerous. After Proposition 2 1/2 ensured it was basically the beginning of the end for "good" services. Ever since, there has nothing but budget cuts and a large loss of services. In this respect nothing will be the way that it used to be. I do not ever see the Morningside Bookmobile program in existence again. Many times I come across a library book that says "Morningside" on it, and that makes me feel very sad.

Yes, Eagle readers, the Berkshire Athenaeum cannot stand many more reductions in budget. It makes me shiver to think of what might be coming up for the fiscal year next June/July of 2010.

DIANE DITMAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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The City I Love
"Closing the books on a bad situation"
By Brian Sullivan, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, Thursday, September 3, 2009
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts

I was maybe 10, and an older friend, he might have been 13, brought me to the city library on Bank Row and took me through the process of getting my library card and borrowing books.

That experience opened doors of wonderment and pleasure, and I quickly became a regular in all seasons, devouring the pages of fiction, non-fiction and biographies. I became a fan of science fiction, the author Robert Heinlein being an early favorite.

For years, I read volumes of pages at night before drifting off to sleep. And then I began to get books as gifts and I quickly amassed a collection, although as the years went by it was sometimes painfully obvious that I had outgrown some early sentimental favorites.

Still, how many of those books did I read more than once? Well, many of them. I can't fathom that now, because my eyes are tired and I read news copy much of the night and can't quite give it what I used to have at the end of the day. I have enough books lined up and ready to read without worrying about what books I'll read a second or third time.

Imagine, though, knowing how the story ends and still wading through 200 or 300 pages to get to the finish.

I loved taking books out at the library and I loved the process of deciding which ones to borrow. You could bring the books home for two weeks, so I would usually take out three. Sometimes I even took out four books. I couldn't wait to get home and crack those book covers open.

n

I bring all this up because I am saddened by the plight of the Berkshire Athenaeum, which in recent years has continually had its budget slashed and in response to that has had to whittle away its hours of operation. With the school year beginning, it was announced late last week that hours would again be reduced.

There are still plenty of high school students who trek to our library to get work done in relative peace and quiet. And the employees there are quick to help the cause by providing research material at the notice of a moment.

There might be more students today who would rather hunker down in their room with their laptop and do the work there. But, guess what? That homework sometimes gets put on the back burner while other online pursuits take precedent.

Listen, Mom and Dad? Junior's up in his room all right, but he's not doing that history assignment. But put Junior at that middle table of the athenaeum, and I guarantee he'll get his school work done.

n

In our former library, now the probate court building, there was a stereo upstairs with a short but interesting selection of albums and two sets of headphones so that you could listen with a friend. Did I mention some fanny-friendly overstuffed chairs? There was an early effort by The Moody Blues that I would listen to often. The library was a great place to spend time on a rugged winter afternoon or evening. I don't ever remember the doors being closed during hours I visited. I don't ever remember being turned away like that.

We are not the brightest nation on this planet. We continue to lower the bar in education and kid ourselves at graduation time or when honor rolls are released that we are the home of such a bright bunch of kids. Maybe we are. But when you budget down on your educational agenda and you force your local library to reduce hours, it becomes -- as it always does -- painfully obvious that our intent to educate has been replaced by what I call the educational cattle drive.

We just guide them to the finish, and who cares what shape they are in when they arrive? Give them a diploma and it's one more percentage point to the good. Another kid who was able to circumvent the easiest of all obstacle courses -- public education -- and graduate.

When we reduce educational staffs, we are failing our children. When libraries are forced to cut hours, we fail ourselves. The number of students who cannot read well and comprehend the material even less is staggering. To squeeze the juice out of our libraries is a blight on our consciousness.

Help, as I see it, is not on the way. And the story right now does not have a happy ending at all.
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Brian Sullivan is an Eagle editor and Pittsfield native.
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"Pittsfield Gets $1M to Demolish Blighted Buildings"
iBerkshires.com - Friday, September 04, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts – The city has received more than a $1 million in stimulus funding to deal rejuvenate blighted neighborhoods and abandoned homes.

"This funding will accelerate the city's efforts to provide critical resources to our residents and address the negative effect abandoned housing can have on our neighborhoods," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "With these funds, we are able to accelerate our efforts to rid the Westside and Morningside of blight."

A total of $1,014,951 in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is being made available through the Community Development Block Grant-R funds and Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Programs. The money is federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

"In these tough economic times it is also important to provide our residents with as many resources as possible to help them stay in their homes, or when necessary find new housing," said the mayor.

The city has made code enforcement a priority, and has done "an outstanding job at implementing innovative programming," said Brad Gordon, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority.

"In very few communities do the health, fire, building, and community development offices work collaboratively to aggressively move this type initiative forward," he said. "The city continues to have the foresight to ensure that our neighborhoods remain stable and viable during these challenging economic times."

The city’s Department of Community Development will oversee the block grants. These funds will be used to reconstruct sidewalks in income eligible areas of the city and to demolish approximately 10 vacant and condemned residential structures, nearly doubling the number of blighted properties the city has been able to demolish in the past five years.

The $613,738 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program stimulus funding will provide resources for Pittsfield households experiencing housing instability caused by the current economic downturn. This funding will be used to fund a collaborative effort between the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority, Berkshire Housing Development Corp., Berkshire Community Action Council and Western Massachusetts Legal Services.

The program will include providing financial assistance for income eligible renters in the city who are at risk of losing their housing. Additional services under the program include: Housing Counseling, Housing Search Assistance, Housing Mediation, Legal Assistance, and Economic Literacy and Credit Counseling.
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Houses on Orchard Street.
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"Ward 2: Candidates Talk Trash, PEDA"
By Tammy Daniels - iBerkshires Staff - September 3, 2009

This is the first of three ward debates filmed Monday, Aug. 31, at Berkshire Community College. Wards 2, 4 and 7 all have three or more candidates; their numbers will be winnowed down to two each in the preliminary election scheduled Sept. 22 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Crime, trash and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority divide the three candidates running in the Ward 2 preliminary election.

Incumbent Louis A. Costi, seeking a fourth term, and challengers Kevin Morandi and Peter White fully agreed on only one question posed by moderator Daniel Dillon during the nearly 50-minute debate on Monday: They all favor expanding the bottle bill to encourage recycling.

Ward 2 was the last of three ward debates sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette at Berkshire Community College on Monday night. The three candidates will be narrowed to two in the Sept. 22 preliminary election. They were seated and questioning began based on their position on the ballot: White, Morandi, Costi.

Costi and White, both founding members of the 4-year-old Morningside Initiative, found common ground in areas of crime prevention and community outreach. Costi and Morandi, however, had several testy exchanges, spilling over from the two men's last political battle two years ago.

Morandi, a ward and city resident for barely 18 months, nearly unseated Costi in 2007, losing by only 28 votes after calling for a recount.

The "lightning rod," as Dillon described it, back then was Hill 78, a GE toxic waste dump discovered in back of Allendale School. This election, however, the hill has barely caused a blip.

Costi said he has not received a complaint in two years, which he puts down to residents understanding that it's being carefully monitored.

Both White and Morandi, however, said they've heard anecdotally of people leaving the neighborhood because of it.

Crime has overtaken Hill 78 as an issue, from vandalism at the closed St. Mary's parish and to shootings.

Morandi said crime is spreading in the ward and that residents had told him of their fears. "A lot of people are afraid to go out in the streets."

White objected that while crime is an issue, people aren't hunkering down. "We need to work on busting that myth," he said. "We're seeing a lot of bad-guy-on-bad-guy crime ... It's scary when you read it in the paper but for the people there, it's not scary to live there."

To many absentee landlords are a large part of the problem, said Costi. "We have so many absentee landlords who will rent to anyone as long as they have the money. My main priority to get landlords to clean these properties up."

Both Costi and White said the Morningside Inititiave works closely with the Police Department and that the answer is getting the community more involved. Costi said the city's Health Department also has a great deal of power to force landlords to clean up.

"We need to stop it," said Morandi, who added he work with police. "We need to get them out of here totally."

The three split on whether to impose extra fees for trash pick up on four-unit apartment buildings.

Costi supports not only four-unit, but any nonowner-occupied rental property: "If it's an investment [property], it's a business. It doesn't matter how many units are in it."

Better education and more use of recycling is the answer, said White. "Owner-occupied or not, the city has an obligation to remove the trash or it's going to end up in our parks, it's going to end up on our curbs."

Morandi said any fee would inevitably be passed on to renters and that city should be growing the tax base. "If we brought in jobs, we wouldn't have to be having this conversation about garbage."

Part of that is PEDA falling down on the job, he said, and being too secretive - "all very hush-hush" - in what it's doing. He suggested that a councilor or Ward 2 resident be appointed to the board to ensure the neighborhood knows what's going on.

"PEDA needs to answer to somebody; their meetings need to be televised," he said.

White said he would not ask to be placed on the PEDA board and noted that it had had some success in attracting businesses such as LTI SmartGlass to the city - even if they didn't build in the William Stanley Business Park. As for allegations of it's lack of transparency, he wanted more information before making a statement.

Costi, while admitting his unhappiness with its slow progress, defended PEDA. "As far as hush-hush, every single meeting is advertised and is a public meeting."

Morandi countered the meetings were at 8 a.m., that maybe PEDA should meeting in the evening. Costi shot back that councilors often have to meet with boards and department heads during the day, prompting Morandi to assure the television audience "I can certainly answer to my constituents [during the day]."

Dillon tossed out a question on what to do with the former St. Mary's property, one of the parishes shuttered during the Springfield Diocese's consolidation over the past few years and now up for sale. White and Morandi said the city should have input on reusing the site, with White expressing concern over its deteriorating condition.

Costi said residents had had other concerns, but he thought the buildings should be on the tax rolls if they weren't being used for religious purposes.

"I'm going to make a lot of enemies for saying that, but quite honestly, there are a lot of very good properties out there that are tax free and we have to consider taxing them."

PCTV will telecast all three debates frequently over the next few weeks, including Sunday, Sept. 6, at 3 and 10 p.m. and Monday, Sept. 7, at 10 a.m. Visit pittsfieldtv.org for schedule updates.
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Peter White, a coordinator at the Brien Center, is focusing on community building and being accessible.
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Kevin Morandi, a small-business man, said he wants better communications with constituents to keep them informed.
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Incumbent Louis Costi said his goal is to keep taxes low and Ward 2's infrastructure in good condition.
www.iberkshires.com/story/32177/Ward-2-Candidates-Talk-Trash-PEDA.html
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Pittsfield City Council
"At large hopefuls gear up for race: Five candidates are vying for four seats in the Nov. 3 general election."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, September 8, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- While the Councilor at large election is taking an early back seat to the more hotly contested ward races in two weeks, the five candidates vying for four seats in November have begun their campaigns in earnest.

Councilors Gerald M. Lee, Peter M. Marchetti, Matthew M. Kerwood, Kevin J. Sherman and the lone challenger, Melissa Mazzeo are putting up lawn signs and going door-to-door, even though voters won't decide the race until the city's general election on Nov. 3. The preliminary election on Sept. 22 involves Ward 2, 4 and 7 and the mayoral race. The top two finishers in each contest will end up on the November ballot.

While the Councilor at large won't be part of the first round of voting, the candidates' campaigns are well under way.

"I never take anything for granted," said Kerwood, "as I make sure my message is getting through to the voters."

After losing his only re-election bid six years ago, Marchetti doesn't take any election lightly, no matter how many candidates are running.

"In 2003 I learned a vital lesson," said Marchetti. "If you want the job, you have to campaign."

A lesson Sherman is taking to heart in seeking a second term: "If your not on you're toes, you're in trouble," he said.

While Sherman said he's focused on his campaign and not the opposition, he and the other sitting councilors realize Mazzeo will not be easily defeated. Mazzeo is coming off a hard fought battle with Paul J. Capitanio, who won the Ward 3 special election in March won by 80 votes.

"I am under no illusions this election is automatic for incumbents," Lee said.

And Mazzeo finds being the only challenger has its advantages.

"If [voters] are looking for some change," she said, "the only place to vote is my way."

Mazzeo, 44, a part-time hygienist, has found that her previous campaign has given her name-recognition throughout the city, and being just one of two female candidates for the City Council -- which is all male -- may also give her an edge.

"I'm not running because I'm a woman," she noted, "but I do advocate for diversity on the council."

As for the four incumbents, they are touting their experience being necessary to see Pittsfield through more difficult budget years while helping the city grow and prosper.

"The next two years will be the most challenging in the 10 years I've been on the council -- from a fiscal standpoint," said Kerwood, 40, who is Richmond's town administrator.

Marchetti, 44, who works at the Pittsfield Cooperative Bank and is seeking a fourth term, agreed in the coming years, "the financial situation of the city will be tested." Yet, he also believes the city is in better shape financially and educationally.

"Our fiscal house is in order," said Marchetti, "and we're making great strides in education such as the MCAS scores and graduation rates."

Lee, 69, a retired Pittsfield Police Chief, is after a sixth consecutive term because of several unfinished projects, including the expansion of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport and seeing tenants at the yet-to-be-occupied William Stanley Business Park.

"My expectations were unrealistic," said about businesses relocating to the site by now. "I realized it won't get done overnight."

Sherman, 32, an employee with Berkshire Life Insurance Co., said he's "running because of the challenges we face in Pittsfield, not in spite of them."

He also views his ability to help constituents as vital to the city.

"Pittsfield needs the type of passion and experience I have," Sherman added.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Ward 4: Candidates Suggest Savings, Crime Watch"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, September 7, 2009

This is the second of three ward debates filmed Monday, Aug. 31, at Berkshire Community College. Wards 2, 4 and 7 all have three or more candidates; their numbers will be winnowed down to two each in the preliminary election scheduled Sept. 22 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — The conditions in Ward 4 are good, bad or mediocre, depending on which candidate was speaking at last Monday's debate.

Moderated by Dan Dillon and sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette, the conversation amongst incumbent Michael A. Ward and challengers Terry Kinnas and Christopher Connell ranged from public safety to the functioning of the city's waste-water treatment plant.

The three men are vying for two spots on the ballot in the Nov. 3 general election. Their debate Monday, Aug. 31, was the second of three at Berkshire Community College and broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television for the Sept. 22 preliminary election.

There are four races on the preliminary ballot and only two of the seven wards have uncontested seats, which prompted Dillon to query the candidates as to why so many people are running. The answers reflected in part their reasons for running — and the reasons voters should choose them.

Ward, who believes he's delivered on his promises of communication and consensus building, said the national economic crisis is affecting the way people are looking at local government: "They're more prone to look for change, to look for solutions."

After listening to a few hundred citizens, Connell said it's not the economy. "People have a very negative feeling about the city," he said. "They feel they're getting shorted on a number of city services they should have for what they've been spending."

Kinnas said focus should be on the schools, both in safety, spending and out-of-date facilities. "My frustration [is] with what does not get done, the lack of transparency that happens and what I call an abuse of power by elected officials."

Kinnas, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat two years ago, has focused much of his campaign on the schools, pointing out that four of them — Herberg Middle, Egremont and Williams elementary and Pittsfield High School — are in Ward 4.

Parents are creating traffic jams during pickup and drop-off times because of fears for children's safety walking to and from school, said Kinnas. "[I] developed a 'safe sidewalks program' to create a more secure safety network."

Connell and Ward agreed there was some concern for safety, but questioned the extent of the problem in the ward. All three agreed that speeding on Holmes Road continues to be a problem; Ward pointed to success in getting the speed limit reduced near Miss Hall's School.

There's always going to be minor crime in the city, said Connell, and the Police Department is doing a good job compared to other communities. However, he said, "we should get some more community involvement or crime watch" to raise the level of awareness.

"A year ago I asked about if anyone was interested in a crime watch and got no response," said Ward. "I asked the same question in May and 29 people responded."

But most of the crime the ward is seeing — breaking into cars and homes — can be prevented with simple actions such as locking car doors ad first-floor windows, he said, suggestions provided by police officers in several meetings with ward residents.

Ward said more awareness has to be raised about the causes as well as the crimes. "We really have to look at the broader picture, at the root cause of crime," he said. "It's lack of opportunity and substance abuse. ... Police do a fine job dealing with it once it happens but we have to address it at the source."

Kinnas called for better technology to aid police in their work, such as equipment that would allow residents to sent cell-phone video transmissions to the police station. Money being spent on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority might better be spent on public safety needs, he said.

Ward disagreed, saying the funding for the Williams Stanley Business Park is "precious" and should be used to develop jobs.

All three are in favor of recycling and an expansion of the bottle bill but differed on whether to institute changes in the city's trash system, such as a proposal to charge four-unit residential properties for waste pickup.

Connell, who has investment properties around the county, spoke against the fee proposal at a City Council meeting — unless it also included two- and three-family units. Rather than a $70 fee for four-units, he asked, why not a $10 surcharge for all investment sizes?

"Even though that would affect me personally, as from a business standpoint," he said. "It's a fair way to approach the matter without actually hitting the single-family homes."

Ward said he he wanted reform, but wasn't convinced with some of the proposals, including the idea of a 64-gallon "trash tote" for homeowners.

"It's right to reform system. Our system is overgenerous and untenable and leads to abuse," he said. "Why should we have a Cadillac waste-collection system and a Ford school sytem? ... This is a cost that can be reduced."

While he supports the bottle bill to promote recycling, Kinnas said he doesn't agree with any other fees, including the rooms and meals taxes. The city wasted too much time discussing trash options that couldn't be implemented, he said, rather than looking for ways to cut costs now and focusing on priorities like business development.

"If we don't get the jobs here, the trash problem is going to accelerate if you do not expand the tax base to pay for it," he said.

Fees drive business and people away, he said, even if it's only a couple dollars a night at a hotel. "It starts adding up very quickly," said Kinnas. "There's a breakpoint where it does not become cost effective to operate your business ... you're driving your commercial base away."

Connell also was against the meals tax, but wanted more information on how a 2 percent local rooms tax option would affect vacancy rates, noting North Adams has already adopted the local tax. "It may be something we want to do to put money in the coffers so we're not taxing bsuiness and homowners so much."

No meals tax, said Ward, but added "I'm still open to consideration of the lodging tax." He wanted to do more research before making a decision. (The City Council is expected in October to take up the rooms tax, passed in June as a sop to municipalities after massive cuts in state aid.)

And with the city having to close a $6 million deficit for this year, the challengers say they have ideas on how save money.

Kinnas claims Pittsfield could save some $750,000 consolidating city and school departments in areas of information technology, human resources and procurement, "regionalizing" school administration so as to cut staff. He also suggested looking at redefining and consolidating school maintenance.

Some expenditures are repeated throughout departments, said Connell, and could be consolidated to save money. He also took issue with the amount of overtime built into department budgets, saying savings could be realized by hiring full-time workers instead. "We need to hold the department heads responsible."

Ward countered that the overtime is calculated for brief, intense periods — such as a murder that requires extra police work or a snowstorm that needs hours of plowing: "You don't just ramp up your staff and have all the associated costs."

"I find it a little bit presumptive for anyone running for office to know the best way to conoslidate and cut" better than the city's highly paid professionals, he said.
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Photos:
Christopher Connell said he'll bring management experience to the ward.
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Incumbent Michael A. Ward says he'll continue communication and consensus building.
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Retired Terry Kinnas said he'd be on the job full time.
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www.iberkshires.com/story/32218/Ward-4-Candidates-Suggest-Savings-Crime-Watch.html
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"Election 2009: Pittsfield Ward 7 Profiles"
By Noah Hoffenberg, iBerkshires Correspondent, Tuesday, September 08, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — There's a four-way race for the Ward 7 City Council seat this year but only two will emerge from a Sept. 22 preliminary election and move on to the November ballot.

In a random drawing for ballot placement on Aug. 20, incumbent Anthony Maffuccio took first, J.D. Hebert, second, Joseph Nichols, third, and Loren Paduano, fourth.

ANTHONY V. MAFFUCCIO

"I've been honored to serve the citizens of Ward 7 for the last six years, and I enjoy helping people, and I'd like to continue in public service," said Maffuccio, a full-time councilor.

Going forward, the biggest challenge for Pittsfield is trying to find and generate new revenue for the city.

With new cash flow, Pittsfield could begin to unburden the taxpayers, said Maffuccio.

Maffuccio, 39, said he's in favor of the local option hotel/motel tax, which has not yet passed in Pittsfield, although it has in other municipalities across the commonwealth. He wants to support any company that has interest in coming to Pittsfield, and also supports tax incremental financing to make the city that much more attractive.

JOSEPH C. NICHOLS

"Since 1914, my family has been located in Ward 7. I grew up here, I ventured out into the world, and I'm back," said Nichols, 45, whose family members were the owners of Harry's Supermarket, Nichols Pharmacy and Nichols Package Store.

Nichols said he's running now to give back to his ward.

"It's just the right time for me. I don't feel we've had proper representation," said Nichols, "and I also want to help the city. It's a two-pronged reason: I want to help the city with ideas and entrepreneurial skills that I have to help grow the tax base and some other ways, besides increasing taxes on the current population and coming up with new fees."

He said he's motivated because the current taxing measures to him are wrong. Economic growth is also critical for Nichols. He said Pittsfield's biggest problem is that not enough is being to done to grow new and existing businesses.

"If we can solve that problem, then all other problems will have the necessary funds to be resolved," said Nichols. "It's really all about economic growth."

City hall also needs to take a new attitude toward the existing businesses in Pittsfield.

"They are like the foundation of Pittsfield, so they need to be strengthened," said Nichols. "They haven't had a good attitude toward these people for many, many years, if not decades, and that what needs to change. Everybody [who's] right here is capable of growing this economy."

Nichols is in favor of incentives for businesses large and small. To draw in new business, a new economic growth task force, with more accountability and transparency and with dynamic members from Pittsfield, would also be a good start, he said.

"I don't see that happening [now]," said Nichols.

LOREN V. PADUANO

Paduano said he has been hitting the streets in Ward 7, talking to potential constituents and listening to what they have to say.

A Pittsfield native, Paduano said he's running because he wants to support the ward and the community, and to be more action-oriented than the incumbent.

"Things are not getting done the way they should be. You just can't show up at one point and not show up at another point. I'm a team player and I'm willing to work with Ward 7 as well as the community to get [things done]," said Paduano. "I've been doing a lot of knocking on doors and talking to people. I do a lot of one-on-one conversations
with them. I don't believe that a name on a (political) sign is going to make you any better."

He's visited folks on McArthur Street, Thomas Island Road, Wahconah Village trailer park and High Street, and he was going again on Monday to meet more people in the Pontoosuc area. He said these folks are not seeing the other candidates out there.

"Hopefully, people will understand where I'm coming from. I like to take action, but I listen first and speak later," said Paduano.

Paduano — no stranger to service, with a number of years in the military — sees the city's biggest problem as the budget. He doesn't want to penalize public safety departments in the city by slashing police and fire budgets senselessly.

"The Police and Fire department, we need them as critical. Do you want to deprive the security of the people because you're short two firemen or four police officers? Think about the welfare of the people first," said Paduano. "How would you like to be in a burning home and the Fire Department couldn't respond in time because they were short two guys? Or vice versa, a shooting on your street and no cops show up, and you have people hurt."

He also is against the local options motel/hotel tax, as he believes it hurts businesses. "I hope that people respect me for that one," said Paduano.

J.D. HEBERT

"I've done emergency preparedness, helping the homeless, people in need through BCAC, and this is just the logical next step for me," said Hebert, who's lived in the city for 30 years. "I have this really big desire to help people whose voices can't be heard."

In his time with BCAC, Hebert said he's done a lot with a very limited budget, a reality that can easily carry over to the city budget.

"I hate the term 'doing more with less.' Doing more with what we have to deal with" is the phrase he prefers, said Hebert.

Pittsfield's biggest issue right now is that too many decisions are being made without a buy-in from the residents.

"I think the right now, the city of Pittsfield and particularly Ward 7, is in need of some responsive community leadership, and that's where I'm going to hang my hat," said Hebert. "I think that there's a lot of independent interests being pushed through right now without a lot of transparency in government.

"Again, town hall-style meetings: Let's get all of the concerned people, all of the stakeholders together, let's talk about the facts, let's talk about the issues at hand, and I am not afraid to make a tough decision once we've heard the facts," he continued.

Grassroots participation will be a key element of his tenure should he be elected, said Hebert. To work with the current budget, Hebert wants to talk with department heads and get back to basics, realigning what they do with their missions and goals.

"In the interest of getting the most for your taxpaying dollar, let's get some fresh blood and fresh ideas in there for the City Council and talk," said Hebert. "I don't profess to be an expert in what it takes to run a city, but I feel that by getting back to basics we can all come in together and make some solid decisions moving forward."
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Anthony V. Maffuccio
Robbins Avenue
413-496-8141
AGE: 39
EDUCATION: Taconic High graduate; classes at BCC
EMPLOYMENT: City Council
PUBLIC SERVICE: elected for three terms, Ordinance and Rules Committee, Public Works Committee, Traffic Commission chairman, former council member at Holy Family Parish, Eucharistic minister at St. Charles' Church
PRIMARY ISSUES: To serve the public and grow the city's economic base
Born and raised in Pittsfield, Maffuccio is seeking to continue his run as councilman, a post he's held for six years, all of which have been an honor and privilege, he said.
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Joseph C. Nichols
Lenox Avenue
413-841-1737 (Cove Bakery)
jcnpitts@hotmail.com AGE: 45
FAMILY: son, Joseph E., 9
EDUCATION: St. Joseph's and Taconic high schools; some college
EMPLOYMENT: Proprietor Joey's Batting Cages and Cove Bakery
PUBLIC SERVICE: None
PRIMARY ISSUE: To represent the ward and economic growth for the city
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Loren V. Paduano
Louise Street
413-441-4424, loren@berkshire
nautilus.com AGE: 54
EDUCATION: Pittsfield High School, 1974; Berkshire Community College, two years total
EMPLOYMENT: Berkshire Nautilus gym, trainer/coach, maintenance
PUBLIC SERVICE: coach of swim team at Saint Joseph's, 2006-2008, Boys' Club, 1974; Army, 1976 to 1982, honorable discharge with the rank of sergeant
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J.D. Hebert
Peck's Road
413-347-4005 electjdhebert@gmail.com
AGE: 37
FAMILY: girlfriend, Nicole Wright; daughter, Taylor, 11
EDUCATION: B.S. in public relations from Rochester Institute of
Technology, 2006; associate's from RIT, in emergency and disaster
management, 2005
EMPLOYMENT: director of transportation, housing, shelter and
facilities for Berkshire Community Action Council
PUBLIC SERVICE: BCAC, emergency medical technician
FACEBOOK:
friendstoelectjdhebert
Hebert, who works with Berkshire Community Action Council, wants to take his public service to the next level.
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www.iberkshires.com/story/32219/Election-2009-Pittsfield-Ward-7-Profiles.html
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"Pittsfield Funding to help housing issues n More than $1 million in federal stimulus money will allow officials to aid renters and raze eyesores."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/8/2009

PITTSFIELD -- Cleaning up blighted neighborhoods and keeping renters from becoming homeless. City officials can now vigorously deal with those two housing issues thanks to Pittsfield receiving more than $1 million in federal stimulus money.

A $401,000 community development block grant will help pay for the demolition of up to 11 abandoned homes by the end of June 2010 -- more than double the number of residences razed each year. A portion of the block grant also will pay for new sidewalks in income-eligible areas of the city.

The remaining $613,000 will allow local housing agencies to provide services and funding for apartment dwellers struggling to pay their rents during the current economic downturn.

"This money gives us an opportunity to take a big step toward dealing with the most blighted areas in the city," Ruberto said.

Besides house demolition, Ruberto cited how building code enforcement and the city acquiring properties from tax-deliquent absentee-owners are also helping to improve local neighborhoods.

The homes targeted for demolition are not only eyesores, but health and safety hazards as well.

"The ones marked with a big red ‘X’ are unsafe for firefighters to enter," said Pittsfield Fire Chief James Sullivan. "The structures have possible holes in the floor or they could collapse."

Once reduced to rubble, Sullivan said the razed homes then become hazardous waste that must be disposed of properly because the decades-old buildings were likely constructed with some materials containing asbestos.

The second half of the federal stimulus funding -- which will benefit both tenants and landlords -- will be jointly administered by four housing-related organizations led by the Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority. Berkshire Housing Development Corporation, Berkshire Community Action Council and Western Massachusetts Legal Services are the other collaborating agencies.

Regional Housing Authority Executive Director Brad Gordon said income-eligible renters can qualify for financial assistance toward "first month’s rent, last month’s rent, a security deposit or back rent." He noted the money will go directly to the landlords -- not the tenants -- who in turn must re-invest the money into the apartment building.

Gordon said the $613,000 is much needed money because his agency has seen a 15 percent increase in the number of renters facing eviction who are seeking help.

"The number one reason for eviction has been non-payment," noted Gordon. "It’s about 90 percent of the cases when typically it runs about 70 percent."

While the financial assistance won’t be available until after Oct. 1, Gordon said his agency will keep track of those renters inquiring about accessing the money.

The federal funds will also pay for services that will educate renters on how to better manage their household budget, improve their housing situation and handle legal disputes with their landlords.

"[These services] allow for long-term stability long after the money is gone," Gordon said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Liquor license for Beacon a bad idea"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 9/8/2009

I read with amazement that the Licensing Board in Pittsfield has issued a liquor license to a concession stand at the new Beacon Cinema downtown. This license was supposed to be in use by 2006, and having not met that deadline should have been pulled by the State ABC. Secondly, this license was supposed to be issued only to a "white tablecloth" restaurant. To issue it to a concession stand in a movie theater seems not to meet that criteria. You can put white tablecloths on picnic tables at a hotdog stand, but it’s still a hotdog stand.

I can’t imagine the board not seeing the potential for the trouble this could cause. Underage patrons, or even those of legal age, sneaking bottles hidden in coats or backpacks into the theater for one. People becoming loud due to overindulgence bothering other patrons, especially impressionable teens or younger kids. Potential confrontation between intoxicated patrons, or the former and people offended by their behavior.

This is a very bad use of a license intended for use by a different venue than a concession stand. The potential for trouble is too great, and we have enough of that in Pittsfield. People in ballparks get shut off in the seventh inning. People don’t want to go to a movie to hear lewd and offensive comments shouted out so their kids can hear them.

The licensing board made a bad call on this one, and I think it should be thrown out before the game even starts.

JIM GLEASON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Institute to foster Pittsfield progress"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, September 11, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield is among 14 cities in Massachusetts that have been studied by a research institute as part of an effort to to help forge improvements in those communities.

Officials from the Boston-based Pioneer Institute presented an overview of those studies on Thursday during a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce meeting.

The report, called The Middle Cities Initiative, is based on statistical information and from meetings with mayors, business owners, residents and community leaders from each city. The groups were asked to assess their city government's performance in public safety, education, municipal management and economic development.

"The hope is that no matter how good your city is, they'll try and make it better," said Scott Baum, the institute's assistant director. "This data should provide a tool for that. It's more important to look at how you compare with other cities in certain areas rather than holistically."

Launched in 2008, the Middle Cities Initiative is intended to help cities and states implement a comprehensive agenda for reviving urban markets and improving city governance. The cities selected for the initiative all have populations greater than 40,000, per capita incomes of less than $20,000, and property values of less than $80,000 per capita.

The report is not available online, but should be up and running later this fall, according to project manager Maria Ortiz Perez.

Among the elements of the reports are examinations of cities' tax rates.

In a three-year comparison, Pittsfield's fiscal 2008 commercial and industrial tax rate of $28.35 per $1,000 of valuation was shown to be the third highest among the 14 cities included in the study. The city was behind only Holyoke, at $33.98, and Springfield, at $32.04.

Pittsfield's commercial and industrial tax rate was the fourth highest among the 14 cities in both fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2007.

Acknowledging that a high commercial tax rate can be a deterrent to businesses, Baum said the data compiled should not be used to judge each city's present situation, but its future direction.

"The philosophy of this is not to say that Pittsfield is worse than Worcester or such and such," Baum said. "It's to provide data over time so that you can see more importantly which direction your city is headed in, rather than where they are right now.
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"Officials: Sewer odor will be gone"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, Monday, September 14, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- A west Pittsfield neighborhood will finally be rid of a long standing sewer stench by year's end, city officials have said -- a promise residents and several city councilors want kept this time.

Once an odor-control system is designed and put out to bid for the Lebanon Avenue area, Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood expects it will be installed and operational before winter weather sets in.

"My goal is not to have this take any longer," Collingwood told the City Council recently. "If we have to thaw the ground to install the [odor-control] pipes we will."

City officials had expected by Jan. 1, 2009, that those same pipes would already be capturing the "horrendous sewer odor" homeowners have endured for nearly five years and carry the sewer gas to carbon filters encased in a small shed off the road.
Collingwood first proposed the project last fall after 70 residents from Lebanon Avenue and Donovan Street petitioned the City Council in September 2008 seeking a solution.

Collingwood noted an early start to severe winter weather, a higher than anticipated cost and more time needed to design the odor control system are among the reasons its installation has been delayed.

Several city councilors said the planning process has taken long enough and want the project completed as soon as possible.

"This is typical of several projects where the design goes on and on and on," Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi said.

While Collingwood has regularly been updating residents about the project's progress, their patience is gone, said spokesman Daniel Colello, of 433 Lebanon Ave.

"Everybody in the neighborhood is fed up with the odor," he told the City Council. "We are paying taxes and paying fees and get no satisfaction."

The residents renewed their frustration after the sewer stench returned in late August despite city workers flushing the offensive sewer main once a month. The temporary measure had successfully reduced or eliminated the smell -- until last month.

"We did have a flare-up and I don't no why," said Collingwood. "We are now flushing the main every other week and, if needed, every week."

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop and his constituents from Lebanon Avenue will meet on Thursday with officials from the nearby Ice River Springs water bottling plant to discuss muffling the external noise from the facility at 1505 West Housatonic Street.

Residents say they are bothered by an outside cooling tower installed nine months ago when the Canadian-based firm began operating out of the former vacant warehouse.
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"Mayoral hopefuls weigh in"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/14/2009

PITTSFIELD -- All 10 mayoral candidates assembled Monday night for their first public debate a week before the city’s preliminary election to determine which two will advance to Pittsfield’s general election on Nov. 3.

The 10 vying for the two spots are current Mayor James M. Ruberto, Daniel L. Bianchi, Patricia "Pam" Malumphy, Stephen R. Fillio, Rick E. Moon, Lisa Boyd, Jeffrey W. Farrin, Mark A. Marciano, Paul Kwasniowski and Nicholas J. Caccamo.

Voters in Wards 2,4 and 7 also will decide next Tuesday which top two vote-getters in those councilor races will square off again in two months. The two-hour political forum at Berkshire Community College and moderated by local radio newscaster and talk show host Larry Kratka delved into such issues as economic development, Pittsfield’s downtown and the future of the city’s two high schools.

Voters in Wards 2,4 and 7 also will decide next Tuesday which top two vote-getters in those councilor races will square off again in two months. The two-hour political forum at Berkshire Community College and moderated by local radio newscaster and talk show host Larry Kratka delved into such issues as economic development, Pittsfield’s downtown and the future of the city’s two high schools.

The majority of the candidates favored keeping and renovating Pittsfield High and Taconic rather than build a single campus. While Ruberto has personally supported merging the high schools, the School Committee and City Council haven’t taken a formal position. City officials are still waiting to see if the Massachusetts School Building Authority will recommend state funding for some kind of high school project.

"If we go toward a single high school," said Malumphy, a member of the city’s School Building Commission, "it will break the taxpayers’ back."

The cost of a new single high school has been projected between $150 million and $200 million.

"We should refurbish all the schools we have," added Kwasniowski.

Two high schools is good for student morale.

"Students appreciate the rivalry," Marciano said.

"We’ve already lost 300 students to school choice," Bianchi noted, "and they aren’t looking for a bigger school."

"Most people in Pittsfield want two high schools," added Boyd, who will honor the majority position on the issue.

Moon reserved comment on the matter but did say he would "ask where’s the money coming from" for a high school project.

While Ruberto may support a new high school, what happens inside the classroom is more important. He cited how hiring 40 new educators in recent years has led to "MCAS scores being improved and the dropout rate is down."

During the debate, Ruberto also found himself in the minority regarding the mayor having a seat on the embattled Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. PEDA has been criticized for not being more open about its efforts to attract companies to the yet-to-be-occupied William Stanley Business Park. Some critics have suggested an elected city official siting on the PEDA board would make it more accountable to the public

And Ruberto claims that person should be the mayor.

"It’s unfortunate PEDA hasn’t located businesses to the site," Ruberto said, "and that’s my responsibility."

"It’s a complete conflict of interest to sit on a board appointed by a city official," Ferrin said, referring to the mayor.

Since the business park is in both Ward 2 and Ward 3, Caccamo said the City Councilor from either ward sitting on the PEDA board makes more sense, "because they have the most to gain or lose by buildings going up there."

Malumphy called for a restructuring of PEDA because of a "tremendous stalling when it comes to getting businesses on that site."

While Bianchi said he will still "foster economic development" at the William Stanley Business Park, it’s "small businesses that are the backbone of this community."

Candidates also accused the Ruberto administration of focusing too much on revitalizing North Street and ignoring the rest of the city.

Fillio said the success of Third Thursday and other downtown events is due to the fact "there’s nothing else to do in Pittsfield."

Boyd suggested "more events similar to Third Thursday, but spread them around the city."

Furthermore, the focus on North Street has been at the expense of much needed work in the rest of the city.

"Why aren’t we paying attention to Dalton Avenue, South Street and West Housatonic," Ferrin said.

"You have potholes all over [the city]," added Kwasniowski. "If I hit one more, I’ll lose my truck."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Rooms tax hike looms: The City Council will revisit the measure at its next meeting on September 23, 2009."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, September 16, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield is a step closer to hiking the local rooms tax to increase revenue for a cash-strapped city.

The City Council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules on Monday night voted 4-0 to recommend the entire council at its Sept. 23 meeting support raising the so-called "hotel/motel tax" from 4 to 6 percent. If the measure is approved, city financial officials said it would take effect Jan. 1 and generate an additional $90,000 through June 30, 2010.

Thestate Department of Revenue's projected increase is based on the $413,000 generated in fiscal 2009, according to Pittsfield Finance Director Susan Carmel.

"I support any new revenue without affecting property taxpayers," said committee member and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony V. Maffuccio.

Mayor James Ruberto proposed the rooms tax increase as one way to deal with the city losing nearly $6 million in local revenue and state aid for the current fiscal year. The Legislature in June gave Massachusetts cities and towns the option to go as high as 6 percent to help offset the decrease in state aid.

North Adams is the only Berkshire County community so far to boost its local rooms tax, as the City Council there on Aug. 25 voted 6-2 to enact the increase as of Oct. 1. Mayor John Barrett III has said he expects an additional $53,000 in revenue through next June.

Besides Pittsfield, Lenox is the only other local municipality considering a hike in the hotel/motel tax. The Selectmen have scheduled an Oct. 15 special town meeting to vote on the potential increase.

Lenox officials are also considering investing a portion of the rooms tax revenue back into the community.

"There's a real strong possibility we'll take some of the new dollars and put it toward economic development," said Town Administrator Gregory Federspiel.

Pittsfield may take the same approach.

City Council President Gerald M. Lee has proposed some of the added lodging tax revenue be funneled to the GE Economic Development Fund. Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman said the concept is "worth looking into."

"We've utilized that fund to build several cultural entities, such as the Colonial Theatre," Sherman noted.

Chairman of Ordinance and Rules and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop said the concept using some of the rooms tax money to boost the local economy gained some support during Monday's meeting.

"People seemed open to the idea and it may ease some angst by the hotel and inn owners," said Lothrop.

Several lodging owners have expressed concern the higher rooms tax will keep some visitors away from Pittsfield.

Redirecting hotel/motel tax revenue toward the local economy is nothing new.

The Lee annual town meeting in May the past few years has awarded roughly 10 percent of its rooms tax revenue -- which averages nearly $170,000 a year -- to the Lee Chamber of Commerce toward promoting tourism in town.

But this year the Chamber requested and received an increase from it's usual $17,000 to $18,500, Town Administrator Robert Nason said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pittsfield Candidates Make Pitch to Voters"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, September 15, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — There are so many candidates for mayor in Pittsfield that they nearly overpowered the stage at Berkshire Community College on Monday night. There are so many running, it's been difficult to tell them apart — positionwise at least.

Over the course of nearly two hours, all 10 candidates tried mightily to differentiate themselves on city issues and offer a reason for voters to check their name on next week's ballot — all within a minute.

Monday's forum was one of a series being sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette and hosted by Berkshire Community College. The forums are being televised on Pittsfield Community Television.

WUPE and WNAW radio host Larry Kratka kept the questions rolling and keeping each candidate to his or her allotted minute response. A flat-panel monitor prominently placed in front of the stage kept the time.

Questions were asked of the candidates in groups of three or four; "quick response" questions designed to be answered with a word or two were answered by all 10.

"You can speak for 5 minutes and say nothing; you can answer a question in 60 seconds and say a lot," said Kratka.

So what did they say? For the most part, the candidates — Nicholas J. Caccamo, Patricia "Pam" Malumphy, incumbent James M. Ruberto, Mark A. Marciano, Rick E. Moon, Daniel L. Bianchi, Paul Kwasniowski, Stephen A. Fillio, Lisa M. Boyd and Jeffrey W. Ferrin — stuck to their campaign themes.

It became apparent in some cases that while the inviduals could speak at length about their prime focus their broader knowledge of city issues was shallow at best.

Ruberto touted his leadership, pointing to savings, economic development and rising school quality: "I will always look to the [needs] of residents of Pittsfield first."

Not surprisingly, the three-term mayor had the most facts and figures at his fingertips, followed by Ward 6 Concilor Daniel E. Bianchi and former councilor Patricia "Pam" Malumphy. Caccamo pushed savings and economic development through buy-local and efficiencies; Boyd, an analyst, also said efficiencies in budgeting and policies would create savings and promised more open government. Fillio, who tried unsuccessfully to get on the ballot two years ago, bemoaned the loss of activities that would bring people to Pittsfield. Marciano said government should act more like business in being consumer oriented.

Moon and Kwasnioski offered the broadest strokes in how they might govern. Moon promised to be a good listener for at least five terms; Kwasnioski called for "regime change," comparing the current administration to Saddam Hussein's but promised only to serve two years.

Ferrin, a city employee, said worker morale is at its lowest and that the city was profligate in its spending.

"I've had the displeasure of wasting your money on a daily basis," said Ferrin.

The forum will be televised on PCTV at various times over the next week; iBerkshires will update with more information from the candidates on Tuesday.

The preliminary election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 22, from 8 to 8. The top two vote-getters will move on to the general election in November.
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Mayor James M. Ruberto and challenger Mark Marciano share a laugh at Monday's forum. Top: candidates pose for closeups by Pittsfield Gazette Editor Jonathan Levine;
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Moderator Larry Kratka tosses a question.
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Comment:

Please allow me to thank the many readers of Iberkshires.com, the people who were present during the forum, and the people who watched us on TV. I would like to thank the "PCTV CREW", Larry Kratka and John Levine from Our pittsfield Gazette. I have to say This forum was my second one in my life time. I had not rehearsed nor did I have notes many times I would look at the table cause the light at times was a bit bright Im not a light friendly person at night when driving those new brighter lights make issues for me. How ever the question of hill 78 now that I know it is the hill 2 blocks from where I live I had referred it to the GE Compound but the sad fact is that GE is so fowerful it would take perservarence to get this mega corportation to lisdten to us after the suits and crap levied on them in prior years by the city and the complaints by the city. We must approach them and say as we would any other business or resident "what can we do to resolve this and what can you do on your part cause as a city we could get the man power to clean the site take it under emninamt domain but would anyone listen in the courts GE the president and CEO is right hand man to the Man that was elected president of the United states Barac Obama. So this becomes a delicate issue. Give them the chance to do what they said they would and follow up on it. anyhow thanks for your consideration on Sept 22 and call city hall and ask that they provide a free bus service to the residents so they can vote on the primary and the election day.

once again Thank YOU: Mark Marciano Our candidate for mayor...
from: Mark Marciano on: 09-15-2009
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Stanley stands under one of the old skylights in what will be leased as office space.
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"Beacon Cinema Running Ahead of Schedule"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, September 16, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — The Beacon Cinema will open this November, a month earlier than expected, bringing movies back to the downtown after 15-year absence.

While the ribbon-cutting ceremony will be Nov. 20, the theater will open its doors the evening before with a midnight showing of "New Moon." Based on the massively popular "Twilight" series, this second film in the vampire series will likely guarantee a crowded house.

Its first tenant is the Marketplace Kitchen, which operates a restaurant and catering business in Sheffield.

The $21 million project includes office and retail space and is being made possible by a collaborative effort to provide private and public funding between developer Richard Stanley, local banks including Greylock Federal Credit Union, and state and local officials.

Financing has been the toughest to overcome, said Stanley, owner of the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington. He's frequently compared the nearly decadelong project to the "Perils of Pauline" because of its twists and turns, and almost dead-ends.

"Having seen what the Triplex Cinema did for Great Barrington we had a long, long romance for many years before we could get into this project," said Stanley at a press conference hosted by Greylock Federal at the North Street site, where saws and hammers could be heard in the background. "The critical issue of any project is financing ... I can't thank the community enough for having the courage and intuitiveness and long-range vision."

Local officials have been touting the development in the historic Kinnell-Kresge building as integral to the revitalization of city's center. Once the home of several movie houses, the last one was turned into a senior center more than a decade ago. (The Berkshire Museum still shows independent films in its Little Cinema.)

Mayor James Ruberto said recent revitalization efforts — the restoration of the Colonial theater, the addition to the Berkshire Museum and the relocation of the Barrington Stage — have drawn upwards of 175,000 people to the downtown over the past year.

"Because of the energy and efforts of Richard Stanley, we're going to have that number doubled," he said. "Pittsfield's downtown is open — it's open for fun, it's open for families, it's open for tourists who want to come and enjoy the cultural hub; [this is] the cultural hub and entertainment center of Berkshire County once again."

The mayor and some councilors have come under fire from challengers this election season for the city's use of GE Economic Development Funds and tax incentives to boost downtown projects.

The cinema development is just another example of how important that type of funding can be to reviving the city's core, said Ruberto, lauding the teamwork of "those fine people [city councilors] who voted for funding the Colonial and giving a tax incentive to Spice and those people who truly believed we must help the museum match a Kresge grant."

Both Stanley and Angelo Stracuzzi, president of Greylock Federal, said the mayor should receive kudos for an enthusiasm that got the project off the ground.

"He's the greatest collaborator I've ever met," said Stracuzzi. "He deserves the credit for this project."

The former Kresge storefront is in the process of becoming a spacious lobby leading into what was the store's warehouse. The 1 1/2-story back section was gutted and rebuilt as two stories with steel beams while maintaining the original brick walls.

In fact, most of the original features of the century-old building are being refurbished and retained since historic credits were part of the financing package. The unique terra-cotta tile front is being cleaned and restored, along with woodwork, tin ceilings and hardwood floors. The large arched windows that look out on North Street are being refurbished off-site and are expected to be re-installed next month.

In contrast, the all-new construction in the cinema portion includes an escalator and elevator and three high-tech theaters on each floor. Two to three of the six will have 3-D screens and Disney's new 3-D "A Christmas Carol" will open along with "New Moon."

The Marketplace has contracted for the first-floor storefront next to the lobby. Stanley said he's had some interest in two top floors but has been waiting for the windows and other work to be completed before showing the space.

And there's still quite a bit of work to do. The front of the building is still wrapped in plastic and scaffolding; the cinemas are still in rough construction and Stanley had to point out where concession stands and seating would go.

Work began last summer and was conservatively estimated to take 14 to 16 months, said Stanley, but contractor Allegrone Construction determined recently that it was shaving off at least a month of construction time from the Dec. 14 opening date.

"A worker told me 'this is going to look just like it was 100-plus years ago,'" said Ruberto. "We're going back to the future. ... we're going back to the future to make Pittsfield the best small city in the Northeast."
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Mayor James Ruberto tries out the seating planned for the new Beacon Cinema. Developer Richard Stanley announced Wednesday the theater will open Nov. 20. See more photos here.
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A happy day for the extended Ward family
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"Ward wows, other incumbents axed"

Ward 4 councilor Mike Ward enjoyed a commanding preliminary election victory on Tuesday, capturing 74 percent of the votes in a three-person field.

On November 3, he'll meet Chris Connell, whose 13.9 percent edged Terry Kinnas' 11.9 percent.

While Ward rolled, two of his council colleagues faced the electoral axe in the preliminary.

Lou Costi captured 25.7 percent of the ward 2 vote, falling to challengers Kevin Morandi and Pete White, who were with nine votes of one another. They'll meet on the November 3 ballot.

In ward 7, incumbent Anthony Maffuccio captured 18 percent of the vote, ahead of Loren Paduano's 10.7 percent but behind Joe Nichols and JD Hebert.

Nichols led the field with 44.6 percent of the tally, while Hebert had 26.2 percent. They'll face off in the general election.

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"Bianchi, Ruberto Will Face Off in November"
iBerkshires.com - September 22, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Daniel Bianchi lead the mayoral pack on Tuesday, outpolling his closest competitor, incumbent James M. Ruberto, by 542 votes.

Ruberto and Bianchi will vie again in November to see which will be the city's next executive.

Pam Malumphy ran a distant third with 23-year-old Nicholas J. Caccamo making a good showing in fourth. The rest of the 10 candidates weren't even in the running.

In Ward 2, challengers Peter White and Kevin Morandi have knocked incumbent Louis Costi out of the running.

In Ward 4, incumbent Michael Ward blew off his competition nearly six to one. Christopher Connell passed Terry Kinnas by 35 votes for a rematch with Ward in November.

The turnout was 27.88 percent , with 7,958 votes cast. There are 28,547 registered voters in the city. Unofficial results are below.

MAYOR:
BIANCHI: 3,540 votes
RUBERTO: 2,998 votes
MALUMPHY: 775 votes
CACCAMO: 386 votes

WARD TWO:
MORANDI: 306 votes
WHITE: 297 votes
COSTI: 198 votes

WARD FOUR:
WARD: 1,271 votes
CONNELL: 239 votes
KINNAS: 204 votes

WARD SEVEN:
NICHOLS: 435 votes
HEBERT: 256 votes
PADUANO: 114 votes
MAFFUCIO: 81 votes

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"Two councilors unseated"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, September 23, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Two incumbent city councilors saw their re-election bids come to an abrupt end on Tuesday, both finishing third in their respective ward races in the preliminary election.

Kevin J. Morandi and Peter T. White out-distanced Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi, while Joseph C. Nichols and J. D. Hebert prevented Ward 7 Councilor Anthony V. Maffuccio from being re-elected. Loren V. Paduano finished fourth in the Ward 7 contest.

The top two vote-getters in each contest advanced to the general election.

Meanwhile Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward easily made it onto the Nov. 3 ballot, with a 1,000 vote margin over second-place finisher Christopher J. Connell. Terry M. Kinnas finished third in the Ward 4 race.

Costi and Maffuccio cited low voter turnout as one reason for their political demise.

While citywide turnout was 28 percent -- or 7958 out of 28,547 registered voters -- the percentage was even lower in Wards 2 and 7, at 25 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

But Morandi, who lost to Costi by 28 votes in 2007, said the majority this time finally wanted to make a change.

"We went door-to-door and like two years ago the voters responded," Morandi said.

"The main issue was they wanted a councilor who is responsive to them."

Costi had no regrets about how he represented Ward 2.

"I'm proud to have served six years for my constituents," Costi said.

White, gracious in victory, praised Costi's work and said he was "humbled just to make it to November."

"I was shocked to come so close to Kevin as this is his second go-around in Ward 2," he added.

As for Nichols, he wasn't surprised at his first-place finish in Ward 7.

"The last two or three years I've been in touch with the people through the Cove Bakery and Joey's Batting Cage," he said referring to his two businesses on Peck's Road.

Despite his busy work schedule, Nichols expects to have "ample time" to address the needs of Ward 7.

While Maffuccio respects the voters' wishes in defeat, he feels they voted him out of office for the wrong reason.

"They judged me off my personal life, not my professional one," he said.

Maffuccio referring to he and his girlfriend charging each other with assault and battery in connection with a domestic dispute in July, only to have the case dismissed in Central Berkshire District Court.

The Eagle was unable to reach Hebert for reaction to his campaign continuing to the November election.

Despite finishing 1,000 votes ahead of Connell in Ward 4, Councilor Ward said he's not taking his margin of victory for granted.

"I have been in constant communication with my constituents through a newsletter," Ward noted. "That experiment has worked."

Connell is also confident he can close the gap because he's finding more voters who want someone to keep city government spending in check.

"They are seeing an increase in taxes and wondering how to pay for it," Connell said, "especially since [Ward 4] isn't getting its fair share of services in return."

The finalists in Wards 2, 4 and 7 now join the remaining candidates for City Council who were already on the Nov. 3 ballot by virtue of avoiding a preliminary election.

Ward 1 Councilor Lewis C. Markham Jr. is being challenged by Christine Yon, while the Ward 6 race pits David W. Murphy Jr. against John M. Krol Jr.; the winner to succeed Daniel L. Bianchi who's running for mayor.

The councilor at large contest is a five-way race for four seats as Melissa Mazzeo is challenging incumbents Gerald M. Lee, Matthew M. Kerwood, Peter M. Marchetti and Kevin J. Sherman.

Only Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop are running unopposed.

In addition, there are seven candidates vying for six seats on the Pittsfield School Committee.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"A preliminary shake-up"
Opinion, By Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 24, 2009

When a mayoral challenger finishes first in the voting and two incumbent city councilors are ousted in a preliminary election, as was the case in Pittsfield Tuesday, it is safe to say that the voters are restless -- or at least those who showed up at the polls. Ideally, Tuesday's results will lead to an energetic, focused six-week general campaign in which the many issues facing Pittsfield will get a thorough airing.

Incumbent Mayor James Ruberto and his opponent, former Ward 6 City Councilor Dan Bianchi, have different philosophies of city government, which has emerged for the most part in polite exchanges over the past six years. The general election provides an opportunity for a full-fledged debate on the best ways to move Pittsfield forward that we hope both candidates will take full advantage of.

Both Ward 2 City Councilor Louis Costi and Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio attributed their defeats in part to low voter turnout, although incumbents are usually better positioned to get the vote out than challengers. Mr. Costi survived a close election two years ago, and this time a modest shift in the numbers left him third behind Kevin Morandi and Peter White, who will meet in November.

Mr. Maffuccio, who was defeated by finalists Joseph Nichols and J.D. Hebert, claimed that Ward 7 voters judged him on personal issues rather than professional ones in reference to the July domestic dispute with his girlfriend that ultimately ended in a dismissal of charges brought by both parties in Central Berkshire District Court. That may be true, but voters have the right to factor in personal issues when choosing who will represent their interests.

Though this year drew the largest preliminary field since 2001, this campaign may not entirely parallel that dramatic campaign season when voters took the broom to City Hall. In 2001, an impressive 46 percent of the city's voters turned out for the preliminary election, as opposed to the more typical 28 percent who came out Tuesday. One would think, however, that a hotly contested mayoral race would bring out the vote in November.

Before closing the book on the preliminary election, the respectable showing of 23-year-old Nicholas J. Caccamo, the top vote-getter of the seven relative unknowns in the mayor's race, should be noted. Mr. Caccamo started too high by running for mayor, but he comported himself well and should stay involved in city politics. Young blood is always welcome on a variety of city boards and organizations.

Now it's on to November, where five candidates will vie for four at large positions on the City Council and races will be contested in all but two wards. Seven candidates will also be running for six positions on the School Committee. Candidates who are not advancing to November -- please collect your campaign signs.
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"Massachusetts Airport Management Association Annual Conference"
iBerkshires.com - Monday, September 28, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts – Mayor James M. Ruberto announced that the City of Pittsfield Municipal Airport Commission will host the 35th Annual MAMA conference to be held at the Crowne Plaza from September 30th thru October 2, 2009.

“There are 41 public use airports in Massachusetts and this conference provides an excellent venue for industry leaders to work together to improve aviation in Massachusetts,” said Mayor Ruberto. “And there is no better place to do it than in Pittsfield during the fall foliage season.”

The conference features round-table discussions and interactive forums with airport consultants, engineers, planners, contractors, managers, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission; while MAMA conference sponsors will provide exhibits, displays, and participate in informational sessions.

Guest speakers will include incoming Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey Mullan, Registrar of Deeds and former State Senator Andrea Nuciforo, Jr., Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association President Craig Fuller, and Mayor James M. Ruberto. An Aviation Caucus will be held and chaired by Representative Donald F. Humason, Jr. (R-Westfield) and will be populated by a host of elected officials.

A spousal program has been developed for members significant others to experience the diverse cultural venues, geographic features, dinning, and golf that Pittsfield and the surrounding area has to offer. Transportation for these activities is being provided by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority.
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"City's Permitting Coordinator to Travel to Japan for Exchange Program"
iBerkshires.com - September 30, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts - Mayor James M. Ruberto announced that the City of Pittsfield’s Permitting Coordinator, Tory Hanna, has been selected by Rotary International’s Young Professionals’ program to be one of 4 young professionals from Western MA & Northern CT to participate in an international exchange program with Japan from mid-March to mid-April 2010.

The Group Study Exchange was created as a unique cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for businesspeople and professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 who are in the early stages of their careers. The program provides travel grants for teams to exchange visits in paired areas of different countries. For four weeks, team members experience the host country's culture and institutions, observe how their vocations are practiced abroad, develop personal and professional relationships, and exchange ideas.

Mayor Ruberto congratulated Tory on his selection to the program. “I am both pleased and proud that you have been selected by the Rotary to participate in an international exchange program,” said the Mayor. “I’m sure you will find it to be both a tremendous and rewarding experience. I know you will represent the City and the Rotary in a very professional manner.”

During the four-week tour, the young men and women will participate in five full days of vocational visits, 15 to 20 club presentations, a multitude of formal visits and social events, two to three days at the district conference, several hours per day of cultural and site tours, and several hours of time with host families. The area of Japan they will be focusing on is the Kanagawa Prefecture, which is in the central part of the Main Island of Japan and adjacent of Metropolitan Tokyo.

Tory Hanna said that he’d like to thank the Pittsfield Rotary and local Rotary district 7890 for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He went on to say, “The support that Deanna Ruffer and Mayor Ruberto have given me over the past 2 years as the Permitting Coordinator has shown their commitment to the community and to my future ventures.”

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"Shortchanging library hurts city"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 10/1/2009

I am writing in regards to the Berkshire Athenaeum, a wonderful and amazingly undervalued resource for Pittsfield. At a time when the city is trying to remake itself into an arts and cultural center and simultaneously attract new business to the area, the library is being subjected to budget cut after budget cut.

Both Ruth Bass and Brian Sullivan wrote excellent columns recently addressing the importance of libraries to communities in general and to Pittsfield in particular. What is the point in having an impressive historical documents room or a warm children’s library or highly competent research librarians, for example, if the library has to cut hours, limit staff and curtail new acquisitions?

Our library is well used, all the time. If you haven’t been in lately, take a look. People of all ages read, do homework and research, go on-line, are tutored in reading skills, have stories read to them. It’s a wonderful place -- yet its funding is cut again and again. I would like to see that funding restored, at the very least to the 2008 level. The Athenaeum should be just as much of a focus in Pittsfield’s rejuvenation as North Street’s development and the attraction of new businesses are.

To this end, I am going to be circulating a petition to the mayor’s office and the City Council asking people to support our library with the funding it most heartily deserves.

BRENDA LANDES
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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Pittsfield Public Schools
"Project hits snag: High School building study fails to advance in Massachusetts"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, October 2, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The Massachusetts School Building Authority moved 21 school project proposals in Massachusetts toward feasibility studies -- but the city's high schools aren't on that list.

The authority's Board of Directors on Wednesday voted to bring the projects "into the capital pipeline," which includes a repair project at Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, said SBA Chief of Staff Matthew Donovan.

The feasibility study phase is a step toward securing state-subsidized school building or repair projects.

However, Pittsfield failed to get a recommendation toward some type of building project, five months after SBA Executive Director Katherine Craven and her staff toured Pittsfield and Taconic high schools. Agency officials did hand over their reports on the April 15 site visit to the board for its consideration, but the city's request hasn't gone any further.

"The Pittsfield application needs a little more studying," Donovan said. "We want to make sure of the best solution possible."

For Pittsfield, the lack of action has frustrated school officials.

"When we did the tours with Katherine Craven," said School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso, "my indication was we were going to get some money.

"But I do understand the economic times," Amuso added.

Although a consultant's report in May 2008 suggested a single high school concept that would cost city taxpayers an estimated $180 million, local or state officials haven't calculated a definitive price for improving Pittsfield and Taconic.

While Pittsfield plays the waiting game, school officials are being asked to "refresh" their Statements of Interest, initially filed last November, that describe how the physical shortcomings of Pittsfield and Taconic must be addressed to meet high school education in the 21st century.

"[Pittsfield] can update any information by Oct. 21 if things have changed from the original statements," Donovan said.

Pittsfield School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said there's no reason to edit the documents.

"We prioritized the two high schools and we stand by that decision," said Eberwein, who also co-chairs the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission.

The panel will meet Monday at 6 p.m. at Pittsfield High to discuss the stagnation of the state funding request.

While the two city high schools were built 39 years apart, school officials state that both have a laundry list of needs, such as a new heating and ventilation system. Pittsfield High was built in 1930, with a major renovation and expansion done in 1975. Taconic has had some upgrades since it opened in 1969, but is basically the same building that was erected 40 years ago.

School officials have said the current layout at each high school prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can chose a career course of study.

Mount Greylock's project includes repairs to a collapsed ceiling over the girls' locker room, the ceiling of the boys' locker room, its aging boilers, and its science labs.

Meanwhile, the SBA officially signed off on $321 million for school construction projects in 15 districts this week. Craven said the state funding will combine with local funding for a total of $660 million to build or renovate three high schools, three middle schools, and nine elementary schools.

One of the biggest chunks of state cash, $25 million, went to Wayland for renovations to the town's 50-year-old high school. Needham, Brookline, Plymouth, Nashoba and Danvers are among the other districts that received a portion of the money.
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Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Death ... and Life"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, September 27, 2009, Updated: 10/3/2009

The grief is still there, lingering just below the surface.

Jim Ruberto knows it.

Ask Pittsfield's three-term incumbent mayor about this fall's campaign, and Ruberto responds by listing his administration's accomplishments, along with the challenges the city faces over the next two years.

This is the mayor the public sees.

Then ask Ruberto what it's like to run for mayor for the first time without his wife of 39 years, Ellen, who died July 22 after a long battle with a rare form of cancer.

Ruberto's voice lowers. The words come slowly, haltingly. The pain can be seen on his face. His wife was his closest friend and advisor.

"I can't even begin to describe it," said Ruberto, who still wears his wedding ring. "I simply can't begin to describe it."

"You know, I'm running this campaign with Ellen," he said softly after a short pause. "Every morning I say, 'Honey, you've got to get in my pocket and help me like you always have.' But there are no words, no words to describe what this loss means to me."

Ruberto, who will be 63 on Dec. 10, is trying to become only the fourth mayor - and first since Charles L. Smith in 1985 - to win at least four consecutive two-year terms since Pittsfield began electing mayors in 1891.

Ruberto will face Ward 6 City Councilor Dan Bianchi in the Nov. 3 general election. Each man advanced by being a top-two finisher in Tuesday's preliminary election, with Bianchi beating Ruberto by 542 votes.

Ruberto said he's eagerly awaiting his next challenge.

"I'm just glad the preliminary is over so the people in Pittsfield can focus on which person should be elected to lead the city as we move forward," he said.

Ruberto wants to move forward. He can't wait to move forward. John Barrett III, North Adams' mayor since 1984, knows this as well as anyone.

Barrett lost his wife, Eileen, to cancer during his fourth term in June 1990.

"The hardest part is going home and having nobody there," Barrett said. "Especially in politics. I was fortunate because I had a lot of people that supported me. But it was hard. God, it was awful."

Ellen Ruberto was diagnosed with cancer during her husband's second term four years ago. Her health issues were well-documented: Ruberto missed a mayoral debate during the 2007 campaign to be with her while she underwent treatment in Boston, and she accompanied him to City Hall - bald because of further treatment - this past May when he took out nomination papers for mayor.

Ruberto filed the papers after he and Ellen had decided jointly that he should run again.

"I think he knew that ... if he was elected that Ellen would not be around for the next two years," City Council President Gerald M. Lee said. "I think she knew it as well. He decided to stay engaged. They were realists. They said you fight the good fight, but the future is not going to give you much."

Lee said Ruberto has become more focused on the campaign in recent weeks. Calling it a way to share ideas and be in touch with city residents, the Pittsfield mayor even opened a Facebook account two weeks ago.

Ruberto also is passionate about reading - nonfiction, in particular - and sports. He's a big Red Sox fan and played golf when he was younger, and hopes to take up the sport again when he retires.

But despite his outside interests, Lee knows the hurt about Ellen still exists.

"I lost my parents," Lee said. "I know that when you go back to work, there's a couple of moments each day where you get funky. I think he's making his way through it. The other day I noticed that he was pumped up again and talking business. That's what it's all about."

"I think there's a lot of mayoring left in him," Lee said.

Without his wife to help steer him, Ruberto said he turns mostly to friends that he and Ellen met in Pittsfield.

Ruberto is gregarious by nature, and it's not unusual to see people stop him on the street to chat. He said a lot of folks have come up to him to express their condolences since Ellen passed away.

"There are just so many people who have offered their support in so many ways that I would do a disservice" to single anyone out, Ruberto said.

The mayor doesn't have any immediate family members to turn to, though. He doesn't have any children, his father and brother are deceased, and his mother, 92, is battling the final stages of Alzheimer's disease at Kimball Farms in Lenox.

But Ellen's death is Ruberto's most recent emotional wound, and Ruberto and Barrett have talked and gone to dinner together several times since she passed away.

Barrett said he has told Ruberto what to expect in the months ahead.

"The fourth [term] is tough. It's when it really starts to get hard," Barrett said in explaining how the competition for the job intensifies.

Barrett also said he and Ruberto have discussed how other politicians have dealt with grief. They've talked about Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972 shortly after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware.

"Joe Biden got through it," Barrett said. "He was going to quit."

Ruberto said he appreciates the support he's received.

"Mayor Barrett has been a tremendous resource for me over the last few months," Ruberto said. "He's just there. And I know he will be as open and as candid as he can.

"It just helps you to understand that you're not alone."
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6224.
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"School Commission members will solicit help from lawmakers"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/6/2009

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission will lead a more aggressive campaign to convince the Massachusetts School Building Authority the city needs state funding to improve its two high schools.

The commission on Monday agreed to elicit the help of Berkshire state lawmakers in lobbying the SBA to approve the city's request for a feasibility study, which is the next step toward securing financial support for school building projects.

"Maybe it's time to have our legislative delegation more active in the process," commission co-chairwoman Tricia Farley-Bouvier said.

"Their voices are perhaps heard louder in Boston than ours," added commission member Patricia "Pam" Malumphy.

The decision to exert a little pressure on the SBA stems from Pittsfield's failure to get a recommendation toward some type of high school project before the authority's board of directors at its Sept. 30 meeting. The board last week did vote to move 21 other proposals -- including the repair project at Mount Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown -- into the feasibility study phase.

School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III noted Pittsfield was among dozens of other communities whose funding requests are on hold.

"It's playing out in the press we were all rejected," Eberwein said. "That's not the case."

SBA officials said the Pittsfield proposal requires further study, which indicates it's still on the state agency's radar screen.

"The SBA has shown a pattern of reviewing applications on a rolling basis," said Eberwein. He added Pittsfield could very easily come up for a vote at the board of directors' November or January meetings.

Nevertheless, school officials remain frustrated by the process and lack of communication from the SBA ever since Executive Director Katherine Craven and her staff toured Pittsfield High and Taconic five months ago. Agency officials did hand over their reports of the April 15 site visit to the board in June, but the city's request hasn't gone any further.

Malumphy believes the SBA hasn't figured out if Pittsfield wants to build a new high school or renovate the existing ones.

"What we're presenting is confusing and not coherent," she said.

While the commission has made no formal recommendation on which project is preferred, School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso said the panel has been clear that the physical shortcomings of both Pittsfield High and Taconic must be addressed together.

Nevertheless, Pittsfield has no choice but to be patient with the SBA.

"As long as we need state funding," said Carmen C. Massimiano Jr., "we have to play by their rules."

Mayor James M. Ruberto emphasized Pittsfield can't afford a school building project without state re-imbursement.

While the two city high schools were built 39 years apart, school officials have stated Pittsfield High (1930) and Taconic (1969) have many of the same needs, such as a new heating and ventilation system. In addition, they've said the current layout at each building prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can chose a career course of study.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pittsfield hikes rooms tax"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 28, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield's hotels, motels and inns will ring in the new year by charging a higher local rooms tax to raise more revenue for the cash-strapped city.

The City Council Tuesday night unanimously agreed to raise the hotel/motel tax from 4 percent to 6 percent, effective Jan. 1. City financial officials have said the fee hike will generate an additional $90,000 through June 30, 2010.

While the council initially supported the higher rooms tax on Sept. 23, the legislative body delayed final approval until after Lenox voted on Oct. 15 to increase their rooms tax to 6 percent.

With the Lenox decision made, the councilors were more comfortable boosting Pittsfield's lodging fee and did so without any final debate or discussion.

North Adams is the only other Berkshire County community to hike it's hotel/motel tax during the current fiscal year. Lee could be next to increase the rooms tax to 6 percent, if the measure is approved at a special town meeting tentatively scheduled for Dec. 10.

Mayor James M. Ruberto proposed the rooms tax hike as one way to deal with Pittsfield's losing nearly $6 million in local revenue and state aid for the current fiscal year. The Legislature in June gave Massachusetts cities and towns the option to go as high as 6 percent to help offset the decrease in state aid.

Several City Councilors have said they would support turning a portion of the increased rooms tax revenue back to promoting the city's hotels, motels and inns. However, such a proposal would have to originate from the mayor's office and be approved every year as part of the city budget process.

Berkshire Inn owner Robert Perrin and seven other lodging owners have petitioned the City Council to establish a Pittsfield Visitors Promotion Fund using half the added lodging tax fees. The request was forwarded to Ruberto for review, but the concept may be a duplication of effort, as the city already has a Commission on Tourism. City officials have said the added rooms tax money could be funneled through the board to help the lodging industry.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"City has had it with its mayor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, October 29, 2009

If the only problem was the constant spending, some voters might forgive our current mayor. If his only ethics problem was the World Series tickets he accepted from someone negotiating a city contract, other voters might forgive and forget. If the mayor had made an effort to listen to the community before nine people filed papers to run against him, we might have given him the benefit of the doubt.

Unfortunately, all these things add up. Pittsfield has had enough. Dan Bianchi has a record of being responsive to his constituents and protecting the interests of the community when revenues are scarce. He has many more years of government experience than the current mayor. Dan is not afraid to stand up and speak out when this administration tries to bully the City Council with a half-baked policy or to slip in a sweetheart deal for an insider pal.

It's time to end the spendthrift ways at City Hall, to replace the ethics scandals and arrogance with a new kind of leadership. Please join me in supporting Dan Bianchi for mayor on Nov. 3.

THOMAS GRIZEY
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Cinema's facade unveiled"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 30, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Movies won't be shown at Pittsfield's $22.4 million downtown cinema center for another three weeks. But the facade of the Beacon Cinema's new home -- the historic Kinnell-Kresge building on North Street -- was officially unveiled on Thursday night.

On the opposite side of North Street, around 100 people attended a short ceremony that ended when Mayor James M. Ruberto threw a switch to bathe the restored building in floodlights.

"Look at this building, huh?" Ruberto said before throwing the switch. "Isn't it incredible?"

The interior of the building has been renovated into a structure that can house six cinemas with stadium seating.

Construction began in September 2008, following a one-year delay, and was originally expected to be completed by Dec. 14. But the opening date was moved up to Nov. 20 last month. Pittsfield has been without a cinema complex since March 2001.

The delay in construction occurred when the National Park Service determined that the design did not retain enough of the historic elements of the faces and entryway of the historic building to qualify for $900,000 in federal historic tax credits. The project's total cost skyrocketed from $12.6 million to $22.4 million.

"Working with a project for so long, seeing it almost happen many, many times, it's only today that I almost have tears in my eyes," project manager Richard Stanley said.

Ruberto thanked the local financial institutions that provided the private portion of the complex's financing for sticking with the initiative for so long.

"This doesn't happen by dreaming small," Ruberto said. "It comes from dreaming big."

The unveiling ceremony took place two days after the protective coating that had sheltered the facade from the elements since construction began was taken down. Ann Dobrowolski, of the Community Development Department, said the coating was removed when the scaffolding was dismantled.

She said the city had considered removing the coating at the unveiling ceremony, "but we couldn't really find a way to do it safely."

"It's really exciting to see it," she said. "It's beautiful. I can't stop looking at it."

According to the state Historical Commission, the Kinnell-Kresge building was built jointly in 1918 by George Kinnell, a local veterinarian, and the Kresge Syndicate, which ran a department store chain based in Detroit. The facade consists of brick and terra cotta, a clay-fired brick mixture, that adorns the top of the building. Joseph McArthur Vance, the building's original architect, also designed the Colonial Theatre.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means restoration is required to follow guidelines set by the Department of the Interior for historic buildings.

Architect John Waite, whom the city hired to oversee the restoration efforts, said some of the terra cotta had deteriorated and needed to be replaced.

"There were over 2,000 pieces of terra cotta," said Joe Lewis, the president of Allegrone Masonry in Dalton, which restored that portion of the facade. "Half of it was restored in Pittsfield, and half of it was restored in California. Each piece had a number, and it had to go back in the spot where it was originally."

The storefronts on the bottom floor were replicated using original photographs of the building, Waite said. The red-and-gold Beacon Cinema sign on the front of the building resembles the original Kresge's sign, but it was made of a different material than the original.

"It would have been prohibitively expensive," Dobrowolski said. "So we went looking for an alternative."
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"Loss adds emotional backdrop"
By Benning W. De La Mater, The Berkshire Eagle, Saturday, October 31, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Before they let the critiques fly, they shared an emotional moment.

Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi put his hand on Mayor James M. Ruberto's shoulder before Friday night's debate and offered his condolences on the passing of Ruberto's mother, Edith Sonsini Ruberto.

The 92-year-old Kimball Farms resident passed away Thursday night after a 12-year battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Bianchi called Ruberto Friday morning and offered him the chance to cancel the debate, but Ruberto said he wanted to keep the commitment.

"It was a difficult decision," Ruberto said, getting choked up. "But I know my mom would've wanted me to continue this."

Before the debate began, Bianchi took time in his opening remarks to recount the tale of when he and his wife moved to Spadina Parkway. Their neighbor was Edith Ruberto.

"It was a comfort to have Mrs. Ruberto down the street from us ... watching out for us," Bianchi said.

The Bianchis were doing renovations on their home, and Edith would always ask, "What the heck are you doing now?"

Ruberto said his mother loved architecture and history. Her nickname was "The Tiger."

She was only 4-foot-8, but what she lacked in height she more than made up for with her determination.

Ruberto, who lost his wife of 39 years, Ellen, on July 22 to a rare form of cancer, said his mother was the one who he got his values from.

"She empathized with people who were less fortunate," he said.

Ruberto said his mother was the daughter of Italian immigrants and wasn't able to attend events at the Colonial Theatre until she married.

"And when we were working on bringing the Colonial back," Ruberto said, "she said to me, ‘Jim, make sure children of immigrants can go to the Colonial.' "
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Mayor James M. Ruberto, left, said his opponent lacks a clear vision for the city. But his challenger, Councilor Daniel Bianchi, said the mayor puts too much emphasis on recreational development. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Pittsfield Mayoral Race: From six debates, two views"
By Benning W. De La Mater, The Berkshire Eagle, October 31, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto says he has an open door policy for anyone who wants to create a business in the city.

Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi says Ruberto is selective about the people who are given business opportunities and tax breaks.

Bianchi says violent crime has gone up 60 percent during Ruberto's tenure. Ruberto says crime is down and more residents are stepping forward to help police.

Ruberto says Bianchi lacks a clear vision for the city. Bianchi claims Ruberto puts too much emphasis on downtown recreational development.

On Tuesday, the voters will decide.

The sixth and final debate in the Pittsfield's mayor race took place Friday night at Berkshire Community College, just four days before city voters head to the polls in what many are saying will be a tightly contested election.

The debate was sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and focused on business issues.

Tammy Daniels, managing editor of iBerkshires, moderated the debate, which was rescheduled three times after two location changes, one date change, and what appeared to be a case of miscommunication between the chamber and Bianchi's camp about his availability.

On the issue of nurturing a positive climate in the city for economic development, Ruberto said he has done so by reviving downtown with multiple cultural and dining options and by adding affordable housing and improving MCAS scores.

Bianchi said Ruberto has closed the door on people "who have creative minds" and have expressed interest in opening up small businesses in the city. Bianchi said if elected, he would dedicate $1 million to build a stimulus fund to help nurture small, local businesses.

"We won't limit it at just $1 million," Ruberto said.

Bianchi called Ruberto's plan to give Spice restaurant $1 million "a risky move."

On the issue of moving legislation through City Council, Bianchi said he has good relationships with council members, but he views his relationships with his constituents as being more important.

"I protect the residents with my votes," he said. "My votes are for the neighborhoods."

Ruberto said his experience of lobbying in Boston and working with other mayors across the commonwealth give him the edge over Bianchi.

"We already have a voice in Boston ... and it is recognized as a voice of progress," he said.

With respect to balancing commercial development alongside residential concerns, Ruberto said there are plenty of options, including the William Stanley Business Park, the airport and along Dan Fox Drive.

Bianchi agreed that the William Stanley site has the greatest potential, but expressed that many residents are frustrated about the delay in getting a business anchored there.

Ruberto said a commitment has been made by a technical school and stimulus funds may prompt another announcement soon.

The two candidates again sparred on the issue of a rise in crime, Bianchi citing statistics that say it's on the rise and Ruberto sticking to the fact that community involvement has increased.

Both agreed that the only way to keep the commercial and residential tax rates low is to bring in new development and jobs.

"We have permitted for 150 new homes, and those are second homeowners," said Ruberto, adding that the home prices -- $450,000 and up -- will help keep the tax rate level.

Bianchi and Ruberto both supported the increase in the room tax and are both apprehensive about adding an additional meal tax

Bianchi said he supports "smart growth" in terms of new housing. He said he has spoken with police officials who are concerned that the New Amsterdam Apartments on Bradford Street could cause crime issues in the future.

Ruberto called the claim "fear mongering."
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To reach Benning W. De La Mater: bdelamater@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6243.
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"Ruberto for mayor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, Sunday, November 1, 2009

Any mayoral election is a referendum on the incumbent's job performance, but the race in Pittsfield between Mayor Jim Ruberto and challenger Dan Bianchi also constitutes a debate between two dramatically different philosophies of government. It's been healthy for the city, as issues, problems and strategies of addressing both have gotten an airing that hasn't taken place in the last two elections.

The Eagle believes that Mayor Ruberto's accomplishments in his six years in office have earned him another term, and we also support the aggressive approach that has produced those accomplishments. Given the nature of the challenges ahead, this is not a time to retrench and become cautious. The Eagle endorses James Ruberto for mayor of Pittsfield.

The bottom line is that Pittsfield is better off today than it was six years ago. The face of that progress has been a downtown revival built around cultural tourism. It's unfortunate that downtown has been pitted against the neighborhoods in political debate over the years because a downtown that draws locals and tourists and is attractive to potential employers and employees is an economic generator that benefits the entire city. With public and private investment, tax incentives and hard work, Pittsfield is building that downtown and city.

While Councilor Bianchi supported projects like the Beacon Cinema and Barrington Stage, it is difficult to imagine him taking the initiative to make them reality, in particular the Beacon project, with its many formidable obstacles. As a city councilor he has been reactive, rarely engaging in advocacy. We disagree with Mr. Bianchi's contention that the Colonial Theatre project had sufficient funds to succeed without the city's investment. That investment was instrumental in shaking loose grant money that would not have been offered otherwise. Beyond that there is a symbolic value, as private sources and government agencies will see no reason to invest in a city project if they don't see financial support from the city itself. Mr. Bianchi doesn't grasp this which is worrisome.

Lack of progress at the William Stanley Business Park has been a disappointment to everyone in the city, including the mayor, though some prospective tenants have settled or expanded elsewhere in the city. There is no reason to believe, however, that Mr. Bianchi, who has not attended meetings of the PEDA board he has been critical of, would do any better in building a board given the distance he has put between himself and the business community. The challenger claims to be an advocate of small business, but his initial reluctance to commit to the debate sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, the representative of county small businesses, suggests otherwise. Mayor Ruberto has been and will continue to be that advocate if re-elected.

Mr. Bianchi also declined to debate the incumbent on education, and whether that indicates apathy or is an acknowledgment that he is not fluent on the subject, Mr. Bianchi has left parents in the dark about his views on education. Mayor Ruberto has been a vocal advocate of teachers and the public schools, and knows that educational issues are complex and go beyond the bricks and mortar of school construction issues. The challenger has not given voters any reason to believe that he would fight for education dollars and be an advocate for teachers and schools in the two years ahead.

Crime statistics have been spun into irrelevance in this campaign, but the mayor's determination to fund anti-crime efforts is a sign of strength, not an admission of defeat as appears to be the contention of Mr. Bianchi. Neighborhood watch programs are important but only as an adjunct to crime fighting programs executed by law enforcement. In that regard, Mr. Bianchi's contention that code enforcement is too strict in the city is puzzling because strict enforcement is needed to crack down on the lax or absentee landlords who provide places where criminal behavior can take root and fester.

Mr. Bianchi has been described as "Mr. No" by critics, and with the election upon us, he has still not articulated what he is for nearly as well as he has described what he is against. Being the lone wolf can be a sign of strength, but those 10-1 votes over the years in which Mr. Bianchi was the naysayer indicate that he has not been able to persuade colleagues to share his perspective. That being the case, how will be able to work as mayor with what shapes up as a progressive City Council? His election would presage a return to the pre-Ruberto years of stagnation and conflict.

Pittsfield cannot afford to go back down that path again. With his election six years ago, James Ruberto ushered in an era of progress and optimism, enabling residents to once again feel proud of their city and hopeful about its future. With tough times looming in the next two years, we need that optimism along with the mayor's experience, political contacts and fierce advocacy for his city. We fear that Mr. Bianchi will not reach out to the business, educational, cultural and governmental communities in the way a mayor must for a city to move forward. The Eagle strongly urges Pittsfield voters to return James Ruberto to the mayor's office on Tuesday.
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"Election 2009: Ruberto Receives Strong Endorsements"
iBerkshires.com - October 31, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray has joined other key leaders in endorsing Mayor James Ruberto.

During a visit to Pittsfield on Thursday, Oct. 29, Murray said, "Mayor Ruberto has been a strong and effective advocate for the city of Pittsfield and has been a great partner in promoting economic development."

State Rep. Christopher Speranzo also praised Ruberto's teamwork, saying, "Mayor Ruberto works continuously with the state to improve Pittsfield, whether promoting downtown development or securing assistance for our neighborhoods."

"Mayor Ruberto is clearly the best choice to lead Pittsfield during tough times," said Pittsfield City Council President Gerald Lee, adding his endorsement. "We are true partners and I look forward to continuing our strong working relationship."

In October, Ruberto received the support of five former Pittsfield mayors who sponsored a fundraiser for his campaign: Paul Brindle, Ray DelGallo, Evan Dobelle, Gerald Doyle and Ed Reilly.

"I am supporting Mayor Ruberto in his re-election campaign, and I urge the voters of Pittsfield to maintain his steady leadership for their city," said District Attorney David Capeless, whose endorsement was announced earlier in the month.

At the final mayoral debate on Friday, Oct. 30, Ruberto thanked the group of leaders for their support of his candidacy.

"I am so proud to have the endorsements of other key leaders, people who share a vision for a better Pittsfield and a stronger commonwealth," Ruberto said. "Senator Downing and Representative Speranzo are strong advocates for Pittsfield on Beacon Hill, and I am so thankful for their support. I am honored that the lieutenant governor took the time to provide his endorsement during his visit this week. My partnership with President Gerry Lee and the City Council makes everything else possible. And the endorsement of District Attorney Capeless means a lot to me as we have worked so hard together to enhance public safety.

"My track record is all about forming partnerships, and we are all part of the same team that will get us through this difficult economy."

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"Ruberto's camp raised, spent most money"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, Sunday, November 1, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- With two days until the Tuesday election, Mayor James M. Ruberto is king when it comes to campaign fundraising: He's raised more money than challenger and Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, by a margin of 4 to 1. Ruberto's campaign spending also overtook Bianchi by roughly the same margin.

In campaign finance reports submitted to the City Clerk's office, the two candidates for mayor listed all donations over $50, from whom they came, and all campaign spending activity.

The Ruberto campaign raised $61,704 between Sept. 5 and Oct. 16. It spent $57,737 during the same period.

Bianchi's campaign raised $15,665 and spent $12,658.

Ruberto's campaign included donations from Joan Bancroft, former president of Berkshire Life, who donated $250; retired Central Berkshire District Court Judge Alfred E. Barbalunga who donated $500; Al Bauman, president of Compu-Works, who also donated $500.

Also on Ruberto's list of donors are Joyce Bernstein and partner Lawrence Rosenthal, who together own the Jae's Spice restaurant space and operate Link to Life. Both donated $500. The Feigenbaum brothers, Armand and Donald, who own General Systems Co., also donated $500 each to Ruberto's campaign.

Other $500 donors to the Ruberto campaign included William Hines, executive director of PEDA; James Maxymillian, president of Maxymillian Enterprises; Registrar of Deeds and former state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo; Perri Petricca, CEO of Unistress; Joseph Downing, chief operating officer of the John Adams Innovation Institute; and Richard Stanley, project manager and co-owner of the Beacon Cinema.

Ruberto's campaign also raised $9,385 during a one-time fundraiser at the ITAM Lodge.

The mayor's re-election campaign spent $7,643 on printing mailers, $1,509 on advertising in The Berkshire Eagle, $14,268 on postage, and $2,875 on lawn signs. The campaign also spent $18,000 with Cence Cincotti Strategies of Boston for consulting and communications services. For radio advertising, the Ruberto campaign spent $6,538.

The Bianchi camp's finance report revealed that $2,405 was collected over the course of three fundraisers.

It also shows that John Downing, executive director of the Soldier On veterans advocacy group in Pittsfield, donated $200, while Robert Holmes, co-owner of Haddad's Carpets donated $500, and Deborah Haddad-Holmes, another co-owner of Haddad Carpets, donated $200.

The Massachusetts Laborers' District Political Action Committee donated $500 to Bianchi's campaign, and self-employed plumber Floyd Passardi also donated $500.

The challenger spent $1,077 on printing, $800 in stipends to campaign coordinator Gary Levante, $3,070 on billboard advertising, $212 on postage, $4562 on radio advertising and $700 on lawn signs.

In the race for City Council, the biggest spender was Melissa Mazzeo, candidate for an at-large council seat, who spent $5,282.

The second biggest spender was David W. Murphy, candidate for Ward 6, who laid out $2,953. His opponent, John Krol, was third with $2,767 spent during the five-week time period.

Kevin J. Sherman, candidate for an at-large seat, spent $2,392; incumbent Peter M. Marchetti, also an at-large candidate, spent $1,929; while Peter White, a candidate for Ward 2, spent $1,551.

The two council candidates who spent the least were incumbent at-large councilor and council president Gerald M. Lee, who spent nothing and raised nothing; and Ward 2 candidate Kevin Morandi, who spent $220.

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6241.
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Pittsfield City Council
"Five new councilors join ranks"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 4, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Two more city councilors were ousted during Pittsfield's general election Tuesday, continuing a trend that voters began in September's preliminary election.

Incumbent Matthew M. Kerwood was the odd man out during Tuesday's citywide balloting as he finished fifth for the four available at large seats, thus ending a 10-year run on the City Council. Melissa Mazzeo, the lone at large challenger, will replace Kerwood after finishing second behind top vote-getter Councilor at large Peter Marchetti. City Council President Gerald M. Lee and fellow at large incumbent Kevin J. Sherman came in third and fourth, respectively.

Meanwhile, Christine Yon will be the new Ward 1 Councilor, having defeated incumbent Lewis C. Markham Jr., who was seeking a fourth consecutive two-year term.

Yon and Mazzeo are among the five new councilors who emerged from Tuesday's election. Peter T. White handily beat Kevin J. Morandi in the Ward 2 contest, while Joseph C. Nichols defeated J.D. Hebert to capture the Ward 7 race. White and Nichols replace incumbents Louis A. Costi and Anthony V. Maffuccio, respectively, who had already lost in the preliminary election.

Finally, John M. Krol Jr. will now represent Ward 6 after defeating David W. Murphy. Krol replaces Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, who ran for mayor.

The three ward councilors who were re-elected are Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward, who held off challenger Christopher Connell by a 3-1 margin, and Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, both of whom ran unopposed.

While Mazzeo was thrilled by her impressive showing in the at large race, she couldn't enjoy her victory party due to a very sick child. Mazzeo spent four hours at Berkshire Medical Center as her 11-year-old daughter Mia was treated for complications from the flu. The two left BMC around 8:45 p.m., just as Mazzeo was declared one of the at large winners.

"I watched the results come in on the television in the emergency room," she said.

Marchetti appeared to campaign the hardest of the five at large candidates and it paid off as he finished first with 9,086 votes.

"We didn't quit campaigning until 7 o'clock," Marchetti said. Polls closed at 8 p.m.

Yon said running a clean campaign was the key to her victory in Ward 1 and she'll carry that over to when she and the other new councilors are sworn into office on Jan. 4.

"I won't take negativity to the council," she said.

Yon also praised Markham for his six years of service to the ward and "he should be thanked for that."

In Ward 2, White said his record of community service and support from outgoing councilor Costi were keys to his win.

"I had a lot of his supporters with my lawn signs," White said. "It definitely helped me win."

Nichols found his family name being well known in Ward 7 and having his The Cove Bakery on Peck's Road gave him and edge over his opponent.

"Working in the heart of Ward 7 allowed me to see many voters every day," Nichols noted.

In Ward 6, Krol found door-to-door campaigning remains the most effective way to garner enough votes to win.

"We literally covered the entire ward," Krol said, "and people appreciated that."

School Committee election

The School Committee also lost an incumbent as Carmen C. Massimiano Jr. finished out of the running for the six seats up for grabs.

Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso was the top vote-getter, followed by challenger Katherine L. Yon, Christine Yon's sister in-law, Churchill Cotton, Erin Sullivan, Daniel C. Elias and another newcomer, Alfred E. Barbalunga. Barbalunga edged out Massimiano by 80 votes.
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Pittsfield City Council - "New blood ready to listen, learn"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 5, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The five newly elected City Council members are switching from campaign mode to learning what it takes to be an effective city councilor.

The nearly 50 percent turnover of the 11 member council during Tuesday's general election is the highest since 2003 when voters ousted five ward and two at large councilors.

Christine Yon, Peter T. White, John M. Krol Jr., Joseph C. Nichols and Melissa Mazzeo all plan to "get up to speed" with the six returning councilors, before they are sworn into office on Jan. 4.

Yon said defeating Ward 1 Councilor Lewis C. Markham Jr. already had her on a political learning curve.

"I had to get up to speed in this campaign," she noted. "When you're up against a candidate with six years on the City Council, you're already behind the eight-ball."

Yon also expects her aggressive campaign style will carry over into her councilor duties. "I go into things 100 percent," she added.

While Mazzeo plans to hit the ground running as the newest councilor at large, her preparation is being delayed by her 11-year-old daughter having a severe case of the flu.

"If Mia wasn't sick today," Mazzeo said. "I'd already be at City Hall asking what are the next steps."

City officials said they are waiting to help the newcomers understand the protocol of being a city councilor.

"I can go over council rules and how to file a petition," said City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, a former Ward 3 councilor. "I consider it part of my responsibility to make councilors feel comfortable at City Hall."

Council President Gerald M. Lee said, if re-elected president by his colleagues in January, he'll continue his tradition of introducing new councilors to all the city department heads.

"If you have a water problem, here's who you see," said Lee. "If you need a pothole fixed, here's who you see."

White, councilor-elect in Ward 2, said he already has a good rapport with some of the department heads through his involvement with the Morningside Initiative, Ward 2 Democratic City Committee and other government-related organizations.

Nevertheless, White will rely on outgoing Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi for a smooth transition.

"I've already spoken with Councilor Costi to go over projects already in the pipeline," he sad. "It's tremendously important to have his support and have him as a resource."

Costi backed White in his defeat of Kevin J. Morandi, after Costi lost in the Sept. 23 preliminary election.

Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio found relying on veteran councilors helped him adjust to his new role after winning the Ward 3 special election in March. Capitanio didn't have a challenger on Tuesday.

"My advice to the new people is don't be afraid to ask the other city councilors for help," said Capitanio.

In addition to consulting with fellow councilors, Nichols will bolster his ties with Ward 7 voters who elected him over J.D. Hebert as the new Ward 7 Councilor.

"I will use my time to gather e-mail addresses and continue establishing a database of constituents," Nichols said.

Krol is probably the most familiar of the five new councilors with City Hall and the workings of the council. He spent two years as public affairs coordinator for Mayor James M. Ruberto from mid-2005 to mid-2007.

Krol said the experience will help him in dealing with the city's expected financial constraints the next two years.

"The priority will be to maintain critical core services such as [education], police and fire," Krol said. "That's what the people want."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Sewer project set to start"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, November 9, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The project to finally rid a west Pittsfield neighborhood of its long standing sewer stench begins this week.

City workers will be laying 300 feet of pipe along Lebanon Avenue that will carry the sewer gas from the offensive sewer main to carbon filters encased in small shed off the road on municipal property.

"It's fairly shallow work as we don't have to dig deep at all," said Public Works & Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. "The installation should go quickly."

City officials had expected by Jan. 1, 2009, that those same pipes would already be capturing the "horrendous sewer odor" homeowners have endured for nearly five years. Collingwood first proposed the project last fall after 70 residents from Lebanon Avenue and Donovan Street petitioned the City Council in September 2008 seeking a solution.

However, an early start to severe winter weather late last year, a higher than anticipated cost and more time needed to design the odor control system are among the reasons its installation has been delayed.

While Collingwood now has the completed plans for the building that's housing the odor control system, he has to determine its final cost.

"We might be able to do the work out of our operating budget," Collingwood said.

If necessary, he's prepared to ask the City Council on Nov. 24 to use sewer surplus funds to pay for the project.

Collingwood remains confident the odor control system will be operational by year's end.

Daniel Colello, of 433 Lebanon Ave., who led the petition drive, is pleased the project is getting under way and believes Collingwood will keep his promise.

Colello also appreciates the city stepping up its temporary measures to reduce or eliminate the odor, when the sewer stench worsened in late August. City workers eventually started flushing the offensive main once a week, compared to once a month.

While the flushing method has been successful, the residents are warned ahead of time.

"The only time you smell [the sewage] now is during the first 20 minutes of flushing," Colello said.

However, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, who's been critical of the project's progress wants no further delays.

"I won't rest until it's done," Lothrop said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Beacon can't mirror mall movies"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My wife and I were disappointed by Clarence Fanto's column "Mass appeal the focus for the new cinema" in Sunday's Berkshire Eagle. In it, he quoted developer Richard Stanley as saying that the Beacon would not mirror-image the Triplex in Great Barrington. This is in contrast with what he said a year ago.

We, and many of our friends, were excited about the prospect of the Beacon showing both mainstream and art and independent films. This would have ended our two-hour round trips to see a movie at the Triplex.

Granted, Great Barrington and Pittsfield are different markets. However, the Beacon's original plan of using two of its theaters for Triplex-type movies was a sound one.

One of the goals of an invigorated downtown Pittsfield is to attract more tourists and business. If successful, the showing of art and independent films would be a plus.

Although we totally support the resurgence of downtown Pittsfield, and all it new businesses, we would not include the Beacon if it is only a mirror image of the Regal Theaters at the Berkshire Mall. Unless the Beacon offers us an alternative to the mall, there is not any incentive for us to go there. The Berkshire Mall is closer to us and the parking is more convenient. We feel that Stanley should stick with his original plan and give the Triplex-type films a fair chance.

ALAN RUBIN
Hinsdale, Massachusetts

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"City film buffs duped by Stanley?"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It would appear that we have been possibly duped by Richard Stanley as regards the venue at the new Beacon Cinema. Perhaps even our mayor has been fooled.

We were so unknowingly supportive. Many of us from Pittsfield have looked forward to what is offered at the Triplex, and were willing to make the trip despite the distance. It is interesting and disheartening that we in Pittsfield are not recognized as part of "the strong niche market that supports a lot of independent and foreign films," as Mr. Stanley so ungraciously put it in Mr. Fanto's column of Sunday, Nov. 8.

We in Pittsfield have supported the Triplex because of the venue offered and had looked forward to doing the same at the new Beacon. There is no reason that a variety of genres cannot be offered on North Street. Perhaps this is the moment for the Berkshire Museum and Images in Williamstown to beef up their offerings and satisfy that market that Mr. Stanley speaks about.

There certainly won't be any competition at the Beacon and our desire to travel to Great Barrington is waning. What a financial and cultural disaster!

CAROL MESSERSCHMITT
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Beacon adopts a Regal mentality"
The Berkshire Eagle (Online), Letters to the Editor, 11/11/2009

I was born in the Berkshires and 17 years ago I retired and returned to the Berkshires. Pittsfield, once the center of activity, had become a bedroom community to the creative centers of Great Barrington, Lenox, Stockbridge, and Williamstown. There was nothing to lure residents or visitors to downtown Pittsfield, not even a movie theater.

Since then we have seen a revival in the city. The Colonial Theatre was restored, Barrington Stage came to town, new restaurants and businesses re-lit North Street and reinvigorated the entire city. But we still lacked a film theater.

Then it was announced that the six-theater Beacon Cinema was coming to North Street. After a six-year wait and much anticipation, the Beacon Cinema is about to open its doors. It is, we are told, a state-of-the-art complex with arena seating and with the technology to show films in 3-D.

Then Clarence Fanto’s column appeared in last Sunday’s Eagle. It seems we in the Berkshires are too insensitive, too immature, too stupid to appreciate and enjoy foreign films like "Coco Before Chanel" or American independent films like "A Serious Man." No, we all have Regal Cinema mentalities and the films we want to see are mindless comedies like "Couples Retreat" or sophomoric special effects or horror films like "The Stepfather" or "The Box." Thank you, Richard Stanley and John Valente.

Surely, at least the smallest theater in the Beacon complex could be reserved for more adult film fare!

ROCCO FUMENTO
Dalton, Massachusetts
The writer is professor emeritus in Film and Creative Writing, University of Illinois.
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"Serving city’s diverse film audience"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, November 14, 2009

I am writing to clarify some of the misunderstanding regarding the programming at the new Beacon Cinema in Pittsfield.

It’s gratifying to know that people care so passionately about film and are excited, as are we, about the opening. We have always maintained that we will show a mix of films both commercial and independent. However there really isn’t, nor can there be, a formula or guarantee for any one genre.

Our opening lineup includes two independent films, "Paris," a French film starring Juliette Binoche, and "The Yes Men Fix the World," a documentary about the political performance artists Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano. In addition there are family films, the first 3-D movie in the county, a general interest biography and of course vampires. More information on this varied opening lineup can be found on our Web site, thebeaconcinema.com

As our films change from week to week over the coming months, we’ll determine what works and what doesn’t in our effort to serve Pittsfield’s diverse audience. Many factors come into play including the availability of films in our market, how they fit with our existing commitments and of course how well attended they are. Our goal is to bring the very best cinema has to offer to the widest possible Berkshire audience.

JOHN VALENTE
New Marlborough, Massachusetts
The writer is general manager of the Beacon Cinema and The Triplex.

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Beacon Cinema
"Showtime: Optimism takes center stage in downtown Pittsfield as the $ 23 million Beacon Cinema gets set to open."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 15, 2009

The city's downtown has played a major role in Steven Valenti's life.

From spending time on North Street as a teenager in the late 1960s to owning a menswear store on Pittsfield's central thoroughfare for the past 27 years, Valenti has seen the once-bustling commercial hub of Berkshire County's largest community lose its relevance, then begin the long road back to respectability.

North Street still isn't what it once was. But Valenti believes the $23 million Beacon Cinema in the historic Kinnell-Kresge building is the project that can return some of the swagger to downtown Pittsfield.

"I think it can bring a majority of that back," Valenti said. "To me, it really puts us in the game."

The six-screen cinema center - which will open Thursday night for a midnight movie, followed by the ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m. Friday - took 10 years from conception to completion, a span that included a one-year delay in construction that caused the price tag to skyrocket by nearly $11 million.

But business owners and city officials believe it was worth the wait: They know the complex will create jobs, and they expect it to increase foot traffic downtown by approximately 200,000 people a year. They also expect it to spur additional economic development.

"I think the biggest impact the theater will have is just the volume of people that it will bring downtown 24-7, and the diversity of people that it will bring downtown," said Deanna L. Ruffer, director of Pittsfield's Community Development Department. "At some time in their life, everybody is going to go to a movie."

The Beacon, the city's first movie complex since the 10-screen Pittsfield Cinema Center on West Housatonic Street closed abruptly in March 2001, has been seen as a major piece of downtown development, along with the Colonial Theatre in 2006 and the Barrington Stage Company in 2007. But Ruffer said the Beacon isn't the final piece of the puzzle.

"While at the moment this is a major step forward because of the number of people that it brings downtown, I'm hesitant to say that it's the final thing or the only thing to do," she said. "We'll continue to work with our downtown partners in the business community to look at ways to further strengthen downtown." The six cinemas, which all have stadium seating, can seat a total of 850 patrons.

Richard Stanley, the Beacon's managing partner, said he expects annual box-office sales of $1.5 million, concession sales of $437,000, and $101,000 in screen advertising.

The Community Development Department estimates the Beacon Cinema will create 35 jobs among the operation of the movie theaters and the adjacent restaurants, retail businesses and offices that will occupy the 91-year-old Kinnell-Kresge building.

The Marketplace of Sheffield plans to open a restaurant in a ground-floor space next to the Beacon's main entrance on North Street by the end of the year. Stanley also is seeking six tenants to fill 400 to 1,500 feet of retail space on the McKay Street level. Negotiations with at least one unidentified restaurant are under way.

According to a study the Community Development Department prepared for the City Council in May 2008, the cinema complex is expected to draw 200,000 to 250,000 people downtown each year - with a direct economic impact of $2 million - and bring an additional $1.7 million in revenue to downtown restaurants and businesses.

Since then, Ruffer said the attendance figures have been revised to 180,000 to 210,000 people a year.

" That changes the complexion of downtown all by itself," Ruffer said, referring to the number of visitors.

Several of those are expected " to eat downtown, drink, or do a bit of shopping on their way to and from a movie," she said.

Stanley was the source for all statistics except the $ 1.7 million revenue figure, which was provided by Downtown Inc.

According to Ruffer, the numbers were analyzed by the five local financial institutions that provided $ 4.6 million in bank notes toward the project's total cost, and by the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation.
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"Screen wars: Pittsfield or mall?"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, November 15, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- When the 10-screen Pittsfield Cinema Center on West Housatonic Street closed abruptly eight years ago, it left the Regal Cinemas in the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough as the only theater complex available to moviegoers who live in Central Berkshire.

But now there's a new option: the six-screen Beacon Cinema in downtown Pittsfield, which will open Thursday night for a midnight showing of the horror/romance film "The Twilight Saga: New Moon."

"You're always worried about competition," said Richard Stanley, the Beacon's managing partner. "But in essence they don't have the [flexibility] that we have."

The Regal Cinemas, which has 10 screens, is owned by Regal Entertainment Group of Knoxville, Tenn., the country's largest motion picture exhibitor, which posted total revenues of $673.5 million for the third quarter of the financial year that ended Sept. 25.

Stanley said the Beacon has more options when it comes to programming.

"They have a small number of bookings for a large number of theaters," Stanley said. "They can't be responsive to local needs."

Regal Entertainment Group spokesman Dick Westerly did not return telephone calls seeking comment, but it appears the company is taking the initial threat of competition seriously.

Like the Beacon, the Regal is offering a midnight showing of "New Moon" on Thursday night. And both theaters have events scheduled around the movie (see box on this page).

The Beacon will offer the midnight showing of "New Moon" in three of its six theaters -- and possibly all six -- with seating beginning at 11 p.m., according to John Valente, the theater's manager.

The Regal plans to show "New Moon" at midnight in two theaters, and possibly three. Also, for the first time ever, the Regal will open at 5 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season.

Stanley said the Beacon will feature first-run movies and a mix of foreign and independent films, but not all the time. The lineup for the first weekend includes a documentary, "The Yes Men Fix The World," which won the Audience Award at the 2009 Berkshire International Film Festival, and "Paris," a French movie billed as a "valentine to the city of lights."

That film features some of the biggest names in French cinema, including Oscar winner Juliette Binoche.

In Lanesborough, several people who attended movies at the Regal Cinemas on Veterans Day said they would be willing to try the Beacon.

"I like the idea of supporting downtown Pittsfield. It sounds great," said Dalton resident Vicki Trager. "If I can park, I'll be there."

Although there is more parking at the mall than in downtown Pittsfield, the five-tier McKay Street parking garage, located behind the Beacon, has 989 spaces, according to the Department of Public Works. And free parking exists throughout the city after 4 p.m., Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood said.

Regal moviegoer Tom Sperlonga, of Lee, said he is impressed by the Beacon's stadium seating and the complex's technical capability, which includes two 3D theaters. Sperlonga said he will "check out" the Beacon at some point, but expressed reservations about the location, saying that North Street "is not what it used to be."

Sue Wellspeak, of New Lebanon, N.Y., said she'll continue to visit Regal Cinemas because of ample parking and the presence of other stores, but would consider the Beacon if she goes to a movie with her husband.

"I think if it was my husband and myself, we would go to a movie on North Street," she said. "But I think if I have the grandkids, I'll come here [Regal] because there's more to keep them occupied."
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"Beacon Cinema"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, November 15, 2009

Location: Kinnell-Kresge building, 49-55 North Street, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Inside: Six cinemas with stadium-style seating (two with 3D).

Total seating capacity: 850.

First movie: "The Twilight Saga: New Moon." Lobby opens Thursday night at 8; film starts at midnight.

Ribbon cutting: 11 a.m. Friday, followed by first show at 12:10 p.m. ("Paris").

Tickets: Adults - $9 evenings, $7 matinees; seniors (over 62) - $6.50; children (under 12) - $6.50. Note: $3 is added to each admission price for 3D films.

Phone: (413) 358-4780.

Web: thebeaconcinema.com.

Opening-day movie lineup (Friday):

"New Moon": midnight, 12:30 p.m., 3:30, 6:30, 9:10, 9:30.

"A Christmas Carol" (3D): 12:20 p.m., 1, 3:10, 3:40, 6, 6:20, 8:30, 8:50.

"Planet 51": 12:50 p.m., 3:20, 5:50, 8:20.

"Paris": 12:10 p.m., 3, 6:10.

"The Blind Side": Times TBA

Note: Schedule subject to change

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"Coming attractions"
The North Adams Transcript (Online), Editorial, 11/16/2009 02:27:12 AM EST

Congratulations to the city of Pittsfield for this week’s long-awaited opening of The Beacon, a $23 million six-screen cinema complex in the renovated Kinnell-Kresge building on North Street.

Civic leaders are pinning many hopes on the success of the movie center, which is destined to include retail, restaurants and offices and should provide a much-needed anchor for the downtown. If all goes well, the complex should compete with the Berkshire Mall cinemas and bring new life to Pittsfield, as indicated in a huge spread in Sunday’s Berkshire Eagle.

We had to grimace, however, at a reference made in the main story to the Movieplex Eight cinemas in North Adams: "While the cinema center is expected to be profitable, the movie business isn’t always a financial slam dunk. In North Adams, an eight-screen movieplex in the downtown Steeple City Plaza closed last month when its parent company, Cinema North of Rutland, Vt., ran into financial trouble."

The death of the Movieplex Eight has been highly exaggerated. We don’t believe it will be closed for long. Right after Cinema North abruptly bolted, not only from here but also from its holdings in Vermont and New York, the owner of SteepleCity Plaza pledged to reopen the theater complex-- with his own financing, if necessary. Don’t be surprised to see an announcement coming soon -- possibly even this week -- about that reopening.

Note that the Rutland Herald reported Saturday that several franchises are vying for Cinema North’s closed theater complex in that Vermont community, and a buyer has already been found for the bankrupt company’s defunct theater in Hudson, N.Y. Theaters are indeed, big business, and the North Adams complex is almost new and in a central location. It won’t be empty for long.

While this city’s movie center may not match the grand scale of Pittsfield’s venture -- it sits in the shell of a failed Kmart rather than in the heart of a 91-year-old renovated building -- it nonetheless is impressive in that it was launched entirely with private funding.

The amount of public funding used to get The Beacon off the ground is staggering, as reported by The Eagle: $6.55 million in tax credits from the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp., $2.944 million in state tax credits, $1.5 million from the city of Pittsfield, $1 million in a state community development grant, $1 million from a state loan and $142,758 in Community Block Grant funds.

Even if the North Adams cinema center were to go dark forever -- an unlikely scenario -- the only money lost would be from private investment. The same could not be said for The Beacon, which has dined extensively at the public trough. We pray, with the city of Pittsfield, that the end result will be worth that investment.

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"Officially Ruberto"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, Thursday, November 19, 2009

Wednesday's recount vote brings an end to the contentious 2009 mayoral campaign in Pittsfield. That the recount went so smoothly and efficiently and the result when all was said and done was only a tiny shift in the returns should make Pittsfield residents feel good about the fairness and accuracy of the city's voting process.

Challenger Daniel Bianchi didn't elaborate on the assertions in his press release accompanying his request for a recount that voting machines "failed to register voter intent" and absentee ballots were "improperly accepted and/or rejected." In the absence of an explanation, we suspect that the recount request was urged upon Mr. Bianchi by supporters who simply couldn't accept that Mayor James Ruberto was re-elected and assumed that something must have been amiss. The election was a close one, but if anyone had any doubt that it wasn't a fair one, those doubts have been proven to be groundless.

We hope that residents will now get behind Mayor Ruberto and a City Council with five new members as they confront what are surely to be two challenging years ahead. If the mayor is successful in his efforts, then voters benefit as well, no matter who they supported on November 3.
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A crowd of young people gather outside Thursday night’s opening of the Beacon Cinema, featuring ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon,’ in downtown Pittsfield. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Opening act: Younger crowd attends premiere of the Beacon"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 20, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Was it just me, or were there an unusually large number of vampires on North Street last night?

Hundreds of local teens and a handful of adults descended on North Street for a block party to celebrate the opening of the new, six-screen Beacon Cinema in the renovated Kinnell-Kresge building.

A midnight showing of the vampire/romance flick "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" drew a sold-out crowd of 850 fans, many of whom dressed as vampires to celebrate the premiere of the film, which opened nationwide last night.

Richard Stanley, the Beacon's managing partner, was behind the counter getting hot dogs ready for the grill as the "snap, crackle, pop" of brewing popcorn echoed in the lobby.

"I'm a little numb," Stanley said. "It's been years in the making. I guess it's kind of like when you climb Mount Everest, get to the top and just look out. I'm speechless."

Inside, workers were busy putting the final touches on the state-of-the art stadium theaters, each of which had that new-car (eh, theater) smell.

Some of the details Stanley proudly pointed out were the beer and wine bar, the rocking/reclining stadium seats, and "the only escalator in Berkshire County."

Patrons admired the interior work and urban feel of the place.

"It's really something right out of Manhattan," said Joyce Bernstein, co-owner of nearby Jae's Spice restaurant. "I'm excited about what this will do for downtown.

It's one of the pieces of the puzzle that will bring a critical mass here. "

Outside, teens and their parents danced to DJ music and the sounds of local rock band Werewolves of Pittsfield.

Megan Whilden, the city's cultural development director, said while Barrington Stage Company and the Colonial Theatre draws a certain type of crowd, the movie theater will attract families, teens and 20-somethings, making the downtown an all-ages attraction.

"It's the perfect complement, and really, who doesn't like movies?" she said. "A lot of people are thrilled we finally have movies back on North Street. This is affordable fun for the family."

And it's not going to be just movies, Stanley said. The Berkshire International Film Festival is planning on holding an Oscars viewing party there, and Stanley said he envisions the Super Bowl and Yankees-Red Sox games played on the big screens.

"We can have Red Sox fans in one theater and Yankees fans in the other," he said.

The celebration will continue today as an official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $23 million venue is scheduled for 11 a.m. followed by a 12:10 p.m. showing of "Paris."
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"Pittsfield gets SBA toehold"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, November 20, 2009

The Massachusetts School Building Authority's initial support of a renovation project for Taconic High School and the executive director's enthusiasm for a similar project at Pittsfield High School constitutes encouraging news for the city. How much state funding will be available and when are questions that won't be answered soon, but the feasibility study to be conducted of Taconic is an important step in the lengthy process.

The SBA process requires that one high school be put forward for consideration, and while the city's School Building Needs Commission selected Taconic, SBA Executive Director Katherine Craven told The Eagle that the commission saw the value in the city's two buildings. Ms. Craven observes that whatever happens at Taconic it should involve making the school a magnet for vocational education. There is a great need for increased vocational education throughout the county and the school that best addresses its need will gain students through school choice.

PHS is 39 years older than Taconic but has the benefit of impressive period architecture. Unwise past decisions involving the cafeteria and the auditorium cannot be undone but there is much to work with. High costs in a poor economy have made the debate over whether or not the city should build one new high school a moot point, but there is stiff competition in the state for scarce renovation funds. This process has just begun and Pittsfield will have to keep pushing its case for SBA funding for both high schools.

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Beacon Cinema
"The silver screen strikes gold"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 21, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- "The movies are back in downtown Pittsfield!"

Those words were spoken Friday morning by Angelo C. Stracuzzi, the president of Downtown Inc., in declaring the silver screen's official return to North Street on Friday, after a nearly 20-year absence.

Stracuzzi was among the dozens of city officials and business leaders on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony done in true Hollywood fashion in front of the Beacon Cinema on North Street.

A red carpet adorned the main lobby in the newly renovated 91-year-old Kinnell-Kresge building, while the "ribbon" that was snipped was actually old 35 millimeter film strung between a pair of huge reels.

However, the Beacon's managing partner Richard Stanley said the theater complex epitomizes movie-going in the 21st century: State-of-the-art digital projectors and two of the six theaters capable of showing 3-D movies for the first time in Berkshire County.

Yet Stanley seemed most proud of finally completing a project, first conceived by Downtown Inc. a decade ago.

"It's been an incredible journey for 10 years that I thought would never end," Stanley said. "It was also a month early and on budget."

The $22.4 million cinema was expected to open in mid-December, until the general contractor, Allegrone Construction Co. informed Stanley the project would be finished by Nov. 20.

The Beacon Cinema technically debuted at 12 a.m. Friday with all six screens showing the vampire/romance flick "The Twilight Saga: New Moon."

Rosanne Frieri of Richmond was among the sold-out crowd of 850 who celebrated the premiere of the film, which opened nationwide on Thursday night.

"The movie was so alive," said Frieri. "It kept you at the edge of your seat."

As for behind the scenes, Stanley said the Beacon's opening night went surprisingly well.

"Very smooth with no glitches," he noted. "The computers worked, the sound worked, and the projectors worked."
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"Library budget may be restored: City residents want the current spending to rise from $900,653 to $974,373."
Berkshire Eagle Staff, 11/21/2009

PITTSFIELD -- Hundreds of city residents want the Berkshire Athenaeum’s budget restored to the original fiscal 2009 funding levels.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward has filed a petition with the City Council on behalf of 414 people who want Mayor James M. Ruberto and the council to increase current library spending from $900,653 to $974,373.

The council will formally receive the 46-page document at its regular meeting next Tuesday night.

The $73,344 reduction was a combination of cuts city officials made in the middle of fiscal 2009 and to start fiscal 2010 mainly due to a shortfall in local revenue and state aid.

Library director Ronald Latham said the budget cuts forced the Athenaeum to close four hours early on Monday at 5 p.m., limit the use of staff and curtail buying new books, books on CD and certain reference materials.

Overall, Pittsfield’s spending has shrunk from $126.8 million on July 1, 2009 to $122.7 million.

While the budget ax has fallen on almost every city department the last 12 months, Ward said the Athenaeum funding restoration is worth pursuing.

"It isn’t every day you get a petition with more than 400 signatures," said Ward. "The group is very passionate about what they are pushing for -- and I agree with them."

Brenda Landes of 14 Gaston Drive, who spearheaded the petition drive, said on Friday that the Berkshire Athenaeum is "a place we need to pay attention to."

"The library is used all the time," Landes noted. "It’s truly a communal place for the whole city."

Furthermore, she wrote in an editorial letter to The Eagle last month, "The Athenaeum should be just as much of a focus in Pittsfield’s rejuvenation as North Street’s development and the attraction of new businesses are [to the city]."

Athenaeum director Ronald Latham said he’s "floored" by the number of people who signed the petition and "gratified by their support."

However, Latham understands the city’s current financial constraints.

"I didn’t expect the Athenaeum would come away unscathed," he added. "But we have many folks coming to the main desk dissatisfied with the cuts."

While the library has avoid layoffs, Latham noted four to five part time employees had their hours reduced and the young adult section of facility at the corner of Wendell Avenue and East Street is no longer staffed. He said the Athenaeum has a total of 32 part time workers, 15 full-timers and also relies on 15-20 volunteers.

If Ruberto and the City Council do restore some funding, Latham would first want to resume regular Monday hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., which he said would cost $23,000.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Concert honors Ellen Ruberto"
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, November 23, 2009

PITTSFIELD - The life and spirit of the late Ellen Ruberto was celebrated Sunday with an afternoon of song, tribute and remembrances at the Colonial Theatre.

Ruberto, 62, died of cancer on July 22.

The event, which was free to the public, drew a crowd of about 500, filing the orchestra and nearly filling the balcony of the theater.

Ruberto was honored for her commitment and support of the arts in Pittsfield, specifically her sponsorship of the Colonial, according to David W. Fleming, executive director of the theater. The theater unveiled a star embedded in the floor of the theater's lobby Sunday afternoon, lauding Ruberto for "her community service and generosity of spirit."

"She was a special person," said Michael MacDonald, president of the Board of Directors at the Colonial. " She was the heart and soul of this place. Without her support, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Ruberto's husband, Major James M. Ruberto, acted as the official greeter for Sunday's crowd. Almost everyone got a hug or a handshake or both.

In between greetings, Ruberto was asked how he felt on this day.

"Well," he said, taking a deep breath, "you know."

Fleming was master of ceremonies along with John Bissell, vice president of the theater's Board of Trustees.

"Ellen believed that reviving this place would revive the City of Pittsfield, and she was right," said Bissell.

The opening performers were the Pittsfield High School String Ensemble, conducted by Alla Zernitskaya. The ensemble presented a trio of classical pieces.

Liam Geddes, a vocalist known as "the Irish American Idol," performed next, offering up a trio of songs, including "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Roberta Flack.

Geddes revealed to the audience that his American debut was on the Colonial Theatre stage a little more than a year ago.

"The kindness extended to myself and my family by the Rubertos and the City of Pittsfield was extraordinary," said Geddes. "So I'm honored to be here tonight."

The final performance was by the Gospel Choir of the African Methodist Evangelical Zion Church, led by Paul Keel. The choir performed a six-song set, that climaxed with a rousing "Oh Lord, How Excellent Is Thy Name," by gospel great Richard Smallwood.
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Park Square stuck in circles
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Updated: 11/24/2009 09:38:39 AM EST


Tuesday, Nov. 24
PITTSFIELD -- Another month, another delay in eliminating the Park Square rotary.

The circular traffic pattern that directs drivers to go from South Street to North Street since the late 1940s will be replaced with the original two-way traffic pattern by Jan. 1 -- not this Thursday -- as state transportation officials had expected last month.

MassHighway had initially planned the rotary's return by the end of September, but the state agency in October revised its timetable for completion by Thanksgiving.

While the project's end date keeps changing, the reason for the delay remains the same: A subcontractor delivering the new traffic signal equipment to Pittsfield.

The traffic lights are scheduled to arrive this week and be erected the week of Dec. 14, said MassHighway spokesman Adam Hurtubise.

"The traffic pattern change can not be done until the new signals are in place and the old signals are removed," Hurtubise said. "We anticipate the elimination of the rotary and removal of barriers by the end of December."

The $2.6 million project is one of four totaling $6.4 million the state agency is overseeing to improve the traffic flow and aesthetics of the Park Square area. Hurtubise said contractors also expected to install in the next month or two new traffic lights at the intersections of West and Center streets and West Housatonic and South streets. Nevertheless, he noted the approaching winter weather will necessitate completing all four projects next spring.

As for the streetscape project on South Street from West Housatonic to Park Square, Hurtubise said all that remains is paving that stretch of road by next May.

City officials don't foresee the temporary barriers at Park Square hindering snow removal.

"We can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at us," said Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. "There are some rough spots [near the park], but nothing we can't deal with."

Collingwood said he's more concerned about motorists adapting to the new traffic pattern.

"It will be a tough change for people to go straight instead of around [Park Square]," he said. "It'll take some time for drviers to get used to the new pattern."
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"Colonial demonstrates impact of nonprofits"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, November 24, 2009

An Eagle op-ed column Saturday attempted to do a "reality check" on the recent study of the economic impact of non-profit businesses in the Berkshires. The author applied his own brand of pseudo-statistics to "debunk" the purported direct impact of the many non-profits that call this home. Since The Colonial Theatre was specifically cited as an example of "taxpayer's money" that was ". . . taken from you" and ". . . later returned for cents on the dollar," I feel compelled to provide some perspective.

Analysis similar to the very professional work conducted by Professor Sheppard and C3D, in dozens of other communities around the United States over the last 15 years, have reported similar findings that businesses, regardless if they operate as for-profit or not-for-profit enterprises, have a demonstrable direct and indirect economic impact on the areas in which they operate. The only real difference between a not-for-profit and for-profit business is that the former is operated for the benefit of the communities they serve while the latter is structured to generate profits for their shareholders. Employees at each receive salaries and benefits, pay local taxes, own homes, shop in stores and are active in civic life. Large manufacturing plants may employ hundreds or thousands of people while small shops may employ a dozen. Not-for-profit enterprises, like Berkshire Medical Center and The Colonial Theatre, come in a similar wide variety of sizes.

But when a large corporation decides today that insufficient profits are being generated by one of their facilities, they usually close it quickly without regard for the very real human tragedies such a sudden and complete loss means for a community. Not-for-profit enterprises, because they exist to serve the community good, tend to be deeply rooted in the community and leave only when their service mission has been accomplished or if they generate insufficient revenue to do their work. This fundamental difference becomes more important when a community sets its strategic direction.

Planning a community's future based upon large for-profit companies, never knowing when that company may simply decide to leave because it is not generating enough profit for its world-wide shareholders, is like playing Russian Roulette.

The Chamber of Commerce commissioned this study to quantify and better understand the relative importance of the not-for-profit businesses in the Berkshires. There is no value to anyone if this is done inaccurately and, if anything, the reported direct economic impact data was very conservatively stated. It is significant that only "direct economic impact" was cited. In that portion of the study that used attendance figures from the Colonial Theatre, for instance, that means that only the direct expenditures of the theater and of people attending the theater to local vendors were included.

That amount spent throughout Berkshire County annually by the Colonial and its audiences is approximately $4 million each year. So, over the last three years of operation more than $12 million has been returned to this community on the investments made by government, businesses and individual donors to restore the theater and operate it. More significantly, 92.3 full time jobs that have been created and maintained in businesses throughout the area just because of the Colonial's operation alone. Each of those people earns a salary, pays taxes, and spends money in the local economy. Unfortunately the huge "secondary economic impact" of all of those expenditures by employees was not reported in this study.

Facts and figures don't tell the whole story. Since it opened in 2006, The Colonial Theatre has brought great performers from all over the world to expand the horizons of adults and children in the Berkshires. Equally important to the fulfillment of the theater's community mission though, dozens of community organizations have partnered with the Colonial for free events while others that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for community charities from their performances.

Just this past Saturday night Romance, Soul, and Rock & Roll produced their third production at the Colonial to raise money for The Jimmy Fund. These talented community performers, let by Ted Concepcion and Donna Vidoli, demonstrated both the joy of performance and the soul of generosity that help make a community great. The list of other community groups whose productions at the Colonial have significantly enriched the lives of people in the Berkshires is too long to enumerate here.

Neither the community goodwill, personal satisfaction, nor the dollars raised to benefit our neighbors by these outstanding organizations are calculated in the report on the community benefit of our local not-for-profits. If one takes that under-reporting of community benefit at just this one small community not-for-profit and multiplies it by the good work being done by all of the others counted in the study, perhaps even the cynicism of the author of Saturday's column may be overcome.

DAVID FLEMING
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is executive director of The Colonial Theatre.

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"Ward 4 support will pay dividends"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I see where Pittsfield Ward 4's petition for additional funding for the Berkshire Athenaeum is going to Mayor Ruberto (Eagle, Nov. 25). Is there a doubt in anyone's mind that Ruberto will approve it? After all, Ward 4 gave him the mayor's job for another two years.

If any of you other wards, especially the one that turned out only 25 percent of its registered voters, want to complain, don't. Get out and vote, as Ward 4 did (60 percent), and you might get your wish list from Santa also.

In the meantime, keep putting out those requests, Ward 4, I am sure you will get whatever you want.

VICTOR P. OSTELLINO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Ruberto proposes 2.77% residential tax hike"
The Pittsfield Gazette (Online), By Jonathan Levine, Editor & Publisher, 04.DECEMBER.2009

Mayor James Ruberto is proposing rates that would increase typical municipal property tax bills by 2.77 percent for the current fiscal year.

The city council will consider the tax rates during its annual classification hearing to take place Thursday, December 10.

Ruberto is proposing that the city adopt a tax levy (total collections) of $60,253,447 for Fiscal Year 2010, which runs through June 30. This would represent a $2,417,125 increase in total taxes from Fiscal Year 2009.

The primary purpose of Thursday's hearing is to formalize how that levy will be split among property categories. As has been recent practice in Pittsfield, Ruberto is proposing that the city shift almost as much tax burden as legally allowed to the commercial sector.

Municipalities in Massachusetts can employ a residential shift factor of up to 1.75 to switch burden from the residential to commercial classifications. A shift of 1.00 would mean there is one tax rate, with no difference among property categories.

Ruberto is proposing that the city utilize a shift factor of 1.71 (which is No. 103 of 111 possible shifts, with 111 being 1.75, the maximum shift of tax burden to the commercial sector that's currently legal).

If adopted by the council, this shift means the tax rate for residential properties would be $14.13 per $1,000 assessed value. For what the city categorizes as a typical single-family home, this would result in a tax increase of $71.48 — $2,649.64 for FY 10 compared to $2,578.16 for FY 09. The estimate is complicated slightly because the city says the typical single-family property is worth 0.5 percent less this year ($187,519).

The commercial (and personal property) tax rate would be $29.67. For the typical commercial property, the increase in taxes would be $417.80 to a total of $16,639.08.

The council is required to accept any public comment about the tax rates and shift prior to voting. Those interested in offering comment should attend Thursday's 7:30 p.m. meeting at City Hall.

Tax bills will likely be processed and mailed within two weeks of the hearing.

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"Tax hike looms in Pittsfield"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 8, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- City home and business owners can expect higher tax bills later this month, as Pittsfield relies more on property taxes to balance its budget.

The Board of Assessors proposes raising the residential tax from $13.67 per $1,000 of valuation in fiscal 2009 to $14.13 per $1,000 of valuation for the current fiscal 2010. The average annual bill for a single-family home assessed at nearly $189,000 would increase $71 from $2,578 to $2,649.

The commercial tax rate is scheduled to jump from $28.88 to $29.67. A business valued at $562,000 would see a hike in its property tax bill from $16,271 to $16,689 -- or $417.

The City Council is expected to vote on the proposed tax rates at its Thursday meeting. The state Department of Revenue is expected to approve the new rates so the tax bills can be mailed out by Dec. 31, city financial officials said
on Monday.

The council meeting was moved from its usual second Tuesday of the month to Thursday at 7:30 p.m. due to today's primary election for the U.S. Senate race.

While the tax rate increase is slightly lower than first projected when the City Council adopted a $122.7 million budget on June 30, Pittsfield is still raising $2.4 million more in property taxes in fiscal 2010 compared to fiscal 2009. The city is relying more on the real estate fees due to a nearly $6 million reduction in state aid and local revenues.

Nevertheless, City Council President Gerald M. Lee believes Pittsfield property owners fair better than those in neighboring communities.

"The average homeowner is still paying far less than those in Dalton or Lenox," said Lee, "and we offer far more services."

Lee said he is also pleased the tax shift continues to be lowered in favor of commercial property owners, thus they shoulder less of the burden in raising the $60.2 million needed in property taxes to fund the city budget.

City officials calculate the shift for fiscal 2010 at 1.71 percent down from 1.725 in fiscal 2009 and the maximum of 1.75 percent used in fiscal 2008.

"I think we should peck away at it," said Lee. "I've heard we won't attract new businesses to Pittsfield if we don't lower their tax burden."

Meanwhile a good news-bad news situation five months into the budget year that began July 1. Pittsfield has spent nearly 37 percent of its $122.7 budget as of Nov. 30, which city Finance Director Susan Carmel said is a percentage that's "on target at this time of year."

However, the bad news is Carmel had to revise the estimated local receipts downward from nearly $9.6 million to $9.1 million. She noted motor vehicle excise tax revenue and investment income continue to decline.

"Investment income is still not bouncing back," Carmel said.
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"Tax hike rises: Council votes to increase residential, lower commercial rate"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 11, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has approved increasing the homeowner's average yearly property tax bill above the one proposed by city officials.

The council on Thursday night voted 6-5 to adopt a residential tax rate of $14.20 per $1,000 valuation for the current fiscal 2010. Mayor James M. Ruberto had suggested $14.13 per $1,000 valuation. The revised rate means the average annual cost for a single-family home assessed at nearly $189,000 will increase $84 rather than the proposed $71.

Further shifting the tax burden on homeowners, resulted in the initial commercial tax rate increase being lowered from $29.67 to $29.41.

A business valued at $562,000 now see its yearly property tax bill jump $271 rather than the proposed $417.

Councilors Matthew M. Kerwood, Peter M. Marchetti, Kevin J. Sherman, Louis A. Costi, Paul J. Capitanio and Michael L. Ward supported the revised tax rate schedule. Councilors Gerald M. Lee, Lewis C. Markham Jr., Jonathan N. Lothrop, Daniel L. Bianchi and Anthony V. Maffuccio were against further increasing the residential tax rate.

City officials had calculated the tax shift for fiscal 2010 at 1.71 percent down from 1.725 in fiscal 2009. However, the council majority lowered the tax shift to 1.695 to further help the struggling business community.

"I agree with the mayor in moving the shift, but lets move it a little farther down," said Ward.

"I, as a homeowner, am willing to commit to the investment in our city," added Sherman.

Ruberto said his proposed property tax rates were designed to maintain homeowners accounting for 64 percent of the city's revenue raised through taxation, with businesses contributing 46 percent.

"The way we split the tax levy is more important than the tax shift," Ruberto said.

Overall, Pittsfield is raising $60.2 million in property taxes in fiscal 2010 to help fund the $122.7 million budget the City Council adopted on June 30. The $2.4 million more in property taxes in fiscal 2010 compared to fiscal 2009 is necessary to help offset the nearly $6 million reduction in state aid and local revenues.

Several homeowners who spoke during the tax rate hearing didn't take kindly to any property tax hike.

"If I sound like an angry individual -- you are absolutely right," Thomas Hurlbut said. "The city must cut its budget as we have at home."

"A lot of people can't pay the increase you're asking for," added Terry Kinnas.

However, Councilor Lothrop noted he and his colleagues have been cautious about spending taxpayer money.

"We haven't sat by idly and rubber stamped a budget," noted Lothrop. "We have made significant cuts."

The current $122.7 million spending plan compares to the $126.8 budget in fiscal 2009.
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"Angry about raise in city tax rate"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, December 14, 2009

If this sounds like an angry individual you are absolutely right.

Reading that the City of Pittsfield is once again raising its residential and business taxes ("Tax hike looms in Pittsfield", Dec. 8) should make every business, home owner and renter angry.

My wife and I purchased a home and moved in June 2007. Shortly after moving we received our first residential tax bill and since that time, which includes paying the last bill in October, our property taxes have increased by 42 percent. We have filed for abatements to no avail. The assessors tell us that the increase is based on what we paid for the house.

Councilman Gerald Lee indicated that he is pleased that the rate increase is falling more on the home owners than business so that new businesses may be attracted to the city. I fail to see how this will appeal to any business once they look at the history of tax increases this city has had. And if the property that they are purchasing has not been recently sold they will be in for a shock. I believe that Massachusetts is still under Proposition 21/2. But this does not apply when purchasing new or additional property in this state.

This part of Massachusetts is in a depression like the rest of the country. As a retired individual living on a fixed income I feel like I am trying to climb one of our snow-covered Berkshire hills and sliding backward. We seniors are even losing our cost of living increase for the first time ever this coming year.

THOMAS HURLBUT
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"City residents at breaking point"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, December 20, 2009

I am writing to voice my agreement with Thomas Hurlbut's letter of Dec. 14 "Angry about raise in city tax rate." I don't understand how the mayor and the City Council can raise the taxes on property owners in this economy.

Do the City Council members and the mayor make so much money they can afford to pay the extra? I used to think I was a member of the middle class in our country, I now know I'm not as comfortable as that. Companies across the region have put a cap on wages, including no cost of living increase, health care has risen, groceries have gotten so you only buy what you need to live. No one gets extra treats for dinner (like a good steak or roast), and even ground beef has gotten to be a treat.

Most of the residents of Pittsfield are retired, elderly homeowners, fixed income renters, or homeowners hanging on by a thread. The federal reserve cut the interest rate to help people with their loans and mortgages. Now Pittsfield has eaten that up and requested dessert.

Homeowners with rental income will increase all the rents to cover the increase in tax, but where do the tenants get the extra to pay? Maybe it is time for all of the residents of Pittsfield to band together and have an old- fashioned Boston Tea Party! We could throw coffee beans or macaroni into Silver Lake shouting, "I can't pay anymore!"

LINDA COLLINS
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"School officials target bullying"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 3, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- City school officials are taking steps to address an "alarming" rate of bullying incidents in Pittsfield's elementary and middle schools.

Among those steps, officials said, is the implementation of a nationally recognized program designed to reduce and prevent bullying problems among young students and peer relations at school.

In a presentation to the School Committee Wednesday night, Ann Marie Carpenter and Jennifer Stokes, both school social workers, explained that the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is currently being implemented. The program -- which originated in Norway -- has been implemented in thousands of schools across the country through Clemson University. The federal Education and Justice departments support the anti-bullying measure, according to Clemson's Web site.

In addition, a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee has been established in each of the eight elementary and two middle schools.

"It's really about changing the entire school climate," said Stokes. "The whole school must buy into the program."

"The issue of bullying is part of an overall violence prevention effort," added Carpenter.

School officials find the anti-bullying program is needed, after a November 2008 survey of Pittsfield students in grades 3 through 8, found 18 percent said they were bullied or harassed 2-3 times a month.

"This is alarming information you've given us," said School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso.

Committee member Carmen C. Massimiano Jr. was most disturbed that nearly 25 percent of students were bullied in the classroom -- while the teacher was present.

"I think we have to do more to help teachers recognize [bullying]," Massimiano said. "Children's lives can be ruined at a very young age," he added.

Stokes said teachers may not always be aware bullying and harassment, which can be as subtle as one student glaring at another, is happening.

Pittsfield's efforts will include training staff and educating parents about the destructive behavior.

"It puts the responsibility on the adults to stop bullying -- not the students," Stokes said.

School officials will survey the students again in the fall of 2010 to determine if the stepped up anti-bullying effort is working.

The School Committee also initially adopted an anti-bullying/peer harassment policy in anticipation of a state mandate that would require all districts to have one. The board will take a final vote at its Dec. 16 meeting.

The policy outlines the physical, verbal and electronic ways bullying and harassment can occur, requires school staff to report and "immediately intervene" if they witness such abuse and encourages students to report the bad behavior to a teacher or administrator.

Any student found to have bullied or harassed another student faces "disciplinary consequences up to and including suspension or expulsion," according to the proposed policy.

Inside the numbers ...

A Pittsfield Public Schools survey in November 2008 found 18 percent of its students in grades 3 through 8 said they were bullied two to three times a month.

The same survey found only 5 percent of girls and 8 percent of boys admitted to having bullied other students.

Verbal abuse accounted for most of the bullying at 19 percent, followed by exclusion and spreading rumors each at 13 percent.
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"Pittsfield Teacher Contract Talks: Both sides requesting mediation"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 15, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Public Schools' teacher contract talks have reached an impasse eight months after the negotiations began.

The Pittsfield School Committee and the 600-member United Educators of Pittsfield (UEP) -- the city's largest union -- jointly requested a state mediator following the last bargaining session held on Dec. 7.

"I thought we were so close to a contract on Dec. 7," said UEP President Scott Eldridge.

One issue is not settled, Eldrige said. No one on either side would say what is the sticking point.

Meanwhile, School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso wouldn't discuss any aspect of the negotiations. Amuso would only say both sides have "moved forward and made progress," yet mediation is necessary to reach an accord.

"I think we'll go to a third party," Amuso said. "We just need some help."

While contract talks have ended for now, Eldridge said the union is willing to keep negotiating before a mediator arrives.

"I'm optimistic we could at least have a tentative agreement before the holidays," he said.

The School Committee and teachers union have been negotiating a new contract since April that would replace the one-year pact that expired on Aug. 25. The deal approved in late January, but retroactive to August 2008, had a modest 1.5 percent salary increase and was shortened from the traditional three years to one because of the city's volatile budget situation earlier this year.

Amuso and Eldridge wouldn't comment on whether a pay hike is part of the current negotiations. However, Eldridge expects the new contract will be another one-year deal.

"The economy the way it is, nobody wants to take a chance on what's around the corner," Eldridge said.

Despite the stalemate, the contract talks have remained civil from day one.

"The talks are still amicable and respectful," said Amuso.

"The whole negotiation has been friendly -- not adversarial," said Eldridge.

The seemingly positive and progressive contract talks are in part due to Pittsfield's fiscal situation stabilizing and the School Department nearly averting layoffs for the current budget year.

City Finance Director Susan Carmel said last week that Pittsfield spending 37 percent of its $122.7 million budget by November 30 is a percentage that's "on target for this time of year."

As for the public school workforce, all but four of the 24 teachers and other employees initially given pink slips were recalled once the school budget for fiscal 2010 was in place. The layoff notices sent out in June were in case the spending plan had to be cut before the City Council approved it on June 30 along with the rest of the current budget.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"No relief on the horizon"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 21, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- City school officials are expecting deeper state funding cuts when a new Pittsfield school budget takes effect next July 1.

The current spending plan of $51.6 million reflects a $715,000 reduction in state education aid known as Chapter 70 money. If predictions by local and state officials of fiscal 2011 being worse than 2010 come true, the funding cuts could more than double.

"What we anticipate in Chapter 70 reductions could be from $1 million to $2 million," said Pittsfield School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

"But everything is speculative at this time," he added.

Pittsfield school officials were speculating on fiscal 2010 Chapter 70 funds until mid-June when the legislature and Gov. Deval L. Patrick finally released all state aid figures -- two weeks before the current budget year began on July 1.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said he's shooting for the more traditional April deadline for releasing state aid figures.

"I hope we and the governor seriously consider locking into numbers sooner this year," said Pignatelli. "But they won't be pretty."

The School Department already is preparing a preliminary budget proposal for fiscal 2011, which Eberwein is scheduled to present to the School Committee's finance subcommittee in April.

While state aid cuts in education are probable, Pittsfield is definitely losing its one-time $2.3 million federal stimulus package that was used to offset lost revenue in the current school budget. School officials are unsure how to replenish that lost revenue.

"We'll take any relief we can get -- even another one-time gift," said Eberwein.

Pittsfield hopes to share in the $250 million that Massachusetts expects to receive from the $4.3 billion federal stimulus package for public education across the country. The "Race to the Top" program is designed to help school districts improve both teacher and student performance in the classroom.

School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso added the stimulus and other revenue stop-gap measures "may not be the best way to go, but we're fortunate to have those other funding opportunities."

Nevertheless, city school officials want to avoid funding reductions.

"I would fully expect the governor and Legislature to take into account we no longer will have federal stimulus when considering Chapter 70 [allocations]," Eberwein said.

In approving the Pittsfield Public Schools' budget for fiscal 2010 in June, the City Council was concerned it would be too much to sustain in fiscal 2011.

Several councilors worried the spending plan increasing from $49.9 million to $51.6 and relying the stimulus funds will lead to deeper cuts in education in 2011.

However, Amuso said the School Committee wants to "keep as many teachers in the classrooms and keep the programs going."

City school officials said grant funding also is an uncertainty for fiscal 2011. Pittsfield is currently spending $9.3 million in education grants, which is above and beyond the $51.6 million operating budget. While the $9.3 million is slightly less than what the School Department received in fiscal 2009, the availability of those funds remains volatile.

"Grant requirements have been tightened," said Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance Sally Douglas. "We don't know what to expect anymore and a lot of the grants pay for staff."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"School project in works: The city and state officials plan to collaborate in January on how to proceed at Taconic and Pittsfield High."
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, December 26, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The city and Massachusetts School Building Authority (SBA) will, in January, officially begin collaborating on some type of high school building project for Pittsfield.

The SBA staff, Mayor James M. Ruberto, representatives of the Pittsfield School Department and other city officials will gather at City Hall Jan. 13 to starting planning the future use of Pittsfield and Taconic high schools.

"We want to gauge what everyone locally is thinking," said SBA Executive Director Katherine Craven. "We need to eventually figure out a preliminary scope of work for what will be a very extensive high school project."

Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission co-chair Tricia Farley-Bouvier said the initial meeting with the SBA will help the city understand the agency's school building process.

"They have very specific requirements and we have to meet them," said Farley-Bouvier. "We're entering a partnership with the state."

The authority's Board of Directors on Nov. 18 voted to conduct a feasibility study of Taconic High School, which is a step toward securing state funding for a high school project.

Since the SBA process forced the city's School Building Needs Commission to put forth just one high school for consideration, Taconic was chosen over Pittsfield High School.

However, Craven continues to view both secondary schools as part of any overall building project proposal.

"Pittsfield High is a great academic building worth renovating," said Craven.

And whatever the building project, it must meet future as well as current educational needs.

"We have to have facilities flexible to deal with the changing dynamic," Farley-Bouvier said.

While the two city high schools were built 39 years apart, school officials have said Pittsfield High (1930) and Taconic (1969) share many of the same needs, such as new heating and ventilation systems. In addition, they've said the current layout at each building prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can chose a career course of study.

City and school officials have made it clear to the SBA that the physical shortcomings of both high schools must be addressed together.

Nevertheless, Craven said the building process begins with Taconic which could be renovated, replaced with a new building on the Valentine Road campus or some combination of renovation and new construction.

She noted the best option will depend on cost and meeting the city's vision for high school education.

"The key part is the education program," said Craven. "What is the academic plan?"

School officials have indicated a stronger education plan would include providing opportunities for school districts in Central and South Berkshire. SBA officials seem to like that approach.

"If significant state investment is being made in [Pittsfield]," Craven asked, "Shouldn't we, as a state agency, look at the regional aspect?"

Craven said ultimately, Pittsfield must reach a public consensus on its high schools of the future.

"I see a good way to work with the public is through the school councils of elementary schools whose students will be using the [revised] high schools," said Farley-Bouvier.
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KB Toys closed in the spring after a liquidation sale and after several months of staggered layoffs that cost some 270 corporate employees their jobs. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Job losses, grief, and lots of rain"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 27, 2009

The economy was the major issue nationally in 2009. It was no different locally.

In January, Berkshire County's unemployment rate jumped to its highest level in 16 years, then hovered between 7 and 9 percent as major employers initiated significant layoffs and KB Toys officially went out of business after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 2008.

Cuts in state aid to cities and towns caused several Berkshire municipalities to slash their budgets and led two school districts to close their middle schools as cost-saving measures. The Shakespeare & Company theater group in Lenox also announced that it was in a financial hole.

Meanwhile, elections played a major role in the Berkshires in 2009. In North Adams, the state's longest-serving mayor lost his job, while Pittsfield's chief executive barely held on to his. A North Adams native took a giant step toward becoming the first woman in Massachusetts history to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Barack Obama's inauguration as president resulted in elation in most of heavily Democratic Berkshire County. The deaths of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and the wife of Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto resulted in an outpouring of memories and sorrow.

Zebra mussels were discovered in Lee in July during the county's fifth-wettest month on record.

After 10 years of stops and starts, Pittsfield's long-awaited downtown cinema complex opened a month ahead of schedule.

In separate trials conducted six months apart, the same Berkshire Superior Court judge found an elderly Great Barrington man not guilty of killing his wife by reason of insanity, and a former North Adams police officer guilty of assaulting an intoxicated man who had been taken into police custody after defecating on a welcome mat.

North Adams Regional Hospital and the union that represents most of its health-care workers narrowly avoided a strike, while Berkshire Medical Center sued the state over discrepancies in Medicaid reimbursements.

Those were the top Berkshire County stories of 2009. The list below, compiled from recommendations by Eagle reporters and editors, ranks the stories in order of importance.

1. THE RECESSION. Fueled by the layoffs at KB Toys, Berkshire County's unemployment rate jumped over half a percentage point to 8.3 percent in January, the county's highest mark since 1993. The jobless rate topped out at 8.6 percent in February, then began a gradual descent to 7.7 percent in May before rising to 8.3 percent in September and hitting 7.9 percent in November.

In March, Crane & Co. cut 70 hourly and salaried jobs in its stationery division, and implemented a 9 percent wage reduction for the remaining employees. In separate actions in June and September, Berkshire Health Systems, the county's largest employer, cut the equivalent of 130 full-time positions.

KB Toys closed in the spring after several months of staggered layoffs that cost some 270 employees their jobs.

2. LOCAL ELECTIONS. Facing his first real competition in years, North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, the state's longest-serving chief executive, was ousted after 26 years in the position when he lost by 880 votes to City Councilor Richard J. Alcombright in November.

In Pittsfield, Mayor James M. Ruberto edged Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi by 207 votes to became only the fourth chief executive since Pittsfield began electing mayors in 1891 to gain a fourth term.

In December, North Adams native and Williams College graduate Martha Coakley finished first among four candidates in the Democratic Party primary for Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat.

On a personal level, Ruberto lost his wife of 39 years, Ellen, to cancer in July.

3. OBAMA AND KENNEDY: Elation and grief. President Barack Obama's inauguration in January was a festive occasion for Berkshire County residents. The West Side Neighborhood Resource Center in Pittsfield, along with students from Williams College and MCLA, organized bus trips to the ceremony in the nation's capital, and the ceremony was broadcast live at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.

Kennedy, who had served in the U.S. Senate for 47 years, died Aug. 25 after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. His passing generated a slew of memories from Berkshires politicians and residents.

4. ZEBRA MUSSELS. They were discovered in July in Laurel Lake in Lee, the first time that the invasive species had been found in a Berkshire County body of water. In an effort to stop the zebra mussels from spreading, the state closed Laurel Lake's boat ramp, a procedure that town boards in Stockbridge and Hinsdale repeated in the following days.

In December, a report released by the Department of Conservation and Recreation found that zebra mussels had been detected in the Housatonic River as far south as Stockbridge, that they have resided in Laurel Lake for two to three years, and that 10 county water bodies were at high risk for infestation.

5. SOGGY SUMMER. After 6.6 inches of rain fell on the Berkshires in June, 11.68 inches followed in July, making it the wettest month since 1982, and the fifth-wettest month since record keeping began in 1939.

In Richmond, six roads were washed out in two days of heavy rain. In Cheshire, the heavy rain softened paving material that crews had laid down along a section of Route 8, causing the chemical to coat hundreds of cars. The state Highway Department received more than 600 complaints.

6. BEACON CINEMA. It took 10 years from conception to completion, but Pittsfield's $23 million, six-screen Beacon Cinema finally opened in late November, 12 months after construction began.

Located in the 91-year-old Kinnell-Kresge building on North Street, the Beacon is the city's first movie complex since the 10-screen Pittsfield Cinema Center on West Housatonic Street closed abruptly in March 2001.

City officials see the Beacon as a major piece of downtown development, along with the Colonial Theatre (which reopened in 2006) and Barrington Stage Company (which moved to Pittsfield in 2007).

7. SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY. The theater company announced in October that it was more than $10 million in debt and needed to raise $2.3 million by March -- and millions more in long-term funds -- to avoid dissolution or bankruptcy, according to an independent report compiled at the Lenox nonprofit's request.

The report, by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, found that the 32-year-old theater company had a $4.75 million operational deficit over the past five years, and has more than doubled its debt since 2007.

8. BUDGET CUTS. Gov. Deval Patrick's decision to cut $128 million in state aid to local communities in January in order to plug a $1.1 billion budget hole created a $1 million shortfall in Pittsfield's fiscal 2009 spending plan.

Officials plugged the hole with a combination of budget cuts and transfers from the reserve fund account. The state cuts also created a budget shortfall in North Adams, where the City Council approved a $200,000 cut in April.

Adams Middle School and Conte Middle School in North Adams were closed in June as cost-saving measures by their respective school districts.

9. COURT PROCEEDINGS. Great Barrington resident Henry Dozier Sr., who in 2007 had been charged with killing his wife, the Rev. Esther Dozier, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in May during a jury-waived trial in Berkshire Superior Court.

Judge John A. Agostini made the legal determination based on the medical consensus of several psychiatric experts. Dozier was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital, a secure psychiatric facility, for evaluation. A hearing on whether Dozier will continue to be evaluated at Bridgewater will take place in Superior Court early in 2010.

In another jury-waived trial in December, Agostini found former North Adams Police Officer Joshua Mantello guilty of assaulting North Adams resident Matthew Trombley in 2008. Mantello received a six-month jail sentence followed by two years of probation.

10. HEALTH CARE. After more than six months of tension, Northern Berkshire Healthcare and the union that represents most health-care workers at North Adams Regional Hospital narrowly avoided a strike in December by agreeing to a two-year contract.

Meanwhile, Berkshire Medical Center joined five other Massachusetts hospitals in filing a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court that alleges the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services violated state statutes regarding Medicaid reimbursements.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224
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Pittsfield School Committee
"Changes coming"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 28, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Committee welcomes two new members next month who vow to follow in their predecessors footsteps of improving the city school system.

Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga and Katherine L. Yon will join Katherine A. Amuso, Daniel C. Elias, Churchill Cotton and Erin Sullivan when all six are sworn into office prior to the board's Jan. 13 meeting. They were elected to two-year terms during the general citywide election on Nov. 3. Pittsfield's mayor -- the newly re-elected Mayor James M. Ruberto -- is the seventh voting member of the School Committee.

Barbalunga and Yon are succeeding Angela Ramirez Jr. and Carmen C. Massimiano Jr., who leave with a combined nearly 40 years of committee experience. Ramirez didn't seek re-election while Massimiano was the only incumbent to lose last month.

The two freshmen have been relying on the current and former senior committee members in getting caught up on policy, procedures and issues prior to their first meeting.

"Carmen has been a great help to me in the transition," said Barbalunga. "Obviously, he has a wealth of educational knowledge."

Barbalunga, an 11-year member on the city's Community Development Board, vows to review every school matter before him thoroughly and be a passionate advocate for public education.

Yon, a retired city school teacher, has spent the past two months visiting all 12 city school buildings, "to get an idea of their culture and programs."

"I like to get into the schools and see what's happening," she added.

While Yon and Barbalunga are as passionate about education as Ramirez and Massimiano, they can't replace the experience being lost. The two men were veterans of the School Committee's negotiation subcommittee, which is currently bargaining with teacher's union. Despite contract talks stalling earlier this month, Amuso -- the lone remaining subcommittee member -- isn't too concerned about filling the vacancies.

"I think the talks are far enough along that whatever the subcommittee makeup, it'll be strong," said Amuso.

If Amuso is re-elected School Committee chairwoman by her peers, she would likely tap Elias for one of the negotiator spots, since he previously served on the subcommittee for six years. Elias said, if asked, he would serve on the negotiating team.

Besides a new teacher's contract and the ongoing budget crisis, the Pittsfield School Committee has several long-range goals to improve the quality and image of local public education.

"We have to do a better job showcasing ourselves," said Elias. "We must appeal to the [taxpayers] and remind them what they are supporting."

Furthermore, the committee wants school officials to "actively go after school choice students" and find out why they are leaving Pittsfield for neighboring school districts.

"We may have 6,000 kids in our schools, but each parent is focused on their child," noted Cotton.

He added it's important committee members are "being advocates for parents and responding to their calls, they make sense."
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"New councilors sworn in today"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 4, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The five new city councilors officially take their seats at City Hall today, following two months of preparing for their new roles.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White, Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr., Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols and Councilor at-large Melissa Mazzeo, along with the six returning councilors, will be sworn into office during a ceremony, 10 a.m. in the council chambers. City Clerk Linda M. Tyer and Mayor James M. Ruberto will also raise their right hand and solemnly swear to uphold the duties of their elected offices.

The 11-member council, Tyer and Ruberto all won two-year terms in Pittsfield's Nov. 3 general election.

The freshmen councilors, since their victories, have been brushing up on City Council procedures and protocol, meeting with city department heads and getting a head start with constituent concerns and complaints.

"I'm coming in with a list of problems [Ward 7 residents] can't wait for me to address," said Nichols.

Yon has already resolved "issues concerning a water pipe cover" and two street lights. In addition, she's getting up to speed with the Morningside Initiative and the proposed housing development at Ponterril, the former YMCA camp.

"I do feel I have a good handle on the issues of Ward 1," said Yon.

Meanwhile, Mazzeo finds herself dealing with broader concerns.

"Being a councilor at-large, I'm getting calls from citywide groups concerned about certain issues," said Mazzeo.

The first-time councilors homework also included advice from the veteran ones and in White's case, even the man he's replacing in Ward 2, Louis A. Costi.

Costi "made himself available and told me to call if I need him," said White, who will also be a phone call away for his constituents.

"I want people to know I'm their advocate at City Hall," he added.

Besides verbal communication, Krol will rely on e-mail and an online newsletter -- available at krolward6.com -- to keep residents abreast of Ward 6 and citywide issues.

"It's a different way of communicating and more efficient for some people," noted Krol. "And [the Internet] encourages people to become more involved.

He cited how Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward has been successful using electronic communication.

The incoming councilors also plan to be proactive, as well as reactive, to the city's needs.

White wants to improve Pittsfield residential recycling rate, while Nichols' campaign platform included boosting economic growth.

"I look forward to giving ideas to help grow the city's tax base," said Nichols, "rather than raising [property] taxes."

However, the City Council this spring will be preoccupied with crafting a spending plan for fiscal 2011, which starts July 1. City officials expect reaching a balanced budget will be difficult in the current economic times, but Mazzeo is confident Pittsfield will remain financially sound.

"We're in a little bit better shape than people expected," Mazzeo said.
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"Councilor fails city's residents"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 4, 2009

When Paul Capitanio ran for Ward 3 city councilor, I asked one of his biggest backers how Paul would vote. Would he vote for the senior citizens who can't afford any more increases in taxes or would he vote for special interests? I was assured that Paul would vote in favor of senior citizens and not special interests. Well, not only did Paul vote against the people who are living on a fixed income and have all they can do to pay for their medications, but Paul had the nerve to vote last month to lower his own taxes as a businessman.

I guess Paul is supposed to be a nice guy. After all, he runs a golf tournament, supports children and is supposed to support senior citizens and people who work for a living. But I guess that I won't be able to spend the money I was going to for a pizza at his bar because I have to pay more taxes to the city of Pittsfield.

I would like to remind Paul that this is nothing but a retirement community. Instead of raising our taxes to take care of the rich, it should be the other way around.

ANTHONY LITANO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Outgoing councilors plan to stay involved in city"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 4, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Matthew M. Kerwood suddenly finds Tuesday nights free, now that City Council meetings are no longer on his calendar.

While Kerwood lost his councilor at-large seat two months ago, he gained quality time at home.

"My family is extremely pleased I'll be home more at nights and I Iook forward to making up lost time with my wife and kids," Kerwood said.

"But I'm not going away," he added. "I plan to be involved with the city in some capacity."

Kerwood, along with Louis A. Costi, Lewis C. Markham Jr., and Anthony V. Maffuccio, are adjusting to life after the City Council, following their failed re-election campaigns last fall. Daniel L. Bianchi, gave up his seat in Ward 6 to challenger Mayor James M. Ruberto in the Nov. 3 general election, only to lose by 207 votes following a recount. The successors for the five former councilors officially take office today, following a swearing-in ceremony at City Hall.

Kerwood and Bianchi are the most experienced councilors leaving -- each with 10 years service.

"I'll miss debating the merit of items before the council and the interaction with my colleagues," said Kerwood. "I'm not necessarily going away, as I made friends on the City Council."

Bianchi said he'll miss advocating for Ward 6 residents.

"I enjoyed giving people a voice in government," said Bianchi. "I showed they can be involved and make a difference in their city."

He added, "People must be more cognizant of what government is doing."

Markham wants to remain active citywide and in Ward 1 which he represented for six years.

"I'll ask the mayor if he has openings on city commissions as I'm willing to serve," said Markham. "The past six years I've shown to be someone who represents the people, who cares and who can get things done."

While no longer Ward 2 councilor, Costi plans to devote more time to being a member of Downtown Inc. and the Pittsfield Community Development Board.

"I want to work really close in developing more parking throughout the whole city -- especailly downtown," he said.

Maffuccio was unavailable for comment on his plans after four years as the Ward 7 councilor.

The departing councilors are wishing the new City Council well in helping Pittsfield move forward in the face of the on going financial crunch in Massachusetts.

Kerwood is confident the new councilors can handle the "daunting task" of keeping the city fiscally sound. Costi said such financial stability will require spending cuts.

"I'll miss fighting for budget reductions," Costi said. "I never won that battle."
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"Real estate property bill due by February 1, 2010"
iBerkshires.com - Monday, January 04, 2010

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts – City Tax Collector Marilyn W. Sheehan announced that the third and fourth quarter real estate and personal property bill have been mailed.

The bill has two coupons enclosed, with the third quarter due Monday, February 1, and the fourth quarter due Monday, May 3. Home owners are advised to always keep the receipt portion when sending payment coupons to their mortgage company.

Payments received after February 1 are subject to fourteen (14) percent interest back to the due date. The collector suggests mailing payments at least five days prior to the due date.

The new tax rates are $14.20 for residential and $29.41 for commercial.

Mailed payments must be address to:

City of Pittsfield
P.O. Box 981063
Boston, MA 02298-1063

Payments may also be made at the Tax Collector’s Office, Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4 pm.

The Assessors remind residents that abatement applications for Real Estate and Personal Property are due February 1.

Exceptions for the elderly, blind, widows, and veterans are being processed by the Assessors Office now. Those wishing to pay before the exemption certificates are mailed should stop by the Assessors Office, Room 108 in City Hall; this cannot be done by telephone. Deadline for filing exemption applications is March 30.

Homeowners and business owners are now able to pay online at www.pittsfield.com

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(Ben Garver)
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"Mayor Ruberto renews neighborhood focus"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/4/2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto vows to "double the effort" to be more responsive to city residents needs as he embarks on his fourth term.

Ruberto outlined plans during his inaugural address this morning to the City Council and a standing-room-only crowd in the council Chambers. Ruberto, the 11 councilors and City Clerk Linda M. Tyer were all sworn into office having been victorious in Pittsfield's Nov. 3 general election.

While the economic and cultural rebirth of North Street has been the Ruberto administration's symbol of success for the first six years, the mayor said the next two years will focus on every city neighborhood.

"We are doubling our effort to deliver city services efficiently," Ruberto said. "People don't want to hear excuses the roads aren't plowed or the trash isn't picked up on time."

Ruberto was often criticized in the mayoral race -- which he won by just 207 votes over Daniel L. Bianchi -- for being too focused on downtown's redevelopment. Bianchi, who campaigned on a neighborhoods-first platform, won nine of the city's 14 precincts -- most of the city's neighborhoods -- in the election.

Several city councilors were pleased Ruberto wants to change that perception.

"One theme buried in the campaign was our neighborhoods," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti, the new council vice-president.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop added he's glad Ruberto "got the message" from voters.

Nevertheless, Lothrop praised the city for saving the historic buildings that house the Colonial Theatre and Beacon Cinema, as well as helping revitalize aging downtown housing units.

"Pittsfield made the turn when it stopped tearing down old buildings just because they're old," noted Lothrop.
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"Ruberto's full inaugural address"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, January 4, 2009

Mayor James M. Ruberto's fourth inaugural address on Monday:

January 4, 2010

To the people of Pittsfield:

To Distinguished Guests:

Thank you for coming today, a day I dedicate to Ellen: my life-long love, my soul mate, my bride.

I stand before you today, humbled and thankful to have this opportunity afforded to so few - a chance to help shape the future of this city, during a fourth term in office as your Mayor.

I am especially grateful to welcome back Gerry Lee, who has been a true leader - and my partner - over these last three terms and I applaud his return to the council.

I also welcome the other returning councilors and the new councilors who are being sworn in today. Believe me, we will need every ounce of the energy and creativity that each of you put into your thoughtful campaigns to meet the challenges of the next two years.

And I want to thank Lew Markham, Lou Costi, Dan Bianchi, Tony Maffuccio, and Matt Kerwood, for their years of service on the Council. Anyone who gives of their time to public service deserves our gratitude, and especially these councilors, who have shared and supported six years of a progressive agenda that has renewed the spirit of the people of Pittsfield.

Over this holiday season, I've had time to reflect on how we in Pittsfield and other communities across the Commonwealth and indeed across the nation have been approaching this difficult economy.

Some, I observed, have chosen to hunker down.

Others have cut deeply into services like education and public safety, diminishing their quality of life for at least a generation.

You know, it is during times of crisis like we have faced in the past few years that we see the real character of a city and of a people. And I am so proud of the way that Pittsfield has responded.

Yes, we have taken some economic hits. We have lost a lot of state and federal support, and we will continue to face more cuts.

But we have never, ever, not even for a moment, lost our will or lost our way.

As a community we have maintained a strong and steady focus on the things that matter most. Here in Pittsfield, we have seen that, by working together, six years of good government can build a rock solid foundation for a better quality of life.

We have strengthened our approach to public safety under the outstanding leadership of Chief Michael Wynn, and the steady guidance, of soon to retire, Chief James Sullivan. Sully, I applaud your leadership, and thank you for your many contributions.

We have strengthened our schools, with more educators on the job and improved student performance across the city.

We have brought better housing standards to our neighborhoods through code enforcement and new affordable rentals.

And we have breathed new life into our downtown.

These are big successes, and we need to take the time to celebrate them, and recognize how much more fortunate we are than other communities which see their downtowns going dark, their schools in decline, their police and firefighting forces reduced.

Yet even as we celebrate the hard work of the last six years, we need to remember three things, which are at the heart of this day's address:

1. First, even with the gains we have made, we must be mindful that some people in our community have not yet been able to share in the Pittsfield renaissance.

I am particularly concerned that some of our senior citizens, the people who built this community, are feeling increasingly burdened, by the rising cost of health care and housing, while living on fixed incomes. We must find creative ways to address their unique needs, and ensure them a life of independence and dignity.

I am also concerned that too many of our people are unemployed or underemployed. Like every community in America, Pittsfield will struggle with job growth for years to come.

But even as we temper our expectations for the economy, we can and we will commit to a bolder and more professional campaign to attract jobs to Pittsfield. That includes marketing the William Stanley Business Park and all of the other commercial properties in the City.

Today I renew my call to all active and retired community leaders and volunteers. We need your help, we want your help, and we welcome you as partners in making Pittsfield the most attractive place for businesses to locate and to grow.

2. Second, as we move forward into 2010, we must be ever mindful that all of our progress is still threatened by this terrible recession. We are threatened today every bit as much as we have been for the last two years, and probably more.

Up until now, we have received over $2 million economic stimulus dollars to subsidize the cost of operating our schools. Today, we have to assume that those stimulus dollars will be lost this year.

In addition, our state faces a billion dollar plus budget shortfall, and we expect that state aid will be cut again this year. The financial path forward from here is extremely difficult.

Nonetheless, it is not time for despair, but it is absolutely time for some hard choices.

How do we maintain the number of teachers we have today? How do we keep our police officers on the beat? How do we afford to keep all of our fire stations open?

The easiest answer, always, is simply to start cutting. Lose forty or fifty teaching positions. Lay off a dozen cops. Close a fire station or two.

Those are the kinds of cuts that are happening in other communities, and all of us in City Hall - the Mayor, the entire City Council - will face pressure to make cuts on that scale.

But I submit to you, my partners on the Council, the people of Pittsfield did not put us in office to take shortcuts. They elected us because they felt we understood the priorities of this community, and they have asked us to defend those priorities, even in the face of this economy.

Every one of us in this city government knew when we ran for office that we would govern during one of the most difficult times in Pittsfield's history. And so, here we are, supported by the trust of the people who placed us in this room and on this journey together. We are entrusted with the critical task of creating budgets and finding revenue solutions that build on the foundations of the past, rather than tearing those foundations down.

I pledge to you, my partners on the City Council, that we will address these dire financial concerns the same way we have throughout my administration: in a spirit of partnership, and with the mutual respect that our constituents have come to expect and to appreciate.

In this economy, maintaining our investments in education, public safety and neighborhoods, will be difficult, to say the least, and I want all of you on the council, on the school committee and all across the City to know this: I want your help and your input.

When I first took office, I made sure to spend time and get input in each and every neighborhood in Pittsfield. The challenges of family made this difficult in the past few years, but today I pledge that you will see increased outreach from this mayor and from city hall into EVERY community and corner of Pittsfield.

I am also redoubling our efforts to make sure that services are delivered efficiently and fairly on every street all across the forty plus square miles of this City. We know that budgets are tight, but we also know that people don't want to hear excuses when it comes to roads being plowed on time, trash being picked up properly, and road maintenance being performed throughout Pittsfield. We can do better, and we will.

3. The third thing we need to remember, as we move forward together, is that we are engaged in a long and difficult transition, from an industrial economy to a knowledge based economy. In this new economy, in this new world we are moving into, we will all experience many things that make us uncomfortable.

In tough times, and times of transition, there are economic, political, and social forces which seek to divide us. It is natural, when we feel our own livelihood threatened to pull back from people who are newly arrived in our City or our Country and appear to pose a threat or a burden.

It is natural, when we feel insecure, to seal ourselves off from people who look or act differently from us. In times like this, it is more important than ever, to renew our commitment to the values of compassion and of tolerance.

Welcoming new citizens to our community is not just the right thing to do - it is the key to our economic survival. We know that job gains will come primarily from small businesses, for they are the backbone of the Berkshire economy. And, we also know, the ideas, from which new economy jobs are created, come from a diverse, not homogenous, population.

You know, when I grew up here, as many of you did, the products of Pittsfield were easy to see. They were welded together, shipped out on trains or heavy trucks. Today the value produced by our workers lies more in the creativity of their minds than in the strength of their backs. The competitive edge of a company like Pine Cone Hill or Blue Q or Berkshire Living is their ability to see the world differently, to package their perspectives, their insights, in unique and interesting ways for others to enjoy all across the country.

The values of compassion and tolerance are not new to Pittsfield. They are the same values that my grandparents benefited from as new arrivals from Italy, and Ellen's from Ireland. And we will continue to honor, as we should, the people who built this community. No one - not one resident should ever fear they will be disenfranchised as we welcome those who will help us reshape Pittsfield in this new era of knowledge based economy.

And so my friends, even though it may be uncomfortable to some, I ask you to join me in doing something that is both right and in our City's best interests. I ask you to join me welcoming anyone and everyone, who is looking to improve their lot in life, and willing to work hard, to make their home here in Pittsfield Massachusetts - be they black or white, yellow or red or brown, gay or straight, immigrants or lifelong residents.

Make no mistake, this is a difficult task. Many communities have backed away. But not us; not now.

At no point in our history have we moved ahead by following the example of weaker, less imaginative communities. We have moved ahead by choosing our own way, forging our own identity. And by having every able person pull their own weight, plus a little bit more.

I know the spirit of service is alive and well in Pittsfield. If you have been waiting for an invitation to get on board, wait no longer. Don't wait to be asked, because I'm asking you now. Volunteer your time. Reach out to a young person who is struggling in school. Offer your talents as a coach. Lend a hand to the senior citizen next door, and let her know she is part of a community and a neighborhood that cares. If you have an entrepreneurial idea, let's get to work on it, right now.

Every person in this city can and must be a part of the change we all want to see. So let's get on with it.

I thank you so very much, and God bless you all.
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"The mayor's address"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Even a casual reading of the mayoral election results of last November revealed which sections of Pittsfield were most unhappy. Many of the city's neighborhoods went strongly for Dan Bianchi in the closely contested race, and in his inaugural address Monday, Mayor James M. Ruberto made a welcome promise to focus on them during the next two years.

Mr. Ruberto was wise to focus on reviving downtown, and his success in that regard is the main reason that he was elected to his fourth two-year term. That focus, however, left him vulnerable to Mr. Bianchi's neighborhood-based campaign, and the challenger ending up winning nine of the city's 14 precincts, with a heavy turnout in Ruberto-friendly Ward 4 managing to tip the scales to the incumbent. Neighborhood issues are less tangible than downtown's, and there won't be renovated theaters to point to as evidence of success, but those nitty-gritty concerns are of heightened importance during tough economic times when residents want to at least maintain services and protect the integrity of their streets.

The mayor's optimism is one of his strengths, and it is particularly important in a city whose instinct is to retrench and sell itself short. His refusal to make dramatic cuts in services or in his words "hunker down" during rough times is largely why Pittsfield has continued to push forward on downtown development while preserving its schools and police and fire departments.

In rejecting the tempting shortcuts in pursuit of the larger picture, he has put the city in a better position than many to address challenges in the year ahead that will be some of the most formidable the city has ever faced.

There are, of course, limits to what government can do, and his call for members of the community to become more involved in the city must be answered. The mayor's request that residents welcome everyone "be they black or white, yellow or red or brown, gay or straight, immigrants or lifelong residents" is an acknowledgment that the city must choose to make its growing diversity a strength, and not allow it to divide the city as has been the case with so many other municipalities.

With five new members elected to the 11-member City Council, Mr. Ruberto will work with a promising combination of old hands and newcomers. The re-election of Gerald Lee as council president assures the mayor that he will continue to have a progressive partner with whom to work.

In his inaugural address on New Year's Day, new North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright put forth an agenda similar to Mr. Ruberto's, promising to find ways to attract business and market the city while addressing infrastructure problems common to aging New England cities. The Berkshires' two mayors have plenty on their plates and tough decisions on the horizon, but both -- one a veteran, the other a newcomer -- appear up for the challenge.
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Mayor James M. Ruberto takes the Oath of Office on Monday morning from Judge Daniel Ford at City Hall. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Mayor wants to avoid deeper cuts"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 5, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto vowed to "double the effort" to be more responsive to neighborhoods while avoiding deep budget cuts to essential city services.

Ruberto outlined plans for a fourth, two-year term during his inaugural address Monday to the City Council and a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall. Ruberto, the 11 councilors and City Clerk Linda M. Tyer were all sworn into office having been victorious in Pittsfield's Nov. 3 general election.

While the economic and cultural rebirth of North Street has been the Ruberto administration's symbol of success for the first six years, the mayor said the next two years will "pay closer attention to individual neighborhoods."

"We are doubling our effort to deliver city services efficiently," Ruberto said. "People don't want to hear excuses [that] the roads aren't plowed or the trash isn't picked up on time."

Ruberto was often criticized in the mayoral race -- which he won by just 207 votes over Daniel L. Bianchi -- for being too focused on downtown's redevelopment. Bianchi, who campaigned on a neighborhoods-first platform, won nine of the city's 14 precincts in the election.

Several city councilors were pleased Ruberto wants to change that perception.

"One theme buried in the campaign was our neighborhoods," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti, the new council vice-president.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop said he's glad Ruberto "got the message" from voters.

Nevertheless, Lothrop praised the city for saving the historic buildings like those that house the Colonial Theatre and Beacon Cinema, as well as helping revitalize aging downtown housing units.

"Pittsfield made the turn when it stopped tearing down old buildings just because they're old," noted Lothrop.

In light of an economy that continues to struggle, Ruberto also said he doesn't want to gut the city's budget at the expense of education and public safety.

While the current fiscal 2010 spending plan of $122.7 million is down from the $126.8 million in fiscal 2009, Ruberto noted the $4.1 million in reductions were arrived at without massive layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters.

"The people of Pittsfield didn't put us in office to take shortcuts or take the easy way out," Ruberto said.

In addition to spending cuts, city officials have instituted several short- and long-term savings plans. Pittsfield lowered its employee health insurance costs by $2.6 million for fiscal 2010 after joining the state sponsored Group Insurance Commission (GIC).

The city last year also completed a two-year project of installing more energy-efficient, high-pressure sodium lamps in all 2,832 street lights. Taxpayers spent $1.2 million to buy the lights from Western Massachusetts Electric Company and upgrade the light fixtures. However, city officials expect the expenditure will save Pittsfield $5 million over the next 20 years.

"We've been pretty judicious in the management of our spending," said Lothrop.

Nevertheless, Ruberto recognizes certain segments of the city's population are struggling financially and need attention.

"I am particularly concerned that some of our senior citizens -- the people who built this community -- are increasingly burdened by the rising cost of health care and housing, while living on fixed incomes," he said. "We must find creative ways to address their unique needs and ensure them a life of independence and dignity."

Ruberto also vowed to better market the William Stanley Business Park, which his detractors -- and even he admitted in the campaign -- should have some tenants by now. Pittsfield has yet to attract a single company since the city gained control of the former General Electric property more than four years ago.

Ruberto also vowed to help existing businesses as well as lure new ones to the city.

"Job gains will come from small businesses as they are the backbone of Berkshire County's economy," he added.

Ruberto was making his first inaugural speech without his wife Ellen, who passed away in July. Despite her failing health, Ellen Ruberto encouraged her husband to take out election papers May 1 -- three months before she succumbed to a rare form of cancer.

"Today [is] a day I'm dedicating to Ellen: Love of my life, my soulmate, my partner."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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City Council members Gerald Lee, Jonathan Lothrop and Joseph Nichols listen to Mayor James M. Ruberto’s speech. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Gerald Lee returns as City Council president"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 5, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The 11-member City Council begins 2010 with the largest turnover in six years, but its leader remains the same.

Five newcomers and six veteran councilors were sworn into office on Monday during a ceremony at City Hall, along with Mayor James M. Ruberto and City Clerk Linda M. Tyer. All 13 were elected to two-year terms during Pittsfield’s Nov. 3 general election.

The council seated in January 2004 had seven new councilors after voters the previous November wanted a change at City Hall. The one thing the two councils share is both unanimously chose Councilor at large Gerald M. Lee as the council president during their traditional reorganization meeting following the citywide election.

After Lee retained his leadership role on Monday, he immediately appointed Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti as the council vice president. Marchetti replaces Matthew M. Kerwood who lost his re-election bid for an at large seat.

Lee was first elected to the City Council in 1999 but his council presidency began as James M. Ruberto became mayor by defeating incumbent Sarah Hathaway in 2003. On Monday, Ruberto was sworn into office for a fourth consecutive two-year term, following a narrow victory over former Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, two months ago.

Lee and Ruberto have spent the past six years creating a cooperative partnership between the City Council and mayors office that hadn’t existed for many years.

Will it continue?

"I don’t see why not," Lee said to The Eagle after the hour-long ceremony. "That could change three weeks from now" if there comes a controversial issue.

The outgoing City Council at its final meeting Dec. 8 had a rare 6-5 vote against a Ruberto recommendation when the council opted for a different commercial and residential tax rate from the one Ruberto proposed.

Nevertheless, Ruberto, in his inaugural speech, called on the new council for cooperation in dealing with the current budget crunch and other difficult issues.

"Believe me -- believe me -- I will need your thoughtfulness for the years ahead of us," he said.

Lee believes Pittsfield is in better fiscal shape than most communities thanks to spending cuts and cost saving measures the council and Ruberto have agreed to in the past 18 months. However, he’s unsure if the financial stability will carry over into the new year.

Ruberto has vowed the next two years to avoid deep budget cuts that have devastated other Massachusetts cities. He said in his speech that laying off teachers, police officers and firefighters is "the easy way out" to maintain a balanced city budget. While such cuts could keep property taxes in check, such reductions could hurt in the long run.

"If we want good city services, we’re going to have to pay for them," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

Monday’s inauguration ceremony began with Pittsfield Brownie Troop 40171 leading the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a performance from the Taconic High School Honors Ensemble. The chorus of 11 young men and woman sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and the rock group Queen’s "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." The chorus left the council chambers to thunderous applause and an appreciative mayor.

"What does [their performance] say about the result of our investment in public education?" said Ruberto.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Mayor plans speech today: James M. Ruberto is going to ‘address the city of Pittsfield' at 11 a.m., but the topic remains a mystery."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto has another citywide speech planned for today, but what topic -- or topics -- he'll speak to remained a mystery Tuesday evening.

The Ruberto administration issued an advisory Tuesday afternoon stating the mayor was to "address the city of Pittsfield" from City Hall at 11 a.m.

However, Ruberto gave no indication in the press release as to the subject matter or why he wants speak to city residents. The address comes two days after the mayor was sworn into his fourth term Monday, during which he gave his inaugural address.

Ruberto didn't return phone calls from The Eagle inquiring about the nature of today's speech.

Several key city officials contacted by The Eagle on Tuesday either had no knowledge of what Ruberto will say or refused to speculate.

"There's a couple of things he could talk about," said City Council President Gerald M. Lee. "I'm just not sure which one. I could guess, but I don't want to be wrong."

While Ruberto outlined the agenda for his fourth term in Monday's inaugural address, he didn't announce specifics.

Ruberto said he pay closer attention to neighborhood needs and avoid deep budget cuts during his next two years in office. He also pledged to attract more jobs to Pittsfield and help the elderly on fixed incomes deal with the rising cost of living.

Pittsfield Community Television plans to air the mayor's remarks live on Channel 18. News will also be available shortly after the mayor's remarks at berkshireeagle.com.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Ruberto brings Barrett on board in Pittsfield"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Forty-eight hours into his fourth term as Pittsfield's mayor, James M. Ruberto has brought former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III on board in a short-term consulting capacity to focus on rebuilding neighborhoods and public services.

In his role, Barrett will focus on improving Pittsfield's neighborhoods, its parks and playgrounds, sidewalks and streets, and other nuts-and-bolts public services. In his inaugural address on Monday, Ruberto renewed a commitment to the city's neighborhoods, which he was criticized as neglecting during the mayoral campaign in November, but he offered no specifics then.

Today, Ruberto, in an address to Pittsfield at City Hall, said he hopes Barrett will formulate recommendations to address that issue.

Bringing Barrett into the fold "is perhaps the most unique opportunity that I'm ever going to have as mayor of the City of Pittsfield," Ruberto said.

Barrett, the City of North Adams' longest-serving mayor until he lost in the November election, built a reputation in that city as a tough, bricks-and-mortar mayor who also brought Mass MoCA to North Adams.

Barrett "will look into our neighborhoods, our public works and public utilities and our grounds and parks maintenance," Ruberto said.

Barrett will perform an audit of all those elements of public service, and make recommendations on improving them, Ruberto said. Barrett will start work today, but it was not clear how long he would remain on board.

Asked twice, Ruberto declined to say how much Barrett will earn in his capacity as a consultant. Barrett said he agreed last week to take the job.

However, both men made it clear Ruberto will continue to set city policy and that Barrett will be working with department heads not as their boss.

"There are so many exciting project in Pittsfield that it's well-posed to move ahead despite the weak economy," Barrett said.

Also, Ruberto officially named Robert Czerwinski the city's new acting fire chief replacing James Sullivan who's retiring later this month. Czerwinski officially becomes acting chief Jan. 17.

Czerwinski started his firefighting career in 1973 as a volunteer firefighter with the New Hackensack Fire Company in New Jersey. He joined the Pittsfield Fire Department in 1987 as a firefighter/EMT and worked his way up the ranks, becoming a deputy fire chief in 2003.

Ruberto appointed Sullivan to the job in 2006.
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"Pittsfield mayor James M. Ruberto addresses the city" (video)
By Ben Garver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2010
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"Former mayor tapped for city: Longtime North Adams boss to help Pittsfield neighborhoods"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/7/2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto is hiring former North Adams mayor John Barrett III to assist Ruberto with a pledge he made three days ago -- improve city neighborhoods.

During a Wednesday morning announcement at City Hall, Ruberto said Barrett will receive a yet-to-be determined consultant's fee to recommend how the city can better serve its residents. Barrett, who lost a re-election bid for a 14th term in November, will be on board in Pittsfield for three to four months, Ruberto said.

"He's going to help us look into our neighborhoods regarding public works, utilities and maintenance," Ruberto said.

Keeping neighborhoods well maintained was a staple of Barrett's 26-year administration in North Adams. He often rode with city workers assessing street conditions and other infrastructure needs. Barrett plans to do the same in Pittsfield with the cooperation of Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood and Director of Maintenance Ernest F. Fortini.

In fact, all three began their cooperative effort with an impromptu conversation in the back of council chambers following the announcement.

"I'm a neighborhood kind of guy," Barrett said at the press conference. "You can't move a community forward without good services."

Ruberto vowed on Monday during his inaugural speech to "double the effort" of the city's efficient delivery of services to individual neighborhoods. Ruberto was criticized in the mayoral campaign for focusing too much on the downtown revitalization his last two years in office.

"I hadn't been accessible to neighborhoods as I should have due to family matters," Ruberto said on Wednesday. He's referring to the illnesses of his wife Ellen and mother Edith, both of whom passed away last year.

Ruberto said Barrett will be paid a "reasonable fee" and the money would come from the city's contingency fund -- if approved by the City Council. However, Ruberto later told The Eagle he doesn't expect to have a negotiated fee with Barrett ready for council approval by next Tuesday's meeting.

Barrett said his decision to work for the short term in Pittsfield is not about making money, but helping Ruberto and the city.

"I hate consultants," Barrett said. "Every [consultant] who walked through my door when I was mayor made more money than I did."

"And that's not going to happen here," quipped Ruberto, who earns $81,930 yearly.

While Barrett searches for improvements to Pittsfield's public works and maintenance services, Ruberto made clear that Colling-wood and Fortini are still in charge of their respective departments.

"[Barrett] will be partners with Ernie Fortini and Bruce Colling-wood," Ruberto said.

The former North Adams mayor wouldn't have it any other way.

"I don't want their jobs nor could I do their jobs," said Barrett.

He also vowed "not to embarrass" the City Council and other Pittsfield officials while they continue to do their jobs.

As for Collingwood and Fortini, the two veteran city department heads told an Eagle reporter after the press conference they welcome Barrett's input.

"He'll give another perspective to help us improve the city," said Fortini.

"I'm fine with [Barrett's hiring]," added Collingwood. "I look forward to the short-term and long-term recommendations from someone with his municipal experience."

Ruberto hiring Barrett also creates an intriguing political dynamic in Pittsfield City Hall, as Barrett has 20 more years mayoral experience than Ruberto.

While Ruberto said Barrett will have an "incredible amount of freedom" as a consultant, Barrett promised not to usurp his new boss' authority.

"I'm not setting policy for the mayor -- just bringing him recommendations," Barrett said. "There are so many exciting projects in Pittsfield now that the city is poised to move forward."

Since Ruberto became mayor six years ago, he and Barrett have developed a good professional relationship -- as well as a personal one.

"I'm doing this for the fondness I have for the mayor and the city of Pittsfield," Barrett added. "Besides, where else can you get a former mayor willing to work for a sitting mayor?"
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Barrett pitches in"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, January 7, 2010

Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto backed his promise to focus anew on the city's neighborhoods with action Wednesday by bringing in former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III to serve as a consultant on neighborhood issues for the next few months, pending what we hope will be City Council approval. The idea is so good we propose a modest extension of Mr. Barrett's mandate as he explores the city.

Mr. Barrett, who lost his re-election bid to Dick Alcombright, worried about potholes and blocked culverts as if he were a ward councilor during his 26-year administration. North Adams is better for it, and he will be able to help the city address road, sidewalk and snow plowing issues, as well as other infrastructure concerns, that matter to neighborhood residents. People who are happy with their neighborhood will feel about their city as a whole.

Drugs and crime are also neighborhood issues, and Mr. Barrett has considerable experience taking on the slumlords and absentee landlords who provide places where crime can take root and fester. That is a problem in Pittsfield as surely as it is in North Adams, and we have no doubt that as Mr. Barrett travels the city he can come up with ideas to address this stubborn problem to share with Mayor Ruberto and the police department.

Mr. Barrett joked at Wednesday's press conference about the oddity of a former mayor working with a sitting mayor, and it is just as unusual for a sitting mayor to bring in a former mayor as a consultant. Mayors often tend to be lone wolves. Mr. Ruberto's invitation to Mr. Barrett says a lot about the warm relationship the two chief executives have developed, but it says even more about Mayor Ruberto's determination to respond quickly and imaginatively to the concerns of residents that manifested themselves in last November's election.
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"Czerwinski named Pittsfield's acting fire chief"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto has named Robert Czerwinski the city's new acting fire chief replacing James Sullivan, who's retiring later this month.

Ruberto chose Czerwinski because of his dedication to Pittsfield and "his commitment to the betterment of the city."

"Although we are sad that Sullivan is retiring," he added, "I know Czerwinski will do an outstanding job leading our Fire Department."

Czerwinski started his firefighting career in 1973 as a volunteer firefighter with the New Hackensack Fire Company in New Jersey. He joined the Pittsfield Fire Department in 1987 as a firefighter/EMT and worked his way up the ranks, becoming a deputy fire chief in 2003.

"I'm honored to be chosen for this position," said Czerwinski, a 22-year veteran of the Pittsfield Fire Department.

"I will strive to continue the efforts of my predecessors in maintaining [our] consistent high level of service," he added.

Chief James Sullivan said his successor "will hit the ground running."

Sullivan added, "He is an excellent fire officer and is second to none in emergency management and hazardous materials issues. I am confident that I am leaving the Pittsfield Fire Department in good hands and he also has all of the knowledge and skills of all of the other Pittsfield Fire Department officers and members at his disposal as well."

Czerwinski officially takes over for Sullivan on January 17, 2010.

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"Subcommittees named"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/8/2010

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield City Council President Gerald M. Lee has released the list of council subcommittee appointments that, he said, strikes a "balance" between veteran and first-time councilors.

Lee announced on Thursday that eight councilors will each serve on three of the six, five-member subcommittees, while the other three councilors have two assignments.

Lee said he relied heavily on Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti, the council’s vice president, in establishing the subcommittees makeup for the next two years.

"In all of the subcommittees, I tried to have a balance of experience with the newcomers," Marchetti said.

Lee added, "With a lot of new councilors, we tried to have a balance so the veterans can help the newcomers understand the [subcommittee] process."

The current City Council, sworn into office on Monday, has five new councilors coupled with six incumbents.

While the subcommittee appointments tried to accommodate as many councilor requests as possible, "obviously, you can’t give everyone what they want," said Lee.

As for the chairmanships, Marchetti will continue to lead the finance subcommittee, and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop still wields the gavel for ordinance and rules. Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman now chairs community and economic development; Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward leads public works and utilities; Lee heads public buildings and maintenance; and Ward 6 Councilor John Krol Jr. is chairman of public health and safety.

Krol is the only freshman councilor receiving a leadership role because he has chairmanship experience, Marchetti said. Krol currently heads Pittsfield’s Green Commission, which advises City Hall on ways to make the city energy efficient.

The subcommittee meetings seldom grab the headlines like regular City Council meetings do, but they are crucial to decisions made at the full-council level.

"If a subcommittee comes back with a negative recommendation," said Lee, "it carries a lot of weight with the entire council."

Furthermore, subcommittees can provide a more relaxed forum for debating items pending before the City Council.

"A subcommittee is less formal and allows councilors to dig into the material so they can air the issues fully," said Marchetti.

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"Presenting the new Park Square: Rotary is no more"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 8, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The shortest distance between South Street and North Street -- both ways -- is finally a straight line.

The original two-way traffic pattern that once connected both major thoroughfares was reinstated early Thursday evening, replacing the Park Square rotary that directed drivers from South Street to North Street for more than 50 years.

The circular traffic pattern eliminated, northbound vehicles on South Street can continue unimpeded to North Street. In addition, South Street motorists are now able to turn onto West Street by the Crowne Plaza Hotel and West Street drivers headed toward Park Square can now make a left-hand turn onto North Street.

The remainder of the traffic pattern that links North, South, East and West streets at Park Square remains the same.

Construction vehicles and cement barriers are blocking off vehicles from circling Park Square at East Street until workers can permanently extend the East Street median to the park. This ends a dangerous the shortcut to Allen Street and City Hall, which pleases local police.

"We're hoping changing the traffic flow will alleviate a lot of accidents at Park Square," Pittsfield Capt. David Granger said in an Eagle interview last week.

While city police will monitor "for the first couple of days" how motorists handle the traffic pattern change, city officials said drivers should be able to rely on the directional signs installed by Mass Highway.

The $2.6 million project is one of four totaling $6.4 million that MassHighway is overseeing to improve the traffic flow and aesthetics of the Park Square area. Contractors already have installed new traffic lights at the intersections of West and Center streets and West Housatonic and South streets.

The West and Center lights were activated earlier this month, while the ones at West and South streets have yet taken over for the existing lights.

Now that winter has settled in, MassHighway officials said all four projects will be completed next spring.

MassHighway initially had planned to switch traffic patterns by the end of September, but the state agency had several delays involving a subcontractor delivering the signal equipment and Western Massa-chusetts Electric installing a new service line to the traffic lights.
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"Project price tag rising: Municipal water station cost increasing"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/11/2010

PITTSFIELD -- A major water improvement project, designed to save Pittsfield taxpayers money in the long run, continues to get more expensive before construction begins.

The City Council on Tuesday night will consider increasing from $4.1 million to more than $4.9 million the price tag of the new municipal water flow control station in the city's Coltsville section.

The council's initial $800,000 hike came on Oct. 13, when it voted unanimously to boost the original cost of $3.3 million to $4.1 million. The council on June 23 voted to borrow the original amount at 2 percent interest through the state's revolving fund program.

City officials want to use three different funding sources to pay for the latest price hike.

"Increase the borrowing by $390,000, plus transfer $300,000 from [water surplus money], plus use $130,000 from water operational budget," Pittsfield Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said.

Collingwood said escalating cost is due to the type of pipe now needed for the water transmission line to the flow control station. The first increase was blamed on "a more complicated foundation" for the building and the hydropower turbine that will generate electricity to operate it.

The turbine would be powered by water entering the flow control station from the Cleveland Reservoir and the excess energy generated would be sold back to the Western Massachusetts Electric Co. (WMECO).

Collingwood had estimated an annual profit of $80,000 from selling the electricity to the utility.

Collingwood noted the second increase is a contingency against possible cost overruns.

"There may be a chance we may not need the extra funds," Collingwood said. "The final borrowing will be based on what we actually spend."

City officials plan to demolish the existing flow control station near Kelly's Diner and construct the new one along the east edge of the Coltsville Shopping Center's parking lot. The station regulates the flow of water from the Cleveland Reservoir treatment plant and is the final checkpoint for confirming that Pittsfield homes and businesses are receiving potable water.

J. H. Maxymillian Inc. of Pittsfield was awarded the contract and plans to complete the project by the end this year, Collingwood said.

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"'Race to the Top' money: Federal education funding on the table"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/11/2010

In the midst of a legislative campaign for education reform and an uncertain budget season, state public school districts, school committees and teachers' unions are also grappling with whether to agree to the terms of the Commonwealth's ambitious and considerably controversial bid for federal education funding.

Last year, as part of the federal economic stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Barack Obama designated a $4.35 billion competitive grant program for education reform initiatives known as the "Race to the Top" fund. The goal of the funds is to create initiatives, strategies and responsibilities for schools to close the so-called achievement gap in student performance.

Since the announcement of funds, state legislators and education authorities, as well as school officials on the local levels have been aggressively working together on tight deadlines to install programs and policies in hopes of putting Massachusetts in high standing to receive Race to the Top funds. State officials estimate this could result in an award of around $250 million in federal dollars for Massachusetts schools, to be delivered over a four-year cycle.

School systems in Massachusetts have until Wednesday to sign what is known as a memorandum of understanding, a state document which outlines some of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's reform plans. By signing the document, school systems agree to participate in actions to implement the proposed initiatives.

As of Friday, no school districts or unions in Berkshire County had fully agreed to and sent in the memorandum.

The general goals are to:

. Improve teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance through evaluations and collecting data

. Ensure effective teachers and leaders in every school and classroom

. Turn around the lowest-achieveing schools (level 4 or 5 on a state scale)

. Use data to improve instruction

. Roll out a statewide pre-kindergarten through Grade 12 teaching and learning system

. Increase college and career readiness initiatives to improve students' preparation for college and careers

Under the federal guidelines at least 50 percent of any funds received by states must be funneled directly into the school systems using the Title 1 formula. Federal Title 1 funding is designated for schools by their population of students from low-income families. This translates into eligible schools receiving a supplement of 15 percent above its usual Title 1 allocation for each of the four years of the funding cycle.

According to the state, all districts who sign on will be eligible to compete for the remaining funds that go to the state, some of which will be distributed in the forms of competitive grants, funding for pilot projects, etc. Gov. Deval L. Patrick recently said he'd like to see some of the state's share of Race to the Top funds go towards extended school day initiatives.

Only school systems that sign off on these goals and their fine print will be eligible for a cut of the Race to the Top funds. To be eligible, the memorandum must be signed by a superintendent, school committee chairperson and educators' union president. For charter schools, signatories must include the school leader and board chair.

Though local school leaders generally laud the state's proposals overall, not all are as willing to sign the memorandum.

Based on the funding formula alone, some officials find no incentive to apply.

For example, the Shaker Mountain School Union, which includes Richmond, Hancock and New Ashford, does not receive Title 1 funds, therefore it would not receive any Race to the Top funds.

Pittsfield Public Schools, however, has the largest chunk of change to gain from signing on with the state for Race to the Top funds. The state estimated that Pittsfield could gain a total of $896,768, or $224,192 per year.

Though Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said the district is "optimistic and ready to file," he also said the district's approach to this new funding process will be "one step at a time."

Other concerns include the details of the state's Race to the Top goals. For example, the bullet point of improving educator effectiveness based on performance evaluations indicates a call to reform the system for teacher and principal pay, promotion, retention and tenure.

Lee Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless, said that he and other colleagues in the state felt that for the amount and kinds of requirements schools face under the Race to the Top proposal, there was "not enough time to give deep thought" to comparing the proposal with the district's needs.

He added that many schools are already working on internal strategies that align with the initiatives outlined in the Race to the Top memorandum.

Scott Eldridge, president of the United Educators of Pittsfield, said that his and other unions in the state are taking a cautionary approach to the state's proposal, but appreciated the fact that the state has been working to keep schools, unions, school committees, as well as other educational associations and stakeholders informed.

He said signing the memorandum "only commits both sides [the union and district administration] to sit down and negotiate if funds are made available."

"As teachers, we're always trying to find the best way to improve our students' scores and the quality of education," said Eldridge. "This will be a great opportunity, if everything falls into place, for teachers to work together with administrators to make this happen."

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"School project meeting tabled"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/12/2010

PITTSFIELD -- The Massachusetts School Building Authority (SBA) has postponed its initial meeting this week with city officials to begin collaborating on some type of high school building project for Pittsfield.

The SBA staff, including Executive Director Katherine Craven, Mayor James M. Ruberto, Pittsfield School Department representatives and other city officials were to gather at City Hall on Wednesday to start planning the future use of Pittsfield and Taconic high schools.

However, SBA spokeswoman Carrie Sullivan said on Monday that Craven has a "scheduling conflict" on Wednesday and the meeting will likely be rescheduled for early February.

Ruberto said he "understands pressing schedules" and isn't concerned about the postponement.

"The most important thing is we keep the school building process moving forward," he added.

The authority's Board of Directors on Nov. 18 voted to conduct a feasibility study of Taconic High School, which is a step toward securing state funding for a high school project. Since the SBA process forced the city's School Building Needs Commission to put forth just one high school for consideration, Taconic was chosen over Pittsfield High School.

However, Craven has said she views both secondary schools as part of any overall building project proposal.

Meanwhile, city school officials today will submit to the SBA additional information about the two high schools necessary for the planning process to begin.

"We are completing all the backup material the SBA requires," said Pittsfield School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

While the two city high schools were built 39 years apart, school officials have said Pittsfield High (1930) and Taconic (1969) share many of the same needs, such as new heating and ventilation systems. In addition, they've said the current layout at each building prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can chose a career course of study.

City and school officials have made it clear to the SBA that the physical shortcomings of both high schools must be addressed together.

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"New panel sworn in"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/13/2010

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Committee has officially welcomed two new members while re-electing a veteran committeewoman as its leader for the next two years.

Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga and Katherine L. Yon, along with returnees Kathleen A. Amuso, Daniel C. Elias, Churchill Cotton and Erin Sullivan, were sworn into office Wednesday night prior to the board’s regular meeting. All six were elected to two-year terms during the general citywide election on Nov. 3. Pittsfield’s mayor -- the newly re-elected Mayor James M. Ruberto -- is the seventh voting member of the School Committee.

Barbalunga and Yon are succeeding Angel Ramirez Jr. and Carmen C. Massimiano Jr., who leave with a combined nearly 40 years of committee experience. Ramirez didn’t seek re-election while Massimiano was the only incumbent to lose last month.

The newcomers first order of business was to praise their predecessors.

"[Ramirez and Massimiano] truly made a difference in the lives of young people in Pittsfield," said Yon.

Barbalunga cited Massimiano’s dedication to improving the city school system and Ramirez’ "quiet efficiency" during his 26 years on the School Committee.

Meanwhile the board unanimously approved Amuso for her third straight stint as committee chairwoman -- a leadership role she’s held for four of her six years on the panel.

Amuso thanked her colleagues for their continued support and urged the new committee to follow in the footsteps of the previous board.

"We finished up a solid two years," Amuso said. "I know we’ll have an extraordinary next two years as we have a lot of work ahead of us."

Among the pressing issues facing the School Committee in the coming weeks are a balanced budget for fiscal 2011 beginning July 1 and settling a new contract with the teachers union.

The negotiations between 600-member United Educators of Pittsfield and the School Committee reached an impasse in December after eight months of negotiations. Both sides have jointly requested a state mediator resolve the differences.

...dispute, but Amuso said a meeting date with the third party has yet to be scheduled.

The teachers are currently working under the old one-year agreement, which expired August 25, 2009.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Barrett to earn $15K in consulting role"
By Richard Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/13/2010

PITTSFIELD -- Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III will earn $15,000 for making recommendations to improve Pittsfield neighborhoods -- an arrangement that drew outrage Tuesday night from many residents and a new city councilor.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said that Barrett's consultant fee is part of a three-month contractual agreement the two men agreed upon.

Ruberto arrived at the $15,000 figure based on "what I thought was fair if [Barrett] were an employee with the city of Pittsfield."

The fee will come from the city's contingency fund and won't require approval from the City Council, the mayor added.

The move was announced at a press conference last week, but Ruberto hadn't worked out the pay and length of Barrett's contract. Barrett, who lost a re-election bid for a 14th term in November, will look at city neighborhoods, "regarding public works, utilities and maintenance."

Keeping neighborhoods well maintained was a staple of Barrett's 26-year administration in North Adams. He often rode with city workers assessing street conditions and other infrastructure needs. Barrett is doing the same in Pittsfield with the cooperation of Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood and Director of Maintenance Ernest F. Fortini.

Ruberto vowed during his inaugural speech Jan. 4 to "double the effort" of the city's efficient delivery of services to individual neighborhoods. Ruberto was criticized in the mayoral campaign for focusing too much on the downtown revitalization his last two years in office.

But following Tuesday night's regular City Council meeting, several residents and one of the five freshman councilors spoke out against Barrett's employment.

"There's an overwhelming discontent from my constituents," said Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols.

Nichols, who spoke during citizen speak time -- something councilors rarely do -- was upset he didn't receive the details about Barrett's temporary job until a few hours before Tuesday's council meeting.

"As a new city councilor, I expect to be informed," added Nichols. "City government exists for serving the whole community well."

Several other councilors afterward reported either mixed reviews or outright opposition by residents they spoke to regarding Ruberto hiring Barrett.

"Hiring Mr. Barrett is like hiring a carpetbagger," said Pat Gagner-Franck, prior to Nichols' remarks in the public forum.

"It's one friend helping another friend," added Dan Colello, referring to the two men's close personal, as well as professional, relationship.

While Colello agrees Barrett is qualified to help Pittsfield neighborhoods, he questions Ruberto hiring a consultant when property taxes keep going up.

"Elderly people have a hard enough time paying their taxes now," Colello said.
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"Hiring Barrett is insulting decision"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 1/13/2010

How easy would all of our jobs be if we could hire our buddy from the other town to help us out on a whim?! I find it insulting to the taxpayers, the city councilors, former mayors of Pittsfield, and everyone who works hard for their salaries for the mayor of our city to decide to hire an ex-mayor to help our neighborhoods.

Mayor Ruberto, why don't you just take a long vacation and let Mr. Barrett finish out your term for you?

EDWARD J. MORAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Whining about Barrett"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 1/14/2010

People in many neighborhoods are supposedly unhappy with Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto for not paying attention to their needs. In response, the mayor hires an expert on neighborhood needs, former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, to address those concerns -- and people are unhappy with that as well. That sounds like Pittsfield -- or certain factions of the city at least, where anger and cynicism are permanent states of being.

Pittsfield hires consultants routinely, and hiring Mr. Barrett for a modest $15,000 for three months out of the contingency fund is not a big deal. In fact, it is a bargain, as Mr. Barrett's long service as mayor of North Adams makes him an ideal choice to look at the city's neighborhoods and make recommendations for how they can be better served. Nonetheless, some residents have expressed their displeasure with the hiring to city councilors, one of whom, new Ward 7 councilor Joseph Nichols, made a puzzling appearance during citizens speak time to make a labored argument about what he regards as high salaries in City Hall.

The assertion by a speaker at Tuesday night's meeting that Mr. Barrett is a "carpetbagger" personifies the narrow-minded attitude that has long poisoned Pittsfield. Why look for new ideas or perspectives from elsewhere when we can continue to follow the same insular practices that have failed for decades? We urge Mr. Ruberto and Mr. Barrett to ignore the belly-achers. A few months from now, even chronically put upon Ward 7 voters may be pleased with a few of the ideas that emerge from Mr. Barrett's time in the city.
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"Nichols showed courage, concern"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 1/18/2010

The Berkshire Eagle editorial of Jan. 14, "Whining about Barrett," is insulting at best to the citizens of Pittsfield and to the newly elected Ward 7 city councilor, Joseph Nichols. If there is something that compares locally to a profile in courage award in Pittsfield, my nomination goes to Mr. Nichols.

He stood up as a newly elected city councilor to speak not from his seat but from the public microphone and make according to The Eagle "a labored argument about what he regards as high salaries in City Hall" and a criticism of Mayor Ruberto's selection of former Mayor Barrett.

How easy and cowardly it is to anonymously attack those who disagree with you without fear of retribution or them even knowing your name. My advice for Mr. Nichols is to keep doing what you are doing, speak from the heart and stand up for the little guy and you'll do just fine. I suspect you'll catch on to the rules of parliamentary procedure in a very short period of time.

My advice to The Eagle is to pick on someone your own size the next you get into a fight about a difference of opinion. We all have First Amendment rights in America, not just the big and powerful news media or the influential politicians.

RON KITTERMAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Mayoral management"
The Pittsfield Gazette, Editorial, By Jonathan Levine, Editor & Publisher, January 14, 2010

Mayor James Ruberto this past week set the tone for his fourth term, promising more of the same: specifically, more questionable management and illegalities at City Hall.

During an “address to the citizens of Pittsfield” just two days after his inaugural speech, Ruberto triumphantly announced that John Barrett [III] will be a special consultant to the city of Pittsfield.

With flash bulbs popping and an aura of self-congratulation, Ruberto declared that the longtime North Adams mayor will conduct an “operational audit” of the city’s public works and building grounds operations and help him “connect with the neighborhoods.”

Barrett is a blunt, hands-on warhorse who could help the city in many ways — one can imagine him reshaping the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority — but the process leading to his dubious appointment epitomizes the Ruberto era.

Barrett had fanfare but no contract last week; no scope of work; no criteria to evaluate his performance; no set compensation; no proof of meeting standard vendor requirements.

Notably, no one else was allowed to bid to provide whatever services Barrett will provide. Whether that’s illegal is unclear, but it’s certainly not sensible.

Good luck tracking down the details of Barrett’s consulting. The purchasing department — which generally handles all procurement contracts — had no role. Ruberto has left the personnel director position vacant and has replaced the in-house city solicitor with costlier private counsel that only responds to specific mayoral requests; thus no one might dare tell the mayor he must comply with laws that regulate all Massachusetts governmental entities.

Even if Barrett’s appointment qualifies as unique professional service below a certain financial threshold — thereby skirting some provisions of Massachusetts General Laws regulating such pacts — he’d still have to provide proof of insurance coverage, such as workers compensation. Attempts to locate such routine documentation at City Hall this week proved fruitless.

Barrett may well have much to offer; but this hiring appears to be a politician rewarding a pal, while again ignoring the laws and common sense that should shape taxpayer-funded business.

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"Pittsfield School Committee: Teachers apply pressure"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/18/2010

PITTSFIELD -- The city's public school teachers are putting pressure on the Pittsfield School Committee to resume stalled contract talks which began nine months ago.

Nearly 200 of the 600-member United Teachers of Pittsfield (UEP) -- the city's largest union -- last week voted to "work to rule" as of Feb.1 if a new collective bargaining agreement hasn't been reached. Teachers who "work to rule" are strictly following the terms of the previous contract and don't volunteer to provide extra help for students or work on school activities beyond what was negotiated.

"Many times I'm here until 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. for my students," said UEP President Scott Eldridge, a chemistry teacher at Pittsfield High School. "I'm not unique in that regard."

Union leaders and the School Committee's negotiating team led by chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso broke off talks Dec. 7 for reasons neither side will discuss publicly. The UEP and school board have jointly requested a state mediator to help settle the contract dispute, but the Division of Labor Relations hasn't set a meeting date for the third-party intervention.

"I hope when we go to mediation, we can quickly resolve our differences," said Amuso.

However, the union is anxious for a new agreement, reportedly a one-year proposal.

"We understand the city's financial situation, but we've been without a new contract since the end of August," said Eldridge. "Enough is enough."

The School Committee and teachers union have been negotiating a new contract since April 2008 that would replace the one-year pact that expired Aug. 25. The deal approved nearly a year ago, but retroactive to August 2008, had a modest 1.5 percent salary increase and was shortened from the traditional three years to one because of the city's volatile budget situation earlier this year.

Amuso and Eldridge haven't said whether a pay hike is part of the current negotiations which both have described as amicable throughout the process.

The seemingly positive and progressive contract talks are in part due to Pittsfield's fiscal situation stabilizing and the School Department nearly averting layoffs for the current budget year.

All but four of the 24 teachers and other employees initially given pink slips were recalled once the school budget for fiscal 2010 was in place. The layoff notices sent out in June were in case the spending plan had to be cut before the City Council approved it June 30 along with the rest of the current budget.
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"No parking, no Beacon"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 1/19/2010

On Wednesday, Jan. 6, my husband and I left our home in Adams at noon and set off for the Beacon Cinema to see "Avatar" in 3D. The movie started at 1 so we had plenty of time to park, buy tickets and refreshments and get seated. Or so we thought.

By 1:05 we were headed back to Adams having come to the realization that downtown Pittsfield is just not user friendly. Since the movie is 2 hours and 45 minutes long, the 90-minute parking spaces weren’t available and there are only about 40 spaces in the nearby parking garage that allows three-hour parking. They were all filled and time was running out.

At 12:52, I called the Beacon Cinema and asked for parking advice. He had none -- other than the already used 40 or so parking spaces -- and he then told me that parking tickets are $10 and he gets one every day. Really!

To the city of Pittsfield -- why put the cinema downtown and provide no adequate parking? To the Beacon Cinema -- why have matinees when there is extremely limited parking before 4 p.m.?

The bottom line for my husband and me is that this was our first time going to the Beacon Cinema, and sadly it was also the last time.

SANDRA BOUVIER
Adams, Massachusetts
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Mayor James M. Ruberto donated his winnings from the annual Berkshire United Way drawing to the United Way and The Colonial Theatre to honor his late wife, Ellen, splitting the $10,000 between the two organizations. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"In Ellen's memory - A win for everyone: Mayor wins drawing, donates money back."
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 22, 2010

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts --

Pittsfield has one lucky leader.

Mayor James M. Ruberto became the stunned winner of a $10,000 prize awarded Wednesday night through the annual Berkshire United Way fundraising campaign raffle. And though the announcement took a few moments to register with the mayor, it only took a second to decide what to do with the winnings: donate it back.

In honor of his late wife Ellen Ruberto, the money will be split between Berkshire United Way and The Colonial Theatre -- both organizations which Ellen Ruberto championed and volunteered with.

"Boy, I've never won anything of value in a drawing before, so it truly came as a surprise," the mayor told The Eagle on Thursday. He said when he first heard his name called he thought he was being asked to draw the winner.

"When I won, I immediately knew what to do with it, and that was donating it in Ellen's memory. She was on my shoulder," he said.

The drawing took place on Wednesday night at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's Chamber Nite event held at the Greylock Federal Credit Union in Pittsfield. This giveaway also marked the 10th year that Greylock Federal Credit Union and Johnson Ford-Lincoln-Mercury-Nissan that has sponsored the drawing which allows the winner to choose between a brand-new car or cash.

Kristine Hazzard, Berkshire United Way president and chief executive officer, said that this was also the first year a winner was actually present to win.

"For us, that was one of the most exciting parts. No one wanted to say anything at first because it was like, ‘Oh, it's the mayor.' When we did, he was really stunned," said Hazzard, who attended the event.

She estimated that there were 5,000 tickets entered into the drawing. The tickets were given to donors to the Berkshire United Way. Donors who contribute more than the equivalent of $6 per week were given two chances to enter.

Ruberto was one of those who had two tickets in the drawing. He will also be responsible for any taxes on the winnings.

Both Hazzard and Colonial Theatre Executive Director David Fleming said that the mayor's donation is appreciated, particularly during a time where organizations are still reeling from the past year's economic drain.

"I've been in this business for 32 years and I've never seen a year as difficult as this in this business. The availability of cash revenue and donations is just really down, so this couldn't come at a better time," said Fleming. The Colonial is currently in the process of developing a "Fund for the Future" to help the theater build its capacity for sustainability, which is something Ellen Ruberto had wanted for The Colonial.

Hazzard said that the United Way's share will go into its Community Impact Fund. A request for letters of intent went out today for community groups to apply for funding.

"The economy has taken its toll on the community, especially now that we have the disaster in Haiti as well," she said. "People only have so many resources. But these are two very community-oriented organizations concerned with helping others that now have benefited from [the mayor's] luck."

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"Will unions react to GIC changes?"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 22, 2010

Where are the local and state unions now that the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) has decided to impose greater co-pays and deductibles on retirees and employees? My former union, the United Educators of Pittsfield/ Mass Teachers Association, was a leading proponent of the switch to the GIC in the vain hope of garnering a raise in salaries from the expected savings from joining the GIC. Now union members are facing huge increases in co-pays and deductibles.

Last year, in the rush to vote on the GIC, the concerns of the retirees of all bargaining groups were given short shrift by their former affiliates. Legislative action was promised to protect the existing percentage contribution of those who retired prior to finalizing the GIC agreement. Despite assurances that the MTA, in conjunction with our local legislators, would shepherd such a bill through the Legislature, nothing was filed.

As agreed to between the city and its unions, GIC premium costs were to be apportioned on a 85:15 ratio. But according to the new notice, all additional costs are being borne by employees and retirees. Even if there are unexpected health care costs the legality of a sudden mid-year increase across all plans is questionable. If medical costs actually rise, premiums would need to increase but effective July 1, in accordance with the 85:15 ratio. Instead, our participants are expected to bear 100 percent of the increased health care costs immediately through higher co-pays, higher deductibles and even new deductibles.

Now, as a further affront to our agreement and the principles of fair negotiation, comes the GIC sleight of hand. The commission tells us there is "One bit of good news": The cost of "premiums will go down slightly effective Feb. 1." If there is a deficit, how on earth can they lower premiums? This is just a shell game to shift even more of the costs, above and beyond the additional expenses, on to the participants. Every dollar these premiums fall below the rates set July 1 means 85 cents of the portion the city agreed to pay now shifts to participants. In other words, employees and retirees will pay not only 100 percent of the new costs, but actually more than 15 percent of the original costs.

It seems by any measure the GIC is perpetrating consumer fraud. The question is what do the unions intend to do to best represent and protect their members and their retirees in the face of these actions? As a former president of the UEP and former chairman of the Insurance Advisory Committee, I've attempted to discuss these issues with the leadership of the UEP and the MTA consultant in the Berkshire regional office, but they refuse to return phone calls or e-mail.

All of this is being foisted upon teachers, municipal and state workers by the Patrick administration with the connivance of a Democratic legislature through a Democratic-controlled commission. It makes me wonder why the unions blindly support Democratic candidates who treat them like lapdogs.

BILL TOBIN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Fault is GIC's not teacher unions'"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 1, 2010

I was surprised and disappointed to read Bill Tobin's Jan. 22 letter regarding the GIC (" Will unions react to GIC changes?"). Surprised because Mr. Tobin is a former coworker and he had not called to speak with me. Disappointed because Mr. Tobin's letter contained factual errors. I did call Mr. Tobin on Friday, but now, since this is in the public forum, I feel obligated to respond publicly as well.

Mr. Tobin was correct in saying the United Educators of Pittsfield (UEP) was a proponent of switching to the GIC. At the time, I believed the switch would save the city employees and the city money. The Massachusetts Teachers Association worked in an advisory capacity but did not promote any change until the Public Employee Committee (PEC), consisting of the city's union presidents, had negotiated what we felt was a good contract.

The retirees were represented at the table and controlled 10 percent of the vote. The UEP could have stopped the change because we controlled 36 percent of the vote but, since a 70 percent majority was required to make the switch, the UEP could not force the change.

The contract did include the requirement for the city to file a Home Rule petition and the MTA was contacted to help work the bill through the legislative process. The Home Rule petition would give the city the ability to keep retirees who retired with a 90-10 premium split at the 90-10 level while the rest of the city moved to 85-15 (from 80-20). Mr. Tobin was incorrect when he said nothing had been done. Senator Ben Downing and Representative Chris Speranzo filed the bill in January 2009.

The bill was referred to the Public Service Committee where it was favorably released on May 20, 2009. Jack Flannagan of the MTA testified in favor of this bill and was key in the bill's favorable release. Unfortunately, due to the objections of the GIC, the bill has been held up in the Health Care Financing Committee since May. The MTA is now working to get the bill released from that committee. This information is available at the mass.gov Web site under House No. 4091.

Regarding the legality of the midyear change, the unions are acting. MTA has assigned an attorney at the request of the UEP. The PEC has asked the Berkshire delegation to meet with us so we can address this issue.

Finally, I am in complete agreement that the GIC and Delores Mitchell have acted with no regard for the municipal employees they encouraged to join the GIC.

When we made the change the options were the GIC or the retirees would see their premiums shift to an 80- 20 split and the unions would be expected to increase their premium split again. One union had already agreed to a 75-25 split. Blue Cross Blue Shield costs were also increasing at a double-digit rate. We did choose the best option given what we knew at the time and we are working to resolve these new inequities.

SCOTT ELDRIDGE
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is president, United Educators of Pittsfield
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"Teachers protest insurance hike: Group Insurance Commission says it had no choice but to raise rates"
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/23/2010

PITTSFIELD -- Nearly two dozen retired teachers on Friday protested hikes in copayments and deductibles through the Group Insurance Commission, the Massachusetts health benefit agency for Pittsfield's city workers and retirees.

"When we started with the GIC, they brought out all these brochures and written materials for us, telling us to make an informed decision that was best for you," said Bill Tobin of Pittsfield, the former president of the United Educators of Pittsfield. "Now, in the middle of the year, they just throw them all out and say we're raising [prices] across the board for a supposed deficit."

The demonstrators, who held signs saying "Stop GIC Fraud" and "Enforce the 85%-15% agreements," stood along East Street at noon on Friday, remaining on the scene for about 45 minutes before meeting with the Pittsfield branch of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

The educators' frustration came after receiving word from the GIC that co-payments will go from $5 to $25 on Feb. 1, depending on the type of medical care or physician visited.

In addition, GIC will be tacking on a $250 deductible for individual health plans and a $750 deductible for family plans, as well as ancillary tests and procedures performed during an office visit without preapproval.

The increases affect 135,000 state employees and municipal workers from 26 cities, towns, regional school districts and other government entities -- including Pittsfield -- that are covered by the 11 health coverage plans offered through the GIC. Pittsfield entered into a three-year agreement with the GIC in October 2008 after convincing the unions the move would save workers and taxpayers more than $5 million combined.

GIC Executive Director Dolores L. Mitchell told The Eagle that mid-year increases are extremely rare for the group, with the last one having taken place in 1994. GIC officials claim the fee hikes are necessary to erase a $35 million shortfall in its current $1.4 billion budget.

"Back in October, I warned the commissioners that we were facing a potential problem," she said. "I said we could have deductibles and co-pays as high as $750 for an individual, and $2,500 for a family."

Mitchell said the GIC couldn't find revenue sources to fill its deficit, adding that requests to the state's Fiscal Affairs Division came up empty.

"We didn't do it lightly," Mitchell said. "Was it done cavalierly, without a lot of anguish and thought? Of course not. Did I want to do it? Of course I didn't want to do it, but I have a moral obligation to manage this in the way that is least harmful in terms of the choices I had."

Yet Tobin felt that the "one bit of good news" that GIC touted was in fact only good news for the state: that despite raising co-pays and deductibles paid by consumers, the premiums paid for by the state would decrease.

"If you have a deficit, how can you possibly cut the premiums?" Tobin said.

He said that this would bring worker's 15 percent payment to something closer to 25 percent.

"What you're doing is lowering the amount the cities and states have to put in, and boosting even more what the participants have to pay, above and beyond even the additional figure," Tobin said.

Mitchell told The Eagle that the premium drop was not only legally mandated due to a "decrease in value" to the overall services, but was also to help "self-insured" customers who make up the vast majority of all GIC's customers.

"I understand their irritation -- I'm paying it too -- but we haven't had an economic situation like this since the Great Depression," Mitchell replied. "These are not ordinary times."

Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, who said last week that he was "terribly disappointed" with the GIC increases, was unable to be reached Friday due to his attending a conference in Boston.

Tobin said he was frustrated with the unions' response to the increases, saying there were "sitting back and not attacking this problem."

"This is going to take political pressure," Tobin said. "I think it's partially consumer fraud."
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"Still stuck with Mayor Ruberto"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 24, 2010

I would like to respond to Edward Moran's letter of Jan. 13, regarding Pittsfield's hiring of John Barrett III ("Hiring Barrett is insulting decision.") I certainly agree. Does Mayor Ruberto mean to tell the people of Pittsfield that there is no one in Pittsfield qualified to make recommendations to improve the neighborhoods? Sounds fishy to me.

The people of Pittsfield had a chance to replace Ruberto but didn't and now we have to live with him. Maybe Ruberto has a little too much hiring power. Maybe the people of Pittsfield need to find out why Barrett was really hired. We have had some other mayors who made decisions that ended up to be not in the best interests of the city and now looks like we got another one. When will we learn?

JUDY TOBLER
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Unions dropped ball for retirees"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 24, 2010

Let's be truthful about why the GIC came into Pittsfield. The teachers union was in contract negotiations and the city had a bargaining chip it wanted, the GIC. The city was looking to lower health costs and figured the GIC was one way to do it.

Here is the kicker. When you retired from the city, before the GIC was in place, you would get a reduction in the percentage you had to pay for health premiums. Now the GIC gets put in and as a retiree you see that you have to come up with 5 percent more in premiums to cover the 5 percent cut the teachers received in their premiums. There are increased co-pays and a lot of confusion getting a plan that would meet your needs with costs going up.

Active employees could cover these increases through future raises, but not the retirees. This raises the question as to why John Barrett III did not like the GIC? If the GIC is so great why haven't all state and city groups gone for it? When the city was looking at the GIC there was a memo on the GIC Web site that they were concerned about costs increasing with the increase of retirees joining the GIC. They foresaw premiums and co-pays rising as this group's size increased, as older people cost more to care for.

Yes, there was a bargaining committee that represented all city groups, and there was hearsay and rumors as to what went on in those meetings. The teachers union as the largest member runs the show. I was a teacher and thought that it would look out for my concerns. It dropped the ball for me and all city retirees. We have to live with that.

The city could go back to having the retiree's percentage go back to 10 percent for the premium. I have talked to the GIC and members of the Legislature and there is nothing stopping the city from doing that.

All the state cares about is that it gets paid, not the in house percentages. The people who retired years ago are really feeling the crunch as these costs increase, and it would be nice to reduce this burden. However, no one seems to give the time of day to the retirees, once gone out of sight.

JOHN FITZGERALD
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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Retirees' wrath: former teachers protest outside union headquarters
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"Retirees picket MTA"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher & Editor, January 22, 2010

Approximately two dozen retired Pittsfield teachers picketed Friday in front of the East Street offices of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

The protest, organized by former union president Bill Tobin, highlighted frustration about health benefits.

The retirees reluctantly were dragged along as the city shifted its insurance coverage to the state's Group Insurance Commission for Fiscal Year 2010. Now they're upset that the GIC plans, which they already don't like, are being subjected to mid-year increases, especially for co-payments.

The protest targeted the teachers' union because the retirees feel the union, by far the richest and largest in the city, sold them out. The retirees want the union to fight the mid-year price hikes and to lobby on their behalf.

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PITTSFIELD CITY COUNCIL
JANUARY 26, 2010 – 7:30 P.M.

AGENDA

Open microphone

COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE MAYOR

A communication submitting an Order authorizing the City of Pittsfield to accept a grant in the amount of $4,000.00 from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

APPOINTMENTS

Appointment of Susan Carmel as the Director of Finance and the City Treasurer for the City of Pittsfield.

Appointment of Marilyn Sheehan as the Collector of Taxes and the City Collector for the City of Pittsfield.

Appointment of Colleen Hunter-Mullett as the Purchasing Agent for the City of Pittsfield.

Appointment of Gerald Garner as the Building Commissioner for the City of Pittsfield.

Appointment of James Wilusz as the Director of the Health Department for the City of Pittsfield.

Appointment of Lisa Lewis as the Accountant for the City of Pittsfield.

Appointment of Rosanne Frieri as Director of Veterans’ Services for the City of Pittsfield.

Appointment of Dr. Phillip Adamo as the City Physician for the City of Pittsfield.

Appointment of the following individuals as members of the Council on Aging Board of Directors: Jeffrey B. Thompson, Albert A. Ingegni, III, Eleanor M. Persip, Rosemary Chaiffre, Anita Cohen, Christopher Flynn, Barbara Plaine.

Appointment of Peter M. Marchetti as a member of the School Building Needs Commission.

Appointment of John M. Krol, Jr. as a member of the School Building Needs Commission.

Appointment of Sally Douglas as a member of the School Building Needs Commission.

Appointment of Floriana Fitzgerald as a member of the School Building Needs Commission.

Appointment of Joanne Soles as a member of the School Building Needs Commission.

Appointment of John Barber as a member of the School Building Needs Commission.

Appointment of Frank LaRagione as a member of the School Building Needs Commission.

Appointment of Keith Babuszczak as a member of the School Building Needs Commission.

PUBLIC HEARINGS

A public hearing on an application for a Pawnbroker and Secondhand Dealer License from Spindle City Precious Metals.

A petition from Councilor Sherman requesting that John Barrett III provide an update regarding his observations and recommendations to date regarding the Pittsfield Department of Public Works and grounds maintenance.

A petition from Councilor Sherman requesting that the public parking on the east and west sides of North and South Street as well as the city block from North Street to McKay Street and all public lots be listed as three-hour parking.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

A petition from residents of Lebanon Avenue and Donovan Street for immediate action to correct the sewage odor in their area (tabled January 12, 2010).

NEW BUSINESS

A petition from Rinaldo Del Gallo, III requesting that the City Council pass an ordinance outlawing using a cell phone, texting, and using any device that requires hitting of alpha-numeric calculators while driving.

A petition from Rinaldo Del Gallo, III requesting that the City Council pass an ordinance relating to “Duty of Non-Residential Owners to maintain parking lots, walk paths and sidewalks.”

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Councilor wants more long-term parking"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/27/2010

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield's downtown needs more long-term parking to encourage people to shop, dine and be entertained, according to one city councilor.

Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman wants public parking on both sides of North and South streets as well as the city block encompassed by North and McKay streets and all public lots to be posted for three hours. Sherman petitioned the City Council on Tuesday night to support the need for more long-term downtown parking. The council referred the matter to the city's Traffic Commission for review.

Sherman finds the mix of 30-minute, 90-minute and three-hour parking downtown doesn't encourage lengthy downtown visits to the newly opened Beacon Cinema, along with the Berkshire Museum, Colonial Theatre, most restaurants and some retail stores that rely on extended stays of its customers.

"We built a movie theater before we resolved this problem," said Sherman. "This approach seems backwards."

"We need to look at the parking issue quickly since there's a problem with weekday matinees at the Beacon," Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon said.

Also Tuesday, city officials increased to 56 the number of three-hour spaces in the McKay Street parking garage behind the Beacon, according to Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward. There had been only 32 spaces with a three-hour limit.

"I don't know if three hours is the ideal solution," Sherman said, "but we need to have an open discussion on the philosophy of city parking."

Solutions in the works?

Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White wants the City Council to reinstate the Pittsfield Parking Commission to also review and possibly offer solutions to downtown parking concerns. He noted the Traffic Commission, which he serves on, "can only look at on-street parking."

Furthermore, the newly created 15-member strategic planning committee of Downtown Inc. has just begun addressing parking needs as part of a long-range plan being developed toward continuing Pittsfield's downtown revitalization.

Officials of the 300-member organization representing businesses and individuals support Sherman's plan, albeit a quick-fix.

"Three-hour parking means more spaces so people can attend movie matinees and have lunch," said Downtown Inc. Executive Director Yvonne Pearson. "These things take longer than 90 minutes."

Only a temporary plan

However, Pearson said in an interview with The Eagle, simply adding more three-hour parking spots is a temporary plan at best.

"We need to find a balance between long- and short-term parking," she added. "That's going to take time."

Pearson added some downtown businesses favor short-term parking, because they rely on steady customer turnover.

While the study of Pittsfield's downtown commissioned by Downtown Inc. and the city released this week found most North Street merchants and businesses want more parking overall, the study's author found the use of long-term spaces being abused.

"Some employees and businesses are parking where customers should be," said Brookline consultant Peg Barringer on Monday.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield City Council
"Board asks mayor for answers: Appointments to the School Building Needs Commission leaves some councilors feeling uninformed."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 28, 2010

PITTSFIELD - The new City Council is showing its independence by challenging Mayor James M. Ruberto's list of eight appointments to the 20- member School Building Needs Commission.

The council on Tuesday night voted 54 to table the nominations until Ruberto provided more information on why he put forth four re-appointments and four new members to the commission.

The panel will be instrumental in working with the state School Building Authority in developing some type of high school project that will shape for decades to come the future of secondary education in Pittsfield.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, along with Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward, Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop agreed to delay the council vote.

Council President Gerald M. Lee, Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman, Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon and Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio were against tabling the appointments. Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti and Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. abstained, as they were among the eight appointees.

Marchetti, Joanne Soules, the interim principal at Pittsfield High School, and two city School Department administrators: Assistant Superintendent of Business and Finance, Sally Douglas and Keith Babuszczak, vocation education director, were the proposed new commission members.

Krol, Community Development Board member Floriana Fitzgerald, community members John Barber and Frank LaRagione were the reappointments.

Mazzeo said she had nothing against the eight people, but felt the list was top-heavy with city and school officials.

"We're not opening this up to the public who could meet the critieria of serving," said Mazzeo.

The discenting councilors also wanted Ruberto to clarify who was being replaced on the commission and why.

"There seem to be some discrepencies," noted Ward.

"For the new people on the [appointment] list, we would be glad to know who is being replaced," added Marchetti.

Ruberto responded at Tuesday's City Council meeting that the councilors are responsible for knowing how the commission is organized, according to the mayoral order issued when the panel was reactivated in 2005.

"We have a number of people well- qualified for the commission," Ruberto said.

Nichols, who two weeks ago was critical of Ruberto hiring former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III as a city consultant, challenged the mayor to be more forthright with the council.

"When you have five new councilors, you need to make the extra effort to communicate with us," Nichols said.

The mayoral directive that established the current School Building Needs Commission calls for Ruberto to appoint four commission members to one- year terms, four to two-year terms and three to three-year terms.

The remaining seats are filled by the city's maintenance director, one School Committee member, three members of the school system's professional staff, two representatives of parent-teacher groups and one student each from Pittsfield and Taconic high schools.

While who on Ruberto's list is replacing whom on the commission remained unclear on Wednesday, his office confirmed businessman Christopher Light and former council member Patricia "Pam" Malumphy were being removed.

Light didn't seek re-appointment, but Malumphy had no intention of leaving and was never directly told by Ruberto or the commission leaders she was being ousted. School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III and Tricia Farley-Bouvier co-chair the panel.

"If they want to no longer have me on the commission, have the courtesy to tell me to my face," Malumphy said in an Eagle interview on Wednesday.

Malumphy added that she thought she was being replaced for voicing her displeasure on the direction the commission has taken regarding the two city high schools.
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John Barrett III waves at former City Council member Lou Markham on Thursday while evaluating the city response to snowfall. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Barrett surveys cleanup"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 29, 2010
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts

Following Thursday morning's snowfall, former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III drove his four-wheel drive Chevy Trailblazer throughout Pittsfield assessing the city's latest snow removal effort.

He gave it mixed reviews.

"The main roads improved immensely," said Barrett. "But some of the side streets were real bad. You couldn't get up and down the ones with hills."

If the packed-down snow wasn't plowed or salted, Barrett worried it would freeze and create hazardous driving conditions.

"We need to try and find a better system," he added. "Have I come to a solution on that? No."

Barrett was hired as a consultant three weeks ago by Mayor James M. Ruberto to find ways Pittsfield can improve snow removal and other areas of public works, utilities and maintenance in city neighborhoods. He has a three-month contract worth $15,000 to make recommendations to Ruberto. Barrett said he's also looking at city park maintenance, street repair and better recycling.

Keeping neighborhoods well maintained was a staple of Barrett's 26-year administration in North Adams, before he lost his re-election bid for a 14th term in November. He often rode with city workers assessing street conditions and other infrastructure needs.

And Barrett is taking the same hands-on approach in Pittsfield.

"He's doing exactly what I expected he would do," said Ruberto. "We will end up with a shift in the city being more customer-focused."

Councilor at large Kevin Sherman said Barrett's presence in Pittsfield has already been felt.

"I noticed I don't have to drag my daughter over a snow bank to get to the YMCA on North Street," Sherman said at Tuesday's City Council meeting. The council has requested and Barrett has agreed to provide councilors with an update on his work on Feb. 9.

Barrett's hiring initially irked several city councilors, and it appeared to polarize Pittsfield residents into two schools of thought -- that it was a good move to bring the former mayor on board and others who criticized it. However, the furor seems to have died down since Barrett began meeting with councilors, residents, city workers and officials.

"I'm asking employees questions. I'm not supervising," said Barrett. "Everyone has been very cooperative."

Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said his relationship with Barrett has been "excellent as he's made some observations and offered his advice.

"We've had good dialogue. He's definitely a professional."

Barrett hasn't made any formal recommendations regarding the city's maintenance or public works operations, but he is concerned about the reliance on contractors to help with snow removal. Pittsfield has contracts 35 private plow operators, only two of whom -- along with six city trucks -- were out plowing, salting and sanding Pittsfield's 200 miles of roads Thursday morning.

While Barrett admits Pittsfield is larger than North Adams, which has 60 miles of roads, he found using contractors ineffective in North Adams and relied only on city employees.

Collingwood said getting contractors to work weekdays is difficult as they have other jobs, but are necessary because "our needs are much greater" than North Adams.

Both Barrett and Collingwood agree any change in who plows Pittsfield's roads will require a review of public works manpower and operating costs.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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A customer enters the Beacon Cinema in downtown Pittsfield last week. The theater has seen steady business since opening last fall. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Beacon Cinema exceeding expectations"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 1, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Judging by the numbers, the six-screen Beacon Cinema on North Street has been everything its proponents said it would be so far.

Buoyed by three hit movies, including "Avatar," the $23 million, six-screen cinema complex has grossed around $440,000 in box-office receipts and attracted 45,000 customers since it opened Nov. 20, according to the Beacon's managing partner, Richard Stanley.

Before the Beacon opened, Stanley said he expected annual box office sales of $1.5 million.

"We're ahead of schedule," he said, "but the year isn't over. It's just beginning."

Ten years in the making, the Beacon is Pittsfield's first movie complex since the 10-screen Pittsfield Cinema Center on West Housatonic Street closed abruptly in March 2001. City officials have seen the theater as a major piece of downtown development, along with the Colonial Theatre, which opened in 2006, and the Barrington Stage Company, which opened a year later.

The Beacon opened with great fanfare Nov. 20, when all 850 seats were sold out for a midnight showing of "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," which was shown in all six theaters. And the momentum has continued.

The complex drew 14,000 people between Christmas Day and Jan. 3, when public school vacation ended, said John Valente, the Beacon's manager. Single-day crowds have been as high as 1,800.

"To say I'm extremely pleased would be an understatement," Stanley said.

"Certainly the opening and having people attend a movie like "New Moon" was a great kickoff. Overall the reception from the community has been very heartening."

Valente said he believes the "newness factor" has been a big reason for the Beacon's early success. The Beacon is located in the historic 92-year-old Kinnell-Kresge building. The North Street side of the building, which includes the historic facade, was renovated, while the back end facing McKay Street was gutted. According to Valente, the Beacon also contains Berkshire County's only working escalator, which ferries customers from the North Street lobby to the second floor.

The Beacon has a state-of-the-art sound system, and stadium, or tiered seating, in all six cinemas. It is also the only theater complex in the Berkshire with both digital and 3D capacity.

"Primarily what we're offering is a full entertainment experience," Valente said. "The building is beautiful. It's a wonderful mix of old and new. We have a wonderful contrast moving through the lobby [which was restored] to the cinema area. It's a very sophisticated environment inside."

"I believe that people inevitably vote with their feet," Stanley said. "If they like what they're doing they'll come back."

Besides "New Moon," a long-awaited addition to the popular "Twilight Saga" series of films, the Beacon also opened with "The Blind Side," a surprise hit that has generated Oscar buzz for one of its stars, actress Sandra Bullock.

"It was supposed to be a nothing movie," Stanley said.

The big draw, however, has been the 3D smash hit "Avatar," which opened at the Beacon on Dec. 18 and is expected to continue for a few more weeks. Stanley said cinema's normally experience a dropoff in attendance after the holidays, but that decrease has been lessened at the Beacon because of "Avatar's" popularity.

"It's showing signs of slowing down probably during the week," Valente said, referring to "Avatar." "But every Saturday it's been sold out. A lot of movies burn out very quickly. By the third week there's no one in the theater anymore. ‘Avatar' is the opposite of that."

"‘Avatar' got us off to a great start," Stanley said.

With another 3D movie set to come out in March, Stanley said he is considering adding a third 3D theater to the two that already have the technology.

Although the mainstream movies that the Beacon has shown have drawn well so far, the smaller, independent films that are popular at Stanley's other cinema complex, The Triplex in Great Barrington, have not. Shortly before the Beacon opened, several county residents wrote letters to The Eagle stating that they were concerned that Stanley's programming at the Beacon might not include independent films. One letter-writer even called for a boycott of the Beacon.

"It really doesn't seem as if they're getting much support," Stanley said. "In my mind it's a little bit disappointing. The movies that we've run at the Triplex and the Beacon have done significantly better at the Triplex.

"Maybe when one person or three people write letters to the editor, you think that it's representative. But I haven't seen it."
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224.
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"Teacher talks hit a snag"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 1, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Contract talks between the Pittsfield School Committee and the city's public school teachers took "several steps back" during the latest negotiating session, according to teacher union officials.

Negotiators for the committee and the 600-member United Teachers of Pittsfield (UEP) met with a state mediator for the first time on Friday to try and settled the stalled negotiations. Both sides requested third party intervention after talks broke off on Dec. 7. However, UEP President Scott Eldridge said the nearly two-hour session resulted in an unacceptable offer from the School Committee.

"When I heard what the proposal was, I said ‘We're done here,'" Eldridge said to The Eagle on Sunday. "We absolutely made no progress at all."

He added, "We're going to work to rule [today]."

The UEP -- the city's largest union -- two weeks ago voted to "work to rule" as of today if a new collective bargaining agreement wasn't reached. Teachers who "work to rule" are strictly following the terms of the previous contract and don't volunteer to provide extra help for students or work on school activities beyond what was negotiated.

"I'm, disappointed in that," School Committee chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso said.

However, Amuso on Sunday wouldn't comment on the contract talks except to say the next mediated bargaining session is scheduled for Feb. 11.

The School Committee and teachers union have been negotiating a new contract since April 2008 that would replace the one-year pact that expired Aug. 25. The deal approved nearly a year ago, but retroactive to August 2008, had a modest 1.5 percent salary increase and was shortened from the traditional three years to one because of the city's volatile budget situation earlier this year.

Amuso and Eldridge haven't said whether a pay hike is part of the current negotiations which both had described as amicable, until the state mediator was requested.
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"Parking ticket sours good Beacon experience"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 3, 2010

Last Wednesday, I took in a matinee at the new Beacon Cinema. Someone deserves a lot of credit for the quality of the establishment. My pleasure was somewhat diminished when I got back to the car and realized I had lost my gamble. We were running a little late and I decided a lot with several empty spaces 30-40 minutes away from being free was probably safe to park in. The parking officer did the job they are paid to do, and I got what I basically asked for, a nice ticket. It certainly makes City Councilor Kevin Sherman's comments about downtown parking prescient.

I have always regarded doing any kind of business in downtown Pittsfield as a pain because of the parking, and it will be a snowy day in Hades before I hit downtown for something other than an absolute necessity. I hope the City Council has the will and the intelligence to do what it can to alleviate the problem.

CHARLES J. DUTELLE
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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Students walk to their next class Wednesday during a break at Taconic High School. Officials project student populations to drop off for 10 years. (Kayla Galway / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Student population to fall: Pittsfield's schools will see a decline in enrollment for nearly a decade, but it will be more gradual than in previous years."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 4, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield Public Schools will continue to see a gradual decline in student population for the next five years and stay below the 6,000 enrollment figure for nearly 10 years.

The city's 12 schools have a current enrollment of 6,131, which will drop in each of the next five years to 5,883 by the 2014-15 school year, according to the New England School Development Council (NESDEC). However, NESDEC officials project the student population will start to slowly rise in each of the four succeeding years to 5,984 in the 2018-19 school year.

"The projections are most accurate over the first five years because there are children ready to enter kindergarten," said John Kennedy, one of the study's authors.

NESDEC is a nonprofit organization established 60 years ago to help school districts with administrator searches, find ways to improve school district management and provide enrollment projections for educational planning.

If NESDEC's entire 10-year projections hold true, the trend will represent a marked improvement compared to the enrollment decline of the previous 10-year period. Pittsfield's enrollment fell by 714 students from 1999 to 2009, but from last year to 2019 the projected drop is 197 students.

"While there's a degree of speculation, we're pleased our enrollment will be stabilizing," said Pittsfield School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

Eberwein noted the enrollment prediction helps the district plan ahead.

"We have a potential high school building project and this information will be helpful," he said.

Pittsfield is currently working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority to develop plans for the future use of Pittsfield and Taconic high schools.

However, Kennedy said, "The decline is primarily going to be in the high schools -- in excess of 200 students."

He added little change will occur in the enrollment patterns for rest of the school district.

NESDEC officials based their enrollment projections on several assumptions, such as the birth level holding steady at about 530 per year, steady or slight improvement in housing growth and sales, a stabilizing high school student population and constant number of city students being educated outside the public school system.

Kennedy said housing starts and number of births were key factors behind the 714 student decline from 1999-2009. The number of city-issued building permits for single-family homes fell from an average of 43 in the mid-2000s to an average of 15 the last two years.

"The enrollment drop is also largely explained by a decline of 50 births per year," he added.

Nevertheless, school officials last October informed the School Committee the enrollment decline had stabilized, with an overall drop of 113 students in 2008 and again in 2009.

Kennedy said a slower decline is a good sign for city educators.

"It shows people are opting to send their kids to the Pittsfield school system," he added.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Inside the numbers ...

Pittsfield Public School student enrollment is projected to drop below the 6,000 mark in the 2011-12 school year and remain below that figure through 2018-19.

The current enrollment of 6,131 students is expected to drop to 5,883 in 2014-15 but rise to 5,984 by 2018-19.

All projections are more reliable 1-5 years into the future and less reliable beyond five years.

Source: New England School Development Council, Feb. 2010.
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Mark Germanowski, Pittsfield Municipal Airport general manager, talks about the project Wednesday on the airport grounds. The Airport Commission is seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill in wetlands. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Runway expansion taxis toward finish"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 4, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The Airport Commission is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the permit it needs to alter wetlands for Pittsfield Municipal Airport's $23 million runway expansion project.

The federal permit is the last one the commission needs to begin the project, and work could be put to bid soon pending the corps' approval. Massachusetts' top environmental agency has already approved the necessary state-level permits.

Approximately 5.7 acres of wetlands and one-tenth of an acre of a nearby body of water will be filled to make way for a pair of 1,000-by-400 foot safety areas, one at at either end of the airport's main runway.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations require a minimum of 1,000 feet of safety area at each end of the runway. The airport's main runway currently has less than 200 feet of safety area at each end now.

The main runway will be extended by 790 feet at the eastern end, which means relocating a section of South Mountain Road. Altogether, the project will extend the airport's 5,000-foot long main runway by 950 feet.

In October, the Airport Commission received the state Department of Environmental Protection's OK to conduct the work affecting the wetlands and the installation of a new lighting system.

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the commission is required to get the Corps of Engineers permit. The corps regulates the filling of wetlands.

In case there were issues at the state level, the corps waited until DEP gave its blessing before beginning the federal permitting process, Airport Manager Mark Germanowski said.

Tim Dugan, a spokesman for the corps, said the agency will conduct an environmental review and take comments from the public and interested parties into consideration. The deadline to comment on the project is March 4.

A public hearing is not standard procedure in this type of review, Dugan said, but it will be considered if the public requests one. The permit review process could take four months.

"Typically, the goal is to make a decision in 120 days," Dugan said. "That's four months from when the notice goes out. It could take longer or shorter. It depends on the coordination."

Public comments should be forwarded to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, Regulatory Division, attention Crystal Gardner, 696 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742-2751.

Additional information can be obtained by contacting Gardner, the permit project manager, at (978) 318-8332, or via e-mail at crystal.i.gardner@usace.army.mil. Those who call within Massachusetts can also contact Gardner toll free at (800) 343-4789, or (800) 362-4367.

More detailed information on the project can be obtained at www.nae.usace.army.mil.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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"Pittsfield is paying for a snow job"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 6, 2010

In response to the Jan. 29 Eagle article and video "Barrett surveys cleanup": So far, for our $15,000, we have learned that following a snowfall:

Main roads improve "immensely" after plowing.

Streets that don't get plowed are "real bad."

Packed snow that isn't plowed or salted can create hazardous driving conditions.

Mayor Barrett has not found a solution to this problem.

Mayor Barrett may be genuinely trying to fulfill his contract, but what troubles me most is Mayor Ruberto's response: "He's doing exactly what I expected he would do," said Ruberto.

This is what he expected for $15,000? Mayor Barrett driving on slippery streets, not wearing a seatbelt, and failing to signal turns while talking on a cell phone? Every snowplow driver, school bus driver, teacher, police officer, fire fighter, city employee, city councilor, and resident would happily provide this level of feedback free of charge.

In fact, just go sit in a coffee shop on a snowy morning and listen to people talk about the roads, or better yet, buy them a cup of coffee and talk to them.

If you agree with me, I suggest that all residents and readers surf to the city's Web site, under E-services, to a section called "Report an Issue," that allows every citizen to provide feedback to the city, free of charge: www.pittsfield-ma.org/ticket.asp

Start telling the city your problems and please provide your solutions. And tell Mayor Ruberto that he doesn't need to pay $15,000 for a snow job.

AARON SUGARMAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Barrett money better spent on library"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 7, 2010

The hiring of former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III by Pittsfield Mayor Ruberto as a "consultant" is the most ludicrous action I have ever heard of. With the city in such a deadlock financially, where did this $15,000 come from? This totally unnecessary job is a product of Ruberto doing a political friend a favor.

This so-called position was not posted in the job listings at City Hall because it was created independently by our honorable mayor. Pittsfield has survived for decades without needing anyone to ride around and observe what streets need plowing. All that Barrett probably does is stop and schmooze with all of the truck drivers and whatever resident he happens to see and know.

If a street is not plowed, a city resident calls the Highway Department and lets them know, but the person is not paid for that. Talk about political excess! I am a city of Pittsfield employee also and work at the Berkshire Athenaeum. What really gets me is that some of my fellow part-time co-workers had their hours reduced, the Young Adult department has no coverage anymore, the budget for new books was reduced -- the list goes on and on.

In my department, which is circulation, we desperately need new book carts. Wouldn't it make more sense to channel some of the money that Barrett is being paid into giving my department new and updated equipment, re-opening the Young Adult Dept., and restoring the Monday night hours and hours of the part-timers that were eliminated? Our public library is a treasure of the community and much more important to put money into than the above-mentioned situation.

As a homeowner, I know that I and all of the other many homeowners in Pittsfield do not like having our real estate taxes used in a frivolous way, and would rather have our money put into the local library. To make $15,000 for three months worth of work is a high wage.

No matter what happens, I still love my library and we will persevere somehow.

DIANE DITMAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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After spending five weeks reviewing city operations, John Barrett III plans to compile a list of recommendations that he believes will help improve the quality of life in Pittsfield. ‘You do have dedicated employees doing work to the best of their ability,’ he told members of the City Council on Tuesday night. (Photos by Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Road map for a better city: Barrett outlines opportunities for neighborhood improvements"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 10, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III Tuesday night gave the City Council what amounted to a mid-term report of his observations and likely recommendations for improving Pittsfield neighborhoods.

And the councilors liked what they heard.

Barrett, who was hired as a consultant five weeks ago by Mayor James M. Ruberto, outlined how the city can improve snow removal, repair roads, eliminating blighted property, and other areas of public works, utilities and maintenance He has a three-month contract worth $15,000 to make recommendations to Ruberto.

"I will leave a plan that will hopefully work," Barrett said. "It will be short and sweet and not have a lot of reprinted material from other communities."

"My recommendations will fit Pittsfield," he added.

One recommendation will be using fewer contractors and rely more on existing city trucks from other departments to assist Public Works and Utilities to plow, salt and sand city roads in the winter. Pittsfield currently has 35 contractors helping with snow removal.

As for paving city streets, Barrett has found hiring private firms is the answer.

"Get the city out of the paving business to save money," Barrett said. "Most public works departments are getting away from major projects because they don't have the staff."

Barrett also will recommend to Ruberto consolidating some departments and realigning the staff under Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood to improve his department's response to residents' complaints and concerns.

Furthermore, Barrett called for the city to do its own street sweeping, increase downtown street lighting and embarrass owners of blighted property to clean up their act.

"I think owners should be brought before the television cameras during City Council meetings and explain why they are not maintaining their properties," said Barrett.

Keeping neighborhoods well maintained was a staple of Barrett's 26-year administration in North Adams, before he lost his re-election bid for a 14th term in November. He often rode with city workers assessing street conditions and other infrastructure needs.

Barrett has taken the same approach in Pittsfield and has found the employees most cooperative.

"You do have dedicated employees doing work to the best of their ability," he noted.

While Barrett's hiring initially irked several city councilors, his hour-long report was well received by the council.

"Most of what you said has been music to my ears," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio thanked Barrett for helping him deal with several issues regarding city parks in his ward.

The council's most vocal critic of Barrett's hiring, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols, even appreciated the former mayor's report.

"After hearing you speak, I see you have a wealth of knowledge from years of being in North Adams," said Nichols.

Nevertheless, Nichols feels Barrett's work could have been done in-house.

"I can't understand why people we've already hired can't do the job," he added.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Barrett 101"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, February 11, 2010

Appearing before the Pittsfield City Council Tuesday night, former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III made short work of the critics who simplistically assert that he does no more than ride around in snowplows in his role as consultant on Pittsfield neighborhood issues. About halfway through his tenure, Mr. Barrett has more than earned the modest $15,000 he is being paid, and the responsibility will soon shift to city officials to follow through on his valuable recommendations.

Mr. Barrett went beyond snow-plowing problems to issues involving street paving, better use of public works personnel, improving communications between residents and the public works department and cracking down on owners of blighted property. He gained expertise in these areas during his long tenure as mayor of North Adams and it was encouraging to find the council, which invited him at the behest of at large Councilor Kevin Sherman, receptive to his ideas.

Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols appeared concerned that Mr. Barrett has not followed the confining parameters of his consulting contract with the city, which includes an educational component described by the former mayor as "Barrett 101" when Mr. Nichols asked about the nature of his instruction. Mr. Nichols and city residents should be grateful that Mr. Barrett is not content to simply color within the lines because the city would not be getting its money's worth if he did. Mr. Barrett, much to his credit, is instead looking at the big picture and taking on issues that no narrowly drawn consulting contract could possibly anticipate.

As recommended, the city should reduce the number of independent contractors to plow city streets as too many side streets go unplowed until contractors finally get around to plowing them. Plowing should be a city job exclusively. Residents should receive a quicker response to complaints and concerns from the Public Works and Utilities department and should not be expected to go through their ward councilor.

The mayor long fought the good fight against North Adams' slumlords and his proposal to bring owners of blighted property before the television cameras at City Council meetings to account for themselves is an excellent one. Pittsfield is afflicted with absentee owners and irresponsible businessmen who brazenly ignore city codes and regulations. An embarrassing appearance before the City Council may improve a few attitudes.

Mr. Barrett's efforts in the Lakewood section have already paid dividends in terms of cleaning up the former Grossman's property. For the most part, however, as Mr. Barrett observed Tuesday night, he will be making recommendations that only elected city officials can enact. When that happens in the months ahead, the city will have gained long-term benefits from its small investment in Mr. Barrett's time and expertise.
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"Ruberto set spending record"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Editor & Publisher, 28.JANUARY.2010

James Ruberto smashed his own campaign spending record in the 2010 mayoral election.

Ruberto reports spending nearly $115,000 on his campaign, which he won by just over 200 votes.

Runnerup Dan Bianchi spent just over $36,000.

All candidates who appeared on last year’s municipal ballot were required to file year-end campaign finance forms by this past week.

During the final reporting period — from October 17 through December 31 — Ruberto spent nearly $45,000 compared to under $13,000 for Bianchi.

Both candidates made last-minute loans to their campaigns to cover expenses right before the November election.

Ruberto invested $22,500 of his own money into his campaign account in late October. He had previously loaned $15,000 to his reelection bid, bringing his personal investment to $37,500. Including loans he made for his original 2001 campaign, Ruberto now has more than $50,000 of loans from himself on the books.
Bianchi loaned $2,000 to his campaign in late October, $1,000 of which his campaign repaid him, leaving a $1,000 loan liability.

During the final report perod, Ruberto spent more than $10,500 with ArrowPress for the printing of campaign materials. he also paid GDC Opinion Dynamics of Waltham $8,250 — the second installment of a bill for polling the firm did on his behalf.
Ruberto also spent nearly $2,000 on reimbursements for supporters who purchased prepaid telephones from the Best Buy store in Lanesboro.

The incumbent’s spending included $2,637 on expenses related to the several-hour recount that affirmed his victory. The bulk of the recount money — $2,500 — went to the law firm Sullivan & McDermott of West Roxbury. Ruberto also spent $137 to provide food for recount observers.

Bianchi reported no expenditures related to the recount.

The following list includes campaign donations recorded during the final reporting period. Donations over $50 during a year need to be listed.

BIANCHI DONORS
Elaine Costanzo $100
Kevin Dondi 100
Roland LaPierre Hampton, NH 100
CR Nagelschmidt Burlington 100
Cherly Penna Washington 100
David Quinlan 100
Michael Smith 150
Maryellen Therrien Chesapeake VA 100

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RUBERTO DONORS
Mary Abadllah $75
Michael and Michelle Albano, Springfield 250
Norman Avnet 150
Eric Biss Norwich, CT 100
Lee Blatt Lancaster, PA 250
Joseph Breault 100
James Callahan 125
James Canavan North Adams 125
Timothy Carlo 150
John Cella 100
Jan Charbonneau 75
Stuart Chase Lanesboro 100
David Cianflone 125
Ralph Cianflone Jr. 125
Roby Cody Plano TX 200
Leonard Cohen 250
Committee to Elect David Capeless 100
Peter Conboy 75
RF Conway 200
Judith and Jeffrey Cook 250
Patricia Cotton 50
Catherine Deely Stockbridge 100
Michael Degregorio 75
John Derosa North Adams 500
William Drury 100
J. Williar Dunlaevy Lenox 250
Kathleen Duqette 100
Bruce Evenchik 250
Brian Fairbank Hancock 500
Michael Ferry Dalton 100
Danford Fisher NY 250
Steven Fogel Williamstown 75
Clark Gable 250
Real Gadoury 75
Thomas Garrity Lee 250
Thomas Geary 100
Kathleen Gillis 100
Mary Grant North Adams 200
Catherine Gribbel-Beautyman 100
Sherwood Guernsey 100
Thomas Hamel 100
Paul Herely Yarmouth Port 250
John Herman 75
Sheila Irvin 50
Brian Johnson 100
James Kelly Lanesboro 500
Kevin Kinne Great Barrington 250
Gregory Knight 75
William Knight 75
Peter Labonte 250
Roberta Lafayette 125
Richard and Jane Laureyns 500
Therese Laurin 500
Douglas Luf 100
Jean Lussier 100
Robert Macpherson Braintree 250
Carmen Massimiano 100
Michael Matthews 200
Robert Matthews Trumbull, CT 250
Mary Jane McCormick 100
Elane McNabb 75
Michael Meehan Williamstown 250
Kara Mendel 100
Stephen Mendel 100
Katherine Mogavero 100
Thomas Murphy 100
Rosemary Obrien 100
Richard Parison Jr. 75
Beth Pearson 200
Robert Petricca 100
Madeline Phelps 100
Maureen Phillips 75
Marshall Raser 250
John Rogers 100
Robert Rosenthal Newton Center 125
Jon Rudzinksi Rosindale MA 250
Deanna Ruffer 75
John Rys 100
Mel Sadowy 100
Thomas Sakshaug 100
Carol Scarafoni 100
Carole Siegel 75
James Smith 100
Richard Stockwell 125
Erin Sullivan 100
David Valicenti Housatonic 250
Phillip Volastro 100
Karl Volkman 125
Arthur Wasser 125
Joseph Wheaton Becket 250
Lisa Wiehl 200
Nancy Wiehl 200
Tracy Wilson 75

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"Council signs off on roster"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 2/10/2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council now unanimously supports the eight appointments to the 21-member School Building Needs Commission, after being divided on the issue two weeks ago.

The council Tuesday night endorsed Mayor James M. Ruberto’s list of five nominations and the other three made by School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III. Since Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti and Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. were among the eight appointees, the two men abstained from voting on their respective nominations.

The council on Jan. 26 voted 5-4 to table the nominations until Ruberto provided more information on why he put forth four re-appointments and four new members to the commission. Upon receiving a one-page explanation from Ruberto prior to the meeting, councilors quickly approved the nominations.

"I just wanted more clarity, especially on this issue," said Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, who spearheaded the delay in acting on the list.

The School Building Needs Commission will be instrumental in working with the state School Building Authority in developing some type of high school project that will shape for decades to come the future of secondary education in Pittsfield.

The new commission members include Marchetti; Joanne Soules, the interim principal at Pittsfield High School; Sally Douglas, the assistant school superintendent of business and finance; and Keith Babuszczak, vocation education director. Combined, they fill two vacancies and replace three members whose terms had expired: Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary Grant, businessman Christopher Light and former city councilor Patricia "Pam" Malumphy.

Re-appointed were Community Development Board member Floriana Fitzgerald and community members John Barber and Frank LaRagione.

While Grant and Light didn’t seek reappointment, Malumphy had no intention of leaving. Speaking to The Eagle two weeks ago, she thought she was being replaced for voicing her displeasure on the direction the commission has taken regarding the two city high schools.

"We are putting people on the commission with different points of view," said commission co-chair Tricia Farley-Bouvier. "It doesn’t help us to not represent all aspects of the community."

The mayoral directive that established the current School Building Needs Commission calls for Ruberto to appoint four commission members to one-year terms, four to two-year terms, and three to three-year terms. All but one, three-year term is filled.

Four of the mayoral appointments, including Farley-Bouvier’s, expire on May 1.

The remaining seats are filled by the city’s maintenance director, one School Committee member, three members of the school system’s professional staff, two representatives of parent-teacher groups and one student each from Pittsfield and Taconic high schools.

Farley-Bouvier said the next soon-to-be-scheduled commission meeting will be with an SBA representative who will explain the feasibility study process, which is a step toward securing state funding for a high school project in Pittsfield.

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"City retirees are in a costly boat"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 2/10/2010

Thanks Mayor Ruberto and the powers that be for changing health insurance. As a city retiree, I can experience paying more for medication. For just three of my many prescriptions, I can experience $90 more, and that does not include my other meds or my wife’s. All other retirees are in the same boat.

Good thing we have smart, educated people making decisions like this. Perhaps they can figure a way to eliminate the heavy cost increase for the elderly on Social Security. Perhaps they can donate their pocket change to me.

BRUCE JADATZ
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Councilors should do their own jobs"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 17, 2010

In response to John Barrett III helping Lakewood, it seems to me that Mr. Barrett is doing [Ward 3 City Councilor] Paul Capitanio's job.

Just recently I contacted my city councilor about a concern on my street in Ward 7. Within a week, it was addressed and repaired at least until spring when it can be fixed properly. Thank you Mr. Nichols. And it didn't cost anywhere near $15,000.

RICHARD DALY
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"City budget on target: Unlike last year, the plan is balanced at mid-year."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 18, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Halfway through the fiscal year, Pittsfield is in far better shape than it was last year at this time, city officials said Wednesday night.

Last February, city officials were struggling to close a $2 million deficit in the annual spending plan. But during a presentation to the City Council's finance subcommittee on Wednesday night, Finance Director and Treasurer Susan Carmel reported that the city budget has remained balanced since it was approved June 30 -- the day before fiscal 2010 began.

"I'm very pleased with where the budget is after six months," Carmel said. "Every department is tracking around 50 percent of money spent or lower."

The City Council's decision to adopt a fiscal 2010 budget of $122.7 million, which was more than $4 million lower than the fiscal 2009 plan, contributed to the current financial stability, officials said.

"One of the biggest factors is the budget process was later than usual as we relied on more realistic [state aid figures]," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti, chairman of the finance subcommittee.

Marchetti added the lack of mid-year state aid cuts to all Massachusetts cities and towns has also helped.

By mid-February last year, the City Council approved two rounds of mid-year cuts and dipped into a reserve cash account to balance the fiscal 2009 budget -- preventing city employee layoffs. The $2 million shortfall for the first six months -- July through December -- was due to shrinking local revenue and a $1 million reduction in state aid.

While Pittsfield's overall budget outlook is good for the rest of fiscal 2009, Carmel predicted several budget accounts will run a deficit by June 30, citing a potential $100,000 shortfall in the Veterans Services Department and a $200,000 gap in workers compensation.

She also expects snow and ice removal spending to exceed its budget amount of $530,000, despite the lack of frozen precipitation this winter season. Last year, Public Works and Utilities Department was $490,000 over budget, or nearly double the $530,000 set aside for plowing, salting and sanding city roads.

On the revenue side, Carmel noted earned income from investments and fees collected by the Health and Building departments and City Clerk are ahead of last year's pace.

"Sue's revenue projection's are right on," said City Council President Gerald M. Lee. "If anything they are too conservative."

"But I would rather want more money than less at the end of the [fiscal] year," Lee added.

Pittsfield's revenue projections also got a thumbs up from the city's independent auditor.

"You being very conservative with your receipts means you're very fiscally responsible," said Thomas Scanlon Jr.

Meanwhile, the city's hotel/motel tax could generate less revenue than expected, with last week's announcement that Patriot Suites is closing its 146-room hotel on Dan Fox Drive for "several months."

The City Council last October voted to increase the local lodging fee from 4 to 6 percent effective Jan. 1 in order to raise an additional $90,000 through June 30 in order to help offset state aid cuts enacted last June.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Human Services in Pittsfield
"Grant application deadline is Friday"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 22, 2010

PITTSFIELD - Local organizations have less than a week to apply for the next round of human services funding from Pittsfield - funding city officials hope will stabilize this year.

The Human Services Advisory Council is giving applicants until Friday to submit their proposals to the Department of Community Development at City Hall, which will be forwarded to the volunteer committee. The 11- member panel will review them and make recommendations to Mayor James M. Ruberto.

The council will also hold a public hearing on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to assess the human services needs in Pittsfield and use the information to help determine which proposals deserve funding. The meeting is being held at the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority transportation center at the corner of North Street and Columbus Avenue.

How much money will be available in fiscal 2011, which begins July 1, is unknown as the city has just begun its budget process.

"I'm hoping we come out with at least level funding," said Council Chairman Christopher Meehan. "To hold the line is encouraging, but we get more requests each year."

Humans services funding in Pittsfield has been decreasing due to city budget cuts, while the number of requests has risen.

The council spent $413,000 to fund 13 of 17 requests for the fiscal year 2010, compared to all 13 requests being awarded a total of $450,000 in fiscal 2009.

While several agencies who have been funded in the past do serve all of Berkshire County, the council requires the money must be spent on Pittsfield residents, since it's their tax dollars at work. The human services account is funded by the city and the federal Community Development Block Grant Program.

"The clients and consumers range from infants to the elderly as approximately 2,000 people will benefit from the funds," said Robert Cornwell of the community development office who oversees the funding program.

In the past eight years, the council has encouraged human service agencies to band together to seek funding.

"We very much continue to urge applicants be co-collaborators," said Cornwell. "But we still allow stand-alone requests if the agencies prove they are viable."

A family consortium of 10 agencies lead by Berkshire Children and Families received the largest award from Pittsfield last year, totaling $265,000, followed by more than $81,000 given to a collaboration of four homeless programs spearheaded by Berkshire Community Action Council. In all, eight of the 13 requests funded were collaborative proposals, compared to nine in fiscal 2009. "The fact we encourage collaboration has formed cooperation, networking and efficiency among several agencies - the money not withstanding," said Meehan.

He noted applicants in April will make their funding presentations before the committee, which are shown by Pittsfield Community Television.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TCDJBSI7DH50OQ8O2
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2/22/2010

Re: Funds for a "Good Old Boy", but cuts to the poor!

"Humans services funding in Pittsfield has been decreasing due to city budget cuts, while the number of requests has risen."

Pittsfield uses federal funds to help children, families, the elderly and homeless people, but has cut this funding while there are more people in need!

Sound like former-Mayor John Barrett III's $15,000 stipend is coming out of the mouth's of hungry infants, poor families, elderly tax-payers hard-hit by Mayor Jimmy Ruberto's continual tax and fee hikes, and homeless people in need of shelter!

- Jonathan Melle

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"Councilors must do their own jobs"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 22, 2010

I am writing in response to Linda Collins' Feb. 9 letter on John Barrett III ("Barrett comes through for Lakewood.") Even though the matter was finally handled, it should have been handled sooner. No disrespect to Barrett, Mayor Ruberto and Ward 3 City Councilor Paul Capitanio, but I thought that's why we voted, so people would hear our complaints, discuss them, find a solution and handle it in a timely manner.

If we need to hire someone from out of town to advise our city councilors on how to run our city, maybe we should hire Barrett full time and save money on the City Council.

WILLIAM JULIAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TLE38VKFC3HFBTQ6B
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"Get Barrett on overdue repair"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 22, 2010

After reading the editorial "Barrett 101" in the Feb. 11 Eagle, I can only hope that now I will receive a speedy repair to the curb in front of my home that was torn up by a snowplow more than eight years ago!

Once every year I call the Department of Public Works and request that repairs be made, to no avail. Perhaps John Barrett's recommendations will be taken seriously by the above-mentioned department.

Go John Barrett!

JULIA SIMS
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TOUCE19SN3VSQ499T
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Michael Farella, a fourth-grade teacher at Conte School in Pittsfield, provides instruction on Monday to his class. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Pittsfield teachers reach deal with School Committee"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 23, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The city's public school teachers and Pittsfield School Committee have reached a tentative agreement on a new one-year contract, which, if approved, would end somewhat contentious negotiations.

The 600-member United Teachers of Pittsfield (UEP) and committee negotiators arrived at the compromise following a second bargaining session with a state mediator on Feb. 11. Both sides requested third party intervention after talks -- which had been amicable -- broke off on Dec. 7.

UEP President Scott Eldridge will present the contract proposal to the teachers March 2 and they'll vote on it March 4.

"There were some small concessions on both sides," Eldridge said. "But a lot things were pulled off the table."

"We had give and take on both sides," School Committee chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso added. "I didn't think we were really that far apart."

Amuso and Eldridge wouldn't say whether a pay hike is part of the tentative agreement; details of which will be released if the contract is ratified.

The School Committee and teachers union have been negotiating a new contract since April 2008 that would replace the one-year pact that expired Aug. 25. The deal approved a year ago, but retroactive to August 2008, had a modest 1.5 percent salary increase and was shortened from the traditional three years to one because of the city's volatile budget situation earlier this year.

If approved by the city's largest union and School Committee, the new one-year agreement will be retroactive to Aug. 25, 2009. Eldridge said the union "will push for a three-year contract" when negotiations begin toward the next contract to replace the proposed deal scheduled to expire in August of this year.

Meanwhile, the UEP has suspended its "work to rule" order now that a pending collective bargaining agreement is in hand. The union voted for the labor action that took effect Feb. 1 due to stalled contract talks. Teachers who "work to rule" are strictly following the terms of the previous contract and don't volunteer to provide extra help for students or work on school activities beyond what was negotiated.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TOG8TB9R5MKSKS9LH
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"Pittsfield's Department of Community Development Partners with 'Assets for Artists'"
iBerkshires.com - February 26, 2010

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Mayor James Ruberto and the Pittsfield Department of Community Development have announced a new partnership with Berkshire Creative’s "Assets for Artists" program. The partnership will help two artists buy homes here, and will help an eight more artists start new or expand existing art businesses in the city.

The Assets for Artists program provides business and financial training, technical assistance, homebuyer education and grant support through a "matched savings account" model serving low- to moderate-income artists, designers, craftspeople and performers in the Berkshires, helping them grow their creative enterprises and achieve more financial security. The cty contribution of $26,600 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds will provide match funds specifically for existing Pittsfield-based artists who enroll in the program, or artists who choose to move to Pittsfield from outside the city.

The Assets for Artist Program, a collaboration between Berkshire Creative, the City of Pittsfield, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Berkshire Cultural Resource Center, and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), is directed by Blair Benjamin, MASS MoCA’s director of Real Estate and Community Development and a board member of Berkshire Creative.

Once enrolled, participating artists save $2,000 of their own funds, which are deposited over a six to 30-month period into a restricted savings account. After a minimum of six months, provided they have saved the required funds and completed the required financial and business education or homeownership classes, participants can draw down a $2,000 match from Assets for Artists for business-related investments, or a $4,000 match toward the purchase of a first home.

Homeownership funds may be used for down payment assistance and closing costs. Small business participants may use the funds to make a direct payment to vendors or service providers following the budget established as part of an approved business plan.

Additional support for the program is provided by the Berkshire Bank Foundation, Citizens Bank Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development.

For more information on the program, contact the city’s Department of Community Development at 413-499-9368.
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www.iberkshires.com/new/story.php?story_id=34112
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"Executive assistant fills assessors slot: Paula King will replace Amy Davidson on board"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 1, 2010

PITTSFIELD - Mayor James M. Ruberto has chosen his executive assistant to fill a vacancy on the city's Board of Assessors.

Paula J. King will replace Amy W. Davidson, who left the full-time board position more than a year ago, if the City Council next week approves King's appointment for a three-year term. Ruberto is also asking the council on March 9 to reappoint Chairman William D. Marsele to a second, three-year stint on the three-member board.

Several are interviewed Ruberto said King was one of several people interviewed for the job by a search committee, which included Marsele and the third assessor, Kelly Baumert. While King has spent four years as the first person people see or hear when they visit or call the mayor's office, she was also earning certification to become an assessor. "Paula King was the most qualified for the position," said Ruberto. "She really, thoroughly engages with the public." As for replacing King, Ruberto intends to hire another executive assistant as "this office needs a second person." The mayor's other aide is his public affairs coordinator, Matthew R. Dindio. King's pending move to the Board of Assessors is welcome news as it prepares for the time-consuming property revaluation scheduled for fiscal 2011. Busy time of year "Given the upcoming workload, I thought it appropriate to appoint a third board member," said Ruberto, who kept the position vacant as a budget- cutting measure. The state mandates cities and towns every three years conduct a complete reassessment of all residential, commercial and personal property before setting a new tax rate. The City Council traditionally establishes the new rate in December. Marsele said the board has managed to overcome being shorthanded because "fortunately, we have a very experienced support staff." He further praised Baumert for picking up the slack. "Kelly Baumert has also done yeoman's work and much of my work for a six-toeight- week period while I was out sick," Marsele added.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TO70OMNPIUACQL0KU
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"Here Comes the Sun"
valleyadvocate.com - March 4, 2010

The Green Communities Act of 2008 is starting to see some of its grants, loans and other clean energy incentives come to fruition, and Western Mass. is leading the way.

Western Mass. Electric Company (WMECo) has announced development of the first of its proposed large-scale solar facilities (to be located in Pittsfield). The 1.8 megawatt installation will be located, in accordance with one of its mandates, at a brownfield site on Silver Lake Road, not far from where the General Electric PCB cleanup is on its way to completion.

The site is comprised of two parcels of land, one six-acre parcel owned by WMECo and a two-acre parcel in the William Stanley Business Park owned by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA). Instrumental in getting the project off the ground were state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, who hope it will also help to bring other economic opportunities to the city.

"Integrating renewable energy projects with the redevelopment of these brownfield properties is a win-win for our city and a valuable contribution toward the Commonwealth's energy and environmental objectives," said Ruberto.

Expected to cost between $10 million and $12 million to build, the facility will increase the City of Pittsfield's property tax revenue by an estimated $200,000 annually and generate enough power to heat approximately 1,800 homes, making it the largest solar power facility in New England and a prototype for several other planned installations.

The company expects the consumer impact of its entire large-scale solar program to be modest, "amounting initially to about 60 cents per month for an average residential customer using 500 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month." Construction on the Pittsfield plant is planned for the spring.

This past August, WMECo became the first state utility authorized to own and operate large-scale solar facilities within its service area, which includes Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin and Berkshire counties. The utility has been granted permission to install up to 6 megawatts of solar by the Mass. Department of Public Utilities, which, under the GCA, plans to incorporate a total of 250 megawatts of solar-powered energy generation facilities statewide by 2017.

"Today's announcement provides tangible evidence that large-scale solar is becoming a reality in the Commonwealth," said Peter Clarke, WMECo president and chief operating officer. "Solar energy facilities like these will provide the platform necessary to demonstrate that solar can play a viable role in meeting the renewable energy needs of the Commonwealth while contributing to the economic development of the region."

Sixteen solar firms have been qualified to bid on WMECo's solar projects, which have been specifically targeted to try to utilize brownfield sites and capped landfills, open-space properties that typically have few other uses, are usually already owned by utilities, municipalities or other local and regional economic development organizations and are hence suited for development as solar facilities.

WMECo plans to complete its 6 megawatt program by 2012, and under the GCA is further authorized to initiate projects that could bring its total ownership of solar facilities to 50 megawatts.

WMECo, part of the Northeast Utilities System, currently serves approximately 200,000 customers in 59 communities. WMECo was contacted to ascertain whether any solar projects were planned for Hampshire, Hampden or Franklin counties, but a representative for the utility had not responded by press time.

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Pittsfield Public Schools: "Teachers ratify 1-year agreement"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 5, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield Public School teachers are a step closer to a new contract that will keep salaries in check.

The United Teachers of Pittsfield (UEP) on Thursday ratified a new one-year collective bargaining agreement, which "overall has no pay increase," according to union President Scott Eldridge. The vote was 172-38.

"I think this is a bargain for the city as we recognize there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Eldridge said, referring to Pittsfield's fiscal constraints.

Eldridge said contract details will be made public if the School Committee approves the proposal. Committee Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso expects the board to vote on the tentative agreement at its meeting on Wednesday.

If approved, the new one-year deal will be retroactive to Aug. 25, 2009, and expire at the end of August of this year.

The School Committee and teachers union have been negotiating a new contract since April 2009 that would replace the one-year pact that expired Aug. 25. The deal approved a year ago, but retroactive to August 2008, had a modest 1.5 percent salary increase and was shortened from the traditional three years to one because of the city's volatile budget situation last year.

Eldridge was pleased 33 percent of union members voted and gave the contract overwhelming support.

"I was encouraged by the number of people who stopped after voting and thanked the negotiating team for our effort," he noted.

Representatives of the 600-member UEP -- the city's largest union -- and committee negotiators arrived at the compromise following a second bargaining session with a state mediator on Feb. 11. Both sides requested third-party intervention after talks -- which had been amicable -- broke off on Dec. 7.

In an effort to jump start negotiations, the UEP voted in January to "work to rule" until a pending collective bargaining agreement was in hand. The labor action took effect Feb. 1 but was rescinded by union leaders 10 days later when union and School Committee negotiators reached the tentative deal. Teachers who "work to rule" are strictly following the terms of the previous contract and don't volunteer to provide extra help for students or work on school activities beyond what was negotiated.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/T65JVRN6DKDUML1OL
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Undersecretary Jennifer James Price of the Executive Office of Workforce Development attends a meeting of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board on Thursday to designate it as a high performance development board. ‘Now the Berkshire board sets an example,’ she said. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff). March 4, 2010.
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Executive Assistant to the Mayor, Paula King, talks about her transition into the city Assesors Office. (Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Mayor's assistant moves to a new post"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 10, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Paula J. King has spent more than four years as the first person people see or hear when they visit or call the mayor's office.

Whether welcoming the governor or dealing with an angry resident on the phone, the executive assistant to Mayor James M. Ruberto has treated everyone with a calm, pleasant and respectful demeanor.

"Paula is extremely pleasant and a great asset to the city," said City Council President Gerald M. Lee. "I've heard her on the phone when people are irate and she keeps listening intently."

"I let people speak as long as they want and then I try to help them," said King during an interview at her desk. "Sitting in this chair, I've heard many concerns and l know how to handle them."

King, 44, will now put her people skills to good use in the Board of Assessors office helping property owners understand their tax bills. The City Council on Tuesday night approved Ruberto's appointment of the Pittsfield native to replace Amy W. Davidson who left the full-time board position more than a year ago. While assessors serve three-year terms, King's appointment only lasts until January 2011, when Davidson's term was to expire.

King begins her new job today as Matthew R. Dindio, the mayor's public affairs coordinator, becomes the new executive assistant. Ruberto has hired Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield to fill Dindio's job, as the former city councilor has left her position as the executive director of Literacy Network of South Berkshire.

King's move to the Board of Assessors is welcome news as it prepares for the time-consuming property revaluation, currently under way for fiscal 2011 which begins July 1.

The council also reappointed Chairman William D. Marsele to a second, three-year stint on the three-member board. Kelly Baumert is the third assessor with 23 years on the job.

King joined the mayor's office in November 2005, but always had an eye on becoming an assessor, having sold real estate for five years before arriving at City Hall. When she wasn't answering phones, greeting visitors or maintaining Ruberto's daily schedule, King was taking assessors courses, eventually becoming certified by the state Department of Revenue.

While King yearned to be an assessor, as Ruberto's executive assistant she has learned the inner workings of city government and improved her administrative skills -- both essential in her new job.

"This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," King said. "The excitement and uncertainty of a job where the entire day could be planned out and, within minutes, completely changed."

"Paula doesn't get flustered," added Ruberto. "I'm going to miss her, but she's worked hard to gain her credentials to become an assessor."

City Clerk Linda M. Tyer said King's poise, composure and organizational skills will serve her well as a city assessor, but her presence in the mayor's office will be missed.

"I always felt comfortable communicating through Paula why I wanted to talk with the mayor," added Tyer, who was the Ward 3 councilor until becoming City Clerk in January 2009.

King has a "bittersweet" feeling about leaving the mayor's office, but looks forward to dealing with the public in a different capacity.

"I've always gravitated toward helping people," King said. "That's what we're here for at City Hall."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TJUB38J94Q1RB1OBQ
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About Me

My photo
Amherst, NH, United States
I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at jonathan_a_melle@yahoo.com

50th Anniversary - 2009

50th Anniversary - 2009
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Columbus Avenue in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Pittsfield Politics: Capitanio, Mazzeo agree on budget cuts, public safety

Pittsfield Politics: Capitanio, Mazzeo agree on budget cuts, public safety
Paul Capitanio, left, speaks during Monday night's Ward 3 City Council debate with fellow candidate Melissa Mazzeo at Pittsfield Community Television's studio. The special election (3/31/2009) will be held a week from today (3/24/2009). The local issues ranged from economic development and cleaning up blighted areas in Ward 3 to public education and the continued remediation of PCB's.

Red Sox v Yankees

Red Sox v Yankees
Go Red Sox!

Outrage swells in Congress!

Outrage swells in Congress!
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., left, and the committee's ranking Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., listen during a hearing on modernizing insurance regulations, Tuesday, March 17, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh). - http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20090318/pl_politico/30833

Beacon Hill's $pecial Interest Tax Raisers & $PENDERS!

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Photo Gallery: www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/03/15/St_Patricks_Day_Boston/

The path away from Wall Street ...

The path away from Wall Street ...
...Employers in the finance sector - traditionally a prime landing spot for college seniors, particularly in the Northeast - expect to have 71 percent fewer jobs to offer this year's (2009) graduates.

Economic collapse puts graduates on unforeseen paths: Enrollment in public service jobs rising...

Economic collapse puts graduates on unforeseen paths: Enrollment in public service jobs rising...
www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/03/14/economic_collapse_puts_graduates_on_unforeseen_paths/

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis
Should he be fired? As Bank of America's Stock Plummets, CEO Resists Some Calls That He Step Down.

Hookers for Jesus

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Annie Lobert is the founder of "Hookers for Jesus" - www.hookersforjesus.net/home.cfm - Saving Sin City: Las Vegas, Nevada?

Forever personalized stamped envelope

Forever personalized stamped envelope
The Forever stamp will continue to cover the price of a first-class letter. The USPS will also introduce Forever personalized, stamped envelopes. The envelopes will be preprinted with a Forever stamp, the sender's name and return address, and an optional personal message.

Purple Heart

Purple Heart
First issued in 2003, the Purple heart stamp will continue to honor the men and women wounded while serving in the US military. The Purple Heart stamp covers the cost of 44 cents for first-class, one-ounce mail.

Dolphin

Dolphin
The bottlenose is just one of the new animals set to appear on the price-change stamps. It will serve as a 64-cent stamp for odd shaped envelopes.

2009 price-change stamps

2009 price-change stamps
www.boston.com/business/gallery/2009pircechangestamps/ -&- www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/02/27/new_stamps_set_for_rate_increase_in_may/

Red Sox v Yankees

Red Sox v Yankees
Go Red Sox!

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
AP photo v Shepard Fairey

Rush Limbaugh lackeys

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Posted by Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe on March 3, 2009.

Honest Abe

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A 2007 US Penny

Dog race

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Sledding for dogs

The Capital of the Constitution State

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Hartford, once the wealthiest city in the United States but now the poorest in Connecticut, is facing an uphill battle.

Brady, Bundchen married

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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and model Gisele Bundchen wed Feb. 26, 2009 in a Catholic ceremony in Los Angeles. www.boston.com/ae/celebrity/gallery/tom_gisele/

Mayor Jimmy Ruberto

Mayor Jimmy Ruberto
Tanked Pittsfield's local economy while helping his fellow insider political hacks and business campaign contributors!

Journalist Andrew Manuse

Journalist Andrew Manuse
www.manuse.com

New Hampshire Supreme Court Building

New Hampshire Supreme Court Building
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Supreme_Court

Economic State of the Union

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A look at some of the economic conditions the Obama administration faces and what resources have already been pledged to help. 2/24/2009

President Barack Obama

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The president addresses the nation's governors during a dinner in the State Dinning Room, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari).

The Oscars - 2/22/2009.

The Oscars - 2/22/2009.
Hugh Jackman and Beyoncé Knowles teamed up for a musical medley during the show.

The 81st Academy Awards - Oscars - 2009

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Hugh Jackman pulled actress Anne Hathaway on stage to accompany him during his opening musical number.