Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I turned 39 (2014)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dan Bianchi will challenge Jimmy Ruberto for Mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 2009. But I also wonder if he is just another pawn for "Luciforo"?

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Mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi, right, waves to voters along with supporters Katie Roucher and Jerry Walsh at Reid Middle School on Tuesday morning. Bianchi, who received the highest vote total in Tuesday’s preliminary election, will challenge Mayor James M. Ruberto in the November general election. (Photos by Darren Vanden Berge / Berkshire Eagle Staff) 9/22/2009.
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http://votebianchi.com/
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Pittsfield Politics
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"Luciforo" swears in Good Old Boy Mayor Jimmy Ruberto for a 3rd term (above). Challenger Dan Bianchi (below).
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"Bianchi aims for mayoral position: The former financial director and treasurer for the city will challenge James M. Ruberto."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, June 30, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Daniel L. Bianchi has been involved with city government in one form or another for the past 20 years -- the last 10 as Ward 6's councilor.

Now the 58-year-old Pittsfield native is pursuing the city's top political post: Mayor.

However, Bianchi said he views his challenge of Mayor James M. Ruberto as the people's choice as well as his.

"I've had overwhelming, unsolicited feedback throughout the city," Bianchi said on Monday in announcing his candidacy. "I consider what we do is public service, not politics."

Bianchi is the first high-profile candidate of the seven who have taken out nomination papers with the intention to unseat Ruberto in the city's November election. Besides his current 10-year run on the City Council, Bianchi was Pittsfield's financial director and treasurer from 1988-1993 and served on the state's finance control board during the city's fiscal crisis from 2001-2004.

He currently works as a manager in the local office of Global Montello Group, a Waltham-based energy services and distribution company.

While Bianchi just took out nomination papers last Friday, he already has his family sprucing up a campaign headquarters at the former WUPE radio studios on East Street.

"God bless my wife [Theresa]: I left her with a paint brush in her hand," Bianchi said upon arriving at The Eagle for an interview.

Besides his spouse, Bianchi has the backing of his daughter, Madeline, 16 and two sons, Matthew, 18 and Benjamin, 20.

Bianchi said his campaign is based on "literally hundreds of people" wanting change in how the mayor's office manages Pittsfield.

"Managing the city, managing finances, managing relations with city employees," he cited. "Even [managing] the dwindling GE Economic Development Fund."

Bianchi has been very vocal on the City Council regarding how Pittsfield doles out those funds to companies looking to relocate or expand in the city. He said the city and the state needs to be better prepared when offering "incentive packages and marketing to attract businesses."

For example, Bianchi stated how "New York State has a very well-defined tax-incentive plan."

Furthermore, Bianchi finds residents concerned over their tax bills -- "especially older folks still living in their homes," the increase in violent crime, and the lack of progress by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority in completing and finding tenants for the William Stanley Business Park.

Bianchi realizes a mayoral race is a broader political contest than running for Ward 6 councilor, but he plans to take the same down-to-earth approach.

"It will be a real grass-roots campaign," he said, "with a lot of going door-to-door for support."

And Bianchi expects to be well received by the voters.

"People feel comfortable with my approach," he added. "Deep down, I know the city and its values."
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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/T22PQL3282AJ91SEK
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From left, Pittsfield City Councilors Kevin J. Sherman, Paul J. Capitanio and Daniel L. Bianchi look over numbers at the city budget meeting.
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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"$122M budget OK'd"
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, July 1, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- City Councilors approved a $122.7 million spending plan for fiscal year 2010 Tuesday night, a sign-of-the-times budget that will cut jobs and services and bump the tax rate up.

It's an operating budget that is more than $4 million less than last year due to a $6.4 million drop in local revenue and state aid.

At least 23 school employees are being laid off, as are nine employees on the city side. Two vacancies are not being filled, one of which is in the fire department.

Based on proposed numbers, the residential tax rate would jump from $13.67 per $1,000 assessed value to $14.13. That translates to a $90.29 increase for the average single-family home worth nearly $189,000.

The commercial and industrial tax rate is expected to increase from $28.88 to $28.97, or an average of $671 for property valued at $567,000.

The budget was approved 9 to 2, with councilors Daniel L. Bianchi and Louis A. Costi voting against the plan. Councilors also approved using $1.7 million in surplus funds or "free cash" to help balance the budget.

The final budget was based on conservative state aid figures. Mayor James M. Ruberto said the city will likely get at least $371,000 more in aid, and he has vowed to set aside $216,000 of that sum for the school system to help make up for a shortfall in federal stimulus money that was anticipated.

Ruberto said using the funds in the school system will help avoid future cuts.

Bianchi, Ward 6 Councilor, urged his fellow councilors to designate the additional aid to help lower the tax burden on city residents.

"I propose that anything that comes back from the state be committed to reducing the tax rate," he said.

Ward 1 Councilor Lewis C. Markham Jr. said he felt it was a better to decide on surplus money at a later date.

"We're all sitting here knowing that we're going to have tough times next year ... some drastic times," he said. "We may amend this budget five or six times over the year."

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop said he'd like to ease the tax burden but would rather see how any surplus lays out and use those numbers in the November/ December sessions when the tax rate is set.

"My concern is that we have to leave ourselves flexibility in this budget for the future," he said. "I'm concerned about the stability of this budget. But to make a commitment for this money right now is unwise."
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To reach Benning W. De La Mater: bdelamater@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6243.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TCCFTFLO41VD40IIN
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"Trash removal: A 2-family fee?"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, July 6, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council is now considering adding two-family dwellings, as well as three-family dwellings, to the list of households that must pay extra for Pittsfield's trash pick-up service.

The City Council Public Works and Utilities Committee has recommended both items be debated when the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee meets at 7:30 tonight at City Hall to discuss possible changes to the city's ordinance on solid waste collection and disposal. Ordinance and Rules makes the final recommendation before the trash fee proposal goes before the entire City Council.

Mayor James M. Ruberto had proposed adding only three-family dwellings, but indicated at the recent budget hearings he would likely return with a plan for duplexes too.

However, the public works panel recently voted 3-1, with Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi against, to include two-family homes in the city's proposal so as not to further drag out the issue.

"If we're going think about two-family, let's debate it all at once," said council member Lewis C. Markham Jr.

"We need an open, frank discussion," he added. "Let's get it done and over with."

The matter of added trash pick-up fees initially divided the City Council three years ago when it voted 7-4 to have the owners of four-family apartments pay $70 a month, unless he or she lives on the premises. Under the three-family proposal, the fee would be $52.50 if the building isn't owner-occupied. City officials have yet to develop a fee structure for two-family homes.

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 city currently collects more than $100,000 each year from charging four-family dwellings and the new fee could also generate the same amount, according to city financial officials.

However, Bianchi said the city's trash hauling service is not about making money.

"We have a service that keeps our city clean and healthy," Bianchi added. "That's our objective."
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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/TTHBBBITHB4ILTGIQ
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"Quest for cash"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher, 14.JULY.2009

Thanks to Melissa Mazzeo and Paul Capitanio in the ward three special election, 2009 has already featured record-setting campaign expenditures.

Now candidates are beginning to look for funds for the fall campaigns.

Mayoral hopeful Dan Bianchi is launching the public portion of the fundraising with an event Monday, July 27, 2009, at Bobby Hudpucker's restaurant.

The 6 p.m. "Campaign Kick Off" appears to fall more into the category of troop mobilizing than Big Money since tickets are $15 and include munchies such as wings, pasta, salad and nachos.

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"Parade politics: Parade campaigning: sign wars, marching mates, teen supporters"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher, 8.JULY.2009

The first skirmish of the 2009 mayoral campaign involved two potential candidates who haven't yet qualified for the ballot.

The oneupmanship surrounded Saturday's Fourth of July Parade.

Late Thursday, Dan Bianchi put up large signs in the windows of the former Cottage store at Park Square.

On Friday, James Ruberto countered by putting old lawn signs in some windows of the Berkshire Common.

This skirmish proved one-sided: Bianchi's carefully placed signs showed up repeatedly during PCTV's parade coverage. Ruberto's were on the wrong side to make TV appearances.

During the parade, however, Ruberto may have won. He got to walk with Governor Deval Patrick (though that may be a mixed blessing given the governor's tax policies). Bianchi walked with fellow city councilors; on the other hand, he had some teen supporters who unofficially walked the route.

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General Electric Athletic Association, Pittsfield mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi will host an open forum and listening session for members of the business community and the community at large to share ideas, concepts and concerns relating to their business and the process of doing business in the city, 5:30 p.m., 8/18/2009, Crane Avenue, Pittsfield. 413-442-2555.

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"Election 2009: Bianchi Plans Meet & Greet at Providence Court"
iBerkshires.com - Friday, August 28, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi will be hosting a Coffee & Conversation Meet and Greet at the Providence Court Community Room on Friday, Sept. 4, at 2 p.m.

This meet and greet will provide residents of Providence Court as well as all members of the Pittsfield community the chance to hear Bianchi's message and have the chance to ask questions. This informal session will provide community members with the opportunity to share their ideas and concerns with him.

This is the third in a series of coffees planned throughout the community in order to introduce Bianchi and gain public input about many of the issues affecting the city of Pittsfield.

Coffee and refreshments will be provided. All members of the community are encouraged to attend. For more information, visit the Bianchi campaign at www.votebianchi.com or by call the campaign office at 413-442-2555.

This event is sponsored by The Committee to Elect Dan Bianchi.

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Dan Bianchi for Mayor
"Proven leadership"
By Dan Bianchi, The Pittsfield Gazette (Online), 10.SEPTEMBER.2009, Jonathan Levine, Publisher & Editor

I have represented Ward 6 on the City Council for 10 years. I was director of Administration and Finance, and served on the state finance control board that managed the city through a period of instability. I have 30 years experience in the energy industry supporting the efforts of commercial and industrial businesses. I’m married to the former Theresa Harrison., who serves on the Council On Aging. We have three children, Ben 21, Matt 18 and Madeline 16. Theresa and I have a great appreciation for the joys and concerns of raising children.

Civic involvement and an open and inclusive government are ideals I believe in, where a much wider circle of people are encouraged to participate. The needs of the city are significant. Many needs are inter-related. The solutions are as well. Economic development and job growth is an essential element to the future success of Pittsfield. The PEDA property at the Stanley Business Park is critical to business growth. Transparency and communication must be insisted upon. The progress and the operation have been disappointing and in need of scrutiny and change. A dynamic PEDA operation can be a driving force for economic development.

Existing small businesses are the backbone of the community and must receive greater support so they can continue to operate and expand. I want to create an atmosphere that fosters their success.

Pittsfield leadership has to be sensitive to the burden taxes have on its citizens and consequently the effect taxes have on future economic development. We must expand a solid tax base through sensible development.

The lack of job opportunity contributes to crime, a detriment to new business opportunity. People are tired of reading about crime in their city. We have to institute a zero tolerance program, supporting our police and developing collaboration with citizens through neighborhood crime watches. We don’t have hundreds of criminals, it just seems that way. We can identify the problem individuals; let them know that as a community we are aware and committed to make the Berkshires an impossible place for them to exist. We will be successful.

Pittsfield must continue to support solid educational, artistic and sports programs. Active and engaged children stay in school. Kids who stay involved make it through our schools to become contributing citizens.

Pittsfield has a bright future. I would appreciate the opportunity to lead us there.

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"Take a stand behind Bianchi"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 9/17/2009

As an active community member/volunteer/officer of several local and state organizations and committees, I will be endorsing Dan Bianchi for mayor in our upcoming city election. I have had both the privilege and opportunity to know Dan Bianchi and his family over the years. His dedication to challenge and improve our economic and family lifestyles here in the Berkshires has impressed me.

It is with pride that after 25 years of residing here in Pittsfield, I can enthusiastically and publicly endorse a local government candidate. It is to the fact that I continually remain hopeful and dream of an even healthier and safer community of work and life -- for now and in the future -- that I feel passionate about becoming involved.

I am taking a stand to support Dan Bianchi and I encourage other citizens to do the same.

CARLY ARAMBULA
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Bianchi will be leader for city"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, Friday, September 18, 2009

Dan Bianchi has always stood out from the pack -- both as a city councilor and as a candidate for mayor -- because of his willingness to listen and his common courtesy. There's no bragging, grandstanding or confrontation. Dan will be a mayor who listens to the community and works for consensus.

Most of a mayor's day is spent quietly solving problems for the community and constituents. People throughout the city can tell you that, as a councilor, Dan is always responsive and works hard to find solutions.

As a volunteer for Dan's campaign, I have heard many voters express the need for change; for leadership that cares about the whole community; and for an effective strategy that includes the whole community. Dan Bianchi will be that leader. For his competence, experience and courtesy, please join me in enthusiastically supporting Dan Bianchi for mayor in the Sept. 22 election.

SARA HATHAWAY

Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is a former mayor of Pittsfield.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TGCTEIAN4DL22F7IK
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"Election 2009: Building Council Backs Bianchi"
iBerkshires.com - Thursday, September 17, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi has received the unanimous endorsement of the Berkshire County Building & Construction Trades Council.

The Berkshire County Building & Construction Trades represents thousands of workers throughout the area and includes members from trades such as electricians, carpenters, laborers, pipe fitters, iron workers, asbestos workers and operating engineers. The union feels that there needs to be a change in the direction of the city and a change in city leadership.

"The working class wants to be involved with city government. We want to be listened to and heard. We just want to be treated fairly and have a seat at the table," said Mike Filpi, treasurer of the Laborers Local 473.

The union cited growing concerns over the development of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority site, fairness and openness in city government, and crime as reasons the city needed a change and why they were endorsing Bianchi.

"I grew up in the city. We used to be able to leave our doors open and not have to worry about a thing, but those times have changed. Pittsfield is a great place to raise a family but the crime these days is changing all of that," said another union member. "Bianchi is a hero of Pittsfield and a voice for the Berkshire County Building Trades. He has what it takes to move Pittsfield forward in the right direction."

Above all else the union feels that Bianchi is a proven leader who has the experience to take Pittsfield in a new direction and make the necessary changes to city government that will make it open, transparent, fair, accountable and inclusive.

For more information on Councilor Bianchi's campaign, visit the Web site at www.votebianchi.com or by call our campaign office at (413) 442-2555.

Submitted by the Campaign to Elect Dan Bianchi

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"Dan Bianchi responds to constituents"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Sunday, September 20, 2009

I am disabled but value my independence. My scooter takes the place of my legs and is indispensable in enabling me to get around the city and lead a productive life. Last year, a large pothole at the bottom of my street nearly toppled my scooter on several occasions. I called Dan Bianchi, who is my ward councilman, to find out what steps I needed to take to request that the pothole be filled. He told me he would look into it. The very next day, the pothole was filled.

That evening I called Mr. Bianchi to thank him. His response was "that type of request is a priority." This immediately showed me that not only is he concerned for the safety of citizens, but that he follows up on a mission and has an arsenal of highly influential contacts in his corner.

Too often, the needs of taxpayers are overlooked. While quality of life issues are frequently the focus of campaigns, politicians often lose sight of the needs of individuals once they are elected. In following Dan Bianchi's political career over the years, he has stood out as a champion of people and neighborhoods. My personal experience with Dan proves that he keeps his promises. I strongly support him as a candidate for Mayor of Pittsfield and I urge others to do the same.

MELISSA BOWLER
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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Supporters are ready: it will be Bianchi vs. Ruberto on November 3, 2009.
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"Bianchi wins preliminary"
The Pittsfield Gazette (Online), By Jonathan Levine, Publisher & Editor, 22.SEPTEMBER.2009

Dan Bianchi captured first place in the 10-candidate mayoral preliminary election on Tuesday.

He recorded 44.5 percent of the votes cast and will meet incumbent James Ruberto on November 3 for the general election. Ruberto had 37.7 percent of the votes.

Fewer than 28 percent of Pittsfield's registered voters participated in the election.

Pam Malumphy finished a distant third with just under ten percent of the votes. Nick Caccamo was fourth at just under five percent.

The other six candidate each had fewer than one percent of the votes.

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"Pittsfield voters hit polls"
By Sabina Kuriakose - capitalnews9.com - 9/23/2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts -- A surprising outcome for the Pittsfield mayoral primary. Incumbent Mayor Jim Ruberto came in a close second to city councilman Dan Bianchi.

Both men had long been considered the front runners in an unprecedented field of 10 candidates. Bianchi won 10 out of 14 wards. He has been a city council member for 10 years, six of which were under Mayor Ruberto.

Ruberto, who lost quite possibly his biggest supporter, his wife, Ellen, who passed away just two months ago, seems as energized as ever as he prepares to fight for his office.

"And we're also going to be able now to point to our opponents and say listen, it's time for you to tell the people of Pittsfield how you're going to operate lead and manage this city better than it's been done for the past six years," Ruberto said.

"We've gotta work hard for the next six weeks and then I promise you, I'm going to work hard for the next two years because we've gotta lot of issues the people of Pittsfield obviously want addressed. But the thing I want to do most foremost is I want to create, as I said before, an atmosphere where everybody feels part of this government," Bianchi said.

The two candidates now move on to the general election in November.
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http://capitalnews9.com/region34content/top_stories/483181/pittsfield-voters-hit-polls/
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"Election 2009: Bianchi Challenges Ruberto to Debates"
iBerkshires.com - September 29, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Ward 6 City Councilor and mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi announces that he will challenge incumbent Mayor James Ruberto to three debates before the Nov. 3 election.

The three debates that Bianchi has challenged Ruberto to participate in are on Monday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. at Berkshire Community College hosted by the Pittsfield Gazette; on Thursday, Oct. 29, to air on WUPE Radio hosted by Larry Kratka, and a debate hosted by The Berkshire Eagle at a date to be determined and to which Bianchi has agreed to participate.

"These three debates, along with my aggressive campaign schedule, will provide the citizens of Pittsfield with ample opportunity to hear from each of us about our vision for Pittsfield and make their decision on Election Day accordingly," said Bianchi.

If a scheduling conflict arises between Ruberto and the previously scheduled dates for the debates, Bianchi has offered to work with Ruberto to reschedule the debates at a time that is mutually convenient.

"I look forward to a healthy exchange of ideas over the next several weeks of this campaign," he said. "I also look forward to speaking with the citizens about my vision for moving Pittsfield forward and tackling some of the tough issues that our community faces."
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Submitted by the Campaign to Elect Dan Bianchi
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www.iberkshires.com/story/32512/Election-2009-Bianchi-Challenges-Ruberto-to-Debates.html
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PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts
"For Bianchi, family is a priority"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, October 4, 2009

For Dan Bianchi, family comes first, even in the middle of a heated race for mayor.

During the Sept. 22 preliminary election, he took a break from last-minute campaigning to watch his 16-year-old daughter, Madeline, play soccer for Taconic High School.

Bianchi, 57, said he was more compelled than ever to show up that day after he missed a game for the first time in Madeline's three-year varsity career because of a mayoral debate on Sept. 14.

He's made sure such a conflict won't happen again.

"I told my campaign staff, ‘Here's my daughter's schedule,' " Bianchi recalled.
" ‘I don't want to go through that again.' "

Besides challenging Mayor James M. Ruberto in Pittsfield's general election on Nov. 3, Bianchi has to balance his personal life with his political and professional obligations. He's completing his 10th year as Ward 6 councilor and is the Pittsfield manager for Global Montello Group, a Waltham-based energy services company.

On a typical work day, Bianchi can be found in his office at 100 North St. on the phone, either talking with a client, speaking with city officials about Ward 6, or getting an academic update from his oldest son, Benjamin, 20, a senior at the University of Massachusetts.

His other son -- Matthew, 18 -- is a freshman at the Amherst campus.

While Bianchi said he's "always juggled things," his daily schedule revolves around his three children and his wife of 29 years, Theresa.

"The family stuff is top priority," he said. "That's what's defined me the last 20 years."

Now Bianchi's family has made his mayoral run its top priority.

"If this is what [Dan] wants to do, then this is what we will do," Theresa said.

When Bianchi announced his candidacy in June, his wife and daughter were busy setting up campaign headquarters in the former East Street location of radio station WUPE. Since then, his family has actively sought voter support for the man they long ago expected would run for mayor.

"As far back as [high school], all I heard from others was, ‘When is your dad going to run?' " Benjamin Bianchi said.

"I would hear all the time ... [about] when is Dan running," Theresa said. "Dan's ready now. Dan's always been ready."

Nevertheless, candidate Bianchi wanted to make sure his family members were ready for a grueling campaign before he asked for their blessing.

"I didn't want anyone feeling uncomfortable with me running for mayor," he said.

The Bianchis said they are prepared for their husband and father to lead Pittsfield.

"He deserves to be mayor, 100 percent," Benjamin said.

"I'm happy he made the decision," Madeline said. "I thought it would be too stressful for him, but the campaign has turned out to be fun and exciting."

"I'm not nervous about this at all," Theresa added. "Dan and I began discussing the campaign last October."

Bianchi, however, said his mother was the hardest to convince because she had been "dead set against me running for mayor." He realized she finally had warmed up to the campaign after speaking with him the day of the preliminary election.

On that day, Bianchi proved his viability as a mayoral candidate, finishing 542 votes ahead of Ruberto as the two men advanced to the Nov. 3 general election.

"I had no expectations of where I would finish," said Bianchi, who has lived in Pittsfield his entire life. "I was just very grateful to move on."

Bianchi is trying to become the 36th mayor since Pittsfield began electing mayors 118 years ago. His resume includes being the city's finance director and treasurer from 1988 to 1993, serving on the state Finance Control Board from 2001 to 2004, and being a ward councilor for the past decade.

It's the kind of experience the city needs right now, according to his supporters.

"His knowledge of city finances is unmatched," said Richard A. Scapin, a former city councilor who served with Bianchi from 1999 through 2003. "We need someone conservative and realistic. He's very level-headed and thinks things through before making a decision."

While Bianchi said the vast majority of his votes are in sync with the council, anyone who has watched him at meetings knows he isn't afraid to be a minority vote against key proposals from the Ruberto administration.

Bianchi didn't favor using GE Economic Development Fund money for the Berkshire Museum and Colonial Theatre because he said they have a large donor base. And in December of 2007, he was the lone vote against a zoning change for the expansion of Unistress Corp.

"I'm super-sensitive to issues affecting citizens' rights," Bianchi said. "Zoning was put into place to protect neighborhoods."

Scapin praises Bianchi for voting his convictions.

"I give Dan credit for standing up to the rest of the council," he said. "I know when he votes, it's with his heart and in the best interest of his ward and the city."

Bianchi has been associated with the West Side Initiative Steering Committee -- which includes Ward 6 --since the neighborhood group was formed seven years ago.

When committee members bring up concerns facing the West Side, Chairman Churchill Cotton said Bianchi not only listens, he acts on them immediately.

"We had an issue of the Conte School sidewalks covered with snow," Cotton said. "He made some calls to City Hall to get them clear."

"And [Bianchi] won't make just one call," Cotton added. "He'll keep calling until the job is done."

In addition to his political experience, family and campaign supporters view Bianchi's calm demeanor as a quality that would serve him well as mayor.

Whether speaking at City Council meetings, watching Madeline play soccer, or rooting for the New England Patriots, Bianchi doesn't typically show his emotions.

"I live and die with the Patriots," said his son Benjamin. "Whereas he can let a loss go and move on."

Daniel Bianchi said he likely inherited his approach from his late father.

"He looked at life as ‘what will be, will be,' " Bianchi said. "You make people feel more at ease if you're even-tempered."
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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/T005UQQLIBOJA1SKT
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"Mayoral candidates differ on approach"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 6, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor candidate Daniel L. Bianchi is asking Mayor James M. Ruberto to "abandon" his support for a single city high school and renovate the city's existing pair of high schools instead.

"All of our efforts at the municipal level should be focused on improvements to these high schools rather than build a $180 million mega high school," Bianchi said on Monday.

Bianchi referred to a May 2008 consultant's report that recommended the single high school concept.

"I prefer one high school," Ruberto said. "But I have also said this is a community decision, and it's also a decision driven by the School Building Authority."

Last week, the School Building Authority's Board of Directors moved 21 school projects in Massachusetts toward the feasibility study stage. Pittsfield's school project proposal was one that failed to advance, and an SBA spokesman said the application, which remains active, "needs a little more studying to make sure of the best solution possible."

Bianchi, the Ward 6 Councilor challenging Ruberto in the Nov. 3 city election, said he believes the SBA's inaction is partly due to a lack of direction from the city.

"When we filed the application, it was too ambiguous," Bianchi said. "It allows consideration for a single high school when we should focus on renovating the two schools."

Ruberto said that the city, through the School Building Needs Commission, has made it clear to the SBA that "both Pittsfield High and Taconic need renovations."

Ruberto said Bianchi is "playing politics" with the Pittsfield Public Schools.

"My focus is on the quality of education, not a single high school," said Ruberto, who's seeking his fourth consecutive term at City Hall. "We should be taking about improved MCAS scores and the fact we've been hiring more teachers in recent years."

Bianchi said he is also concerned about the quality of education, and separate high schools is part of the answer.

"When I'm going door-to-door and talking to residents and families, [they want] small class sizes and an intimate learning experience that two high schools provide," Bianchi said.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/T6V7P8O9JPC2QPHOV
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"Election 2009: Bianchi Calls for Single High School Plan"
iBerkshires.com - October 6, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — On the back of recent news from the Massachusetts School Building Authority and in concert with what residents are talking about daily throughout this city, mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi asks Mayor James Ruberto to "abandon" his future plans for the elimination of two high schools and the construction of a "mega high school."

"From the very onset of this discussion, I have favored preserving our two high schools. Pittsfield has two terrific high schools and we should be focused on supporting teachers in their classrooms and improving the quality of education within these two structures. All of our efforts at the municipal level should be focused on improvements to these high schools rather than build a $180 million-plus mega high school," said Bianchi.

"When I’m going door to door and talking to residents and families I am hearing over and over again how parents and students want small class sizes and an intimate learning experience that two high schools provide.

"With state sales tax revenue on a steady decline, the Massachusetts School Building Authority is projecting its portion of state funds will fall short by millions this fiscal year making access to funds more competitive. If the mayor continues to pursue one high school, tax payers will end up paying for it with a dramatic tax increase. Our efforts at this time should be to lobby our state legislators and governor for their support in improving our two existing high schools."

The MSBA program, which works with communities in the commonwealth to build and improve school buildings is a non-entitlement competitive grant program, and grants are distributed by the MSBA based on need and urgency. The program is a "pay as you build" payment system, with reimbursements to communities based on eligible project expenses.

"The bottom line," Bianchi added, is "we need to do what is in the best interest of our children and their education, all while keeping in mind the impact on the tax payer."

Submitted by the Campaign to Elect Dan Bianchi

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"Election 2009: Ruberto Issues Challenge For Debate On Education"
iBerkshires.com - October 7, 2009

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts - Mayor James Ruberto has issued a challenge to candidate Dan Bianchi for a debate on how to achieve the highest possible quality of education in Pittsfield.

“Dan had earlier confined his campaign to only three debates, and I was never comfortable that 3 would provide ample opportunity to speak to key issues in the depth that the people of Pittsfield deserve.

In fact I have already agreed to participate in a fourth debate sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and WBRK, and now I am requesting that he debate me on the very important topic of education.”

I’m proud of the educational investments we have made in the past 6 years, reversing the tide of teacher layoffs approved by Dan Bianchi in budgets prior to me being mayor,” said Ruberto. “We have changed the budgeting priorities in this city, with public safety and teachers now at the top.

At the same time we have strengthened our police department and kept all of our fire stations open, we have added more than 40 teachers, aides and curriculum coaches. MCAS scores are rising, and so is the graduation rate.”

Ruberto said that the date and time of the education debate would be set as soon as possible.

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"Bianchi: No school debate"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, October 9, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto challenged Daniel L. Bianchi to a debate focusing exclusively on the city's public school education, but the Ward 6 city councilor said he will not participate in a single-issue forum.

"It is not fair to the voters of Pittsfield given the increase in crime over the last six years, the loss of jobs and the lack of economic development to devote a debate to one single issue," Bianchi said in a statement.

"I'm disappointed, but not surprised," Ruberto said. "[Bianchi] won't debate me on the critically important issue of education. We haven't heard one iota of what he wants to do to improve the quality of education."

The two candidates have already agreed to three general debates sponsored by The Berkshire Eagle next Thursday, The Pittsfield Gazette on Oct. 26, and at WUPE radio on Oct. 29.

A fourth debate is still a possibility.

"I may consider the request for a fourth debate from the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce if the scheduling can be worked out," Bianchi added.

Ruberto wanted a separate education debate following Bianchi's remarks on Monday that Ruberto should "abandon" the concept of building a new high school and instead back the renovation of Pittsfield and Taconic high schools.

"Talk of one high school versus two is completely clouding the conversation over the quality of education," said Ruberto.

He cited how his administration in six years has added more than 40 teachers which has helped reduce the dropout rate and boosted MCAS scores.

Ruberto reiterated his stance of supporting a project both the city and state can afford, provided both Pittsfield and Taconic high schools are dealt with together. Pittsfield is currently seeking a feasibility study from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is the first step toward securing financial support for a school building project.

"We have to create a physical environment in our high schools to deliver quality education for the next 50 years," Ruberto said.

Bianchi said that's achieved through keeping Pittsfield High and Taconic.

"I have supported renovating our two existing high schools all along," Bianchi said, "[which will keep] sizes small and the campuses manageable."
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"Ruberto, Bianchi spar over PEDA"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, October 11, 2009

PITTSFIELD - Mayoral candidate Daniel L. Bianchi is asking Mayor James M. Ruberto to provide a "public update" on the status of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's development of the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, adding that he intends to replace PEDA's interim Executive Director William M. Hines Sr. if he is elected mayor.

In response, Ruberto said Bianchi has shown no interest in the Stanley Business Park during the 10 years that he has represented Ward 6 on the City Council. He said real economic development in Pittsfield should not focus specifically on the development of the vacant business park, but in laying the building blocks for job creation that his administration has already begun.

"My response is over the last 10 years Dan Bianchi has not attended one PEDA board meeting," Ruberto said. "All of a sudden in the last four weeks we've heard more from him [about PEDA] than in the last 10 years."

PEDA is a quasi-public agency that was formed by the state legislature in 1998 to develop the Stanley Business Park, which consists of 52 acres of the General Electric Co.'s former transformer facility. Although the board has had discussions with several prospective tenants, the park is currently vacant. Twenty six of the park's 52 acres have been under PEDA's control since 2005. Because the business park is a brownfield, the land has to be cleaned of pollution before GE can turn it over to PEDA. Infrastructure work is currently taking place on the 26 acre parcel, and is expected to be completed by January when PEDA is expected to have five shovel-ready sites to market.

Hines presented a briefing on PEDA's progress before the City Council in April, but Bianchi said on Saturday that he would like to see Ruberto make a more detailed presentation that includes how the money the city received from the General Electric Co. to develop the Stanley Business Park has been spent, the timetables for development, and a detailed marketing plan.

Bianchi questioned the PEDA board's ability to develop the parcel during Hines' presentation in April and in remarks to The Eagle in June.

In a written statement, Bianchi believes the mayor and the PEDA board have "lost track of their mission and vision" and that the agency "is in need of new leadership to move this project forward."

Ruberto issued a written statement on Saturday that asked Bianchi to reverse positions which the mayor said have acted as barriers to job creation.

"Companies seeking to relocate to Pittsfield or stay here and expand seek three things for their employees: excellent schools, affordable housing and diverse entertainment experiences," Ruberto said. "Dan voted to block affordable housing in downtown. He voted against the most important downtown initiatives, including the Colonial Theatre, the Berkshire Museum and the office of cultural development. And he has repeatedly taken action to weaken our schools by cutting teaching positions."

"The most important elements of job creation are all of the things that Dan Bianchi has voted against," he said.

Bianchi said he voted against an allocation from the city's economic development fund that would enable the Berkshire Museum to obtain a national grant because the museum has a large donor base. He said he was opposed to a $ 1 million allocation from that same source to the Colonial Theatre because the nonprofit's board had already proved that it could raise $19 million.

Regarding affordable housing, Bianchi said he was opposed to the construction of the New Amsterdam Apartments on Bradford Street because 47 units were placed on one acre of land, which created parking problems and will leave the children of employees with no places to play. The New Amsterdam project, which includes 18 additional units in two other areas, is the first new affordable housing project in the city in 30 years. Bianchi said a recently released housing study shows that Pittsfield has plenty of affordable housing.

If elected mayor, Bianchi said he will conduct a nationwide search to replace Hines, the retired CEO of Interprint Inc. who became PEDA's interim executive director in February when former executive director Thomas E. Hickey Jr.'s contract was not renewed. He characterized Hines, who served as Ruberto's campaign manager in 2007, as a "close political ally of the mayor", and said he would look to recruit a new director " who has experience and a demonstrated track record of success with brownfield development."

Regarding Hines, Ruberto said Bianchi should become more "knowledgeable" about PEDA so that he understands the circumstances regarding the development of the park before making "wild pronouncements" about the business park's future.

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"Bianchi will be a responsive mayor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, Sunday, October 11, 2009

Great article in the Eagle Oct. 4 on Dan Bianchi. Proud to see him state that "Family comes first." How many other mayors have we had who stated that?

Dan has always valued the people's voices in this city and his ward throughout his career as our representative. I agree with Churchill Cotton from where I live in the Conte school district. Dan has never stopped until things were done the proper way, but also for the well-being of the citizens and children in my area where I have lived for the past 14 years.

Dan and his wife have made me feel like family in the community. When I would call to talk to him on issues, there was never "Let me have Dan call you back." If he was there, he came right to the phone to listen and do what he could do. In politics, many times one does not get this response. You get, "let me have so-and so call you back." Even if I did receive this message, Dan called right back.

I am grateful to have had him as my Ward 6 representative, and next mayor!

MARK DEAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Bianchi decries Ruberto assault ads"
The Pittsfield Gazette (Online), 20.OCT.2009

Mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi is critizing Mayor James Ruberto’s "misleading" radio ad blitz as well as mailers sent to voters.

The radio and mail ads suggest that Dan Bianchi was responsible for cutting hundreds of municipal jobs. According to Bianchi, the accusations in the ads are "false and misleading to voters."

The ominous radio ads blame Bianchi as city finance director for a 1991 budget dispute between the city council and mayor that resulted in 1/12 budgets. Bianchi is blamed for layoff notices issued to firefighters, police and teachers. "We can't afford to go back to those days," the Ruberto ad concludes.

Bianchi cites the newspaper clippings on Mayor Ruberto’s ads- one says “The School Committee voted earlier this year to issue lay off notices to 119 school employees.” Another reads “Some 700 city employees will go without paychecks today as Pittsfield government’s partial shutdown continues due to stalled budget negotiations between the City Council and the Mayor.”

“I encourage the Mayor to re-think his negative radio and mail ad campaign. This is a desperate attempt by the mayor and his highly paid professional campaign staff to deliberately mislead the citizens of Pittsfield,” Bianchi said.

“I served as director of administration and finance during a time when the city and state were faced with its worst economic crisis in years. During that time the City faced a 10% cut in state aid and the city’s state aid was reduced $6 million dollars. This occurred 2 years in a row. As finance director for the city, it was my responsibility to make sure that the city’s finances were in order and that we were protecting vital services to the residents in the city, which I we did under an unfortunate economic crisis. The only other option during these circumstances would have been to raise taxes exponentially, which I’m sure Jim Ruberto would have done. Several Massachusetts cities that did not manage their finances responsibly ended up in bankruptcy and receivership” added Bianchi.

Bianchi said he was not an elected official at the time and did not have a vote on the budget. "At one point the City Council forced a cessation of normal business which required delaying of payroll payments. For Mayor Ruberto to intentionally mislead the people of Pittsfield and say that I was responsible for eliminating jobs is a pathetic attempt to scare the public and gain votes. The Mayor should be honest with the citizens of Pittsfield and tell them the truth about his administration instead of misleading them on the facts about former administrations.”

Added Bianchi: "The Mayor has failed the citizens of Pittsfield on the issues and that is why he is reaching so far to come up with false allegations from 18 years ago. I would prefer to be talking about issues affecting the citizens of Pittsfield today, how we plan to address those issues, and our philosophy of governing and treating citizens... Pittsfield deserves better then what the Mayor has given us and I intend to move Pittsfield forward in a more positive manner.”

Not noted by Bianchi, but accessible via the search engine at the left: In June this year, the school department issued 66 layoff notices.

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"Mayoral candidates debate ways to help small businesses"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/21/2009

PITTSFIELD -- Mayoral candidate Daniel L. Bianchi is proposing a new fund to help small local companies stay in business and expand, and Mayor James Ruberto says the plan would actually limit businesses from accessing even more economic development money available to them.

Bianchi, the Ward 6 councilor challenging Ruberto in Pittsfield's Nov. 3 election, has proposed using $1 million from the GE Economic Development Fund to finance his initiative.

"If a company needs to buy machinery so it can add new employees," said Bianchi, "we could give them an outright grant or some type of zero-interest loan."

"If the fund is limited to $1 million," said Ruberto, "then [Bianchi] is limiting small business from the rest of the GE Economic Development Fund."

Under Bianchi's plan, businesses with fewer than 100 workers and that have been operating in the city for at least five years with a sound business plan would qualify. A committee comprised of business community representatives would determine which applications are eligible for funding, based "on need, job retention and creation, potential growth and demonstrate commitment to the community," Bianchi said.

"This fund really helps local [companies] grow and be another option for businesses," Bianchi added.

Ruberto said his administration has helped 25 small businesses to grow and prosper in Pittsfield during his six years in office, using an arsenal of local and state initiatives designed to assist them.

As an example, he cited Pittsfield Rye and Specialty Bread Co., which was first given a technical assistance grant and then a $100,000 loan through the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp., for its modern baking facility on South Street.

Ruberto said technical assistance grants have been given to businesses "all over the city so they can test out their marketing plans and see if it will be successful."

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Pittsfield’s Ward 6 Councilor Daniel Bianchi, left, and Mayor James Ruberto speak Thursday during a debate at Pittsfield Community Television’s studio. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Pittsfield Mayoral Race Heated debate on PCTV"
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, October 22, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- One charged the other with spreading misinformation and slinging mud during their televised mayoral debate Thursday afternoon, yet incumbent James R. Ruberto and challenger Daniel L. Bianchi found room to agree on two things -- the Boston Red Sox and a belief each had the best interests for Pittsfield at heart.

Ruberto, seeking his fourth term as mayor, and Bianchi, the 10-year Ward 6 city councilor, squared off Thursday during a debate at Pittsfield Community Television’s studio. The show, broadcast live, will also air in repeats prior to Pittsfield’s Nov. 3 election.

The debate, moderated by Daniel Valenti, was a free-form discussion. Bianchi and Ruberto sat facing one another in the studio with no desk or table between them. Valenti roamed in and out of the picture to ask a question or prod the discussion in a new direction.

The first question Valenti posed was whether the candidates liked one another.

Ruberto said he held Bianchi in high esteem. Bianchi, who smiled and nodded at Ruberto’s words, didn’t respond in kind, but he acknowledged he agreed with the mayor on "the Boston Red Sox." And the two also agreed in brief remarks that they believed the other had their "best interests" at heart for the city.

Early on in the debate, Bianchi took Ruberto to task for radio ads and mailers warning voters about Bianchi’s record as the city’s former director of administration and finance and as treasurer in the early 1990s, a difficult economic period marked by massive layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters.

"These ads on the radio this week sound like a promo for a Halloween horror movie and try to characterize me as somebody with horns," Bianchi said.

Ruberto stood by the ads, saying they relate factual information published by The Berkshire Eagle at the time and depict Bianchi’s instinct to cut jobs rather than cut discretionary spending and finding new sources of revenue.

"Dan Bianchi’s instinct is to lay off people -- to slash and burn," Ruberto said.

Bianchi said the ads marred what had been a clean campaign "up until this week." He contended that at the time, a dramatic economic downturn, there were no other choices and that all other possible cuts had already been made.

"We made the responsible decisions and we kept this city afloat," Bianchi said.

"I would have handled it differently, and I wouldn’t have called the City Council ‘a bunch of 4-year-olds,’ " Ruberto said, referring to one of the passages in the mailing. "And I wouldn’t have proposed massive layoffs that jeopardized public safety."

The two also faced off over Bianchi’s voting record as a member of the City Council.

Ruberto said Bianchi voted against the appointment of Megan Whilden as Pittsfield’s director of cultural development in 2005. The position was seen as a way to broaden cultural development in Pittsfield beyond the existing scope at the time.

Bianchi responded that he voted the way he did because it meant Daniel M. O’Connell, the longtime director of the city’s former cultural arm, would be out of a job.

Ruberto said Bianchi voted against The Colonial Theatre, "which was at the absolute core of the revitalization of Pittsfield."

Bianchi said he had a long record of supporting the rehabilitation of the historic structure. What he voted against, Bianchi continued, was appropriating $1 million from the GE Economic Development Fund for The Colonial Theatre project.

"There are appropriate ways and inappropriate ways for a municipality to support a project like The Colonial Theatre," Bianchi said. "We differ on that."

Ruberto said eight members of the City Council supported the funding for The Colonial, which leveraged more than $7 million in tax credits and ultimately led to the completion of the project.

As in past debates, the two candidates sparred over crime, affordable housing and economic development.

And in the end, Valenti asked both if they would be willing to appear in another debate on PCTV focusing on education. Recently, Bianchi has said he would not participate in a one-issue debate -- a challenge put forth by Ruberto.

Both candidates seemed to agree to the concept, which was quickly followed another flurry of accusations and rebuttals, during which their time ran out and Valenti asked the two to shake hands and bid the audience farewell.

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"Pittsfield Mayoral Race: Squaring off on taxes, trash"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/27/2009

PITTSFIELD -- While Mayor James M. Ruberto and Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi sparred primarily about crime and economic development, taxes and trash collection were also added to the mix in their latest political debate.

The two mayoral candidates on Monday night squared off during a one-hour political forum at Berkshire Community College and televised live on Pittsfield Community Television. Capitol 9 News reporter and city native Ryan Peterson moderated the proceedings.

Ruberto and Bianchi will debate one final time before the Nov. 3 election from 11 a.m. to noon Thursday on AM 1420 WBEC radio, hosted by news director Larry Kratka.

The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce is also sponsoring a mayoral debate on Wednesday, 6 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza, but Bianchi can't attend due to a scheduling conflict, according to his campaign coordinator Gary R. Levante.

The two candidates were most spirited when the topics of trash collection and taxes came up in the final 15 minutes of the debate.

Since property taxes has always paid for residential garbage pick-up, Bianchi opposes Ruberto's plan to add three-family dwellings to the list of four-family residences that pay extra each year.

"To create a fee system that is yet another tax is unfair," Bianchi said. "We provide the trash service to help keep our neighborhoods clean."

He added the landlords are simply passing on the added trash fee to tenants, who usually are among the poorest in the city.

While Ruberto defended the added trash fees as necessary revenue for a cash-strapped city, he said the "answer to cleaning up neighborhoods" is going after slumlords. He blasted Bianchi for suggesting the city "relax" code enforcement for rental units.

Bianchi accused his opponent of misrepresenting his position saying, "You got that wrong too."

"Read you're own press release," replied Ruberto.

The two political rivals also differed on the impact taxes have had on the city during Ruberto's six years in office.

"Our tax increase is 20 percent less than the average in Massachusetts," noted Ruberto. "We've managed to provide services we need and figure them into the tax rate."

Bianchi acknowledged it's "difficult to operate without taxes," but they shouldn't be the first option to balancing a budget.

"We've had significant tax increases in the past four years," Bianchi said. "We've had 3, 4, 5 percent [hikes]."

The majority of the debate centered around creating new jobs and fighting crime.

Bianchi continued to attack Ruberto for a still vacant William Stanley Business Park being managed by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA).

"There doesn't seem to be a sense of urgency by the PEDA board to create jobs," he said.

While Ruberto admits the lack of progress by PEDA has been his biggest disappointment, he cited how LTI Smart Glass, Ice River Springs and several other companies have moved to Pittsfield and created new jobs during his administration.

"I've always understood it's been about job creation," Ruberto said, "not a particular site."

Ruberto also continued to differ with Bianchi on whether city crime has increased in the past six years. Ruberto cited FBI statistics that overall crime is down, while Bianchi noted those same numbers indicate violent crime has actually risen.

Bianchi claimed Albany area businesses won't consider relocating to Pittsfield because of the city's criminal activity.

Ruberto replied, "If someone in Albany is worried about crime in Pittsfield, I'd like to met him."
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"Bianchi's vision is right for time"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Saturday, October 31, 2009

I knew Dan Bianchi when he managed a local clothing store on North Street. Thirty five years ago this shop was a local icon for local business on North Street. I recall Dan to be trustworthy, financial responsible, a likable leader who would still finds time to listen. Gary Levante, campaign manager for Danny and recent college graduate of St. Michael's College, who still believes in Pittsfield, is supporting Danny in his passion to lead Pittsfield forward. What a great opportunity for Pittsfield to have outstanding progressive thinking citizens who believe in Pittsfield.

Growing up in Pittsfield, and then working at GE Ordinance, 20 years ago I moved from Pittsfield to seek re-employment. At the time Pittsfield wasn't able to provide stable employment for a reasonable salary but it was a city anyone would feel comfortable raising their family in. Today I live just an hour from Pittsfield, provide comfortably for my family of five and live just a mile from the largest industrial project in New York state. As I look back and compare the two neighborhoods. They are very similar in many ways but they have one outstanding difference.

Although both communities support the arts, the outdoors, have good schools and attract tourism Saratoga County has aggressively pursued development, maintaining consistent growth while preserving the family community and green spaces. Pittsfield has tried to nourish the employment base but hasn't provided what is needed to attract returning students and graduates back to their city which they once called home.

Please take the time to talk, listen and educate yourself to see if Dan's ideas and vision are something Pittsfield needs today and you support.

CRAIG M. WARNER
Malta, N.Y.

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"Bianchi, Ruberto differences at forefront of hotly contested race"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, November 1, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto and Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi differ greatly on the major issues facing the city, such as creating new jobs, fighting crime and education.

On Tuesday, Pittsfield voters will decide whether Bianchi or Ruberto should manage the city for the next two years. Polls will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

In addition to mayor, the election will also settle at large and five ward contests for the City Council and the six seats up for grabs on the School Committee.

Ruberto, 62, was first elected in 2003 and is seeking a fourth consecutive term -- a political rarity in Pittsfield. Charles L. Smith (1980-88), Robert Capeless (1948-55) and James Fallon (1938-47) are the only other mayors to serve at least four terms.

Bianchi, 58, wants to become the 36th mayor since Pittsfield began electing mayors 118 years ago. His resume includes being the city's finance director and treasurer from 1988 to 1993, serving on the state Finance Control Board from 2001 to 2004 and being a ward councilor since 2000.

The two candidates emerged from a crowded Sept. 22 preliminary election to advance to Tuesday's election. Bianchi was the top vote-getter in the mayoral race, finishing 542 votes ahead of Ruberto.

In the fundraising race, Ruberto has left Bianchi far behind by a margin of 4-to-1. Ruberto raised $61,704, while Bianchi took in $15,665 during the campaign for mayor.

The PEDA principle

The two candidates have sparred the most on economic development and job growth centered around the lack of progress at the William Stanley Business Park managed by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA).

Bianchi said the "greatest opportunity for growth" and the "greatest failure so far" is the PEDA site, and he promised to make over the board that runs it if he's elected.

Ruberto has said "the PEDA site has been my biggest disappointment," but he's also been upbeat about its potential. On Friday, there was progress in that direction: PEDA signed a letter of intent to launch discussions to develop a campus at the Williams Stanley Business Park for Salter College, a technical college.

A culture clash

Ruberto has been quick to note Pittsfield has created jobs during his administration, citing LTI Smart Glass, Ice River Springs and Pittsfield Rye and Specialty Bread Co. among the new or expanded companies.

"The 12 businesses we've helped have made $42 million worth of investment [in Pittsfield]," Ruberto said in a recent debate.

The city has also invested millions in revitalizing the downtown through cultural venues including the Colonial Theatre, Berkshire Museum, Barrington Stage Co. and the Beacon Cinema, which opens later this month.

"Barrington Stage is here because we opened our eyes that culture and arts is part of economic development," Ruberto said.

Meanwhile, Bianchi, as Ward 6 Councilor, voted to use city development funds for Barrington Stage and Beacon Cinema, he voted against funding the Colonial and Berkshire Museum claiming they had a sufficient donor base to support those projects. He acknowledges the importance of those projects, but it's time to move on.

"I would never consider embracing the arts a waste of time," Bianchi said in a recent debate. "[However,] we have done enough to support the cultural activities in the city, and now we should concentrate on the things that mean something to everyday people -- creating new jobs."

Crime and statistics

The two candidates have also differed in their interpretation of Pittsfield's latest crime statistics. Ruberto cited how overall crime is down with that trend to continue next year. However, Bianchi has pointed out serious crimes such as "shootings, burglaries and auto theft are all up."

Bianchi has called on more community involvement to help police combat crime.

"Until recently, our neighborhood watches have been dormant," he noted. "We have to get them involved."

Ruberto has said the police department encouraging residents to report criminal activity is working.

"We are getting more telephone calls because of the outreach program," said Ruberto.

Education debate

When it comes to the Pittsfield Public Schools, Ruberto has touted how hiring 40 new teachers has helped boost MCAS scores and reduce the dropout rate.

Bianchi has added improving the quality of education also includes renovating Pittsfield and Taconic high schools and maintaining small class size throughout the school system.

Council connections

Despite the political differences between Ruberto and Bianchi, whomever is elected on Tuesday must have a good working relationship with the City Council, according to a pair of former council presidents.

"It's all about being a leader and getting all sides together to make a decision," said Angelo Stracuzzi, who led the council for 12 of his 24 years in office and who backs Ruberto.

He added, "[Ruberto] couldn't do anything with the Colonial Theatre unless he got two-thirds of the council to agree with him."

While Richard Scapin agrees cooperation between the City Council and mayor is necessary to get things done, the councilors are also representing the wishes of their constituents.

"The City Council should be strong enough to be very vocal if they disagree with something from the mayor," said Scapin, Council president from 2002 to 2004, and a Bianchi supporter.
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Mayoral campaign coordinator Gary Levante, right, Theresa Bianchi and challenger candidate Daniel Bianchi discuss strategy recently at Bianchi’s headquarters on North Street in Pittsfield. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Appealing to younger voters"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, November 2, 2009

"This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease."
-- Robert F. Kennedy

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts

Around this time last year, millions of registered voters were rocking the polls in the United States, due largely to an electric presidential election.

Among the surging voting population were youth voters, those between the ages of 18 (the legal voting age) and 30. Those voters, who turned out in record numbers, were instrumental in electing President Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, young voters in Pittsfield will have the opportunity to participate in a local election, which is particularly charged by its mayoral race. But the question remains: Will this generation that begged to be heard by its country now want a voice in its own city?

"I do think there was an increased interest among young voters in the recent [presidential] election, and those people are still registered voters," City Clerk Linda Tyer said.

"What motivates them to vote? I don't know," she said. "But I guess it would depend on the outreach of candidates and what demographics are targeted in a campaign strategy."

Tyer said that all candidates are allowed access to demographics and a listing of all registered voters in the city.

Nicholas Caccamo, 23, took advantage of that list this fall when he ran in the preliminary race for mayor. As part of his campaign strategy, he sought to mobilize youth voters through a letter campaign, targeting city voters between the ages of 23 and 27.

"My campaign committee and I sent 2,225 letters to residents. I only got about five ‘return to sender' letters back," he said.

Like other candidates who ran in the primary and are running in the current city races, Caccamo embraced the use of technology to send campaign messages via e-mail, a personal Web site, and social networking sites like Facebook.

As the youngest candidate in his race, he said he felt he represented a new perspective for Pittsfield. Ultimately, he came in fourth, with 386 votes, out of 10 candidates, behind three well-known local politicians.

Caccamo said he'll run again in the future.

"One of my hopes in running was to be a catalyst for young people to get involved in politics," he said.

That, according to Caccamo and others, is no easy task.

"Young people tend not to be happy with the way things go around here. You would think the same people would want to go to vote to change things, but we didn't see that happening in the [city] primaries," said Gary Levante, 22. Recently returned to Pittsfield from Saint Michael's College in Burlington, Vt., Levante is now the campaign coordinator for mayoral candidate Daniel Bianchi.

Levante, who earned a bachelor's degree in history and political science, said there could be a number of reasons why a young adult doesn't vote.

"I think some people are so disenfranchised with what's going on in politics, and think because they are young, they're not going to be heard. But I think it's a perception more so than a reality. I think some people just don't want to get involved," he said. "I also don't know if people my age really know what's going on."

Tyer said the registrar's office has done more youth outreach this past year. Voter registration days were held at Taconic High School, St. Joseph Central School and Mildred Elley School.

"The kids, especially at the high schools, were really enthusiastic about registering," she said.

Also new this year, the registrar's office has posted voter registration forms online for access and convenience.

Levante said candidates' Web sites and news outlets are also good sources of information and city operations. He said young participants, like Caccamo and current ward candidates Peter White and John Krol, are also motivating to youths.

Caccamo said he also found current officials to be helpful about explaining city government in person. Both young men said they'd like to see more young people serving on community boards to better learn about city government.

Another tactic in getting young people involved with local elections this fall was engaging youth through social events. Former mayoral candidate Patricia "Pam" Malumphy held a concert. Several candidates made themselves and their platform materials available at Pittsfield Third Thursday events.

On Sunday, Oct. 18, Rebel Sound Records held a day-long "Rock for Ruberto Rally" in its downtown store. The event peaked with close to 100 attendees, plus 10 bands. Local graphic designer Jay Elling and writer Joe Durwin blogged about the event and made live Webcasts, and posted photos at http://berkshirecity.com.

As seen there, the majority of attendees were under the age of 30, and many under the age of 18.

Organizers said though the event was to support incumbent Mayor James M. Ruberto, the idea was to connect young people with political action.

"Local politics offers them the best opportunity to get directly involved in local decision making and see how government connects to their lives. This was about directly connecting with why getting involved has an impact on their lives," said Timothy Kushi, 26, a city resident.

Rebel Sound Records owner Andy Poncherello, also a Pittsfield resident said the venue is a prime example of how government affects where young people can go and what they can do, through licenses and permitting.

"It was cool and whatever to vote in the last presidential election," Poncherello said. "But it's very imperative not to just vote once every four years. Local and statewide politics will affect you more, and you'll see it in your daily life."
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Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto arrives at his party at the ITAM Lodge in Pittsfield -- after a narrow 209-vote victory. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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Election Day 2009 - "Ruberto wins: Bianchi weighing recount."
By Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 4, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto edged Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi by just 209 votes Tuesday night to retain the corner office in City Hall for the next two years in one of the closest mayoral races in city history.

Bianchi said he will likely ask for a recount.

In an election that drew 46 percent of the city's eligible voters, Bianchi won 10 of the city's 14 precincts but lost the popular vote 6,658 to 6,449, according to last night's unofficial totals.

Thirty minutes after the polls closed, Ruberto arrived at the ITAM Lodge on Waubeek Road to a welcoming committee of the area's political and business leaders, who showered him with hugs and kisses.

Ruberto, 62, said he felt especially emotional, pointing to the stars and saying he felt his mother, Edith, and wife, Ellen, helped him in his victory. Edith passed away Thursday night and Ellen in July.

Asked if he saw the close vote as a message from city residents, he said: "What we've seen is that in this incredibly difficult financial crisis that exists both globally and locally, the people of Pittsfield support progress. I think we've seen Pittsfield coalesce. We need to support each other in these trying times."

Bianchi, 58, said Ruberto won the election by winning the city's largest wards. He had a hard time finding any positives in the close race.

"Can't be satisfied with a loss right now," Bianchi said. "I think we are going to ask for a recount."

Bianchi said if the results remain, Ruberto should look at the close count as a statement from the voters asking for change.

"This is a message that says there's a distinct population in this city that wants to be heard," Bianchi said. "He needs to listen to all the people, not just his friends."

The two men sparred over the last several weeks on issues such as creating new jobs, fighting crime and improving the education system.

Bianchi centered his arguments around the lack of a employer being drawn to the William Stanley Business Park managed by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA). Ruberto said Bianchi lacked vision and seemed to oppose the city's investments in the revitalization of downtown.

Some voters said the election epitomized the split in the city's population concerning two philosophical views.

On one side, Bianchi supporters viewed the campaign as a fight for the common man, a battle against a perceived friends network that reigns in Ruberto's office, where big business and people with deep pockets are privy to preferential treatment.

"Dan listens to what people have to say, all people," said Barb Novak, 58, a teacher and Bianchi supporter. "With Ruberto, he listens, but then he does what he and his friends want to do. He seems to side with the business community, the people who are well-off. There's a lot of people suffering, and Dan cares about those people, too."

On the other side, Ruberto's backers said the election was emblematic of the old-versus-new division in the city, with Bianchi sticking to a defensive economic strategy akin to laissez-faire and Ruberto employing an offensive, creative approach to bring the city back to prominence.

"Contrasting the two candidates, Ruberto was the more optimistic of the two," said Jeffrey St. John, 34, a Pittsfield physician who voted for Ruberto. "He has a vision for the city, and I think through these economically tough times, we're going to need someone who has a solid plan. He's resurrected the downtown already, and that's crucial."

First elected in 2003, Ruberto is only the fourth mayor to win four consecutive terms. He joins Charles L. Smith (1980-88), Robert Capeless (1948-55) and James Fallon (1938-47).

In the fundraising race during the campaign, Ruberto outpaced Bianchi by a margin of 4-to-1, Ruberto totaling $61,704, while Bianchi took in $15,665.

The two men emerged from a 10-candidate preliminary election on Sept. 22 to advance to Tuesday's election. Bianchi was the top vote-getter in the preliminary, finishing 542 votes ahead of Ruberto with just 28 percent of the registered voters turning out.

Ruberto said Tuesday he was proud of Pittsfield.

"We are a new Pittsfield, and we want to be a new Pittsfield," he said. "We said clearly we're not going back."

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"Bianchi to seek vote recount"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 5, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi will seek a recount in Tuesday's mayoral race -- one of the closet in Pittsfield's history.

The challenger to Mayor James M. Ruberto, who lost by just 209 votes in the general election said today he's "looking at the best approach" for the recount.

"We're obviously looking into it as we have taken out petition [recount] papers," Bianchi said. "We're determining what to do and how to do it."

Bianchi has until Nov. 13 to file a recount request with City Clerk Linda M. Tyer. The petitions can ask that all 13,215 ballots cast be tallied again or only ones from specified wards.

Bianchi must also give particular reasons for the recount request and decide if the ballots should be electronically scanned again or counted by hand.

Bianchi expects to have further details about his recount request early next week.
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Pittsfield Mayoral Race
"Bianchi will seek recount: The Ward 6 councilor is exploring options for checking the tally in the close election."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 6, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi will seek a recount in Tuesday's mayoral race -- one of the closest in Pittsfield's history.

The challenger to Mayor James M. Ruberto, who lost by just 209 votes in the general election, said on Thursday he's "looking at the best approach" for the recount.

"We're obviously looking into it as we have taken out petition [recount] papers," Bianchi said. "We're determining what to do and how to do it."

Bianchi has until Nov. 13 to file a recount request with City Clerk Linda M. Tyer.

If Bianchi wants all 13,215 ballots cast tallied again, he must garner the signatures of 10 registered voters from each of the city's seven wards. Bianchi also has the option to request votes in specific wards be recounted.

Nevertheless, the petitioner must give particular reasons for seeking a recount and decide if the ballots should be electronically scanned again or counted by hand.

Details pending

Bianchi expects to have further details about his recount request early next week.

Once the petition is received, city election officials will set the date, time and place for the recount and must give at least three days written notice to each candidate.

Bianchi's backers have been pressing for a recount, ever since their candidate of choice said Tuesday night following the election he was contemplating such a move.

"We've had so many supporters call," said Bianchi.

‘Burden of disappointment'

While Bianchi is relieved the hotly contested campaign with Ruberto is over, the loss continues to weigh heavily on him.

"I'm still carrying the burden of disappointment for all my supporters," he said.

Bianchi was back in his North Street office on Thursday resuming his day job as the Pittsfield manager for Global Montello Group, a Waltham-based energy services company.

He took Wednesday off from work and politics in order to regroup from a grueling campaign.

"I went hiking in the woods with my brother Bob," Bianchi said. "I needed to clear my head."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Bianchi doesn’t deserve criticism"
The Berkshire Eagle (Online), Letters to the Editor, 11/11/2009

I was offended by Alan Chartock’s misguided characterization in his Nov. 7 column of Dan Bianchi’s request for a recount in the Pittsfield mayoral race.

Also deeply disappointing was the mayor’s Roveian-style campaign postcard. I believe that type of campaigning, along with The Eagle’s failure to editorialize against it, will contribute to even more apathy in local politics.

RICHARD COUGHLIN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Recount will be conducted: Bianchi hopes recount reveals 209 more supporters"
The Pittsfield Gazette (Online), 12.NOVEMBER.2009

Mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi today formally requested a recount of the November 3 election returns.

He filed the paperwork to force a citywide recount.

Bianchi lost the closest mayoral election in modern history with 49.2 percent of the vote. He lost by 209 votes; there were 68 "blanks" recorded in the mayoral election.

City clerk Linda Tyer hopes to begin the recount as early as Tuesday. She needs to coordinate with the board of registrars (who will supervise and abjudicate) and provide three days notice.

The recount will have a nominal direct cost, though it will require considerable time from city clerk/registrar of voters' staff.

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"Bianchi files for official recount"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 12, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Daniel L. Bianchi has officially filed a petition requesting a hand recount of the 13,147 votes cast in the Nov. 3 mayoral election.

The outgoing Ward 6 councilor, who challenged incumbent Mayor James M. Ruberto for the corner office, lost the general election by 209 votes.

Bianchi took home more votes than Ruberto in 10 of Pittsfield’s 14 precincts. His petition requests a recount of the votes cast in all seven Pittsfield wards. It was filed today -- one day before the 10-day deadline.

The city of Pittsfield uses electronic voting machines, but City Clerk Linda M. Tyer said the votes in the recount will be counted by hand.

The petition states that Bianchi has reason to believe that the city’s electronic voting machines failed to "correctly register voter intent." It further states that "absentee ballots were improperly accepted and/or rejected resulting in incorrect candidate totals."

Further, "We also request that challenged and escrowed ballots be evaluated to determine their eligibility and counted accordingly, or that challenged votes were cast by people not eligible to vote."

Tyer declined to say how much a recount would cost the city, or how long the procedure would take. The office will now work to establish the setup for the recount, including when it would take place.
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"Bianchi submits recount petition: Pittsfield's mayoral candidate and Keith Bona, who lost by two votes in the North Adams City Council race, want ballots counted by hand."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, November 13, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Daniel L. Bianchi on Thursday filed the official petition with the City Clerk's office for a hand recount of the 13,147 votes cast in the Nov. 3 mayoral election.

The outgoing Ward 6 Councilor defeated Mayor James M. Ruberto in 10 of the city's 14 precincts, but lost the general election by 209 votes, or less than 1 percent, in one of the closest mayoral elections in city history. The election drew 46.05 percent of the city's registered voters, according to the unofficial results.

The petition asks for votes to be counted in all seven Pittsfield wards. Bianchi obtained papers requesting a recount three days after the election, but the filing of the petition occurred one day before the 10-day deadline expired.

In a written statement that accompanied his petition, Bianchi claims that the city's electronic voting machines "failed to register voter intent" and that absentee ballots were "improperly accepted and/or rejected" which resulted in "incorrect voter totals."

"We also request that challenged and escrowed ballots be evaluated to determine their eligibility and counted accordingly, or that challenged votes were cast by people not eligible to vote," the petition states.

It asks that "data vote or optical scanner ballots be recounted by hand."

In North Adams, with only two votes separating him from councilor-elect David Lamarre, former City Councilor Keith Bona has officially filed paperwork requesting a recount of only the City Council portion of the election results.

Bona, who originally said he would not pursue a recount, changed his mind after learning of over 11,000 blank votes cast in the council race -- some of which could become valid votes during a recount.

"I could have requested that only my votes be recounted or even a single ward, but that's not my intent," Bona said Thursday. "It's about making sure every vote counts and that the voters know exactly who won. It was confusing on election night -- one minute I was being declared a winner and the next I was out. Then someone else would say I was on again. This way we know for sure. If David remains the winner, I'll be the first person to congratulate him. He'll also have the benefit of knowing he won -- no on can tell him the other guy could have had more votes that weren't counted."

Bianchi did not return a message later in the day seeking further clarification of his reasons for the recount, but he did release a statement saying he wants "to ensure that everyone's vote and voice was heard during this election."

Nearly 600 absentee ballots were cast in the election, along with 68 blank votes, and 40 write-ins.

City Clerk Linda M. Tyer said the votes will be counted by hand.

"I know we will be planning [the recount] for multiple days," Tyer said. "But I don't know how long it will take."

Tyer declined to comment on the allegations contained in the statement that accompanied Bianchi's petition, but said the Board of Registrars is in the process of selecting dates for the recount to take place, and designating workers for that task.

She said the city will have to pay for the recount, but she didn't have an immediate estimate on what that would cost.

"It will be an expense," Tyer said. "I haven't had a chance to do any budget projections yet. I don't even want to guess."

Bianchi's written statement Thursday afternoon went on to say, "Given the small vote differential and the numeric anomalies in some wards I feel that it is in the best interest of the citizens of Pittsfield that we recount the votes to ensure that everyone that was eligible had their ballot counted.

"I want to make sure that ballots that were overlooked or rejected get examined thoroughly, so that all votes are tabulated. The recount may help to ensure that the democratic process is adhered to and all rules and regulations are followed.

"I am asking for this recount for my supporters and all of the citizens of Pittsfield," the statement continued. "It is very important that people have faith in the electoral process and that citizens have their doubts addressed so that we can move forward with a stronger sense of community."

Ruberto, who is currently in Florida, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

A petition asking for a city wide recount requires the signatures of at least 10 registered voters in each of Pittsfield's seven wards.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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"Mayoral recount starts Wednesday: Bianchi hopes recount reveals 209 more supporters"
The Pittsfield Gazette (Online), (Monday) 16.NOV.2009

The recount of Pittsfield's mayoral votes will begin Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. at City Hall.

The board of registrars will supervise and adjudicate the manual count of more than 13,000 ballots. They'll be joined by staff from the city clerk's office and registrar of voters' office.

Mayoral candidate Dan Bianchi on Thursday, November 12 formally requested the recount of the November 3 election returns

Bianchi lost the closest mayoral election in modern history with 49.2 percent of the vote. He lost by 209 votes; there were just 68 "blanks" recorded in the mayoral election, so he would need major scanning errors to be uncovered to see a reversal of the outcome.

The recount is expected to continue into Thursday (and possibly Friday).

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"A tale of city polling results past"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, November 18, 2009

Let me relate a story from my life history that relates to election results in Pittsfield.

Back in the 1980s a club I belonged to, Berkshire Motor Sports Club, would send members to the polling places in Pittsfield to gather the precinct results and phone them to WBEC radio where they would be tabulated and reported. Part of the game was to beat the other reporters to the limited phones at the polling place. I was good at this. I always scoped out the phone locations and chatted with the officials while waiting for the polls to close so I would be a familiar face.

When the polls close the workers unfold a large official tabulation paper on a desk and record the votes from each individual machine in the proper column under the candidate's name. The more machines, the more numbers to add up and total for each candidate or question. In this case I think there were either four or six machines.

At the time I was at the height of my career as a GE engineer and my mind worked well with numbers. Because the poll workers allowed me to stand close to the table, I could see the numbers being added and, even though they were upside-down, I could add them in my head. I was able to finish the results quicker than the poll workers (who also did not use calculators) and thus go to the phones before anyone else and call in the results.

Now it was time to go to a local restaurant with the other club members and have pizza and celebrate our evening. When our coordinator joined us later after all results were in I was asked about my numbers. It seemed WBEC had declared one person having won a local position while all the other stations had declared another. My numbers differed from the other reports and was causing quite a stir. I explained my method and remained confident of my technique.

Well, it turned out I was correct and that made WBEC very happy (and the elected candidate).

I know times have changed in the voting process, but a 1 percent margin should automatically trigger a recount, in my opinion. If nothing else it will instill confidence in our new voting system.

Whoever has the majority of votes is entitled to win the contest! Good luck to that person!

CLARK W. NICHOLLS
Lee, Massachusetts
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"Recount finished: Ruberto vote affirmed"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 11/18/2009

PITTSFIELD -- Case closed.

Mayor James M. Ruberto's win over challenger Daniel L. Bianchi was upheld following a one-day recount today.

Ruberto's margin of victory was virtually unchanged after all 13,215 ballots cast in the Nov. 3 mayoral contest were counted by hand in nearly six hours in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.

Bianchi only had a net gain of two votes as Ruberto won the recount by 207 votes, 6,662 to 6,455. The results two weeks ago had Ruberto winning 6,658 to 6,449 in one of the closets mayoral elections in city history. In the recount, Ruberto picked up four votes, while Bianchi garnered six.

"I was very confident the result wouldn't change," said Ruberto in a telephone interview afterward. He was unable to attend the proceedings.

"The recount outcome speaks well to the election process, the City Clerk and her staff and the voters of Pittsfield," he added.

Bianchi last week filed a recount petition claiming irregularities in how the city's electronic voting machines initially tabulated the votes.

He admitted finding none.

"It seems the count was correct," Bianchi said.

"I looked at this [recount] as much as upholding the democratic process as the election itself," he added.

The Ruberto and Bianchi camps along with the Registrar of Voters board, which conducted the recount, were surprised it went quicker than expected. City Clerk Linda M. Tyer had expected the tabulation to continue today and possibly last into Friday. But by the noon hour, the ballots from Wards 1 through 4 had been counted, indicating the process could be completed on Wednesday.

"The City Clerk and folks doing the counting did a fabulous job," said Angelo C. Stracuzzi, the former city councilor overseeing the recount on behalf of Ruberto.

Tyer began the recount by explaining that six counting teams consisting of a ballot reader and tally clerk will each recount the ballots in groups of 50 and in numerical order of all 14 precincts in the seven wards.

Ruberto and Bianchi had two observers at each table who assisted them in determining if a ballot should be challenged. City election officials said fewer than 10 ballots were challenged.

"Give Pittsfield voters credit for filling out the ballots properly," Stracuzzi said.

The recounted ballots were then brought to "total tally table" where a running score was kept.

Tyer urged everyone in the council chambers "remain quiet as much as possible" during the recount; a reminder she made several times during a lull in the proceedings.

While several observers had some minor questions about the recount, the most pressing was their ability to take a bathroom break. "We'll give you a pass to show the hall monitor," quipped Jeffrey Whitehouse, chairman of the Registrar of Voters. Tyer seriously replied that raising one's hand and asking to leave would suffice.

While the recount was open to the public, only a small number of residents were on hand to witness the proceedings.

Ward 2 Councilor Louis A. Costi was among those in attendance and he recalled to The Eagle how he survived a recount two years ago. Costi defeated Kevin J. Morandi by 28 votes following a recount a month after the general election in November 2007.

"I was pretty confident [of winning]," said Costi, who did lose his re-election bid this year.

"The recount proved the election system works," he added.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Developer hits stride in difficult economy"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 24, 2009

PITTSFIELD -- Beth Pearson is riding a wave of real estate success through a landscape ravaged by recession.

Although the Pittsfield developer's ride began before the recession hit, her three projects had $13 million in financing in place and enough momentum to carry them through the economic slide.

During the past two years, Pearson and her crew were able to add 67 new or newly renovated living units in the heart of Pittsfield, a city where an aging housing stock has driven plenty of renters to seek improved living conditions and affordable prices.

Since September 2008, Pearson has been orchestrating three major projects at the same time:

n The renovation of a 12-unit Bradford Street building, known as the Boston Style Apartments, was completed this week.

n The New Amsterdam apartment community with 43 units was completed in January, also on Bradford.

n The historic restoration of the 1922 Wood Brothers building at 421 North Street is projected to be completed in late January 2010, with 12 units.

Pearson said there have been about 900 inquiries from potential tenants for the new living spaces.

New Amsterdam was fully rented by August. The Boston Style Apartments are already fully rented. The Wood Brothers building still has eight units to rent out, and Pearson is offering free rent for the first month to fill them quickly.

New Amsterdam was manufactured in modular sections and shipped to Pittsfield. Everything but the floors were installed in a factory. The walls, cabinets, countertops, fixtures, wiring, plumbing and ductwork were done before the units shipped to Pittsfield. Once here, they were assembled and hooked up to utilities and mechanical systems. New Amsterdam is the first multifamily rental housing complex built by a private developer in Pittsfield in over 30 years.

The Wood Brothers building, which is on the state and federal registry of historic places, once housed the Wood Brothers musical instrument store, the first in the country to rent out musical instruments, Pearson said.

The restoration included stripping the paint off the neo-gothic cast stone facade, revealing copper window trim in the process. Historically accurate replica windows were also installed, and a mahogany front door will soon be arriving.

During work on the interior, old windows were found hidden behind sheet rock walls, which helped shed more light on the original style.

"It was really fun to find little historical treasures behind the walls," Pearson said.

Work on the Wood Bros. building is expected to be complete in late January.

Pearson took ownership of the Boston Style Apartments in 2003 and salvaged what was once a deteriorating rental property known to attract an unruly populace.

She refurbished the building back then, but this year she totally renovated the property, reformatting the spaces and fitting them with energy efficient appliances and mechanicals.

At all three projects, Pearson said, rent ranges from $675 to $875. She has been renting to people in the service industry, schools and medical care facilities. There are also some retirees.

One tenant, Ella Deane, was moving into the ground floor of the Boston Style Apartments Wednesday. Once the move is done, she'll be living there with her five-year-old grand daughter.

"I'd been looking for a long time for something that is right for us," she said. "And I decided this was the place the very first time I saw it. If they continue to do such a good job, this will be the best place to live for the next 90 years."

During the recent mayoral race, the New Amsterdam project was criticized by candidate Daniel L. Bianchi and his supporters. Bianchi said he was opposed to the construction of the apartment complex because more than 40 housing units had been placed on one acre of land, which he said created parking problems and left children with no place to play. His position mystified Pearson.

She maintains the project provides more parking and more green space for residents.

"For me, it was disappointing when some people felt that by providing affordable housing I would recreate problems in a neighborhood that I worked to revitalize," Pearson said. "And it was wonderful to see [Pittsfield Mayor] Jimmy Ruberto, when challenged on his support for this project many times, continually standing behind it."

Ruberto said he is proud of the work Pearson and her team has done, and the effect that it has had on Pittsfield.

"I really believe that Beth Pearson has brought a broad variety of housing options that has helped advance downtown Pittsfield," he said. "The New Amsterdam apartments have given low to moderate income families and retirees a feasible option to be part of the downtown renaissance. The wide scope of her development skills are present in all her projects and she is helping create a downtown where people live, work, shop, and play."
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"Mayor first in spending: Campaign finance totals released"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 5, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The two candidates in one of the closest mayoral elections in city history spent a combined $57,335 on their campaigns.

But the incumbent far outspent his opponent to win re-election on Nov. 3. In the final campaign finance reporting period that covered last November's election, Mayor James M. Ruberto raised more money than challenger Daniel L. Bianchi by a ratio of 8-to-1 and outspent him nearly 4-to-1.

The election was one of the closest ones in history, and a recount affirmed Ruberto's win by just 207 votes. The final tally was Ruberto with 6,662 votes and Bianchi with 6,455.

Still, the Pittsfield contest was not the most expensive one last November. In North Adams, John Barrett III and Richard J. Alcombright spent a combined $133,468, as reported in Thursday's Eagle. By a margin of 880 votes, Alcombright unseated Barrett, who served 26 years as mayor.

In campaign finance reports submitted to the Pittsfield City Clerk's office, Ruberto and Bianchi listed all donations over $50, from whom they came, and all campaign spending activity.

The Bianchi campaign submitted its finance report, but it was returned because there was too much information, Bianchi explained. He provided copies to The Eagle, noting that the revised report would be submitted to the city clerk in a matter of days.

The deadline for submitting the reports was Jan. 20. Campaigns that file finance reports past deadline could face a fine from the Massachusetts Office of the Secretary of State.

During the reporting period, which spanned Oct. 26, 2009, to Dec. 3, 2009, the Ruberto campaign raised $39,594 and spent $44,938.

Bianchi's campaign raised $5,560 and spent $12,397.

Ruberto also loaned his campaign $22,500 during the final reporting period, for a total of $50,150 he loaned to his own mayoral campaign.

The mayor's re-election campaign spent $12,000 on printing mailers, $1,400 on advertising, $8,000 on postage, $4,300 on radio advertising and $2,500 for legal representation during the ballot recount. The campaign also spent $8,250 with ODC Opinion Dynamics for a voter survey.

The Bianchi camp's finance report revealed that he donated $2,000 to his own campaign and loaned the effort another $2,000.

It also shows that Bianchi's campaign spent $2,700 on printing, $6,235 on mailings, and $2,500 on newspaper and radio advertising.

In the race for City Council, the biggest spenders were two of the at-large candidates -- Matthew Kerwood at $5,347, who did not win re-election, and Melissa Mazzeo, who was elected to an at-large council seat and spent $4,054.

Next was Peter M. Marchetti, the top vote-getter among the at-large candidates, who spent $4,023.

Kevin J. Sherman, who also won an at-large seat, spent $1,263.

The two council candidates who spent the least were Ward 7 candidate Joseph C. Nichols, who won the Ward 7 seat, and Jonathan Lothrop, who ran unopposed in Ward 5. Neither recorded spending any campaign funds during the final reporting period.
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To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6241.
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"Bianchi in the wings in race for mayor"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 16, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- In a week or two, Daniel L. Bianchi might soon end speculation about whether he’ll enter the race for mayor, saying he’s "still very interested in moving toward a campaign."

In a phone interview with The Eagle, the local businessman, and also former city councilor and city treasurer, remained unsure when he would announce his decision.

"I really don’t know," he said, "but I might have an answer in a week or two."

If Bianchi does run, he would join city councilors Peter M. Marchetti and Joseph C. Nichols, who’ve declared their candidacies to succeed Mayor James M. Ruberto. Ruberto isn’t seeking re-election.

Since he fell just 200 votes shy in a 2009 mayoral race against Ruberto, Bianchi has given what he’s called "serious consideration" to another run.

The Pittsfield election season begins May 2, when nomination papers become available.

If more than two people run for mayor, gathering at least 300 signatures to get on the ballot, it would trigger a preliminary election on Sept. 27. The top two finishers would meet in the Nov. 8 general election.

Pittsfield’s 2011 mayoral race got off to an early start when Nichols, a freshman Ward 7 city councilor, declared his candidacy last December.

Last week, Marchetti, a seven-year councilor at large, announced his candidacy.

"I’ve always thought [Marchetti] would run," said Bianchi. "He’s a viable candidate."

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"Bianchi confirms run for mayor against Marchetti, Nichols"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 2, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The mayor's race will at least be a three-way contest because Daniel L. Bianchi says he will mount a second consecutive campaign for the corner office at City Hall.

The former city councilor and city treasurer said in a phone interview with The Eagle he plans to join current city councilors Peter M. Marchetti and Joseph C. Nichols in the contest for the corner office at City Hall. Bianchi said he will take out nomination papers, but wasn't planning to do so on Monday, the first day they were available.

Nichols took out nomination papers first thing on Monday, and Marchetti was expected to later in the afternoon.

Two years ago, Bianchi fell 200 votes shy of unseating Mayor James M. Ruberto, who announced in January he wasn't seeking a fifth term.

"I feel a strong obligation to run again," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

Bianchi said he plans to officially begin his campaign soon.

If all three mayoral candidates gather at least 300 signatures to get on the ballot, it would trigger a primary contest during the Sept. 27 preliminary election. The top two finishers would meet in the Nov. 8 general election.

In addition, all 11 City Council seats, the City Clerk's position and six of the seven seats on the School Committee are up for election this year.

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"Election season starts in Pittsfield"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 2, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The staff of the city clerk and registrar offices at Pittsfield City Hall were armed and ready with nomination papers and crisp petition forms as the city’s election season opened for its official start on Monday morning.

Incumbent City Clerk Linda Tyer and new Ward 7 challenger Dan Amuso were among the very first to line up when City Hall opened at 8:30 a.m.

Former Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio also showed up early to throw his hat into the ring for the position which will be vacated by Joseph "Joe" Nichols.

True to his word, Nichols was at City Hall by 8:45 a.m. to take out papers for his bid for mayor.

Asked why he was aiming for the leadership role, he said, "I just want to help the city."

Former mayoral candidate Jeffrey Ferrin also took out papers before 9 a.m., this time for a seat in Ward 3.

City Hall staff expects a steady flow of candidates to stop in to take out papers on Monday between now and closing time at 4 p.m.

The position for mayor, all 11 city council seats, six school committee spots and the chair for city clerk are all open in this year’s elections.

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Peter Marchetti fills out paperwork Monday to run for mayor of Pittsfield. Daniel L. Bianchi also announced his intention to run. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Bianchi in race for mayor of Pittsfield"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 3, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Daniel L. Bianchi's entrance into the mayoral race highlighted the official start of Pittsfield's political season on Monday.

In a phone interview with The Eagle, the local businessman and former city councilor and city treasurer cited strong support from voters who backed him in his 2009 campaign as reasons to take another crack at grabbing the corner office at City Hall. Two years ago, Bianchi fell 200 votes shy of unseating Mayor James M. Ruberto, who announced in January he wasn't seeking a fifth consecutive two-year term.

"I feel a strong obligation to run again," Bianchi said. "It's the right thing to do."

Bianchi plans to take out nomination papers soon to begin his campaign.

Meanwhile, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols and Councilor at large Peter Marchetti were the other mayoral candidates who left the City Clerk's office Monday with nomination papers in hand, the first day they became available for the fall election. Nichols and Marchetti declared weeks ago their intentions to succeed Ruberto.

If all three mayoral hopefuls gather at least 300 signatures to get on the ballot, it would trigger a primary contest during the Sept. 27 preliminary election. The top two finishers would meet in the Nov. 8 general election.

In addition, nomination papers are available for 11 City Council seats, the city clerk's position, and six of the seven spots on the School Committee, which are up for election this year.

Bianchi, 60, was Pittsfield's finance director and treasurer from 1988 to 1993, served on the state Finance Control Board from 2001 to 2004 and was the Ward 6 Councilor from 2000 to 2010. If elected, he expects to pick up where he left off his municipal government and political career.

"The day-to-day operations hasn't changed much in 20 years, we're still under the same city charter," Bianchi said. "I'll still know my way around."

Furthermore, he believes being two years removed from the City Council spotlight has allowed him to view "impartial observer" of Pittsfield government and regroup from the narrow loss in 2009.

The defeat, however, won't alter Bianchi's campaign style.

"I asked my barber of 30 years if I should do anything different and he told me ‘Do exactly what you did before -- but win,'" he said.

Nichols was among the first wave of political candidates who descend on the City Clerk's office at or shortly after City Hall opened at 8:30 a.m.

Asked why he was aiming for the leadership role, the Ward 7 Councilor said, "I just want to help the city. Anything I can do to put an ease to the tax burden, I will."

Later in the day, Marchetti, surrounded by several supporters, picked up his nominations papers, with the intention of gathering the necessary 300 signatures during his kick-off fundraiser on Monday night. He spoke of a leading a united city under the slogan "One Pittsfield."

"Pittsfield is a great city made up of many historic neighborhoods combined with many diverse new neighbors, but at the end of the day we are one Pittsfield."

Marchetti and Nichols running for mayor created two of the four open council races that will be on the ballot. Incumbents, Council President Gerald M. Lee and Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward will each forgo another term.

Former Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio and new Ward 7 challenger Daniel Amuso have entered the race to replace Nichols. If Amuso wins, the city firefighter would have to give up his job because no paid municipal employee can also be a councilor, except for those employed by the school department, city elections officials said.

In Ward 4, a pair of familiar names are in the running, Christopher J. Connell and Ozias "Chuck" Vincelette. Michael Ward unseated Vincelette as Ward 4 Councilor in 2005 and as an incumbent he defeated Connell in 2009.

So far, the lone ward incumbent with competition is Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio being challenge by former mayoral candidate Jeffrey W. Ferrin. Candidates have yet to emerge as challengers to ward councilors Peter T. White, Jonathan N. Lothrop, and John Krol Jr. who also have nomination papers circulating amongst their constituents. Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon has yet to take out nomination papers.

The at large City Council race initially has three newcomers and the remaining two incumbents vying for the four available seats.

Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin J. Sherman took out nomination papers, along with current School Committee member Churchill Cotton, Thomas Sakshaug of the Conservation Commission and Barry J. Clairmont.

Three current School Committee members are apparently seeking new two-year terms as Daniel C. Elias, Katherine L. Yon and committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso have begun gathering signatures to get on the ballot.

Eagle reporter Jenn Smith contributed to the story.

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

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"Race for mayor begins"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 4, 2011

Barring the appearance of any other candidates and assuming that everyone collects the necessary 300 signatures, three candidates will seek election as mayor of Pittsfield this fall. The James Ruberto era is ending and voters will determine what direction the city will go beginning in 2012.

Daniel Bianchi came within a couple hundred votes of election in 2009, making his run this year all but certain. The former city councilor and city treasurer would have welcomed a rematch with Mr. Ruberto as any veteran mayor makes enemies and some of the Bianchi vote may have been an anti-Ruberto vote. Mr. Bianchi must do better in Ward 4, which essentially swung the election to the incumbent in 2009, if he is to seal the deal in 2011.

City Councilor Peter Marchetti will campaign as the progressive candidate who embraces the philosophy and goals of the incumbent but in a less confrontational manner. It’s a sound strategy in that the pugnacious mayor stepped on a lot of toes, but getting anything done in Pittsfield requires a certain ruthlessness that Mr. Marchetti will have to demonstrate he is capable of summoning when necessary. To get elected, Mr. Marchetti will have to hold on to the Ruberto vote in the outer wards and do better downtown than the current mayor did, which he should do in Ward 2, where he is well-known.

The wild card is Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols, who has made it clear what he is against over the past year, primarily taxes and the incumbent mayor. Mr. Nichols can’t run against Mr. Ruberto, however, and will have to explain what it is he is for in the months ahead. The three candidates assure the city of a preliminary election in September, which could grow more complicated with the addition of other candidates.

After a couple of static elections, Pittsfield had a real contest two years ago that stimulated a rich debate about the city’s future. In this the 250th anniversary of the city’s founding, a good field of candidates for mayor and City Council should assure a similar dialogue this summer and fall about where the city goes next.

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"Bianchi joins mayoral ballot"
By Jonathan Levine, Editor & Publisher of The Pittsfield Gazette, July 19, 2011

Dan Bianchi officially joined the mayoral campaign today, ensuring that the city will have a mayoral preliminary election.

Bianchi brought his certified nomination papers to the city clerk, formally placing his name on the ballot.

"I plan to be out there working very hard," said Bianchi. "I want to talk about issues and a vision for Pittsfield, where it should be heading."

Bianchi will face Joe Nichols and Peter Marchetti with other possible candidates still seeking signatures to qualify for the ballot. Potential candidates have until August 9 to submit signatures for certification.

The preliminary election will take place September 27, 2011.

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"Strong leadership, vision for city"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, September 3, 2011

I have had the privilege of serving our city for many years, and have deeply appreciated every opportunity. My previous roles as city councilor, director of administration and finance for Pittsfield, Regional Employment Board coordinator and a member of the state Finance Control Board have prepared me well for the office of mayor. I’ve held various positions in business for 30 years, adding a different yet equally significant perspective to my experience.

Service to many civic organizations has revealed the good will and generosity that has always been the heart of Pittsfield. We have a wonderful city, filled with hard-working people who have always been willing to do their part. Yet over the past decade, I’ve seen a government of exclusion evolve where people are discouraged from independent opinion; where they are marginalized if they have a different viewpoint. This approach leaves our government under the influence of a select few people, and deprives our city of the benefit of vibrant new ideas. Our city is damaged further by a few who will spread fear and rumors to influence public opinion and the electoral process. It has created a polluted political atmosphere. This era must end. I believe in the ideals of strong civic involvement with an honest, open and inclusive government that encourages people to participate.

These are challenging times. Poor job opportunity creates under-employment as well as unemployment. It contributes to crime and increases educational costs. Economic development and job growth are essential elements to the success of our city. If elected mayor, I will launch a mayoral jobs initiative that will create a comprehensive marketing plan to reach beyond Pittsfield. The plan will have real milestones and a system to measure achievement. I will invite every citizen to participate in this initiative, and its progress will be shared with the public.

My initiative will recognize the value of existing small businesses -- the backbone of our community. These businesses deserve greater support so they can continue to operate and expand. I will create an atmosphere that fosters success, including setting aside a portion of the GE economic development fund to help these businesses.

I will be sensitive to the burden of taxes and their effect on economic development. We will grow a solid tax base only through sensible development and prudent planning.

I will insist on comprehensive long-range financial and operational planning. This planning will allow Pittsfield to sensibly continue supporting educational initiatives, public safety programs, the maintenance of our infrastructure and parks, youth sports programs, and cultural initiatives. All of these programs and initiatives complement the natural beauty of our area. Our efforts will make Pittsfield a smart choice for those looking to invest, raise a family and spend comfortable golden years in our wonderful community. A product of our efforts will be engaged young people. Active and engaged children stay in school and have the necessary foundation for good citizenship. We must continue to do good work for the benefit of this generation and the generation of citizens we will never meet.

Pittsfield faces challenging times, but with experienced, sensible leadership you can trust and a spirit of inclusion, we will have a brighter future. I will need your help to get us there. Your vote is valuable and I am asking for your support on primary day, Sept. 27.

DAN BIANCHI
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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Pittsfield mayoral candidates, left to right, Joseph C. Nichols, Peter M. Marchetti, Donna M. Walto, Stephen R. Fillio and Daniel L. Bianchi pose together in front of City Hall on Thursday. Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff

"Pittsfield mayoral candidates have three weeks to state their cases"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 5, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the end of summer and a serious start to the election season.

With the Pittsfield preliminary election three weeks away, political signs have replaced lawn chairs in voters' front yards as the five mayoral candidates ramp up their campaigns, one that got underway nine months ago. The candidates have found voters most concerned about job creation and the need for a better relationship between city officials and the citizens they serve.

In December, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols got a jump on the competition as the first declared mayoral candidate. Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti followed suit in March, with former mayoral hopefuls Daniel L. Bianchi, Donna M. Walto and Stephen R. Fillio announcing in April and May they would take another crack at City Hall's corner office.

The top two vote-getters on Sept. 27 will advance to November's general election. The winner will succeed Mayor James M. Ruberto, who announced in January he wouldn't seek a fifth consecutive two-year term. The other preliminary contest is a three-way council race in Ward 4 for two ballot spots on Nov. 8.

Nichols, 45, has found entering the mayor's race first was necessary to expand his presence beyond Ward 7.

"I went door-to-door, attended functions and relied on the word of mouth of my customers," said the owner of the Cove Bakery on Peck's Road. "People have been observing me all these months to see if I'm mayoral material."

While Marchetti, 42, is a veteran of five city-wide councilor-at-large campaigns-- winning four two-year terms -- he isn't taking past voter support for granted.

"The grassroots effort remains the same, but the stakes are higher as this time it's that voters either like me or they don't," he said. The compliance officer at Pittsfield Cooperative Bank was referring to how four councilor at large seats are up for grabs each election, unlike the winner-take-all mayoral contest.

Bianchi, 60, is hoping to build on the support he garnered in 2009, when the former Ward 6 councilor of 10 years lost by 200 votes to Ruberto in the general election.

"I am more methodical about contacting people and identifying voters who support my campaign," he said.

Local political insiders viewed some of Bianchi's support two years ago as anti-incumbent, rather than pro-challenge -- an issue he has slowly dismissed during the summer.

"I was concerned about that a few weeks ago, but I am hearing from people who said they voted for me before and will do it again," said the local manager for Global Montello Group, a Waltham-based energy services company.

Walto and Fillio are making their third attempt to become mayor: Walto lost to Ruberto in 2005 and ‘07 while Fillio didn't make it past the preliminary elections in ‘07 and ‘09.

Walto, 62, says the lack of an incumbent has her "running equal with everyone else."

However, she is treating the three current and former councilors as if they are incumbents.

"They have political reputations, while I'm lily white," Walto said, owner of Berkshire BackRoad Tour Co.

The 46-year-old Fillio plans to campaign differently the third time around, a strategy he plans to unveil soon. As in 2009, he is still "sick and tired" of how city government is run and considers himself a candidate for the city's blue-collar workforce.

"Everyone wants someone who is down-to-earth," said Fillio, who is starting up a property maintenance business.

The fostering of new businesses and jobs in Pittsfield continues to be a top issue with the city electorate, as in 2009, say the current mayor candidates.

Bianchi finds the city lacks a definitive plan for job creation.

"We should have been marketing a jobs initiative years ago," he said. "I also find many people are underemployed and are in search of better-paying jobs."

The economic stimulus programs the city currently offers new and expanding business should be part of the mix, according to Marchetti.

"When we offer incentives, we need to evaluate each package on its merits and go full circle and give progress reports of how these companies are doing," he said.

The tax breaks and economic development funds often come with conditions that Nichols finds hinders economic growth.

"You have to bend over backwards to get businesses to invest in Pittsfield without demands," the bakery owner said.

The William Stanley Business Park will be a crucial part of job creation, say Walto and Fillio. Two years ago, Ruberto's critics hammered away at his administration's inability to land a tenant at the park, first conceived more than a decade ago as a catalyst for local economic growth.

Since Ruberto's re-election, the site formerly owned by General Electric has gained two tenants with a third in the works, according to city officials.

"I would like to bring in a multi-use stadium for games and concerts," Fillio said.

Walto finds the look of the park will be just as important as what businesses occupy the 52-acre site.

"If we can get the best and brightest to design the buildings ... that will bring us into the forefront of economic development," she said.

All five candidates have also vowed to improve communication between city officials and residents. They say they have found many disenfranchised voters.

Fillio advocates for the oft-promised "open-door" policy.

"If you come to City Hall, my door won't be on hinges," he said.

Walto added, "People don't feel they are respected or listened too."

Recently, Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo petitioned the council on behalf of nearly 40 residents, who want a non-binding referendum to gauge what kind of high school project voters want. They claimed to be left out of the public input process, primarily conducted through the School Building Needs Commission.

While the petition failed, the disgruntled citizens got their point across to the 11-member panel.

"The policies and direction of the city must be better communicated to the public," said councilor Marchetti. "When we unleash new initiatives, they must be clearly defined and clearly communicated to the people."

Property owners' concerns about rising taxes are also falling on deaf years, according to Nichols.

"Cutting the budget $1 million or $2 million can go a long way to drop the tax rate a percentage point or two," he said.

Bianchi believes Pittsfield needs greater long-range fiscal planning to bring tax hikes under control.

"Every year, we seem to walk through a tax mine field," he said.

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

Pittsfield voters 411 ...

* Wednesday is the last day to register to vote and to change your name, address, or party enrollment in order for residents to be eligible to cast ballots in Pittsfield's preliminary election, Sept. 27.

* The Registrar of Voters office at City Hall will remain open until 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday to accommodate unregistered potential voters

* Absentee ballot applications are available the deadline to submit an absentee ballot is noon on Sept. 26 A person is registered voter is eligible to cast an absentee ballot if they unable to physically go to the polls due to an absence from the city during normal polling hours, physical disability or religious belief.

For more information, call the Registrar of Voters at 499-9460.

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Dan Bianchi - Mayor
The Pittsfield Gazette, September 8, 2011
By Dan Bianchi

I have had the privilege of serving our city for many years, and have deeply appreciated every opportunity. My previous roles as City Councilor, Director of Administration and Finance for Pittsfield, Regional Employment Board coordinator and a member of the state Finance Control Board have prepared me well for the Office of Mayor. I’ve managed in business for 30 years, adding a different yet equally significant perspective to my experience. Service to many civic organizations has revealed the goodwill and generosity that has always been the heart of Pittsfield. We have a wonderful city, filled with hard-working people who have always been willing to do their part.

Yet over the past decade, I’ve seen a government of exclusion evolve where people are discouraged from independent opinion; where they are marginalized if they have a different viewpoint. This approach leaves our government under the influence of a select few people, and deprives our city of the benefit of vibrant new ideas. This era must end. I believe in the ideals of strong civic involvement with an open and inclusive government that encourages everyone to participate.

These are very challenging times. Poor job opportunity creates under-employment as well as unemployment. It contributes to crime and increases educational costs. It is a detriment to everything we hope to achieve for Pittsfield. Economic development and job growth are essential elements to the success of our city. If elected mayor, I will launch a Mayoral Jobs Initiative that will create a comprehensive marketing plan to reach beyond Pittsfield. The plan will have real milestones and a system to measure achievement. Required resources for the success of the initiative will be deployed. I will invite every citizen to participate in this initiative, and its progress will be shared with the public.

An important part of my initiative will recognize the value of existing small businesses - the backbone of our community. These businesses deserve greater support so they can continue to operate and expand. I will create an atmosphere that fosters success, including setting aside a portion of the GE economic development fund to help these businesses.

I will be sensitive to the burden of taxes and the effect of taxes on economic development. We will grow a solid tax base only through sensible development and prudent planning.

I will insist on comprehensive long range planning that will allow Pittsfield to continue supporting education, youth sports, and cultural initiatives. All of these amenities complement the natural beauty of our area. Most importantly, our children will be engaged. Active and engaged children stay in school and have the necessary foundation for citizenship. We must continue to do good work for the benefit of this generation and the generation of citizens we will never meet.

Pittsfield is in the midst of challenging times, but with leadership you can trust and a spirit of inclusion, we will have a brighter future. I will need your help to get us there. Your vote is valuable. I urge you to use it wisely.

Thank you for your consideration.

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"Diverse group vies for Pittsfield mayor"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 26, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Tuesday's preliminary election in Pittsfield has half as many candidates for mayor as two years ago, yet the five listed on the ballot are as varied as the 10 who competed in 2009 for City Hall's top job.

Stephen Fillio, Donna M. Walto, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols, Daniel L. Bianchi and Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti are vying for the corner office currently held by Mayor James M. Ruberto. Ruberto announced in January he wouldn't seek a record-tying fifth straight two-year term as the city's chief executive.

The top two finishers in the preliminary contest will square off in the Nov. 8 general election.

Voters will choose from five mayoral hopefuls with a wide variety of political experience and personal backgrounds.

Walto and Fillio are making their third attempts to become mayor: Walto lost to Ruberto in 2005 and ‘07 while Fillio didn't make it past the preliminary elections in ‘07 and ‘09. Bianchi hopes to build on the support he garnered in 2009 when the former Ward 6 councilor of 10 years lost by 200 votes to Ruberto in the general election.

While Marchetti and Nichols are both first-time mayoral candidates, Marchetti has five city-wide councilor at large campaigns under his belt -- winning four two-year terms. Nichols made his political debut two years ago by capturing the Ward 7 council seat.

Outside the political arena, the candidates range from being self-employed to being key company officials and, in one case, a self-proclaimed blue-collar man.

Fillio, 47, considers himself a candidate of Pittsfield's working class, having held a number of skilled labor positions such as automotive technician and heavy equipment operator.

"I am a well-grounded person who can work with all kinds of people," he said.

Walto, owner of Berkshire BackRoad Tour Co. finds being a mother and grandmother has "grounded her in reality" and makes the 62-year-old qualified to be Pittsfield's next mayor.

"This, along with my strong background of a liberal arts degree from Williams College and my creative entrepreneurial skills give me the ability for critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and leadership," she said.

Nichols, 45, claims being self-employed gives him an edge over his opponents.

"Being a manager or employee doesn't give you the same leadership qualities as beginning and running your own business," said the owner of the Cove Bakery.

Bianchi is the Pittsfield manager for Global Montello Group, a Waltham-based energy services company, and has municipal government experience, aside from being a veteran city councilor. The 60-year-old was Pittsfield's finance director and treasurer from 1988-1993 and served on the state Finance Control Board, which monitored Pittsfield's severe money woes from 2001-04.

"I have a strong work ethic and strong governmental and business experience to serve the public," said Bianchi.

Marchetti, 43, believes he has a more well-rounded resume, citing his 23 years as a volunteer for local youth bowling and employee of The Pittsfield Cooperative Bank and his 10 years as coordinator for the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade.

"I come with effective leadership skills in the private, non-profit and public sector," he said.

If elected in November, the five mayoral candidates also have differing goals for their first six months in office.

Marchetti wants an earlier start to the budget review process with the City Council and improved communication between City Hall and the residents. He plans to air a pre-game show of sorts on Pittsfield Community Television prior to regular City Council meetings also broadcast on PCTV.

"The show will give a better understanding to residents why items are being put forward to the council," Marchetti said.

Strengthening the city's public safety effort, a specific economic plan for Pittsfield Public Schools and a jobs initiative are atop Bianchi's priority list.

"We should have been marketing a jobs initiative years ago," he said.

Nichols, too, wants to accelerate the city's effort to boost the local work force, as well as make significant changes at City Hall.

"I will be organizing and training staff and department heads concerning any new policies I would like to implement," he said. "I will be administering cost-saving measures throughout each department."

Walto, like Marchetti, said she will make the mayor's office more visible through PCTV and in person.

"I will visit the children in our schools so that they will feel a personal connection to our city and our heritage," she said. "I will advocate for civics to be part of the school curriculum so that our children realize the importance of government in their lives."

Job creation and public education are also high on Fillio's to-do list, if elected, during his administrations first six months.

"I will help existing businesses and get new, good-paying businesses in [Pittsfield]," said Fillio. "I also want the school to be repaired as needed and make sure our kids and residents have a safe place to live."

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

At a glance ...

What: Pittsfield preliminary election

When: Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Races: Mayor and Ward 4; top two finishers in each race advance to the Nov. 8 general election

Absentee voting: Absentee voting: Absentee ballot applications are due today, noon, at City Hall. The application is required in order to qualify for an absentee ballot which will be accepted up until 8 p.m. when the polls close on Tuesday.

Information: Call the Registrar of Voters at (413) 499-9460.

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"Bianchi, Marchetti advance in Pittsfield mayor’s race"
The Berkshire Eagle, September 27, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Daniel L. Bianchi and Peter M. Marchetti will square off in November to determine who becomes the city’s next mayor.

Bianchi and Marchetti were the top vote-getters in Tuesday’s five-way preliminary election for mayor. The winner of their head-to-head contest in the general election will succeed Mayor James M. Ruberto, who has decided not to seek a fifth consecutive two-year term.

Bianchi finished first with 3,430 votes and Marchetti was second with 2,759 votes, followed by Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols, 691 votes, Stephen R. Fillio, 77 votes and Donna M. Walto, 44 votes.

The only other preliminary contest saw Christopher Connell and Ozias "Chuck" Vincelette capture the two spots available for the City Council race in Ward 4 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Connell was the top vote-getter with 610 votes followed by Vincelette’s 523 votes. A third candidate, James E. Bronson, finished out of the running with 346 votes.

In addition to mayor and Ward 4, Pittsfield voters on Nov. 8 will decide political contests in Wards 2, 3 and 5, along with a seven-way race for the four Councilor-at-large seats and a seven-candidate run-off for six available spots on the seven-member School Committee. The mayor automatically has a seat on the school board.

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Peter Marchetti campaigns outside of Herberg Middle School on Tuesday. Marchetti says his campaign is not an extension of Mayor James Ruberto’s eight-year administration. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Underdog a favored spot for candidates"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 29, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The two candidates for mayor are veterans of Pittsfield politics, yet both claim they are the underdogs in this fall's race for the corner office.

On Wednesday, former city councilor Daniel L. Bianchi and current Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti both said they should not be labeled the front-runner after they finished as the top two vote-getters among the five candidates in the city's preliminary mayoral election. The top two vote-getters advanced to the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Bianchi, who represented Ward 6 on the council from 2000-2010, and Marchetti, a council member for eight years, are seeking to replace four-term Mayor James M. Ruberto, who is not seeking re-election.

Bianchi finished first in Tuesday's preliminary election, just as he did in the same election two years ago. But he believes that Marchetti's popularity among Ruberto's supporters will give his opponent the edge over the next six weeks.

"A lot of the same people involved in my opponent's campaign were with the mayor last time," Bianchi said. "[Marchetti] is much more well healed than I am."

Ruberto defeated Bianchi in the general election two years ago after finishing second in the preliminary.

Marchetti doesn't agree with Bianchi's assertion that his campaign is an extension of the eight-year Ruberto administration.

"The inner core of my committee have been with most of my other campaigns," said Marchetti, who has won four of six at-large races since 1999.

He added, "I am my own person and I look forward to a race between Pete Marchetti and Dan Bianchi, not other people."

Marchetti finished 671 votes behind Bianchi on Tuesday, but said he can close that gap in November.

"There was an awful lot of speculation as to who would win the preliminary and I heard a lot of my supporters didn't vote," he said. "I need to get them out in November."

While Bianchi finished first in 11 of the city's 14 precincts, he said his campaign also needs to improve.

"I want to thank every supporter, but now we must try and educate the rest of the voters who best can serve the city," he said.

Both candidates agree that job creation, crime and public education will be the hot topics for the remainder of the mayoral campaign.

In addition to electing a new mayor, Pittsfield voters will also consider candidates for City Council and the School Committee. Seven candidates will be vying for the four at-large council seats. There are also contested races in four of the city's seven wards. Three of the contested races involve incumbents, including one who is running as a write-in candidate.

Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White isn't listed on the ballot, because he chose not to seek re-election so he could run for state representative in the 3rd Berkshire District. He decided to run as a write-in candidate after being eliminated in last week's Democratic primary. White will face Kevin J. Morandi on Nov. 8, whom he defeated two years ago in the general election.

Ward 7 councilor Joseph C. Nichols, who finished third in Tuesday's mayoral race behind Bianchi and Marchetti, said he will "absolutely not" run as a write-in candidate in November against Anthony J. Simonelli, the only declared candidate for that seat.

"I don't think it's proper and not an honorable way to keep the ward seat," he said.

Nichols is unsure about a political comeback in 2013, but said he's willing to keep serving the city in some capacity.

There are seven candidates for the six elected seats on the School Committee. The mayor also serves on the School Committee by virtue of his office.

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

What's next ...

The Pittsfield general election is Nov. 8, with voters to decide races for mayor, City Council and School Committee.

Oct. 19 is the last day to register to vote for the general election, if not already registered.

Registrar of Voters office will be open that day until 8 p.m.

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At the GEAA Wednesday night, Dan Bianchi explained that his vision for Pittsfield includes more citizen involvement and an economic development commission to attract businesses. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder)

"Bianchi advocates for more citizen engagement"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 20, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- City residents need to shape Pittsfield's future, especially when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, creating jobs and fighting crime.

Mayoral candidate Daniel L. Bianchi on Wednesday night cited more citizen involvement as a key component of the action plan he will implement if elected next month. The former 10-year city councilor unveiled his plan before 90 people at the GEAA on Crane Avenue during a town hall-style meeting.

"I want everybody to be involved in Pittsfield," he said. "You don't have to have a Ph.D. at the end of your name to get involved."

Bianchi's opponent in the Nov. 8 election, Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti, is scheduled to announce his vision for Pittsfield at a similar gathering Oct. 26 at the American Legion on Wendell Avenue. The winner in three weeks will succeed Mayor James M. Ruberto, who declined to seek a fifth consecutive two-year term.

Bianchi's vision for the city includes a citizen-based tax panel to review the proposed municipal budget before the mayor presents it to the City Council for review and approval. In addition, the former city finance director and treasurer wants to create an economic development advisory commission to foster a more organized and productive approach to bring new businesses into the area.

"We can put together a powerful marketing plan to attract businesses," he said. "We are on the verge of redefining ourselves from an old manufacturing community to a city for the 21st century."

However, during the question and answer period with Bianchi, Mike Daly, a Pittsfield native back for a visit, said he felt the cost of living and lack of apartments needs to be addressed when discussing job creation.

"I would love to come home and move my business to Pittsfield, but can't," said Daly, who started a small marketing firm in Raleigh, N.C.

Bianchi vowed to improve public input when it comes to shaping the local school system and improving public safety. He advocated for expanding and formalizing the local neighborhood watch program.

"Every citizen should understand they have an investment in preventing crime," he said.

Bianchi's action plan involves creating a city charter review commission in order to create a more modern and open form of government.

"We need to create a government that's above politics," he said. "Politics makes for inefficient government."

Several audience members asked Bianchi, if elected, to re-establish the youth commission and appoint members to the agricultural commission, which has been vacant since it was established two years ago.

Others who spoke called for improved technology to enhance local education and better use of Pittsfield economic development money in order to boost the work force.

One resident called for a new sports complex to replace Wahconah Park that will benefit the city's youth sports programs and high school athletic teams. Al Bianchi, no relation to mayoral candidate, said he felt Pittsfield needs to sever its sentimental ties with the historic but aging park.

"I really believe the time has come to build a new facility we can use," Al Bianchi said. "The old Yankee Stadium was knocked down for God's sake -- can't get any more nostalgic than that."

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"Revamp council, elect Bianchi"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, October 24, 2011

After watching the actions of the City Council for the past two years, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of council members, including Peter Marchetti, have been far more concerned with feeding Mayor Ruberto’s ego than protecting their constituents from his reckless spending agenda.

If we are ever to restore fiscally sound, equitable, and transparent leadership to our city government, we must revamp our City Council and install Daniel Bianchi as the next mayor of Pittsfield.

LINDA GILARDI
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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Mayoral candidate Daniel L. Bianchi, left, makes a point during his debate against Peter M. Marchetti at Berkshire Community College. ( Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Heat turned up at mayoral debate"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 25, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The two candidates vying to be Pittsfield's next mayor exchanged political barbs and shared their differing visions for the city's future during a debate on Monday night at Berkshire Community College.

Former City Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi and Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti accused each other of spreading misinformation and rumors about their respective campaigns -- and addressed key city issues -- before nearly 200 people in the Boland Theatre. The political forum also was broadcast live on Pittsfield Community Television.

Brandon Walker, Berkshire County reporter for YNN, the 24-hour news channel on the Time Warner Cable system, was the moderator for the hourlong debate co-sponsored by BCC, PCTV and the Pittsfield Gazette.

Bianchi and Marchetti will square off in next month's election, with the winner on Nov. 8 succeeding Mayor James M. Ruberto, who isn't seeking election to a fifth consecutive two-year term.

While Walker asked the two mayoral hopefuls about job creation, the future of Pittsfield and Taconic high schools and creating a more open and accessible city government, the questions they had for each other drew the most terse -- and at times, heated -- responses.

The most heated exchange occurred when Bianchi criticized Marchetti for voting with the council majority against the placement of a non-binding referendum before the voters regarding a high school project. The Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission is currently collaborating with the Massachusetts School Building Authority on whether to have a new Taconic, renovate the Valentine Road campus, or renovate and expand the building.

"[The question] would have given us input the state was asking for," said Bianchi.

Marchetti said the question, as proposed, was too specific at this stage of the feasibility study process.

"There wasn't enough information to ask people -- it was premature," he noted.

Bianchi shot back, "You could have crafted a question that ..."

Marchetti cut him off by saying, "Not without the information."

Bianchi also claimed the innuendo and misstatements coming from the Marchetti camp mirror what he heard two years ago, when he lost by 200 votes to Ruberto.

"Many of the same people in the Ruberto campaign are aligned with your campaign," he said.

Marchetti shot back that his core of supporters have been with him since he first won election to the City Council in 2001.

"I'm tired of these personal attacks," he said.

As for the issues dominating the mayoral campaign, Bianchi called for a marketing plan with a "comprehensive incentive plan," in order to fill the William Stanley Business Park with companies.

Marchetti replied, "We can use the marketing plan already in existence, or modify what we have, to get jobs ASAP."

Both did agree there is more to a proposed high school project than bricks and mortar.

"We also need to buy into how we can improve Pittsfield's high school education," Marchetti said.

While neither candidate advocated for a specific kind of project, Taconic should be the initial focus for high school improvements.

"Taconic High School is the right place to start," Bianchi said. "It has the greatest potential for a regional trade school."

The two did call for more public input in city government, but differed in their approach.

Marchetti called for revamping the city's website to allow for comments as one way citizens can connect with the mayor, while Bianchi vowed to hold daily office hours for residents.

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

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"Candidates' crime proposals conflict"
By Clarence Fanto, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 4, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Acknowledging the crime wave that has been sweeping the city, mayoral candidates Peter Marchetti and Dan Bianchi traded jabs and offered contrasting anti-crime proposals at their final debate Thursday morning on WBEC-AM.

There have been a dozen armed robberies since late June as well as the city’s first recorded triple murder.

Marchetti blamed the robberies on the drug trade and on "people doing it to put food on the table for their families," while Bianchi described himself as the only candidate "who’s talking about crime seriously."

"My crime issues go with neighborhood development," including safety and infrastructure improvements, said Marchetti, citing his work with the Morningside Neighborhood Crime Initiative.

But Bianchi, describing the impact on the quality of life and on "senior citizens afraid to come out after sundown," called for a "more aggressive approach," a "zero-tolerance policy" and collaboration with the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office and other law-enforcement agencies in the county "to really get tough on crime."

"There’s a lot we can do, but we’re not going to do it from the sidelines," he added.

In an interview after the debate, Bianchi proposed more resources for crime watches "to really zero in on those neighborhoods that have a real need."

"Instead of continuously collecting evidence and moving towards an arrest," Bianchi said, "you’re actually identifying those folks in your community that are issues and you stay right on them."

He told The Eagle "there’s a direct correlation between the economy and crime, and between numbers of police officers and crime. We’ve got to address that, but we’ve got to convince the public that they have a vested interest to be that watchdog in the window."

Marchetti proposed stepping up the development of crime watches and giving them
more resources.

"We don’t want folks taking action. We want them to be the eyes and ears, reporting the information," he said. "But they need to believe they’re being listened to and that the information is being used. Right now, people feel it’s going nowhere."

During the debate, Bianchi said that unless "we can get a handle" on unemployment and underemployment among "highly educated people Š we’re never going to be able to support all those other wonderful things like cultural activities."

But Marchetti called for "a game plan that not only addresses the negatives but also addresses the positives so we can capitalize on the good things we’ve done while we rectify the bad things we’ve done."

As positives, he listed the revitalization of downtown, neighborhood initiatives, the relocation of Barrington Stage to Pittsfield, the restoration of the Colonial Theatre, and the creation of the cultural development office.

Acknowledging that he and Bianchi have similar visions for small-business development, Marchetti cited some differences on job creation, such as Bianchi’s intention to appoint himself as a member of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA).

"I would not," said Marchetti. He called for unity among economic-development boards and organizations in the city.

"We have to work with urgency," said Bianchi, "and the only way to do that is to work closely with those organizations that affect job creation. I’d also like to create an economic development agency for Berkshire County Š and a business development agent for Pittsfield."

He also advocated a $500,000 to $1 million fund to help small businesses grow.

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"Mayoral candidates turn up the heat"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 5, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The pointed exchange between Daniel L. Bianchi and Peter M. Marchetti in a Thursday radio debate continued into a second day on Friday.

With four days to go before Election Day on Tuesday, the rivals for mayor amplified their differences and touted their endorsements. The back-and-forth persisted over rumor-mongering and who was distorting whose records on crime.

On Friday, Marchetti took to the steps of City Hall and accused Bianchi of distorting his record on crime during his eight years on the City Council. There, Marchetti also announced endorsements from Gerald M. Lee, the City Council president and former police chief; Mayor James M. Ruberto; and Raymond Risley, a former fire chief.

Marchetti also said that, in the remaining days of the campaign, he would "call out" his opponent and respond to what he called "lies and mistruths" coming from the Bianchi campaign over the past couple days.

In response, Bianchi denied distorting Marchetti’s record on crime. Calling Marchetti’s claim a "silly statement," Bianchi said crime is a topic Marchetti was not focused on.

Bianchi pointed to his own stance on public safety, his endorsement by Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas N. Bowler, and the forum on crime he held last month with the sheriff.

Marchetti said he has taken public safety "very seriously" during his eight years on the City Council, and referred to his seven years working with the Morningside Neighborhood Initiative, which helps fight crime in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

"I realize that we do have crime," Marchetti said. "I’m not trying to pull the sheet over my eyes as my opponent is trying to say. I know it’s there, and I am combating it every day."

On Friday, Bianchi showed a reporter copies of fliers sent out by both candidates. Bianchi’s lists his proposal for public safety. He pointed out there is no mention of crime or public safety among the eight points listed on Marchetti’s flier.

"What I’ve said is he’s been very quiet on crime in this campaign," Bianchi said. "Quite honestly, he’s either responded to things that I’ve said on it, and appears to be following rather than leading the conversation."

Lee said he was endorsing Marchetti because of his work with the Morningside crime watch.

"Peter’s opponent, in 10 years on the City Council, never talked about crime watches, never," Lee said. "Now he’s an expert on crime watches."

Marchetti stressed that Risley and Lee were backing his campaign as individuals, not on behalf of either the police or fire departments. Risley, Lee and Ruberto accompanied Marchetti outside City Hall.

On Friday, Bowler said Bianchi has made implementation of neighborhood crime watches one of his "top priorities." "Peter really hasn’t done that," Bowler said.

"One reason I’m endorsing Dan is that he is a personal friend, and I think he’s the right man for the job," Bowler said. "There’s also the fact that he’s taking such an interest in crime. He’s the only candidate that has done so up to this point."

When asked why he was ratcheting up the rhetoric so close to the campaign, Marchetti said, "I think what I’ve tried to do is run a campaign on issues. I think in the last 48 hours this campaign has turned into a campaign not about issues, but about lifestyles and personal life."

Marchetti is the city’s first openly gay candidate for mayor. He told The Eagle in March that he was ready to defend his personal and professional life as he embarked on his campaign.

"I put my cards on the table," he said. "I didn’t want to talk about it because it was not relevant with the campaign, but now it’s creeping back into the campaign through whispers, through innuendoes, even through conversations."

When asked to respond to Marchetti’s allegations, Bianchi said he believed that Marchetti was referring to comments that he made in a recent interview involving a campaign flier. He said the flier included comments from Lee which stated that when Bianchi and Marchetti had lost municipal elections, only Marchetti had stayed involved in city activities.

In listing the activities that he had stayed involved in, Bianchi said that he had mentioned serving with Marchetti’s spouse on the parish council at St. Mark Church.

"It had nothing to do with his personal lifestyle," Bianchi said. "I respect him and his spouse. I have no issue there."

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"Bianchi grabs mayoral win"
By Trevor Jones and Ned Oliver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 9, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- By the narrowest count in recent history, Daniel L. Bianchi edged out Peter M. Marchetti in the race to become the city's 38th mayor.

Bianchi won Tuesday's contest by just 106 votes, a margin of victory of less than 1 percentage point, making it the closest election in 90 years and the seventh-tightest race since mayoral elections began in 1890.

Bianchi received 6,144 votes to Marchetti's 6,038, according to unofficial results provided by City Clerk Linda Tyer's office. Of the city's 29,104 registered voters, 12,262, or 42 percent, cast ballots.

For Bianchi, Tuesday's victory vindicated a narrow, recounted loss in his 2009 run for mayor against James M. Ruberto.

Bianchi, greeting a cheering, post-election throng of supporters at the former Mazzeo's Ristorante on Winter Street, pledged to move Pittsfield forward on a path of progress and prosperity.

"Once we get a control on crime and address our education needs, we'll really be able to have an economic development program that makes sense and is effective for our community," Bianchi said. "I believe we have a bright future."

Barring a recount, Bianchi, 60, of Le Roi Drive, will be sworn in Jan. 2.

Marchetti, 43, of Courtland Place, wouldn't say Tuesday night if he planned to seek a recount. He said he'd decide today, adding that he will "continue to work for Pittsfield in the way I know how."

Though it's possible Marchetti could seek a recount, his comments sounded more conciliatory than combative, saying there's a winner and loser in every election and he has to "accept that for what it is."

"I don't know what else I can say," said Marchetti. "The voters spoke. They chose Dan. And I will do all I can to make sure Pittsfield moves forward in the direction that's best for Pittsfield."

In the run-up to the election, Bianchi framed himself as a voice of change for the city, drawing a contrast between himself and Ruberto, the sitting mayor, and Marchetti, an at-large city councilor.

During debates, Bianchi characterized Marchetti and his supporters as holdovers from Ruberto's camp -- part of an "old boy network" that was surreptitiously attempting to control the vote in Pittsfield through rumors and innuendo. Marchetti also struck back about what he said were rumors and innuendo coming from the Bianchi camp during the campaign.

Bianchi claimed Marchetti wasn't independent enough to avoid that network's influence once in office.

The message resonated with his supporters, who said that while they appreciated Ruberto's work, they were ready for a major shakeup in City Hall.

At the polls, Bianchi's supporters criticized Ruberto and Marchetti for being too focused on North Street and attracting cultural venues, faulting the administration and City Council for failing to bring more industry and jobs to the city.

"The mayor has done nice things, bringing theater and shows, but a lot of us people can't afford to do that," said Beatrice Thomas, a voter from Clydesdale Drive. "I feel we need a change. If we vote for [Marchetti], we're just getting more of the same thing."

Marchetti supporters, however, lauded him for being forward-thinking and focused on the city's future. They said they don't think Bianchi is progressive enough and is stuck in an industrial mindset with regard to the city's future.

Bianchi is "more of the same old, same old," said Mary Hayes of Bartlett Avenue. She said she thinks Bianchi is too satisfied with status quo. "[Ruberto's] work downtown has created jobs by giving people a reason to come downtown."

Upon winning, however, Bianchi said questions about his support for Pittsfield's downtown district and cultural attractions were part of a campaign smear tactic.

Still, he said his emphasis would not be the continued development of a downtown cultural district.

"I do appreciate what we have and I do appreciate the efforts of the mayor to enrich our cultural venues here in the city, and I pledge that I will enhance them while not hurting the rest of the community."

But he added: "I share your vision for expanding economic development to each and every neighborhood, not just the downtown."

Second chance win ...

Mayor's race:

Daniel L. Bianchi 6,144 winner

Peter M. Marchetti 6,038

Bianchi's victory on Tuesday comes two years after he lost by 207 votes to out-going Mayor James M. Ruberto, whom didn't seek re-election.

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"Bianchi to take oath of office Jan. 2"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 23, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- City officials are putting the finishing touches on the upcoming inauguration, highlighted by Daniel L. Bianchi being sworn in as Pittsfield’s first new mayor in eight years.

On Jan. 2, Bianchi, along with the 11-member City Council and City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, will take the oath of office during a 10 a.m. ceremony in the council chambers at City Hall.

The event is open to the public and will be broadcast live by Pittsfield Community Television, Channel 18, on the Time Warner cable system in Pittsfield.

Bianchi, a former city councilor, will become Pittsfield’s 35th mayor since city voters began electing the position in 1891. He succeeds Mayor James M. Ruberto who occupied the corner office at City Hall for eight years. Ruberto opted against seeking a fifth consecutive two-year term in last month’s election.

Bianchi is still crafting his inauguration speech that will set the tone for his first term.

"I have some ideas of what I will say, similar to what I talked about in the campaign: Jobs, education, crime and maintaining healthy neighborhoods," he said.

Five new councilors also won two year terms: Churchill Cotton, Barry Clairmont, Christopher J. Connell, Kevin J. Morandi and Anthony J. Simonelli. In addition, incumbents Melissa Mazzeo, Paul J. Capitanio, John M. Krol Jr. Christine Yon, Kevin J. Sherman and Jonathan N. Lothrop were re-elected to the council.

Tyer was unopposed in winning her second straight two-year term on Nov. 8.

The city clerk noted the inauguration has to be held on Jan. 2, even though City Hall will be closed in observance of the New Year’s holiday that falls on a Sunday.

"The city charter mandates the inauguration be held on the first Monday of the new year," she said.

The charter also stipulates the new School Committee be sworn in on the first Monday in January, Tyer added. That ceremony is scheduled for 8 p.m. in the Pittsfield High School library.

City officials expect the council chambers to be packed for the inauguration. Seating is first-come, first-serve, except for some reserved spaces.

Following the City Hall ceremony, Bianchi will host a public reception in the atrium of the Central Block at 75 North St.

In a letter to supporters, he has also asked for additional contributions to offset his expenses for mounting a mayoral campaign.

"I think I’m running a deficit from the campaign, but I don’t want to get into the finances right now," Bianchi told The Eagle.

All city political candidates have until Jan. 20 to file a final report with state election officials listing what they spent and contributions received during the 2011 fall election. Those figures will be made public at a later date.

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

If you go...

What: Pittsfield inauguration ceremony and organizational meeting of City Council.

When: Jan. 2, 10 a.m.

Where: City Council chambers, City Hall, 70 Allen St., Pittsfield

What to expect: Oaths of office will be given to the mayor-elect, city clerk and the 11-member City Council. Bianchi will follow with an Inaugural address.

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"Bianchi: 'A different vision' for Pittsfield"
By Ned Oliver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 1, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Supporters say Dan Bianchi's election as the next mayor of Pittsfield is the beginning of a new era of openness and inclusiveness for city government.

When word of his photo-finish win over City Councilor Peter Marchetti reached the throng of supporters at his victory party in November, high fives flew as expressions of relief and joy spread throughout the room. It was a high-intensity moment that showed just how fervent his supporters are and the extent to which they believe in his vision for Pittsfield.

"I think it's a new era with the Bianchi administration," said Richard A. "Rick" Scapin, who served as City Council president under former Mayor Sara Hathaway a decade ago. "He's got a different vision for Pittsfield."

But as thrilled as Bianchi's backers are, his victory also sent a chill through some members of the arts community, which has enjoyed unprecedented support under outgoing Mayor James Ruberto.

The day after Bianchi's win in November, Seth Rogovoy, the former editor of the now-defunct lifestyle magazine Berkshire Living, wrote in his daily arts-focused newsletter that the election's outcome sent a "shudder through the city's art community, [which] perceives Bianchi as an old-school, guns-and-butter-type politician opposed to the sort of municipal support of the arts that has driven the downtown revival of the past decade."

Bianchi, who will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Monday at City Hall, beat Marchetti by 106 votes in one of the closest mayoral races in the city's history.

While Pittsfield clearly was divided two months ago over which candidate should have won, many acknowledge now that the city would have been in capable hands regardless of the election's outcome.

Marchetti said voters sent a distinct message in November.

"I think one of the things that became very clear for all of us is that the community needs to come together and work together," Marchetti said.

With the campaign rhetoric in the past, Bianchi's constituents are wondering how the city's next mayor plans to make good on his promise to bring economic development to "all of the city's neighborhoods -- not just downtown."

In a recent interview with The Eagle, Bianchi, a former city councilor, outlined his priorities going into his two-year term.

He said he'll focus on bringing more jobs to the city by attracting more companies. He acknowledged that it's a task easier said than done, especially given the current economic climate. But he said his approach will be more proactive than that of the Ruberto administration.

How? Bianchi pointed at the phone on the desk in his office in the First Agricultural Building on North Street, where he is leaving his job as a manager at an energy services company.

"I'm going to talk to people," he said. "I think we can really sell ourselves to the outside world. We just need to be more aggressive."

Bianchi said he would identify prospective companies and go after them "to let them know we're here."

But Bianchi said other steps -- from tackling crime to improving neighborhood infrastructure -- are needed to make the city more appealing to people who might want to do business here.

Bianchi conceded that he didn't have a "perfect answer" for how to upgrade rutted streets and cracked sidewalks without drastically raising taxes or shifting money from other city priorities -- two steps he said he was opposed to taking. But he said he wants to start discussing repairs and see how the conversation goes.

On crime, he said he'd like to talk openly and freely about the threats facing the city. He said he would do that in forums similar to the recent meeting called by Morningside residents after gunfire there left a man dead in the middle of the street.

"If you try to hide crime, people don't become aware of it and are less likely to become invested. But if we say, ‘This is where we are today; these are the issues that we see,' then we engage folks to become involved. It could be as simple as asking them to keep an eye out," he said.

To be sure, Bianchi's focus is broader than economic development and overcoming the barriers to it. For example, he said he still intends to initiate a full review of the city's charter, with an eye toward making city government "more efficient and more effective." Likewise, he said he's already begun a dialogue with state officials over school evaluations and funding issues.

But Bianchi didn't win his devoted following because of any one stance or promise. Aside from his reputation as a fiscally conservative "bean counter," the former city finance director's supporters were hard pressed to cite a specific issue that brought them to his side; rather, it was their impression of him as a person and their belief that he would involve more members of the community in the decision-making process at City Hall.

In contrast, Bianchi's supporters called Ruberto aloof.

"It's hard to give lots of examples. It was a syndrome, as if you were for him or against him, and if you were against him on anything, you were out," said Mark Miller, a politician and former Eagle editor who campaigned on Bianchi's behalf. "It was my feeling that there were just a few people running the city, and it wasn't as open and receptive to the particular gifts an awful lot of people throughout the city might want to put to work."

Miller and others say they expect Bianchi to bring a different attitude to City Hall.

"I think it means more openness in City Hall, more inclusiveness, just a different way of doing business," Miller said. "It's been a pretty closed system, and here's a guy who's going to open it up."

Melissa Mazzeo, perhaps Bianchi's biggest supporter on the city council, put it more bluntly.

"I don't want to say [Ruberto] was vindictive," she said. "But if you didn't follow along with him, you were cast out, and I don't see that with Dan."

Voters who backed Bianchi said before the election that they thought he would be an independent leader who would ask pertinent questions before moving forward with city projects.

"Dan Bianchi is not a rubber stamp," Debra Gauchione wrote in a letter to the editor in The Eagle.

Other voters, however, questioned Bianchi's vision in the run-up to the election.

Citing Bianchi's voting record during his tenure as a city councilor, some residents questioned his ability to make decisions that, while perhaps unpopular at the time, are necessary to move Pittsfield forward.

"Mr. Bianchi confuses me, and I am not sure he has the qualities to be a strong mayor," Mike Monti wrote to Eagle editors.

Others, including Ruberto, have indicated they aren't sure Bianchi has the right disposition for the job.

When asked about Bianchi's temperament during a recent meeting with The Eagle's editorial board, Ruberto chuckled at the question.

Ruberto, who has served as mayor since 2004, then said: "I'm sure that Mayor Bianchi will find the learning curve to be rather steep, like I did, recognizing the fact that you're now running a city where you have to balance how you approach an issue with the result you know is required of an issue."

Bianchi, meanwhile, insists he has the right attitude for the job of mayor. He said being good-natured and friendly are some of his better qualities. He also cited his sense of humor.

For example, he recounted with a laugh how he was portrayed during the campaign as a "cultural Attila the Hun" who would lay waste to the emerging arts scene in Pittsfield.

"I never pictured myself in skins with a battle ax, but it's funny," he said. "Those things happen in a political discussion."

Questions about his support for the arts loomed large during the campaign, fueled in part by his record while serving on the City Council, where he cast votes against committing city economic development funds to aid in the rehabilitation of the Colonial Theatre and the Berkshire Museum.

Bianchi dismissed concerns -- verbalized by Rogovoy and others -- that the arts scene would suffer under him.

"I will have time to put those fears to rest," he said.

At the same time, however, Bianchi was candid about his reluctance to use city economic development funds for private arts projects.

Downtown advocates say that, at this point, that doesn't worry them.

Even fervent supporters and beneficiaries of the downtown renaissance ushered in by the Ruberto administration say they're at least "guardedly optimistic" going forward because they believe the city's role in downtown rejuvenation is more or less over.

"Number one, Dan is a bright guy, and downtown is over the hump," said local businessman Richard Stanley, who opened the Beacon Cinema on North Street two years ago with support from the city.

"I would be chilled if this victory came two years ago, but we've got positive momentum now," he said.

That point of view was echoed by Peter Lafayette, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., a group dedicated to fostering the vibrancy of the district.

He said he and other members of the organization met recently with Bianchi.

"We're optimistic," he said. "We think he understands the value of a healthy downtown and its importance to attracting new businesses and workers."

Lafayette said his organization will look to the mayor's office not for money, but for support and advocacy.

"One of the important roles Ruberto played, and that we hope Bianchi will play, was being very verbally supportive," Lafayette said.

In addition to meeting with Lafayette, Bianchi has been talking with state officials, from Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray to local legislators such as state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing.

Downing, who in years past publicly supported Ruberto but didn't pick sides in the most recent election, voiced a sentiment shared by supporters of Bianchi and Marchetti: Two excellent candidates ran, and the city couldn't lose.

"We had a really good conversation," Downing said of a recent meeting with the mayor-elect. "He confirmed what I expected -- that he knew the issues and challenges we face, but he was ready and willing to take them on."

Dan Bianchi

Age: 60

Occuption: Leaving his job as a manager for Global Montello Group -- a Waltham-based energy services company -- to take over as mayor of Pittsfield.

Political experience: City councilor, 2000-2010; Pittsfield finance director and treasurer, 1988-1993; served on state Finance Control Board from 2001-2004.

Personal: Wife, Theresa; two grown sons and a daughter in college.

If you go ...

What: Pittsfield inauguration ceremony and organizational meeting of City Council

When: Monday, 10 a.m.

Where: City Council chambers, City Hall, 70 Allen St., Pittsfield

What to expect: Oaths of office will be given to the mayor-elect, city clerk and the 11-member City Council. Mayor Bianchi will follow with an inaugural address.

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"New city councilors eager to get started: Five new city councilors, who will be sworn in today along with mayor-elect Daniel Bianchi, are ready to work."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 2, 2012

PITTSFIELD - The newest city councilors are ready to " hit the ground running" after they formally take office today.

First elected to the 11-member City Council two months ago, Barry J. Clairmont, Churchill Cotton, Kevin J. Morandi, Christopher J. Connell and Anthony J. Simonelli will join the six returning councilors being sworn in for two- year terms during the Pittsfield inauguration.

Councilors at large Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin J. Sherman, Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop and Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. were the re- election winners in November.

The biennial ceremony scheduled for 10 a.m. in the council chambers at City Hall also includes the oath of office for mayor- elect Daniel L. Bianchi and City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, who ran unopposed on Nov. 8.

The event is open to the public and will be broadcast live by Pittsfield Community Television, Channel 18, on the Time Warner cable system in Pittsfield.

The five first-term councilors have spent the past eight weeks preparing for their transition into city government by meeting with the councilors they are replacing, talking to citydepartment heads and listening to - even helping resolve some - constituents' concerns.

Morandi noted how Peter T. White, the incumbent he beat for the Ward 2 council seat, has helped make the transition a good one.

"Peter has been helpful by alerting me to issues that need to be followed up on," he said. "The preparation the last two months will allow me to hit the ground running."

Morandi vows to make crime and education priority issues early on, as well as learn more about the proposed shopping complex located in his ward as part of the William Stanley Business Park.

An immediate concern for Simonelli, the new Ward 7 councilor, is getting a temporary bridge in place for residents living on Lakeway Drive along Onota Lake, so the current one that is deteriorating can be replaced.

Over the next six months, Simonelli will wrestle with broader issues, such as the new city budget proposed by the mayor for fiscal 2013, which starts July 1. The successor to Joseph C. Nichols, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor, has constituents worried about rising property taxes. Last week, the city mailed out the tax bills for the current fiscal 2011 that reflect a 92-cent increase in the residential tax rate and $1.90 for commercial property.

"Nobody wants taxes to go up," he said. " But when I speak to people, they like their garbage picked up and they comment on how well [students in] the schools perform."

Meanwhile Connell believes he will easily settle in as the Ward 4 Councilor, replacing Michael L. Ward who opted against a re- election bid, because he has been in councilor- mode before the election. " I've been handling some problems for six months," he said. " I already have filed some petitions with the City Council to date."

One of them is to get tougher with property tax delinquents.

As at- large councilors, Clairmont and Cotton will be focused issues affecting the entire city, such as the Taconic High School project, city finances and economic development. Clairmont has been watching the City Council in action for two years, but realizes the perspective might change now that he's among the 11 decision-makers.

"I've been paying attention to city affairs and attending council meetings," he said. "But until I get up there, I won't know what proposals we might face are right or wrong for the city."

Cotton also expects to be on a learning curve, but he views his four years on the Pittsfield School Committee as key to making the transition to councilor at large. He noted both are citywide elected positions. "A lot of people know who I am; I'm no stranger to the city," he said. "I have to make sure I represent all city residents - even those who didn't vote."

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Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi delivers his inaugural address just after being sworn in as mayor in Pittsfield City Hall on Monday. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Bianchi ready to tackle ambitious agenda"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 3, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Daniel L. Bianchi wants to help small businesses grow, attack crime head on and look at reshaping city government -- all in his first month as the city's new mayor.

Bianchi outlined his administration's agenda for January and the rest of his two-year term as Pittsfield's new chief executive, during the Pittsfield inauguration on Monday.

The former city councilor was sworn into office before a standing room-only crowd of family, friends along with local, state and federal political dignitaries who packed the City Council chambers. He succeeds James M. Ruberto, who didn't seek re-election in the mayor contest two months ago -- a race Bianchi won by 106 votes over former City Councilor Peter M. Marchetti.

In addition, the City Hall ceremony included the oath of office to the 11-member council and City Clerk Linda M. Tyer; all 12 victorious in November.

Prior to new mayor's inaugural address, the councilors reorganized by unanimously electing Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman as their next president. Sherman replaces Gerald M. Lee, who held the post for the last eight years of his 12-year stint on the council. Lee also opted against a re-election bid on Nov. 8.

Bianchi's speech touched on several goals he discussed during the mayoral campaign: aggressive economic development, cracking down harder on crime and establishing a city charter review commission -- goals he plans to tackle in the next 30 days.

"I will send a request to the City Council this month to set up a strategic fund from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund for small businesses that will enable them to grow," Bianchi said.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon is anxious to see a detailed proposal from the mayor.

"Is he making small business loans or grants?" Yon asked following Bianchi's speech. "I agree that small businesses are the backbone of the community and we need to nurture them."

Bianchi also called for a regional approach to boost job creation through collaboration with other communities and regional business groups such as the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and 1Berkshire.

"Maybe we'll land [a company] in Pittsfield, Lenox or North Adams -- but we need to work together to land them in Berkshire County," he said.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop noted, "That effort has started already with 1Berkshire."

Bianchi also urged residents to immediately help stem the tide of robberies and violent crime that's plagued Pittsfield the past six months by calling police anytime they witness suspicious behavior.

"We should be outraged to think that our [senior citizens] are afraid to go out after dark or want to avoid North Street," he said.

Bianchi continued, "We have to harness this outrage and direct it toward helping police combat crime. We have to ... take it to the bad guys."

Lothrop agreed citizen involvement is crucial to assisting a police department that has kept up with the crime wave.

"We have had an upsurge in crime, but I give the police credit for making a lot of arrests in solving those crimes," said the city councilor.

Another campaign promise Bianchi plans to soon follow through on is a thorough review of the city charter, last overhauled nearly 80 years ago. Within the next 30 days, he plans to submit for council approval the establishment of a charter review commission that would explore all facets of how Pittsfield is run.

Councilors say such a review is overdue.

"Our government is so old, it never hurts to see if it needs refreshing," Yon said.

Bianchi also called for fiscal restraint, claiming the city may have to do more with less state and federal aid in the new budget year starting July 1. He vowed to ensure whatever project is proposed for the revamping of the Taconic High School campus isn't at the expense of teacher layoffs.

Bianchi said he's put forth a "healthy, active agenda" that will benefit the entire city.

"[As Shakespeare wrote], ‘action is eloquence,' " he added. "Let's plan on being very eloquent for the next two years."

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"Mayor Bianchi's vision"
The Berkshire Eagle, January 3, 2012

On Monday, Daniel L. Bianchi was sworn in as Pittsfield's 38th mayor during an inauguration ceremony at City Hall. Here are excerpts from Bianchi's inaugural address outlining his administration's agenda for the next two years: On finding companies, including manufacturers, to occupy the nearly vacant William Stanley Business Park.

"The William Stanley Business Park represents one of our greatest opportunities to secure the future. This large and valuable parcel of industrial-zoned land, along with others like it in Pittsfield, is like oceanfront property ... that should be used wisely. We envision new opportunities for good paying jobs that can help those with one, two or three jobs trying to make ends meet."

The Pittsfield School Building Commission is currently considering several options for the Taconic High School campus along with planning future renovations for Pittsfield High School. Bianchi cited the need for a cost-effective solution toward determining the best type of high schools the city needs.

"That determination will be made only after methodical examination [concerning costs]. I won't let the community fall victim to a situation where costly construction will mean losing teachers to pay for the school. When all is said and done, teachers are the real foundation of education."

On a more responsive and inclusive city government.

"During the campaign, I asked many people if they would be willing to serve on a board, commission or panel to help find ways to better serve [the city]. Some said they had tried to serve in the past; others said they were never asked, while still others said they had not felt welcome. I welcome your help."

The need to mend the city's political divide, following Bianchi's close loss to James M. Ruberto in the 2009 mayoral race and narrow 106-vote victory two months ago over Peter M. Marchetti.

"The outcome of both [mayoral] elections suggest a city that is almost evenly split along philosophical lines. It's incumbent upon the victor ... to lead in a way that will unify the residents of the city."

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"Sherman picked to lead City Council"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 3, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Kevin J. Sherman realizes he has "big shoes to fill" in replacing Gerald M. Lee as City Council president.

The other 10 city councilors and new mayor Daniel L. Bianchi are confident Sherman can follow in Lee's footsteps.

On Monday, the council unanimously elected the at large councilor as its leader for the next two years after the 11-member panel was sworn in during the Pittsfield inauguration at City Hall. The ceremony also included the oath of office being administered to new mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, who ran unopposed in the November election.

Following the swearing in, Sherman, elected to a third two-year term Nov. 8, named Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop as the council's vice president. Lothrop is the most senior councilor, having served Ward 5 since 2004.

Sherman was thankful for the unanimous support. He was the only nominee for the job held by Lee in the last eight of his 12 years as a councilor at large. Lee decided against a re-election bid to keep his at large seat.

"I know I have big shoes to fill," he said, following the inauguration ceremony. "One of the most important things I learned from [Lee] was running a productive meeting in a respective manner."

Sherman's varied political experience and business acumen is expected to serve him well as council president, according to his supporters.

The 34-year-old family man is a four-year veteran of the City Council. He chaired its subcommittee on economic and community development the last two years. He spent three years as a legislative aide for former state Rep. Christopher J. Hodgkins, first as a legislative aide and later as chief of staff.

Sherman currently serves on the Pittsfield Tourism Commission and works as a lead claims consultant for Berkshire Life Insurance Co. in Pittsfield.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon expects Sherman to be an objective council president.

"He has the ability to take politics out of the decision-making process," Yon said. "He approaches issues in a common sense way that makes it hard to argue against his position."

"One of the most important jobs he will have is shepherding votes through the council," added Lothrop. "I believe he can do that."

Sherman will also need to work closely with Bianchi to forge a leadership team that benefits the city. Lee was the only council president during James M. Ruberto's eight years in office, a tandem credited with helping Pittsfield's downtown revitalization and stabilizing the relationship between the mayor's office and the council.

Bianchi said he plans to sit down with Sherman before the council tackles its first agenda of the new year on Jan. 10. The two served together on the council from 2008-10 and the new mayor believes Sherman is a good fit for the council.

"He's popular and an amiable person with a sense of humor," said Bianchi following the inauguration. "He can bring the council together and he works in business, that's a plus."

"We can work together," added Sherman. "The key is to have constant dialogue between the council and the mayor."

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"Superintendent Eberwein to leave city school system June 30"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 3, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III is stepping down from his post in six months, a decision he says was personally and professionally -- not politically -- motivated.

Late this afternoon, Eberwein confirmed to The Eagle he will resign from the Pittsfield Public Schools' top job effective June 30.

Superintendent since 2008, Eberwein said he has notified the School Committee and its new chairman, Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and the City Council.

He emphasized the changing of the guard on the school board and City Hall had nothing to do with his resignation.

"The two things are not linked," he said. "The timing is unfortunate."

Eberwein noted that his contract with the School Committee requires him annually to notify the seven-member panel if he plans to return for another school year. The notification must be given at least six months before the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.

In October, Eberwein signed a new three-year deal with the school board, retroactive to July 1. However, he had asked for a one-year extension of his previous contract, because he had already contemplated leaving the superintendent's position.

"I did a lot of soul searching over the summer to strike a balance between my professional and personal life," he said.

Eberwein is married with five children -- ranging from twin second-graders to a daughter who is a high school senior.

Eberwein is a Dalton native who graduated from the Central Berkshire Regional school system. He has been employed by the Pittsfield Public Schools since 1995, starting as a chemistry teacher at Taconic High School. He became principal of Pittsfield High School in 2003. Four years later, he was elevated to deputy superintendent and became superintendent on July 1, 2008.

Barbalunga said a search for Eberwein's successor will begin immediately.

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"Dan Bianchi sworn in as Pittsfield mayor"
By: Brandon Walker - http://capitalregion.ynn.com/content/top_stories/568866/dan-bianchi-sworn-in-as-pittsfield-mayor/ - 01/02/2012

Pittsfield welcomes Dan Bianchi as the city's next mayor. Bianchi took his oath of office before a large crowd in the city's council chamber. Among a list of goals, Bianchi shares with our Brandon Walker what he hopes to accomplish within his first 30 days as mayor.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- After months of preparation, Pittsfield turns a new chapter.

"I guess it's official," said Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi as he signed an official document naming him mayor of Pittsfield.

Now that Bianchi has officially signed the paperwork, a prayer: "May all who come in here experience your love."

And a pledge to work in the city's best interest as mayor.

"Pittsfield is in the midst of a rebirth things are changing and some things need attention and I'm just looking forward to helping out in that regard," Bianchi said.

The once five-term city councilman and twice over mayoral hopeful, wants to do a lot, with economic development topping that list.

"We have, I think, a golden opportunity," he said in reference to Pittsfield's Williams Stanley Business Park.

Leaders from the Pittsfield Economic Development Board, or PEDA, last month, announced a developer wanted to bring a big-box retail store to the site. Bianchi says the city can do better than that and might propose changes to the sites zoning code in an attempt to stop it.

"I want to make sure every move we make in that regard, in that business park is the right move," he said.

So, in the next 30 days, Bianchi says he will appoint himself to the board to the same position once held by now former Mayor James Ruberto.

Another item, making sure the city's school building needs committee has its numbers straight before it continues with a plan to either renovate or rebuild Taconic High School and possibly restructure Pittsfield High.

"This is something we're going to have for the next 40 or 50 years, it's got to be right for us. It’s also got to be something that's not going to cripple the taxpayers, either," he said.

A promise to do more with less from a local boy, now his city's new leader.

"I think it's going to be a great year," he said.

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"Barbalunga voted new chairman"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 4, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Committee has a new leader.

Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga was voted in as chairman after Monday night’s swearing-in ceremony at Pittsfield High School. He takes over from Kathleen A. Amuso, who served for two terms as the committee’s chairwoman.

The vote was 6 to 1 in his favor, with Amuso offering the opposition.

Member Daniel C. Elias received a unanimous vote to continue to serve as vice chairman.

Katherine L. Yon is the new secretary. The position was previously held by Erin Sullivan, who did not run for re-election this year. The vote was 6 to 1 in her favor, with Amuso opposing.

Amuso and committee newcomers James B. Conant and Terry M. Kinnas were also sworn in Monday night.

The mayor, the newly inaugurated Daniel L. Bianchi, holds the seventh Pittsfield School Committee seat by virtue of his office.

Barbalunga told The Eagle in a phone conversation that this year will be a challenge for himself and the entire committee.

"Basically, 20 minutes after I was sworn in, our superintendent resigned. There’s going to be lots of twists and turns," he said.

The current superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools, Howard "Jake" Eberwein III, has announced that he will resign at the end of the current school year.

"In general we’re entering a really bad fiscal cycle with lots of federal and state grant cuts," Barbalunga said. "Money always needs to be scrutinized but especially this fiscal year."

In a statement sent to The Eagle on Tuesday, he outlined seven priorities for his two-year term. The list included scrutinizing the fiscal 2013 and 2014 budgets; continuing fair and respectful negotiations with school unions; engaging in a check-and-balance system between the School Committee and superintendent’s office; better organizing and executing executive session portions of School Committee meetings; and changing the start time of regular committee meetings to 6 p.m.

Barbalunga would also like to subject subcommittee groups to a policy review in addition to re-organizing the mission and purposes of the subcommittees themselves. He said one of these subcommittees should be assigned to assist with the city of Pittsfield’s charter revision.

In addition, he would like to see a review of the Pittsfield school system management team, with the possible creation and/or removal of cabinet positions, if warranted.

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"Bianchi will find proper balance"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 4, 2012

In these difficult economic times, one should welcome with open minds the fiscally hawkish, deliberate progressive thinker in Mayor Dan Bianchi and his incoming administration. As most Pittsfield homeowners who have experienced a steady increase in property taxes since the 1980s will attest, property and commercial taxes, together with state and federal aid, have not bridged the gap between services needed and services imperative to maintain what's required under the terms of the social safety net.

It's my belief that Mr. Bianchi will collaborate with others who wish to sustain an equilibrium toward his long-term vision of fiscal responsibility and the needs of Pittsfield residents. We've witnessed Mr. Bianchi reach out to our county sheriff, Thomas Bowler. It's my dream the two will work closely with Pittsfield's highly regarded police chief and the county's prosecutor, David Capeless, to make Pittsfield the safest destination in Berkshire County.

Reaching out to those disenfranchised from our political system and adverse economic times, and seeking input from abandoned stakeholders, I suspect will define City Hall for the next two years. Good luck, Mayor Dan Bianchi!

BRIAN C. MARQUIS
Lanesborough, Massachusetts

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"PEDA retail plan is mayor's first issue"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 4, 2012

Encouraging the growth of business in Pittsfield in general and the William Stanley Business Park in specific is a key part of the agenda of new Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi, and the mayor already has a hot issue on his plate in the Pittsfield Economic Development Agency's proposal to bring a retail development to the William Stanley Business Park. The mayor is not enthusiastic about the idea, which one way or the other, will change the face of the business park for good.

The mayor believes that PEDA has strayed from its mission to bring manufacturing jobs to the park (Eagle, January 1), while PEDA's argument is that the city must be realistic and make the park a multi-use site. PEDA, however, should give the mayor an opportunity to evaluate the project. If Waterstone Retail Development is in a hurry, that's unfortunate. This decision will have a far larger impact upon Pittsfield than it will on Waterstone.

We agree with Mr. Bianchi's regional approach to job creation as Berkshire communities must work together to help one another. However, the go-it-alone attitude on the part of communities has largely become a thing of the past, and Pittsfield should be an active part of entities, like 1Berkshire, that are blazing a regional path. The establishment of a strategic fund from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund for small businesses is an intriguing idea and like the City Council, residents await the particulars.

Mr. Bianchi's call for a review of the city charter appears to have support all over the city. The charter hasn't been overhauled in nearly 80 years and we hope the council will act this month on the mayor's proposal to establish a charter review commission. It is almost a certainty that there are better, more efficient ways of running the city to be explored.

Kevin Sherman, the unanimous choice of his peers for the City Council presidency, is a wise selection. Gerald Lee, who did not seek re-election, ran the council with a light touch but was firm when he needed to be, and he employed his sense of humor to defuse tense moments. Mr. Sherman has shown those same qualities as a councilor, and like Mr. Lee, is experienced and knowledgeable about council rules and regulations.

Former Mayor James Ruberto and Mr. Lee worked effectively as a team for eight years, and it may be too much to expect Mr. Bianchi and Mr. Sherman to have the same cohesiveness. However, if the mayor and council leader are able to establish a working relationship even when they see things differently it will contribute significantly to an efficiently run Pittsfield government for the next two years.

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"Pittsfield subcommittee appointments announced"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- City Council President Kevin J. Sherman has released the list of subcommittee appointments for the next two years that feature four first-time leaders.

Sherman announced Thursday that eight councilors will each serve on three of the six, five-member subcommittees, while the other three councilors have two assignments.

"We have a good mix of personalities that made it easy for me to fill out this roster," he said.

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.

The new appointments coincide with council's 2012 to 2014 term. The current 11-member panel was sworn into office Monday with five new councilors, coupled with six returning members -- but only three who previously were subcommittee chairs.

Returning in leaderships roles are Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, as head of the finance subcommittee, and Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr., leading public buildings and maintenance.

Lothrop and Krol chaired ordinance and rules and public health and safety committees, respectively, during the council's previous two-year term. As for the new chairmen and chairwomen, Sherman has named Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo to succeed Lothrop and Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio replaces Krol.

In addition, Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon will run the community and economic development committee meetings and Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell is chairman of public works and utilities. Connell is the only freshman councilor receiving a leadership role.

Mazzeo welcomes the challenge of chairing a subcommittee she enjoyed serving on during her first term.

"That's my favorite because I love to research things, especially as they relate to the city charter," she said.

While Sherman had been chairman of the economic development panel, he opted against overseeing another subcommittee.

"I wanted to give the other councilors opportunities to show their talents," Sherman said.

Lothrop said the finance committee has played a more crucial role in monitoring city expenses, since Pittsfield's severe money woes a decade ago that briefly required a state finance control board to oversee the city's budget.

"Finance is important because we get quarterly reports on the budget, meet with auditors and deal with other issues, such as capital expenditures," he said.

*****

Pittsfield City Council President Kevin J. Sherman has announced his council subcommittee appointments for 2012 and 2013. Each subcommittee listed below has five members. Public debate and votes at the subcommittee level often guide final decisions made by the full City Council.

Ordinance and rules: Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, chairwoman; Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop; Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.; Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont; Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell.

Finance: Lothrop, chairman; Sherman; Mazzeo; Clairmont; Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio.

Community and economic development: Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, chairwoman; Krol; Lothrop; Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi; Councilor at large Churchill Cotton.

Public health and safety: Capitanio, chairman; Cotton; Yon; Morandi; Ward 7 Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli.

Public buildings and maintenance: Krol, chairman; Sherman, Capitanio; Mazzeo; Simonelli.

Public works and utilities: Connell, chairman; Sherman; Yon; Morandi; Simonelli.

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"Council members link up with emails"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- City councilors now have City Hall email addresses to electronically conduct city business with residents, other municipal officials and each other.

The four at large and seven ward councilors of the 11-member panel have been given an email account, similar to what the mayor, city clerk and others use at City Hall.

The email addresses are the person’s first initial and last name followed by "@pitts
fieldch.com." For example, Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo can be reached at mmazzeo@pittsfieldch.com.

A complete list of the email addresses can be found online at www.cityofpittsfield.org. Click on the City Council link.

City Clerk Linda M. Tyer convinced the new council, sworn into office Monday, that new email accounts will make it easier to track their correspondence because they are public records.

"Councilors can better separate their personal and work emails from the city emails," Tyer said. "It also creates uniform, easy-to-remember email addresses."

The City Council has been receptive to having City Hall email accounts, including Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop.

"It’s something we should have done a long time ago," Lothrop said.

Mazzeo said she welcomes it, too, in part because it will be easier to email from her cellphone.

"I can easily do that without having to look up 11 different personal email addresses," she said.

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Pittsfield City Council President Kevin Sherman, left, and City Clerk Linda Tyer are seen in a meeting last week with Mayor Dan Bianchi to discuss his first council meeting as the city’s leader, which takes place tonight. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Bianchi pushes for city solicitor"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 10, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi wants a former municipal attorney to fill the city solicitor’s job, which has been technically vacant for nearly seven years.

Bianchi has chosen Kathleen E. Degnan of Pittsfield for the job, an appointment that requires City Council approval. Degnan was once the assistant city solicitor in Pittsfield for three years and most recently held the same post in Westfield.

The mayor has also requested the council endorse local attorney Darren M. Lee as a part-time assistant solicitor. Lee currently works for the Pittsfield law firm of Martin, Oliveira & Hamel.

The City Council will take up Bianchi’s nominations at its regular meeting tonight at 7:30 at City Hall.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop isn’t surprised by Bianchi’s proposal.

"The mayor indicated in his campaign he would do this, so I don’t se this being a controversial issue," Lothrop said.

If approved, Degnan will earn $66,000 annually; Lee, based on a 20-hour work week, would receive roughly $27,000 per year, according to city officials. The salaries will be adjusted based on the final six months of fiscal 2012, which ends June 30.

The combined salaries are slightly more than the $90,000 annual retainer Pittsfield has paid Freedman, DeRosa & Rondeau the last 51Ž2 years. In July 2006, Mayor James M. Ruberto hired the North Adams-based law firm, in place of a solicitor, to provide the bulk of the city’s legal services.

Ruberto decided to privatize the solicitor’s role following a futile attempt to replace Christopher Speranzo, who vacated the position in early 2005. Speranzo left the office to run for and eventually win the special election to fill the 3rd Berkshire District state representative seat. Ruberto blamed a lack of potential applicants to succeed Speranzo on a combination of the solicitor’s heavy workload and relatively low salary.

Since the city’s contract with Freedman, DeRosa & Rondeau expired on Dec. 31, Bianchi said it’s the right time for the return of in-house legal representation.

"You get a lot more service with this arrangement," he said on Monday. "You are going to have someone who can commit a great deal of time to the city."

Degnan remained the assistant solicitor after Speranzo’s departure. She was let go once the law firm assumed the solicitor’s duties, primarily conducted by attorney Richard M. Dohoney three days out of the week.

Several city councilors praised Dohoney for doing a full-time job on a part-time basis, but look forward to the city’s lawyer being permanently stationed at City Hall.

"I was constantly on the phone with Rich, who went above and beyond for the city," said Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo. "But it’s not the same as being able to walk into the office and sit down [with the solicitor] to get some answers."

Bianchi said Dohoney will help with the transition back to having a full-time city solicitor and the return of Degnan.

"[Degnan] did a yeoman’s job the last time she was here," the mayor said. "She has great experience with tax title issues and labor issues."

After a two-month stint doing child support enforcement for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Degnan returned to municipal law serving as Westfield’s assistant city solicitor from October 2006 to June 30, 2011.

Bianchi said Degnan left the Westfield job last June because the city had imposed a residency requirement for the position.

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"Council says yes to solicitor"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 11, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council on Tuesday night quickly backed Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s plan to hire a full-time city solicitor for the first time in nearly seven years.

The council, without debate, unanimously approved Bianchi appointing Kathleen E. Degnan of Pittsfield for the job. Degnan was once the assistant city solicitor in Pittsfield for three years and most recently held the same post in Westfield.

By a 10-0 vote, Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell abstaining, the 11-member council also endorsed local attorney Darren M. Lee as a part-time assistant solicitor. Lee currently works for the Pittsfield law firm of Martin, Oliveira & Hamel.

Bianchi was somewhat surprised by the council swiftly voting on both appointments, which required council approval.

"I talked with several different councilors and thought there would be some discussion," the mayor said tafter the meeting. "But we made sure to give them plenty of information going into the votes."

Council President Kevin J. Sherman expected the council would fill the city solicitor’s position that had been technically vacant since early 2005, given most council candidates in last fall’s election supported the idea.

"Both [appointees] have robust resumes and the mayor should have the team he wants around him," Sherman said.

Degnan will earn $66,000 annually; Lee, based on a 20-hour work week, would receive roughly $27,000 per year, according to city officials. The salaries will be adjusted based on the final six months of fiscal 2012, which ends June 30.

The combined salaries are slightly more than the $90,000 annual retainer Pittsfield has paid Freedman, DeRosa & Rondeau the last 5 1/2 years. In July 2006, Mayor James M. Ruberto hired the North Adams-based law firm, in place of a solicitor, to provide the bulk of the city’s legal services.

Since the contract expired on Dec. 31, Bianchi said it’s the right time for the return of in-house legal representation.

Ruberto decided to privatize the solicitor’s role following a futile attempt to replace Christopher Speranzo, who vacated the position in early 2005. Speranzo left the office to run for and eventually win the special election to fill the 3rd Berkshire District state representative seat. Ruberto blamed a lack of potential applicants to succeed Speranzo on a combination of the solicitor’s heavy workload and relatively low salary.

Degnan remained the assistant solicitor after Speranzo’s departure. She was let go once the law firm assumed the solicitor’s duties, primarily conducted by attorney Richard M. Dohoney three days out of the week.

Bianchi said Dohoney will help with the transition back to having a full-time city solicitor and the return of Degnan.

After a two-month stint doing child support enforcement for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Degnan returned to municipal law serving as Westfield’s assistant city solicitor from October 2006 to June 30, 2011.

Degnan left the Westfield job last June because the city had imposed a residency requirement for the position.

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"Walmart tax break upsets City Council"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 11, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council is concerned state tax laws has led to a local tax break for the Walmart store on Hubbard Avenue, costing Pittsfield nearly $187,000 in revenue for the current fiscal year.

For fiscal 2012, Walmart’s personal property tax bill stands at $24,510 -- down from $211,464 in fiscal 2011.

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 59, Wal-Mart Inc. was able to lower its payment because the retail giant classified itself as a corporation, rather than a limited partnership, according to Pittsfield officials. This allowed the Pittsfield store to be exempt from being assessed on the majority of its personal property. For commercial purposes, state law defines personal property as the inventory for retail, machinery used to conduct the business, such as refrigeration and air-conditioning and all the furnishings and fixtures.

Prompted by the drastic decrease, the council on Tuesday night voted to write the Berkshire’s five state lawmakers, expressing how the state law is hindering the city’s cash flow.

"Wal-Mart is extremely profitable as they make a lot of money and they’re good at it," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. "It’s an unfair corporate loophole."

Meanwhile in North Adams, Berkshire County’s only other Walmart store will pay roughly $130,000 less in personal property taxes in fiscal 2012, according to Mayor Richard J. Alcombright.

Alcombright said the lost revenue shifts more of the tax burden on the city’s remaining property owners.

"That’s an unforeseen painful hit for the city of North Adams," he said in an Eagle interview Tuesday afternoon.

Alcombright plans to broach the issue with other mayors during a meeting at next week’s Massachusetts Municipal Association trade show in Boston.

Local officials, along with the state Department of Revenue, are unaware if the 45 other Massachusetts cities and towns with Walmart stores will also receive significantly less personal property tax revenue from the retailer in fiscal 2012.

A DOR spokesman on Wednesday indicated his agency would look into the issue.

Several Pittsfield city councilors feel so called "big-box" retailers shouldn’t get a tax break or incentives at the expense of the locally owned, smaller retailers.

"We have ‘mom and pop’ stores paying their personal property taxes and Wal-Mart not; that creates inequity," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

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"State lawmakers say Wal-Mart loophole needs fix"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 12, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- An overhaul of Massachusetts tax laws may be necessary to prevent companies like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. from using tax loopholes that cost their host communities hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, according to local state lawmakers.

That was the Berkshire legislative delegation's reaction Wednesday to the news that the Walmart stores in Pittsfield and North Adams combined are paying $317,000 less in personal property taxes for the current fiscal year.

Pittsfield Walmart's personal property tax bill dropped nearly $187,000 -- from $211,464 in fiscal 2011 to $24,510 in fiscal 2012. In North Adams, Berkshire County's only other Walmart store reduced its personal property tax bill by roughly $130,000, according to Mayor Richard J. Alcombright.

Wal-Mart used existing state corporate tax regulations -- in effect for decades -- to lower its payments, much to the dismay of state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield.

"It doesn't make sense for a municipality to lose revenue due to some loophole," Farley-Bouvier said. "As a representative, I will do what I can to make some changes."

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing said the issue with Wal-Mart shows a review is warranted of the state's entire tax structure.

"We need to look at the tax code in Massachusetts to make it more fair and still promote business investments," said the Pittsfield Democrat.

Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 59, Wal-Mart Inc. was able to lower its payments because the retail giant classified itself as a corporation, rather than a limited partnership, according to local and state finance officials. This allowed the two Berkshire Walmart stores to be exempt from being assessed on the majority of its personal property. For commercial purposes, state law defines personal property as the inventory for retail, machinery used to conduct the business, such as refrigeration and air-conditioning and all the furnishings and fixtures.

Prompted by a petition from Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr., the Pittsfield City Council on Tuesday night voted to write the Berkshire's five state lawmakers, expressing how the state law is hindering the city's cash flow.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, agrees the state Legislature and Gov. Deval L. Patrick must address the issue, which won't be easy to resolve.

"We need to have an adult conversation with [Patrick] regarding corporate tax law," Pignatelli said. "But every time you close one tax loophole, five more open up."

North Adams Mayor Alcombright has said he plan to broach the topic with other mayors during a meeting at next week's Massachusetts Municipal Association trade show in Boston.

Aside from Pittsfield and North Adams, Oxford in Worcester County is the only one of the 45 other Massachusetts municipalities with a Walmart that has reported a significant drop in personal property tax payments, according to the state Department of Revenue.

However, DOR spokesman Robert Bliss noted the state will now tax Wal-Mart's personal property being exempted from local taxation.

"The personal property will be rolled into the corporate excise tax, but not dollar for dollar," Bliss said. "It's fair to say it will be taxed at a far less rate."

The state rate is $2.60 for every $1,000 assessed value, compared to Pittsfield's rate of $32.85 per $1,000. The actual dollar amount difference wasn't readily available on Wednesday from local and state financial officials.

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"Pittsfield landowners question tax hike on vacant lots"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 21, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- At Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's request, chief assessor Paula King will go before the City Council on Tuesday night to explain the increases in property tax assessments for the owners of vacant lots.

Those increases, included on the latest property tax bills, cover assessments for vacant lots that, in some cases, have driven up the bills by as much as 61 percent, according to Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo.

In the case of the one property owner's 61 percent increase, it was assessed on a vacant property that contains contamination and can't be built on, according to Mazzeo.

"That seems like a lot to me," she said.

Mazzeo said she has received calls from many city residents about this issue.

According to King, the increases in the vacant lot assessments are based on results of the fiscal 2012 citywide property revaluation that is conducted by the state Department of Revenue, a process that occurs every three years.

During the revaluation process, the DOR raised questions about how the city determined the assessed value of vacant lots located next to parcels that contain homes.

After the DOR brought that information to the city's attention, King said the assessors were required to assess those vacant parcels at their "highest and best use," which is for use as a building lot.

"There's a history of people who own a primary lot with a house on it and an empty lot next door," she said. "For all intents and purposes, that's a building lot. As assessors, we have to assess [a lot] at its ‘highest and best' use. That's basically what we've done."

"This didn't come to light through the process until September," she added.

King said more than 1,600 parcels throughout the city fell into this category. But she said 1,187 of those lots, more than half, have actually decreased in value based on the new information. Taxpayers with questions about their property tax bills can apply to the city for an abatement. The filing deadline is Feb. 1, King said.

The assessors have suggested that people who find themselves in this situation combine both the vacant lot and the house lot under the same deed, King said.

But Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. said that putting two parcels under one deed may not change the way the value of that property is assessed.

"If someone comes in and has two parcels, we can record a deed, if it's properly prepared," Nuciforo said. "Whether that makes any difference whatsoever to the assessed value of the property is a decision that has to be made by the city and the assessor's office."

The second assistant register of deeds, Patsy Harris, said people should be careful before deciding to merge their properties under a single deed.

"If the assessor tells the taxpayer to merge their property onto one deed, people need to realize that this may or may not be in the best interest of the property owner," Harris said. "For most people, their homes are their biggest investment; therefore, they should consult with an attorney in order to determine their best course of action."

Mayor Bianchi said he asked King to speak in front of the City Council now because the filing deadline for the abatement is so close.

"A lot of people have questions about that, and it seemed like a reasonable thing for her to reach out to more people," Bianchi said.

A legal notice published in The Eagle on Nov. 27 and 28 indicated that real estate and property assessments based on the fiscal 2012 revaluation of city property would be available for review between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2. The city conducts a public disclosure period every time a revaluation takes place, King said.

But Bianchi said people often don't realize their property taxes have increased until they receive their bill in the mail.

"With the [abatement] deadline coming up I want people to have enough information and understanding of this as we can give them," Bianchi said.

Nuciforo said at least 30 people -- "young, old, men and women" -- have gone to the Registry of Deeds with questions about their property tax assessments.

Mazzeo said that 90 percent of the telephone calls she has received from city residents came from elderly people.

She believes that the city should have provided more information so residents knew the increases were coming.

"If we made a decision as a city to do this, why didn't we bring this out over the long haul and give a lot of people information about it?" she said.

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"Pittsfield's new solicitor harbors passion for municipal law"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 24, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Kathleen E. Degnan's recent return to City Hall was perfect timing for her and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

Degnan wanted to continue her municipal law career and applied for the city solicitor's job. The city resident was once Pittsfield's assistant city solicitor for three years, and until six months ago, she held the same post in Westfield for nearly five years.

Bianchi had vowed during last fall's mayoral race that, if elected, he would fill the position that had technically been vacant for nearly seven years. A week after being sworn into office on Jan. 2, Bianchi named Degnan to the $66,000-a-year job, an appointment approved unanimously and without debate by the City Council. The council also endorsed Bianchi's nomination of Pittsfield attorney Darren M. Lee as a part-time assistant solicitor.

Degnan is thrilled to be serving Pittsfield once again.

"I'm lucky to come back to a place I enjoy," said the 48-year-old Dalton native and law school graduate of Western New England College. "I'm lucky to have met nice people in Westfield and gained more experience."

"I just love public law," she added.

Pittsfield is fortunate to have Degnan back, according to Westfield City Solicitor Susan C. Phillips.

"She's very thoughtful and incredible thorough," Phillips said. "That's very important in dealing with issues, given the political atmosphere we work in."

Degnan was in private practice when she became the assistant solicitor in Pittsfield from February 2003 to June 30, 2006. She was let go when then-Mayor James M. Ruberto decided to privatize the city's legal services because he was unable to fill the solicitor's position vacated by Christopher Speranzo in early 2005. Ruberto hired Freedman, DeRosa & Rondeau (now DeRosa Dohoney LLP), in place of a solicitor, to provide the bulk of the city's legal services. The contract with the North Adams-based law firm expired Dec. 31, setting the stage for the return of in-house legal representation.

Meanwhile, Degnan moved on from Pittsfield to do child support enforcement for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. After a two-month stint at the DOR, she returned to municipal law, serving as Westfield's assistant city solicitor from October 2006 to June 30, 2011.

Degnan officially left the Westfield job last June because the city had imposed a residency requirement for the position. However, Westfield hired her on a private basis to complete her unfinished cases. Degnan's work extension in Westfield ended just as Bianchi was ready to fill the Pittsfield city solicitor's position.

Degnan says she has returned to Pittsfield City Hall to find "many familiar faces and many new faces" welcoming her with open arms.

From litigation and labor issues to procurement and research, Degnan said she enjoys all aspects of municipal law, especially when hitting the law books.

"If a legal issue arises, you might not know the answer, but you know the statute and then I can look it up and cite it chapter and verse," she said.

And Degnan can quickly put those answers in writing with the best of them, according to Phillips.

"She can pump out a [legal] brief in no time," she said.

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"Vacant lot owners urged to seek relief"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Several city councilors have urged owners of vacant lots who feel their properties are being overtaxed to seek abatements -- tax relief one councilor wants granted "across the board."

The advice came during the City Council's 90-minute discussion Tuesday night with Board of Assessors Chairwoman Paula King, who was asked by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to explain to why assessments increased dramatically for dozens of empty parcels in the current fiscal year.

In some cases, the assessments jumped ten-fold, resulting in property tax bills 20 times higher than in fiscal 2011, according to several vacant lot owners who spoke prior to King's explanation.

"Nobody wants to pay more taxes than they have to," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. "I do encourage people to [seek abatements]."

King said the spike in assessments was due to fiscal 2012 citywide property revaluation that is mandated every three years by the state Department of Revenue.

According to King, the DOR found that vacant lots next to homes were being undervalued. She said the assessors were required to assess those vacant parcels at their "highest and best use" -- a building lot.

While the city has more than 1,600 vacant parcels, King has said the majority of them, 1,187, have actually decreased in value based on the new information.

Taxpayers who feel they deserve an abatement must file an application with the Board of Assessors no later than Feb. 1. The board has 90 days to act on the requests.

"But due to the circumstances," King said, "we will try to act on them as efficiently as possible."

However, the unexpected spike in assessments caught both the council and property owners off guard, prompting Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo to ask for sweeping tax relief.

"We need to give abatements across the board so people have more time to decide what to do with their properties," Mazzeo said.

One option is for homeowners to combine the vacant lot with their house lot for tax purposes. The added land is likely to increase house lot assessment no more than what the vacant lot was assessed at, according to King.

Meanwhile, city officials said it's up to the property owners to prove their assessments are too high. That didn't sit well with Rebecca Knox of Williams Street. Knox said the city has repeatedly told her for more than two decades her vacant lot next door couldn't be developed.

"My frustration is to prove it's an unbuildable lot," Knox said." It's going to cost me money."

Bill Donovan of Hazelwood Terrace claims his empty parcel, previously assessed at $6,100, is now taxed at nearly $61,000 -- and all it's good for is growing a garden.

"We don't get thousands of dollars worth of vegetables," he said.

Several councilors felt they and the public should have had advance notice about the increase in vacant lot assessments, given the assessor were aware of the situation in September.

"Nobody knew it was coming," Mazzeo said, "It was like being hit with a ton of bricks."

King pointed out a legal notice published in The Eagle on Nov. 27 and 28 that property assessments based on the revaluation would be available for review between Nov. 28 and Dec. 2. The city conducts a public disclosure period every time a revaluation takes place, King said.

She noted, The Eagle also ran a separate story about the revaluation.

Mazzeo claimed that wasn't enough warning.

"You should have said we are going to [reassess] these properties," she said.

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"Pittsfield City Council Briefs: Bianchi Joins PEDA"
By Joe Durwin, Special to iBerkshires, January 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi told the City Council at its meeting Tuesday that he would join the board of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

Bianchi had said throughout the mayoral campaign last year that he would appoint himself to the board, in contrast to his opponent, Peter Marchetti, whom he defeated in November.

The quasi-public agency was established to oversee and develop the former General Electric property now known as the William Stanley Business Park. PEDA has become a topic of intense discussion since the December announcement of a proposed retail development on the property.

The mayor will replace Peter Fruet, who is the current neighborhood representative, on the board. The mayor told the council there were a "couple of options" for the possibility of bringing new members onto the board in the near future.

"There are some spots that are becoming available on the board," Bianchi hinted. "What I'm planning on doing in the next month is to apply to the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives for an additional two more spots on there. That takes a legislative change. I'm hoping to do that in pretty short order."

Bianchi said he had spoken to the Berkshire delegation and didn't foresee much obstacle to the proposed additions.

► Paula King, chairman of the Board of Assessors, offered a presentation on the assessment of vacant lots.

King explained the process by which properties are assessed and re-evaluated every three years.

During the review process, King said, "It was strongly recommended, by the Department of Revenue, to remove undocumented factors from developable and potentially developable vacant lots."

King said a period of public disclosure took place during which the information was available online and taxpayers had an opportunity to view the proposed values.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol expressed concerns he'd heard from constituents about unexpected, and sometimes drastic changes in tax burden to some property owners under the re-evaluation

"There were some cases where we had property value going something like $5,500 to $55,000, and that's a major hit on the the tax bill, so it definitely is something that ought to be a concern," he said.

If individuals feel they have cause to contest the evaluation of their vacant lots, such as documentation that a piece of property is not buildable land, they should present that to the tax assessor's office immediately.

"They need to be sure to file for an abatement by Feb. 1," said King. "They will need to provide as much information as possible ... [and] defend what they think their value should be."

Paperwork is available for free online or for a 50 cent fee at City Hall.

► The city will retain attorney Richard M. Dohoney to represent it in the ongoing litigation brought by Spectrum Health over permitting for a methadone clinic.

Newly appointed City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan explained that because of the transition, and because Dohoney is already well into litigation on this case, "it makes sense" to retain him. A cap of $5,000 has been established for these services, and if the Spectrum Health suit is not fully litigated by the time his services reach that cap, the solicitor's office will take over representation.

Councilor Churchill Cotton asked if there were any other cases that the city will require Dohoney's assistance on. Degnan said that all other matters she was aware of would be handled by herself, or newly appointed Assistant City Solicitor Darren Lee.

Updated with PEDA brief at 4:05 p.m., Jan. 25, 2012.

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"Bianchi voted into PEDA"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 26, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- After a three-month hiatus, the city’s mayor has returned as a member of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

The City Council endorsed Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s appointment of himself to PEDA, the quasi-public agency that oversees the development of the William Stanley Business Park, off East Street. Bianchi replaces community advocate Peter Fruet, whose term expired Dec. 31, but who continued to serve on a month-to-month basis.

"I’ve known him [Fruet] for years, and he was very understanding of my decision," Bianchi said in an Eagle interview.

The council’s unanimous approval Tuesday night allowed Bianchi to keep a promise he made during last fall’s mayoral campaign to have the mayor’s office represented on the seven-member board.

Bianchi’s predecessor, James M. Ruberto, had been on the board during his eight years as mayor, but resigned from PEDA in September, filling the spot with a local businessman.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi, whose ward includes the business park, endorsed the appointment.

"I feel with Mayor Bianchi on the board, it will open up the lines of communication" with PEDA, Morandi said.

In the past, several current and former councilors have been critical of PEDA for a lack of regular updates to the council and city residents on its progress in developing the 52-acre business park.

Bianchi believes his presence on the PEDA board will make him more accountable for its actions.

"It’s an important board with a lot of implications for the city and neighborhood," he said in a separate Eagle interview. "I want my feet held to the fire."

Bianchi is the fifth new appointment to PEDA within the last year. In 2011, Ruberto named Fruet -- now succeeded by Bianchi -- to the board along with downtown developer George Whaling, Berkshire Community College communications director Christina Barrett, General Dynamics senior program manager Beth Mitchell, and Michael Matthews, the CEO of Lee-based Tower Acquisitions, which owns communications towers nationwide.

Veteran board members, current chairman Gary Grunin and Mick Callahan, round out the panel.

Bianchi vowed to consider Fruet as a future nominee to PEDA if the board expands from seven to nine seats. In order to increase membership, the City Council would have to file a "home-rule petition" with the Legislature, which originally established PEDA.

Bianchi is confident lawmakers will approve the expansion.

"I’ve spoken to our [legislative] delegation, and it doesn’t seem to be a problem," he told the council.

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"Pittsfield schools expecting budget surplus"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 30, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The School Department expects to have a slight budget surplus when the current fiscal year ends in five months.

City school officials anticipate nearly $36,000 of the $54.3 million operating budget will be unspent when the books close on fiscal 2012 on June 30.

The projection is based on what the Pittsfield Public Schools have spent from July 1 though Dec. 31, the halfway point for the spending plan, according to the school system's business manager, Kristen Behnke.

"There will be fluctuations in the budget over the next six months, but I'm confident we won't end in a deficit," Behnke said.

She noted that budget line items that definitely end up with unspent funds will be transferred to cover accounts running a deficit.

Behnke reported to the School Committee last week the net surplus of $35,772 will likely be due to $293,000 remaining in salary accounts, primarily due to savings on the administrative level. Behnke, along with Frank Cote, the new assistant superintendent for career/vocational technical education, were hired at less pay than their predecessors -- after the school budget was approved in June. Behnke succeeded Sally Douglas, who retired, while Cote replaced Keith Babuszczak, who left the school district for a job in New York state.

Behnke expects the salary surplus will be nearly offset by a $257,000 deficit in other expenses. She cited a spike in tuition for the placement of special education students in private, residential programs.

"We do have some circuit breaker funds to help pay for this [shortfall]," the business manager said. "I will be tracking this closely."

The projected shortfall in the non-salary accounts could have been worse, if not for the possible $223,000 savings in heating fuel and electricity, in part, due to a milder-than-normal winter, according to city and school officials.

"I'm very happy to see we have spent less in our energy costs," Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said in an Eagle interview.

The School Department's upbeat fiscal report card follows city financial officials saying two weeks ago the rest of Pittsfield's overall $129.6 million spending plan is in good shape after the first six months of fiscal 2012. City Finance Director and Treasurer Susan Carmel told the City Council Finance Committee expenses are on par at the halfway point, while local revenue collection is running at a higher pace than this time last year.

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"Pittsfield mayoral election had $83,600 price tag, finance reports say"
The Berkshire Eagle, January 31, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- In the race for Pittsfield mayor, Peter Marchetti outspent the winner, Daniel Bianchi, by $10,000, according to campaign finance reports that cover the entire span of last fall's campaign. In total, the candidates spent a combined $83,600.

According to the recently released data, Marchetti spent $46,800 on his bid for the corner office, while Bianchi spent almost $36,800 on the race he won by 106 votes, one of the closest margins in recent city history.

Marchetti spent more cash than his opponent, but Bianchi was more successful when it came to fundraising, fully paying for his campaign with donations from supporters. Marchetti, meanwhile, relied in part on a $14,000 loan he made to his own campaign.

The loan, though significant, is far less than former mayor James M. Ruberto spent on his 2009 re-election bid against Bianchi. In that race, Ruberto lent his campaign $50,000, a debt that according to current records is still outstanding.

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"New baseball team readies move to Pittsfield"
By Matthew Sprague, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 4, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The latest baseball team to call Wahconah Park home is getting ready to move in.

The Goldklang Group, which is bringing a Futures Collegiate Baseball League to Pittsfield this summer, is communicating with the city and businesses in preparation for the club’s inaugural campaign, according to group officials. It also plans to open an office close to Wahconah Park by the end of the month.

"In an ideal world, we’d have a first-class work trailer located within the gates of Wahconah Park," Managing Director Jeff Goldklang said Friday. "It obviously is going to depend on the Parks Department and their comfort level [with] where it’s located."

The license agreement between the city and Berkshire Baseball, LLC, dated Dec. 27, 2011, grants the club permission to place a temporary trailer at the Park, subject to the Park Commission’s approval. Goldklang said the group has a trailer it would like to use.

The agreement itself was drafted in the final days of former Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto’s administration, which didn’t publicize the deal at the time, and was signed by Ruberto, Goldklang and Park Commission Chair Dr. John Herman. The group met with Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi last week to discuss the park, the club and what will be available for the fans.

The mayor said the group is committed to the Berkshires, and that he’s glad the focus is now on the upcoming Futures League season.

"They’ve run ... affiliated minor league teams, and they’ve wanted for a long time to be up here in the Berkshires," Bianchi said Friday at City Hall. "I think they like the quirkiness of Wahconah Park. They’re a group that’s very enthusiastic. They talked to me about the charm of the sun delay. ... You’ve got people who have a real appreciation for it."

Both Bianchi and Goldklang noted that the mayor has been invited to throw out the first pitch at the team’s home opener.

The Goldklang Group has toured the park with Park Commission and maintenance officials, with the first visit coming soon after the group was given the right to negotiate with the city in November.

"We’ve had access to the park pretty much any time we’ve requested it, which in some cases has been several times a week," Goldklang said.

The club doesn’t have a name yet -- that will be announced shortly, according to an email from the group earlier this week -- but it apparently has a general manager.

An anonymous club source told The Eagle that Jamie Keefe, the former GM/manager of the now-defunct Pittsfield Colonials, will be the club’s GM.

Goldklang would not confirm this, but noted that an official announcement on a general manager would come "in the next week or so.

"We already have quite a few players committed to the ballclub," Goldklang added. "As we move closer to the season, we’ll make those names available."

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Pam Tobin is the new executive director of Downtown Inc. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Downtown Inc. names new director"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 7, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- After months of searching, the city nonprofit Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has offered Pam Tobin the position of executive director.

Tobin, 54, is a Troy, N.Y. native who currently lives in Colonie. Her first day in the Downtown Pittsfield Inc. office was Monday.

She replaces Yvonne Pearson, 65, who resigned from the position in October, after 15 years of service.

"It’s wonderful to have someone in the position now, and some of her experience is so relevant to what we want to achieve," said Peter Lafayette, Pittsfield Downtown Inc.’s president of its board of directors, and the executive director of Berkshire Bank Foundation.

The association of businesses, downtown property owners, residents, cultural and nonprofit organizations has been in existence since 1983 and has a $125,000 operating budget. The executive director of the organization typically earns between $45,000 and $50,000, Lafayette said.

For the past two and a half years, Tobin has served as an independent consultant for businesses and organizations.

Before that, Tobin served for 13 years as the executive director of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID). She also spent 12 years working on administrative and marketing projects for the Pyramid Management Group.

She is a graduate of the State University of New York College at Brockport, Hudson Valley Community College and the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Downtown Pittsfield Inc. received 75 resumes for the position from applicants all over the East Coast, according to Gerry Murray, vice president of human resources at Greylock Federal Credit Union and vice president of administration for Downtown Pittsfield Inc.’s board of directors, also served as the search committee chair.

The search committee narrowed down the applicant pool by selecting 25 candidates and screening them by phone, he said. Some of those candidates were invited to the Berkshires for an interview.

Murray said though the committee did receive applicants from within the county, he said Tobin’s work experience outweighed the fact of whether she was from Berkshire County.

"It was a difficult decision," Murray said, "but we ultimately felt Pam’s experience working with multiple constituencies worked as having a leader for downtown. We set high expectations when we formed the search to look for someone who was well-rounded. We weren’t sure if we would find that person, but we were very pleasantly surprised to find her."

While serving the Albany BID, Tobin won praise for her contributions, including Restaurant Week, Sculpture in the Streets and the installation of the Wayfinding signage program for pedestrians and bicyclists.

According to the Albany Times Union, Tobin did come under scrutiny in February 2009, when the paper reported, based on a state comptroller audit, that she and other BID employees received dozens of so-called "ghost" tickets in Albany. The practice enabled a number of people and city personnel to get on a "VIP" list contained by city police computers -- if those on the list received paper parking tickets, the tickets carried no fines. The list included the Albany mayor, other city officials and police officers. It was reported that Tobin received 736 ghost tickets during her BID tenure. Eventually Mayor Jerry Jennings called for a halt to the VIP ticketing practice.

Tobin stepped down from the BID a few months after the report came out. Tobin told The Eagle on Monday that the ghost tickets had "no impact at all" on her leaving the BID, but she said that it was "unfortunate timing."

Lafayette said he wasn’t aware of the past issue.

Tobin said she is now focused on immersing herself in carrying through Pittsfield’s vision for a vibrant and well-visited downtown.

"I’m an eternal optimist. I’m encouraged by the amount of street retail, arts and culture in the area, which is big for any community. I’d like to see more collaborations, which are key, to make people aware of what downtown Pittsfield is doing," Tobin said.

Lafayette said that Pittsfield Downtown Inc. developed a long-term strategic plan a year and a half ago, and he and his fellow board members are eager to implement it. The group has met with downtown directors from Burlington, Vt., and from and Northampton, both well-populated areas, to help develop its strategies. Recent efforts include the launch of a new web site, new logo and a new marketing committee.

The parameters of downtown Pittsfield stretch from Berkshire Medical Center on North Street to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop on South Street, and parallel blocks between Center and First Streets. For more information, visit http://downtownpittsfield.com.

related:
www.iberkshires.com/story/40427/Downtown-Pittsfield-Hires-New-Executive.html

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Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has kept his promise to have an open-door policy in the corner office at City Hall. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Fighting crime tops new mayor's to-do list"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 12, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Three weeks after being sworn into office on Jan. 2, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi met with Police Chief Michael Wynn to discuss expanding the city’s neighborhood watch program.

Bianchi had vowed in his inaugural address to get more residents and business owners involved in helping local law enforcement fight a recent increase in crime.

Since June, Pittsfield has been plagued by armed robberies, burglaries and in December a deadly shooting in the middle of a street.

"It’s very important that each citizen have a vested interest in fighting crime," Bianchi said in a recent interview with The Eagle. "And it’s important the mayor’s office take the lead."

After the Jan. 24 meeting with Wynn, Bianchi assigned his director of administrative services, Donna B. Mattoon, to work with police to establish more neighborhood watch committees. The mayor’s office, through the seven ward councilors in Pittsfield, is seeking names of potential committee volunteers who would receive training and instruction in how to manage a neighborhood watch program.

Wynn said he’s thrilled with the new-found collaboration between police and City Hall.

"To have someone from the mayor’s staff work with us directly is great," he said. "We’ve never had non-police personnel work with us on this."

Stronger crime-fighting measures are among several major issues Bianchi planned to address during his first month as Pittsfield’s new mayor.

The former veteran city councilor, 60, succeeded James M. Ruberto, who opted against a re-election bid last fall, ending an eight-year run as the chief executive.

Bianchi defeated Peter M. Marchetti by 106 votes in November in one of the closest mayoral races in the city’s history.

Since settling into the corner office at City Hall, Bianchi has completed or started to move forward on several promises he made in his inauguration speech and on the campaign trail last fall.

In January, he made two crucial appointments that were unanimously confirmed by the City Council: Kathleen Degnan as city solicitor, and himself to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, a quasi-public agency charged with the development of the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.

Degnan filled a position technically vacant for seven years, as Ruberto said area attorneys were unwilling to take a pay cut to join the public sector. He instead outsourced the city’s legal services to North Adams-based law firm DeRosa Dohoney LLP, a contract that expired Dec. 31.

The timing allowed Bianchi to bring Degnan on board. She served as Pittsfield’s assistant city solicitor from 2003 to 2006 before going to Westfield, where she held the same job for more than five years until this past June.

As for joining PEDA, Bianchi continues a tradition established by Ruberto. The former mayor appointed himself to the seven-member panel shortly after he took office for his first term in 2004.

Eight years ago, current PEDA board chair Gary Grunin wasn’t keen on having the person responsible for appointing members also being on the board, but he quickly found the self-appointment made sense.

"If we’re going to have an active mayor with PEDA anyway, we might as well have him at the table knowing what’s going on," Grunin said. "It also helps to have the chief executive there when we are courting prospective tenants."

Despite some early successes, Bianchi has fallen short on his plans to formally propose a small-business fund and establish a city charter review committee. The mayor’s inauguration agenda included both proposals being formally presented to the City Council during his first 30 days on the job.

The two initiatives remain in the planning stages, but Bianchi said he expects the council to consider both by March. He said he needed to hire a city solicitor first in order to help him determine the most efficient legal option of setting up the charter review board.

Meanwhile, the small-business program would be established using a portion of the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund, formerly known as the GE Economic Development Fund. That account has $6.1 million left of the original $10 million General Electric set aside as part of its reparations for cleaning up pollution in the Housatonic River.

Bianchi said he wants to ensure the proposed fund has a solid foundation before the council acts on it.

"We have to make sure we have a good set of criteria on how to use the fund," he said. "I want to send something that is well developed."

While the councilors await the proposal, the concept likely will have the backing of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

"One of the biggest obstacles for small business is obtaining capital," said Michael Supranowicz, the chamber’s president and CEO. "If they can get working capital, they will produce more jobs."

Grunin said he isn’t surprised his former City Council colleague hasn’t rushed forward with the small-business proposal. The two served on the council from 2000-2002.

"He’s consistent in his approach to issues, which is very methodical, just as he did while on the council," said Grunin, Bianchi’s longtime friend and a former classmate at Pittsfield High School.

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell said he doesn’t expect Bianchi to immediately address his entire agenda.

"It wouldn’t be to anyone’s advantage to do everything at once," Connell said. "You can’t go 10 different directions at once."

Several councilors said it’s too early to assess Bianchi’s performance after less than six weeks as mayor.

"To paraphrase James Taylor: We’ve got 10 miles behind us and 10,000 more to go," said Council President Kevin J. Sherman.

Nevertheless, Sherman, several fellow councilors and others pointed out that Bianchi has succeeded in keeping his promise of having open communication with all who arrive at the mayor’s doorstep.

The mayor truly has an "open door" policy, according to
Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon.

"At every meeting I’ve attended in his office, when anyone asks if the door should be closed, [Bianchi] states, ‘No, leave it open,’ " Yon said.

Connell added: "I’ve been to the mayor’s office twice to set up an appointment, and he took me in right away. He wanted to hear what I said."

Besides his to-do list, Bianchi has dealt with two unanticipated issues that required immediate attention.

As he settled in at City Hall, he and several councilors began to hear from dozens of residents who own vacant lots and complained they were being overtaxed. Realizing a public explanation was necessary, Bianchi had Board of Assessors Chairwoman Paula King appear at the council’s Jan. 24 meeting.

"That was a big surprise and not a good one," Bianchi said.

King said the real-estate tax bills mailed out by Dec. 31 reflected new information gathered during the 2011 state-mandated revaluation of city property, a process that takes place every three years. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue determined the city hadn’t been taxing the empty parcels at "the best and highest" use, primarily as buildable lots.

Bianchi, along with the council, urged the affected property owners to file abatement requests with the Assessors by the Feb. 1 deadline. The board received 750 applications -- 350 from owners of vacant lots.

Bianchi’s first month in office also included an emergency meeting Jan. 23 with Manos Unidas (Hands United), whose former, burned-out community center was slated for demolition that day.

Representatives of the community organization asked for more time to find someone willing to renovate the two-story building, which had been boarded up and condemned since a fire gutted it in 2007.

While the group was grateful Bianchi granted them a one-week reprieve, it couldn’t secure a savior, and the building was demolished Jan. 30.

Bianchi said he’ll eventually establish formal weekly office hours to ensure city residents have his ear.

"This job is about recognizing everyone’s issues," Bianchi said. "They may be minor to you, but they are important to them."

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

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"New council low in Ferrin action"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, February 23, 2012

I am writing to address the actions of some Pittsfield city councilors in regard to the tabling of the appointment of Jeff Ferrin to the ambulance review board.

The action of Councilor Lothrop to bring up Mr. Ferrin's civil service record is dubious at best, seeing that most of the black marks, in my opinion, were a result of Ferrin's run for mayor of Pittsfield in 2009 against incumbent James Ruberto and his airing of the problems at the Highway Dept. In my opinion Mr. Ruberto didn't like the criticism and made sure Mr. Ferrin was set up to be fired. Criticism was not tolerated by Ruberto and those who did so were termed malcontents and were not tolerated or kept around if possible.

Mrs. Yon's actions are suspect and it seems she has a short memory seeing the way her husband got his current job with the city of Pittsfield. Councilor Capitanio, who was challenged by Ferrin for the Ward 3 seat, came off badly in his statement, seeming to hold a grudge against his recent opponent, and councilor Clairmont is a known Ruberto sycophant who, in my opinion, has less qualification to be on the council than Mr. Ferrin does to be on a board.

My applause goes to Councilors Mazzeo and Morandi for using good judgment and bringing out the fact that if the council is going to scrutinize new appointments in this manner that existing members of commissions and boards, such as the Parks Commission, deserve the same attention. In the past the mayor has been allowed to choose his team members with great latitude, excluding an eight year mayor suddenly needing a new department head to help a friend build a résumé for future political ambitions. This scrutiny of a deserving candidate is unseemly and takes some councilors to a new low in council annals.

I hope the rest of the council overrides this action when it comes up for a vote. Don't make a mountain of a molehill and give Mayor Bianchi the chance to form his administration as you have with former mayors and don't start this term in a negative way.

JIM GLEASON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Mayor: Work with police to solve robberies"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, February 24, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Calling the recent string of armed robberies in Pittsfield "concerning and completely unacceptable," Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on Thursday urged city residents to cooperate with the police to help catch the thieves.

In the past five months, neighborhood businesses have been targeted in five armed robberies and one attempted armed robbery -- with Elm Street being ground zero since early February.

The heists at Elm Street Getty, Angelina's sub shop, and, on Tuesday night, Palmer's Variety, all involved assailants who matched a similar description: a short, masked woman brandishing a handgun.

"I'm confident that someone has information that can lead to the arrest of this criminal," Bianchi said. "Any information provided to the police will be handled anonymously, if that is your choice."

Several Elm Street business owners and managers have told The Eagle they are anxious, scared and not sure what to do to prevent further robberies.

Bianchi's advice: Report suspicious activity to local authorities.

"It's just a matter of time before police find this latest armed robber on Elm Street," said the mayor. "But I strongly believe that more eyes and ears will enable police to gather information that can lead to quicker arrests."

Police Chief Michael J. Wynn cited how the public's help has been critical to his department solving crimes.

"In fact, tips from the public have played a key role in several major cases," Wynn said.

Wynn and the mayor's office are also working closely to expand the city's Neighborhood Watch program throughout Pittsfield.

Last month, Bianchi assigned his director of administrative services, Donna Mattoon, to coordinate with the police department and ward councilors in identifying volunteers and train them to lead additional neighborhood watch efforts.

By early spring, city officials expect several new groups will be ready to have introductory meetings with police.

"At the heart of Neighborhood Watch is the belief that all of us can help ensure the safety and well-being of our family, friends and neighbors by speaking up when we see or hear something that seems troubling," Bianchi said.

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

The 411 on 911 ...

If Pittsfield residents or others in the city witness a robbery, assault or other crime or emergency, always call 911.

To provide information to the Pittsfield Police Department about ongoing investigations or to report suspicious behavior: Call (413) 448-9700, the anonymous tip line at (413) 448-9708, or send an email to police@pittsfieldch.com.

Source: Mayor's office and Pittsfield Police Department

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"Bianchi seeks 11-person PEDA board"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi wants to increase the number of members on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority’s board by four instead of two.

In January, Bianchi said he was interested in expanding PEDA’s board from seven to nine members. Now Bianchi wants the City Council to petition the Legislature to increase the board’s membership from seven to 11. Any expansion beyond the board’s current seven-member size requires state approval.

The council will consider Bianchi’s measure on Tuesday night. If approved, it would be submitted to the county’s state legislative delegation for consideration at the state level. PEDA is the quasi-public agency charged with developing the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.

On Friday, Bianchi said he decided to revise his original expansion plan because he believes an 11-member board would be better suited for the Stanley Business Park’s next phase of development. Established by the state 14 years ago, PEDA didn’t assume ownership of the entire 52-acre parcel that comprises the business park from General Electric until earlier this month.

"I was thinking about it over the course of the last few weeks," he said. "We’ve talked to people in various industries, we’ve talked to the Life Sciences Council, and I’ve been getting the understanding that a lot more work is going to happen. To be successful, I want to have the capacity to add more people to the board to help out."

Under PEDA’s bylaws, the mayor of Pittsfield is in charge of appointing members to the board. Bianchi said he has some candidates in mind, but declined to identify them.

"I want to have slots there for people in the neighborhood, and someone from labor to sit on the board," Bianchi said.

Community advocate Peter Fruet, whom Bianchi replaced on the board when Fruet’s term expired at the end of 2011, is expected to be reappointed once the state approves the expansion plan.

Bianchi, who joined the PEDA board last month, said he might not fill all four of the extra positions right away.

"But I don’t want to go back to the Legislature if someone great comes along," he said. "I’d rather have more hands on deck than not. The phase of the project now involves a lot of outreach to various industries. I need as much expertise and power as I can get."

Bianchi hasn’t discussed his revised expansion plan with the PEDA board’s six other members, but said he has spoken with PEDA’s Executive Director Cory Thurston. Thurston did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

PEDA’s next meeting is on Wednesday, March 7.

"Frankly, I don’t know why they would have any objections," Bianchi said. "It brings more people to the table."

According to PEDA board Chairman Gary S. Grunin, the state first approved an expansion of the board from five to seven members in 1999. However, the board has had trouble filling all those spots over the years. The current lineup wasn’t finalized until last year.

Grunin said he would be in favor of Bianchi’s revised expansion plan, and believes that an 11-member panel wouldn’t be difficult to
work with.

"That’s fine," he said. "Over the years, we’ve had some really good board members. I’m assuming he has some good people in mind.

"We were in the process of going to a committee structure again," Grunin said. "If we had 11, we could form our own committees. With seven, some sit on the same committees. So, I think it’s good."

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"Bianchi wants fund to help small business community"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, February 27, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi wants to dole out city funds to help jump-start economic growth with the small business community.

Following through on a major campaign promise, Bianchi has asked the City Council approve his plan to establish a $500,000 small business fund, drawing the money from the $6.1 million remaining in the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund, previously called the GE Economic Development Fund.

Bianchi will formerly submit his plan -- one he touted extensively while running for mayor last fall -- to the council at its meeting Tuesday, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. The proposal is expected to be referred to the council's subcommittee on community and economic development for a thorough review and recommendation back to the entire 11-member panel.

If approved, the fund would provide grants and loans to eligible, existing businesses for technical assistance, working capital and large-scale investments. The infusion of cash is intended to help small firms seeking to expand their operations and payroll, according to Bianchi.

"In this difficult lending economy," the mayor noted, "many lack the resources to obtain financing from traditional institutions, preventing them from taking strategic steps toward growth and increasing their work force."

Pittsfield has approximately 1,400 businesses with fewer than 50 employees; Bianchi expects the fund to initially help 10 to 15 employers.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop expects high demand for the small business fund, especially after the first few loans and grants are awarded.

"Once you give one kid a lollipop, they will all want one," Lothrop said.

Bianchi's proposal calls for the city's Department of Community Development to administer the fund and assist businesses with the application process. Through the mayor's office, funding requests would be forwarded to the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation for review and recommendation back to the mayor for final approval.

"PERC is going to be instrumental and we'll be leaning on their expertise," Bianchi said.

PERC is a 30-year-old, federally funded agency that provides loans to qualified businesses intent on retaining or adding jobs for low- and moderate income individuals and families.

As for excluding the City Council from the application approval process, Bianchi said it's justified given existing businesses -- not new ones -- are applying for the funds.

"Something like this needs to be expedited ASAP," he said. "The applicants must have been in business for three years and demonstrate they will stay in business."

The council being left out of the loop doesn't bother Lothrop if PERC provides the necessary checks-and-balances against mayoral favoritism.

"If the mayor has final approval, I don't have a problem if PERC agrees with the funding request," he said.

To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.

Fund facts ...

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's proposed small-business fund for qualified Pittsfield employers is broken up into three categories, each with its own set of criteria.

Technical Assistance

* Up to $20,000 per business is available in a non-interest-bearing, three-year loan that can be forgiven if at least one permanent full-time job is created and remains in place during the life of the loan.

* The business must match the funds dollar-for-dollar and its use can include hiring professional services to improve the management of the firm, develop a new marketing strategy, or seek legal, architectural and engineering services toward expansion or relocating the business.

Working Capital

* Up to $25,000 per business with up to five years to repay the loan. At least one permanent full-time job must be created within two years and remain in place during the life of the loan. For each additional job created and in place for a minimum of two years, $10,000 of the principal will be forgiven.

* Working capital loans are intended to improve a company's cash-flow during an expansion, to purchase inventory needed for a major customer, or cover payroll costs during a training period to launch a new product line.

Capital Investments

* Up to $100,000 per business with up to a 10-year repayment schedule.

* At least one permanent full-time job must be created for every $20,000 of funding provided within three years or halfway through the term of financing, whichever is shorter. For each job created above the required commitment, $10,000 in principal will be forgiven.

* Such loans can pay for real estate and equipment acquisitions and the purchase of other business assets.

---------- "Mayor wants city charter reviewed" By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 24, 2012 PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi wants to form an ad hoc committee to review the city's charter and determine what, if any, changes are needed to update Pittsfield's governing system. Tonight, Bianchi will request the City Council establish a nine-member commission to review the document that has been virtually unchanged for 80 years. Council President Kevin J. Sherman expects the proposal will be forwarded to the council's subcommittee level for review and a recommendation back to the City Council for a vote. Bianchi would appoint the members, subject to council approval, of the charter review commission. None of the appointees would be current appointed or elected city officials, according to Bianchi. "You want people taking an objective, fresh look at the charter without any bias," he said. "We need to find out what makes sense for the 21st century." The commission would have one year to examine the charter, seek public input on potential changes, and make recommendations to the council and mayor. Any changes to the charter ultimately would need the state Legislature's approval. The charter's last major overhaul was in 1932, which resulted in the current system of electing a mayor every two years and an 11-member City Council consisting of seven ward and four at large council seats. If established, Bianchi hopes the commission can begin its work late next month with a preliminary report by Dec. 31 and the final one by May 31, 2013. "I'm guardedly optimistic one year is enough, if we have the right people on the commission to move this forward," he said. Sherman believes a 12-month period would be ample time to scrutinize the Pittsfield's governing document. "Anything we do has to be done in efficient and timely manner," he said. "We have to set time lines so not to send this process into an abyss." Sherman first advocated for a charter review a year ago, when the council began debating the establishment of a city ordinance limiting the length of service of mayoral acting appointments. Proponents felt the regulation was necessary, because the charter didn't address temporary appointments. Sherman and several other councilors felt such a change should be addressed by a charter review panel. Since last May, the council has failed three times to adopt two different versions of the proposed ordinance with the most recent vote coming two weeks ago. ---------- "Pittsfield charter proposal advances" By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 25, 2012 PITTSFIELD -- The City Council next week will debate the merits of establishing a charter review commission in an effort to determine if changes are needed to update Pittsfield’s governing system. By a 10-1 vote, with Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont opposed, the council Tuesday night agreed to meet in special session to discuss Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s proposal to set up the nine-member commission. The ad hoc panel would review the city charter that has been virtually unchanged since the early 1930s. The council meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 1 at City Hall. Any final vote to establish the commission would occur at a regular council session, the next being May 8, according to Council President Kevin J. Sherman. "The point of next week’s meet ing isn’t to debate the charter but how to structure its review," Sherman said after Tuesday’s gathering. "We need to give some direction to whomever sits on the commission." Bianchi would appoint the members, subject to council approval, of the charter review commission. None of the appointees would be current appointed or elected city officials, according to Bianchi. The commission would have one year to examine the charter, seek public input on potential changes, and make recommendations to the council and mayor. Any changes to the charter ultimately would need the state Legislature’s approval. However, Clairmont feels Bianchi’s proposal needs to be more specific. "I don’t think there’s enough of an outline of what the mayor wants to accomplish," he said. "It should be referred back to him." Bianchi didn’t attend the council meeting, but he had said in an interview with The Eagle the charter needs to "make sense for the 21st century." Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo agrees the document needs a makeover. "How much of a change are we looking for," Mazzeo said. "Do we tweak it to bring it up to date or does it need a major overhaul?" The charter’s last major overhaul was in 1932, which resulted in the current system of electing a mayor every two years and an 11-member City Council comprised of seven ward and four at large council seats. Bianchi hopes the commission, if established, can begin its work late next month with a preliminary report by Dec. 31 and the final one by May 31, 2013. Sherman first advocated for a charter review a year ago, when the council began debating the establishment of a city ordinance limiting the length of service of mayoral acting appointments. Proponents felt the regulation was necessary because the charter didn’t address temporary appointments. Sherman and several other councilors felt such a change should be addressed by a charter review panel. Since last May, the council has failed three times to adopt two different versions of the proposed ordinance with the most recent vote coming two weeks ago. ----------

"Ruberto critical of $1M gap in school budget"
By Clarence Fanto, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 12, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The $1 million gap between School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein's proposed school budget for the next fiscal year and Mayor Daniel Bianchi's $53.6 million plan for the department has aroused pointed criticism from the former mayor, James Ruberto.

As a result of a chance encounter with an Eagle reporter over the weekend, Ruberto agreed to discuss the school budget issue but no other current city topics.

Ruberto, acknowledging that putting a budget together that balances potential tax increases with community needs is "incredibly challenging," de clared that he is "extremely disappointed, but not surprised" by the distance between Bianchi's school spending proposal and Eberwein's.

"At the core, it involves basic principles and priorities," Ruberto said, adding that spending to ensure the "highest quality of education for our children" had been accomplished during his eight years in office through constant communication between City Hall and the School Department.

Bianchi told The Eagle on Monday afternoon that he "appreciates the former mayor's input," and that discussions toward a school budget compromise are continuing.

Ruberto pointed out that for his final 2011-12 city budget, he directed just over $500,000 of the $1.4 million in "Chapter 70" state aid to local communities to the School Department, as well as federal stimulus aid, "so we could continue city services without interruption and keep a reasonable flow to the school system."

Ruberto suggested that the spread between City Hall and School Department proposals be closed by dipping into some of the available $5.2 million "free cash" reserve and/or by adding some property tax revenue, since the city is about $5 million under the maximum it can seek from taxpayers.

"This is a philosophical issue, reversing an eight-year commitment by the community," Ruberto added. "It's unfortunate because it need not happen."

Efforts to bridge some of the $1 million gap continued on Monday afternoon, said Mayor Bianchi, who emphasized the city is now operating not only without $1.3 million in federal stimulus aid but also has lost $500,000 to $600,000 in federal grants.

Eberwein has submitted three budget scenarios -- low, middle and high, Bianchi said. The lowest, $53.5 million, is the one the mayor has favored so far, a $1,022,000 increase over the current year. The mid-level School Department plan -- about $54.5 million -- represents an expenditure increase of about 1.4 percent over the 2012 total.

Bianchi's view is that the one-shot injection of federal stimulus funding "should have been used to smooth things out, not for salary increases."

"It should have been directed toward one-time expenditures such as textbooks or technology improvements," he said.

"He [Eberwein] told me he knew we were heading toward a cliff, and now we're there," said Bianchi, who pointed out that the overall city budget proposal already uses $1.6 million in "free cash" to help balance the bottom line -- an increase over the current year's $1 million allotment in former mayor Ruberto's final budget.

Citing a $3 million increase in health and pension obligations for next year, Bianchi said he and Eberwein have had a "real heart-to-heart about where this is going."

But the mayor left the door open for using more "free cash," as well as dipping into more than $2 million in School Department revolving accounts, to help forge a compromise. Even adding a bit more property tax revenue remains on the table, Bianchi said.

As for the possible 30 layoffs discussed at last Wednesday's heavily attended School Committee meeting, Bianchi said 20 of them are "permanent full-time substitutes who show up every day and may or may not have assignments." But, with a normal attrition rate of 20 to 40 staffers each year, he predicted anyone receiving layoff notices may be moved into other positions.

"It's not like all these people will be losing their jobs," he stressed. "I've emphasized this needs to be as humane as possible. Teaching and instructional positions should be the last to be considered [for reductions]."

Nevertheless, Bianchi added, with a projected 2.5 percent tax increase based on a nearly $133 million total city spending plan, "we have to be cognizant of the effects on taxpayers. We have to be prudent."

"At the end of the day, we'll provide a good, strong educational opportunity for our kids," said Bianchi. "I don't see this weakening our system at all. It's so important that we have healthy public discussions."

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"Mayor selects charter review panel"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 10, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- A committee is waiting in the wings to review the Pittsfield charter, which lays out how the city is governed and which has been virtually unchanged for nearly 80 years.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has submitted 11 nominees for the City Council to confirm. Bianchi chose four directly and selected seven others from the City Council's list of 22 candidates. Bianchi also wants the council to fund a consultant to help the charter review committee. The review process will start in September and take about a year.

The council will take up the nominations at its regular meeting Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

If approved, the committee will include two attorneys, two former city councilors, a retired judge, a labor union leader, and a one-time high school history teacher.

"I am pleased with the cross-representation of the city on the committee," said Council President Kevin J. Sherman, who first suggested a charter review more than a year ago.

Bianchi believes he and the council have put forth a diverse committee.

"You want people who have government background and [are] comfortable with the law -- and are from different parts of the city," the mayor said.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop is also proud of the collaboration to establish the 11-member committee.

"This is a great example of the mayor and council working together on a very important issue -- how the city charter is working," Lothrop said.

Earlier this year, Bianchi proposed a nine-member committee entirely appointed by him. The council's counter-proposal two months ago called for 11 members, with the nomination duties split between the council and mayor, who accepted this alternative.

The charter review committee will examine the entire charter, seek the public's input on potential changes, and make recommendations to the council and mayor. Any changes to the charter ultimately would need the state Legislature's approval.

All committee meetings will be open to the public.

The charter's last major overhaul came in 1932. It resulted in the current system of electing a mayor every two years and a City Council comprised of seven ward and four at-large council seats.

However, city leaders noted a stem-to-stern review of the charter 80 years later doesn't guarantee wholesale changes to the document.

"I think the expectations are for everyone to have an open mind as the process will be fluid," Sherman said.

Bianchi added, "People think we need change, but at the least, we need a review of the charter."

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The nominees are ...

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is seeking the City Council's approval of 11 appointments to Pittsfield's city charter review committee:

Mayoral nominees ...

Michael P. Filpi: Business manager for Local 473 of the Laborers Union of Berkshire County; former member of Pittsfield School Committee (1995-1997), Parks Commission (2002-2007)

Peter M. Marchetti: Compliance officer, Pittsfield Cooperative Bank; coordinator Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade; former councilor at large (2002-2003, 2006-2011)

David W. Murphy Jr.: Attorney, former city council candidate (2009)

Edward J. LaPointe: First justice, Probate and Family Court Department, Berkshire Division (retired); Pittsfield Planning Board (1976-1981)

City Council nominees

William Barry: Attorney; member Pitts field Board of Registrar of Voters; former city councilor (6 years)

Diane M. Ferrero: Assistant librarian, Berkshire Athenaeum; American and European history teacher at Lee High School (1970-2005)

Brad Gordon: Executive director/staff attorney, Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority; member of Pittsfield Board of Health (2004-2009)

Arthur S. Jones: Pittsfield branch manager, Manpower Staffing

Vicki Kane: Vice chairwoman, West Side Initiative, active in the Morningside Initiative, retired academic adviser/
coordinator at Berkshire Community College

Michael J. McCarthy: Attorney; city solicitor (1987-1989)

Deborah A. Sadowy: Director of program operations, United Cerebral Palsy of Berkshire County; community resource director, Pittsfield YMCA (1994-1997)

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"3 say Pittsfield mayor misled council"
By Dick Lindsay and Tim Farkas, Berkshire Eagle, August 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Saying they want to "correct the record," three city councilors contend Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s administration misled the council about the purpose of a $100,000 budget expense that eventually was used as part of a lawsuit settlement to the op erator of a proposed meth adone clinic.

The payment, to Worcester-based Spectrum Healthcare Systems, was announced by Bianchi on Aug. 14, nearly two months after the council approved the city’s $133 million budget for fiscal 2013, which included the settlement funds.

Bianchi this week vehemently denied accusations by councilors Barry J. Clairmont, Jonathan N. Lothrop and John M. Krol Jr. that he misled them about the settlement, saying the three are looking for his "political Achilles’ heel."

Bianchi said the City Council knew the money had been set aside for Spectrum; Clairmont, Lothrop and Krol say that information was hidden from the council, accusations that appear to be supported by federal court transcripts.

The three councilors cite court documents, reviewed by The Eagle, that show that on June 5, City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan and Spectrum attorney Paul Holtzman told a U.S. District Court judge in Springfield that the two parties had reached an agreement in principle that included a monetary payment in the settlement. Last week, Bianchi said the payment was for what he called the city’s attempt to "illegally block" a building permit for Spectrum in 2011.

According to court documents, Degnan said the only thing "that might fall through" in the agreement was her ability to get funding from the City Council, which she and Bianchi requested at a council budget hearing four days later.

In that June 9 hearing, Lothrop asked if any specific settlements had been reached concerning a newly added $100,000 line item in the budget, and Degnan said no.

Earlier in the hearing, Councilor Christopher J. Connell asked Degnan -- with Bianchi sitting to the side -- if the $100,000 was for a specific case, and Degnan said it was for "litigation that’s been kicking around for a year."

Lothrop pressed the matter by asking, "So we don’t have settlements waiting to be paid at this time?"

"No, not at this time," Degnan said.

The City Council gave preliminary approval to the budget at the hearing and final approval at a council meeting on June 26.

Clairmont said the council "did not know" what the $100,000 was for on June 9. He said the council got "clarification on June 26, when no one really had time to think about what was going on."

Clairmont, Lothrop and Krol say they want to "correct the record" regarding the Spectrum case. The three dispute Bianchi’s statement to The Eagle on Aug. 14 that the money was included in the current budget "in case we needed it; I was hoping we wouldn’t use it."

"That, in my opinion, is materially misleading to the public to make that kind of statement when he knew the 100-grand was in there before anybody knew about this," Clairmont said. "He knew exactly what it was for before June 5 because Kathy Degnan was talking to the court about it."

Lothrop said the three city councilors’ assertions of being misled by the Bianchi administration aren’t politically or personally motivated.

"The truth needs to be told," Lothrop said. "At some point you have to understand that when you materially mislead the council, when you make false statements, you have the right to respond.

"When you’re going through a process and you know something’s not right, some people will just accept it and move on," he added. "But we thought this was important enough to sit down, start doing our research and compare it with what we’re being told. And I was shocked. I couldn’t believe the variation in what we were told and what we found."

Bianchi told The Eagle this week that the City Council knew what the $100,000 was for when it approved the fiscal 2013 budget on June 26. The mayor said the money went toward Spectrum’s legal fees, the cost of preliminary work on the clinic, and other expenses the company incurred before the settlement was reached.

Under the agreement announced by Bianchi on Aug. 14, Spectrum will be allowed to open the clinic at 42 Summer St., the Berkshire Nautilus building, as was originally planned in 2011. Pending approval from the city’s Building Department, the facility could be operational by the end of October, city officials have said.

The clinic’s location was a relief to home and business owners in the Morningside neighborhood who created a firestorm of opposition after hearing in mid-June that Spectrum was considering putting a clinic on private property on Stoddard Avenue.

Spectrum operates five meth adone clinics in Massachusetts. Methadone is commonly used to treat addiction to opiates such as heroin.

Bianchi said the accusations by Clairmont, Lothrop and Krol represent "totally a political agenda on their part."

"I have had it with those three, who are consistently trying to undermine what we try to do here," the mayor said.

Two other city councilors reached this week by The Eagle said they had reason to believe the $100,000 discussed at the June 9 meeting was for Spectrum.

"I had a pretty good inkling what the money was for be cause I did my homework," Councilor Kevin J. Morandi said.

"I guessed the money was for that case and felt it was prudent we put it in the budget," Connell said. "Was it fully disclosed? No, but it couldn’t have been due to ongoing litigation."

During the June 9 budget hearing, Degnan said ongoing litigation kept her from discussing the $100,000 in the open meeting.

Clairmont, Krol and Lothrop, meanwhile, told The Eagle they thought she could have updated the council behind closed doors.

"When we ask her a question not appropriate for public airing, [the answer] should have been shared with us in executive session," Krol said.

Bianchi and Degnan say they weren’t trying to hide anything from the council.

"If they had gone into executive session, I would have answered any questions they asked," Degnan said. "I did not mislead the council."

"If they wanted to call for an executive session, they could have asked for one," Bianchi said. "We would have been very explicit."

Bianchi and Degnan said Lothrop rejected the idea of going into executive session during the meeting.

"If she [Degnan] had an swered my question, ‘Is a settlement awaiting funding?’ I would have requested an executive session, which requires a council majority for approval," Lothrop said.

Nearly three weeks later, in U.S. District Court in Springfield on June 26 -- before the council meeting that night -- Holtzman called the settlement agreement "far beyond complete ... actually signed by [counsel] for the city, laid on the mayor’s desk for his signature."

Later in the proceeding, according to court documents, Degnan acknowledged that "the councilors didn’t know that the money was going to be used for this lawsuit."

"They’re probably not too happy about it now," she said in court.

Council President Kevin J. Sherman declined to comment on the verbal sparring between Clairmont, Lothrop, Krol and the mayor.

"I’m ready to move on," Sherman said. "We have other pressing issues in the city to address."

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"Building permit also at issue in council dispute"
By Dick Lindsay and Tim Farkas, Berkshire Eagle, August 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Whether the City Council knew that a $100,000 budget expense for legal settlements had been earmarked for the operator of a proposed methadone treatment center isn’t the only area of contention in political circles these days.

In addition to saying that Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s administration hid from the City Council the purpose of that budget expense -- which eventually went to Worcester-based Spectrum Health Systems -- councilors Barry J. Clairmont, Jonathan N. Lothrop and John M. Krol Jr. told The Eagle they dispute the reason Bianchi has given for paying the $100,000 penalty.

In announcing the settlement last week, Bianchi said the money was for what he called the city’s attempt to "illegally block" a building permit for Spectrum in 2011. But Clairmont, Lothrop and Krol -- along with James M. Ruberto, who was mayor at the time -- say Bianchi’s statement is inaccurate.

The four cite how a federal court in Springfield on three different occasions -- July 6 and Nov. 15 of last year and Feb. 3 of this year -- upheld the city’s Building Department refusal to grant Spectrum a building permit to establish the methadone clinic at 42 Summer St.

The documents were reviewed by The Eagle.

"The facts demonstrate that [Bianchi’s] statements about illegally denying the building permit ... those are false," Lothrop said.

"That statement is clearly incorrect," Ruberto said. "I urge people to review the court documents, and they will show the city was on sound ground when we denied the permit."

Nevertheless, Bianchi said the previous administration was at fault.

"[The city] tried to block a permit, which triggered a disability case," Bianchi said.

Clairmont, Lothrop and Krol said Richard Dohoney -- the city attorney under Ruberto -- argued the three cases before Kathleen Degnan started representing Pittsfield in the case in early March, two months after Bianchi appointed her the city solicitor.

Clairmont and Lothrop acknowledge that while a judge sided with the city, Pittsfield officials couldn’t keep Spectrum from establishing a methadone clinic somewhere in the city. However, the two councilors said the Bianchi administration could have done a better job of handling the case.

"We paid them $100,000; that horse is out of the barn," Lothrop said. "Spectrum coming to Pittsfield was an inevitability, but paying the $100,000 was not an in evitability by any stretch of the imagination."

Lothrop said "it’s hard to say" what the taxpayer money would have been used for if it hadn’t gone to Spectrum.

Bianchi said the settlement was in the city’s best interest.

"We worked hard for this agreement, which put the city’s health above anything else," he said.

Under the agreement announced last week by Bianchi, Spectrum will be permitted to open the clinic on Summer Street, as originally planned last year. Pending approval from the city’s Building Department, the facility could be operating by the end of October, city officials have said. Spectrum’s website lists job openings for six employees who will staff the outpatient facility, which serves as a treatment center for people addicted to opiates such as heroin.

Also as part of the settlement, Spectrum will consider eventually moving the clinic into a Berkshire Health Systems facility.

Initially, though, the treatment center is headed to Summer Street after home and business owners on and around Stoddard Avenue stirred up heavy opposition after hearing in mid-June that Spectrum was eyeing private property on that street as an option for the clinic.

Many residents and city councilors were upset over that location because the city hadn’t mentioned that Spec trum was considering the site.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has determined that Pittsfield needs a methadone clinic to treat drug addicts from the area.

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"Spectrum process was badly botched"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, August 27, 2012

Confident that it would inevitably get its methadone clinic in Pittsfield because of the backing of the state Department of Public Health and past interpretations of federal law, Worcester-based Spectrum Health Systems has only grudgingly informed city residents of the specifics of its plans. Even if inevitable, The Eagle has questioned the need for the city to abide by a dubious confidentiality agreement or be pressured by Spectrum's assertions that it could not be denied a building permit, and has urged Mayor Daniel Bianchi to take a harder line with Spectrum.

After reviewing court documents submitted by City Councilors Barry J. Clairmont, Jonathan H. Lothrop and John M. Krol Jr. (Eagle, August 25), it is clear that the city's attempt to block the building permit for Spectrum under former Mayor James Ruberto was not "illegal" as described by Mayor Daniel Bianchi. Because the city was within its rights it should not have paid a $100,000 settlement to the company, and it is apparent city councilors were not kept informed about the particulars of the settlement agreement they were required to vote on.

Rather than negotiate with the city after the Building Department refused to grant it a building permit to establish the clinic at 42 Summer Street, Spectrum appealed to U.S. District Court in Springfield. The court upheld the city's refusal, and its legality. It is significant that on the building permit, a copy of which was supplied to The Eagle by the councilors, Spectrum did not apply for an educational permit. At the core of Spectrum's argument that the city acted illegally in denying the building permit was the contention that the city was violating the rights of the disabled -- heroin accidents -- who would be educated about how to change their lifestyles. Spectrum did not, however, check the educational box in pursuing the permit.

The city didn't owe Spectrum a dime, let alone $100,000, and the approval process for the settlement was extremely murky. In District Court on June 26, City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan acknowledged that "the councilors didn't know that the money was going to be used for this lawsuit," adding that "They're probably not too happy about it now." City Councilor Kevin Morandi told The Eagle that he had a "pretty good inkling" about what the $100,000 discussed at a June 9 council meeting was for and fellow Councilor Christopher Connell "guessed" that the money was for a settlement with Spectrum.

Councilors should not have to act on the basis of inklings and guesses, and if litigation was an issue, the discussion should have continued in executive session. The City Council could have and in retrospect should have asked for an executive session to discuss the matter beforehand, but Ms. Degnan, who works for the city and the council not just the mayor, could have been more forthcoming about what the settlement money was intended for, as she knew far more about it than did the City Council, which was left in the dark. Spectrum's supposed confidentiality agreement with the former mayor, rendered irrelevant by a series of public revelations about the company's shifting plans, was no defense for secrecy.

Mayor Bianchi has accused the three councilors of playing politics, and politics is a contact sport in Pittsfield. However, the documents produced by Councilors Lothrop, Clairmont and Krol tell an objective story in black and white.

Spectrum will get its clinic and we hope it benefits drug abusers, but it was wrong to bulldoze its way into the city. Mayor Bianchi did not have to make it easy for Spectrum and the city should not have agreed to a $100,000 settlement when it was not in the wrong. Finally, City Hall, beginning with the city solicitor, must now work more openly with the City Council.

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"Councilors, Eagle play politics"
By Daniel L. Bianchi, Op-Ed/Letter to the Editor, The Berkshire Eagle, August 28, 2012

Managing the affairs of municipal government is difficult. It is made more difficult when members of the City Council and the local daily newspaper decide to play politics based on selected information and half-truths.

The Eagle is being naive to conclude that Pittsfield could have won the Spectrum lawsuit based on a few documents that they chose to interpret without benefit of any legal training. It is not "black and white," as the recent editorial claims, except for the paper and ink used to produce the documents.

Three city councilors, Clairmont, Krol and Lothrop, decided to go to the Eagle with a story and a few documents, rather than extend the simple courtesy of discussing the matter with me or the solicitor. Can this be construed as anything but a tactic to cause political damage and engender mistrust? I am compelled to respond to the Eagle article and the subsequent Eagle editorial regarding the Spectrum lawsuit against the city.

Had Pittsfield not settled with Spectrum, in all likelihood, the city would have lost and lost big. Other cities have tried and failed, reaching settlements at a much higher figure than $100,000. The solicitor, the associate solicitor and the former solicitor all believed a settlement was in the best interest of the taxpayer. Their legal experience is much greater than the three councilors, with all due respect, a CPA, a social worker and a high school radio station talk show host.

The attorneys' legal expertise is also stronger than that of a newspaper editor. Neither the newspaper editor, nor any of the three councilors have attended the court proceedings. None have had the benefit of the proceedings or evaluated the position of the court. None have spent numerous hours discussing the case with the Spectrum attorneys, yet all of them seem to know how the court case would end. I could not trust something that important to those who possess so little experience and such questionable motives. The stakes are too high for the taxpayers of this city.

I put the $100,000 in a new, specific line item of the budget clearly marked for legal settlements, not buried in an obscure place in the budget. During the budget session, councilors asked and were told that the figure was to settle a case that had been in progress for about a year. The Spectrum case was the only substantial, outstanding lawsuit. Subsequent executive sessions discussed this in detail. This was not a surprise to anyone.

The Eagle was selective in the documents used to jump to the conclusion that the city would prevail in the lawsuit. The case against the city was not going to turn on a building permit application, or the manner in which it was filled out. Denying the building permit was merely the opening salvo in the case. It was followed by actions and documented statements that landed the city in a federal lawsuit. The Eagle did not review or consider that very relevant body of evidence.

It seems that the Eagle has been misled into thinking that granting a building permit would have settled this case. That is not true. The city solicitor attempted to settle the case by offering to give Spectrum a building permit. That offer was not accepted. Spectrum was seeking not simply a building permit, but also the attorneys' fees and costs (which they are afforded by federal statute) and compensation from economic loss because they were unable to operate for over a year as a result of the actions of the prior administration.

The only analysis that the court would make is whether or not the city was discriminating against Spectrum when it refused to issue a building permit. The evidence that the court would use is testimony, affidavits, records and other documents which demonstrate that the reason for the denial was because Spectrum was seeking to operate a methadone clinic.

It is true that Spectrum lost the first injunction over the issue of a sprinkler system. That was remedied. The second denial placed the city in legal jeopardy because it was denied for no other reason than to prevent Spectrum from operating in Pittsfield, thus causing a violation of the federal discrimination law. Such action allows for awards of attorneys' fees, costs and damages.

I recognize that $100,000 is a lot of money, but given the evidence that Spectrum possessed, the settlement was far and away the best option given the alternative.

The greatest shame is that this happened at all. It could have been avoided if the Spectrum application had been handled professionally and honestly. It is also shameful that a small group of city councilors can manipulate a newspaper to confuse the public rather than working together to make our city a better place.

I am committed to always working in the best interest of the people of Pittsfield.

Daniel L. Bianchi is mayor of the city of Pittsfield.

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"Poor journalism in clinic coverage"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, August 30, 2012

I want a better newspaper. I want a higher level of reporting that is not so easily manipulated by three city councilors who show up in the Berkshire Eagle newsroom with claims that are complete nonsense. I want editorials that are inspiring and which wisely guide a community. The late Roger Linscott, the Eagle’s legendary editorial writer, won a Pulitzer prize for his extraordinary work. By comparison, the recent editorial on the Spectrum lawsuit actually implies that because Spectrum failed to check a box on its building permit application, its case against the city was in jeopardy. Seriously? Are we supposed to believe that federal discrimination laws evaporate because an applicant failed to check a box?

We need editorial writers and reporters who can think beyond what three mischief-makers are feeding them. When Eagle reporter Dick Lindsay called last week to say he was writing a story about how Mayor Bianchi "misled" Councilors Clairmont, Krol and Lothrop, I invited him to come over. There is absolutely no evidence that the mayor tried to mislead anyone. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Here’s an interesting piece of information: There are only nine lines in the city solicitor’s budget; it’s very easy to follow. One of the budget line items -- and the only one that is in bold -- looks exactly like this: **new** Legal Settlements -- . . $100,000. Does this appear to be the work of a mayor who is trying to mislead people? But there’s more.

When Dick Lindsay came over to the mayor’s office, I replayed for him the actual video of that section of the public hearing in which the city solicitor’s budget was discussed -- particularly the $100,000 appropriation that was clearly marked as litigation settlement. During that portion of the discussion, Councilor Lothrop noted that the council could go into executive session to discuss it further "but I don’t recommend it," he said. I replayed that portion of the video three times for Lindsay. I’m stunned that a city councilor who chose not to avail himself of more information would later complain to the Berkshire Eagle that he was misled. In fact, I told the mayor that this story was so full of baloney that no editor at the Eagle would allow it to advance. Instead, Tim Farkas, executive editor of the Berkshire Eagle, shared a byline with Lindsay.

I know it’s a new world, and newspapers are floundering. Yet, many of us still believe profoundly in the important role that newspapers play in a community. There can never be a substitute for fairness, integrity and honesty. I work in Mayor Dan Bianchi’s administration, but I was a reporter for this newspaper for 18 years and I still consider it my life’s work. I spent several years covering City Hall and did my very best, every single day. I never wrote a story that I knew to be factually incorrect. I never left important facts out of a story. My editors would not have allowed such behavior. I never lost sight of the fact that I was writing about decent human beings who essentially lived in a small community. There was nothing special about me. We all met high standards or we did not work there for long.

But that was then, and this is now. I work for a mayor who routinely puts in 12 hour days; who works throughout the weekend; who accommodates every visitor he possibly can; who is a complete gentleman and who is working diligently for the benefit of this city. I am sure there will be critical articles about his tenure as mayor, and I have no problem with hard-hitting news. What I am asking for is the very basics in journalism: that the articles be true and fair.

DONNA MATTOON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is director of administrative services, city of Pittsfield. The Eagle stands by its story and editorial.

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"The Spectrum divide"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, September 10, 2012

We hope that Spectrum Health Systems proves to be as good at running a methadone clinic as it is at dividing city government in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield may pay Spectrum $76,500, the equivalent of 18 months rent, should it move out of its Summer Street space while still owing rent. This part of the settlement with the Worcester company emerged with the release of the minutes of a July 3 council executive session, during which Mayor Daniel Bianchi said he was confident that Spectrum will not be at the controversial Summer Street site long-term. At a meeting last week with Eagle editors, the mayor said he didn’t think that the city would end up paying reimbursement costs to Spec trum, which would suggest it is staying put long-term, or that other ways will be found to avoid further payment.

Ideally, the clinic will end up on Conte Drive as a Berkshire Health Systems tenant. The City Council had suggested that $100,000 be spent to settle Spectrum’s pending suit against the city with another $250,000 paid if the company chose a more agreeable site, with the mayor asserting that the now agreed upon $100,000 settlement and possible $76,500 relocation expenditure comprise a middle ground. The latter option is preferable, but it is not clear, however, why the city should cough up anything beyond the $100,000 to further appease Spectrum.

Mayor Bianchi told Eagle editors that because of state and federal laws, the city had less than one chance in a hundred of winning in court against Spectrum, a litigious group that has prevailed elsewhere in the state, and wanted to cut the city’s losses. We will never know what would have happened in court in the long run, but we do know that the city prevailed in U.S. District Court, where Spectrum argued that the city illegally denied it a building permit. The city could have gone further in the court process before signing off on a $100,000 settlement for damages Spectrum may not have won, but the point has become moot.

As for what the City Council knew and didn’t know about the $100,000 settlement, it appears from City Council meetings that the councilors were in the role of quiz show contestants trying to guess what that dollar figure was actually for while City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan played the role of master of ceremonies offering tantalizing clues. This discussion should have gone to executive session, and because the city solicitor knew much more that the councilors did, as we learned from court transcripts, the onus was on her.

The public divide between the mayor and three city councilors in particular has its roots in Spectrum’s refusal to be a good neighbor. Treated roughly by former Mayor James Ruberto, Spectrum ran to court to complain about "the city’s overt hostility and animus toward disabled people." The animus and hostility that emerged was not toward disabled people but toward a company that believed it didn’t have to make its case to the city -- which it did belatedly before resorting to its usual secrecy. Spectrum may have felt bullied by the former mayor but its response has been to play the bully in return.

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"Pittsfield City Council approves higher tax rate for homeowners"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, November 28, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council wants the typical homeowner to pay a higher property tax bill than Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi proposed in order to make Pittsfield more business friendly.

By a 10-1 vote Tuesday night, with Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi opposed, the council approved a residential property tax rate of $16.70 on every $1,000 of assessed property value. The existing rate is $16.11.

The owner of an average, single-family home assessed at $177,000 would see an increase of $104 -- from $2,861 to $2,965 -- in their annual tax bill. The rate proposed by Bianchi and the Board of Assessors would have carried a $65 increase.

The council also ap proved raising the commercial property tax rate from $32.85 to $34.48. However, a business own er with property valued at $511,000 (the citywide average) would see annual tax bills drop $164 from $17,772 to 17,608. City officials had proposed a $255 increase.

The majority of the council felt the city’s tax proposal would hurt the business community.

"For me, [the mayor’s plan] was going in the wrong direction," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. "We need to show we are business friendly."

Bianchi felt his tax plan was a fair balance of the tax burden.

"I think the [the council’s] shift is too severe and puts too much burden on residential," he said.

The council rejected Bianchi’s property tax rate proposal after several local business owners and leaders balked at the mayor’s plan. They claimed it would prevent the city from attracting new businesses and possibly force others to move to a neighboring town.

"If I move a half a mile up the road, I can save $13,000 in taxes in a year," said Dennis Miller, who noted he pays $26,000 in taxes on commercial property along Crane Avenue.

The new tax rates will cover the current fiscal year --- from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2011. The assessors say the tax increases, when combined with other revenues, will fully fund the city’s $133.1 million budget.

City financial officials cite an improved cash flow for minimizing the impact of rising tax rates. Pittsfield Finance Director and Treasurer Susan Carmel had noted the city received $1.6 million more in state aid compared to fiscal 2012. In addition the City Council approved using $1.7 in surplus funds, compared to $1 million last year, toward lowering the increase in the property tax rates.

A increase in the city’s tax base also helped spread the tax burden, according to Paula King, chairwoman of the Board of Assessors.

Nevertheless, lower property values -- especially on the commercial side -- and a city spending plan that increased by nearly $4 million, necessitated a higher tax rate to raise $68.6 million in revenue toward the budget, according to city financial officials. Pittsfield relied on $66.3 million in property taxes to fund the fiscal 2012 spending plan of $129.3 million.

Inside the numbers ...

The Pittsfield City Council has approved a revised property tax rate to fund the city budget. These are new rates for the current fiscal year (2013) as compared with last fiscal year’s rate.

Fiscal ‘12 Fiscal ‘13 Change

Residential (per $1,000)

$16.11 $16.70 +$0.59

Avg. annual bill

$2,860.81 $2,965.13* +$104.32

* Based on single-family home valued at $177,553

Commercial (per $1,000)

$32.85 $34.48 +$1.63

Avg. annual bill

$17,772.61 $17,608.53** -$164.08

** Based on commercial property valued at $510,688.

Source: Pittsfield Board of Assessors

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"In Pittsfield property tax debate, business advocates emerged winner"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, December 9, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Setting the ratio between residential and commercial property tax rates prompts an annual debate -- sometimes a hot one -- and sometimes those advocating a business-friendly split even win the argument.

The City Council on Nov. 27 went through that annual exercise after receiving Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s proposed rates for the current fiscal year. After debate and comment from business people and business advocates, councilors voted 10 to 1 to lower the tax shift from 1.72, as proposed by the mayor, to 1.68, which still represented an increase on the commercial side from the tax shift of 1.66 approved a year ago.

The tax shift ratio is used to determine the actual tax rates for residential and commerical property classifications in relation to one another. Under state law, municipalities are allowed to shift the percentages of the overall tax burden each property classification is responsible for, resulting in different rates. All but a handful of those that set different rates assign the higher one to commerical property.

As far as most taxpayers are concerned, they saw the tax rate for residential properties set at $16.70 per thousand dollars of valuation, up from $16.11 last year, and the rate for commercial property went from $32.85 per $1,000 to $34.48.

But the fact of a tax increase to help fund the $133.1 million city budget was not the focus of the council debate. That focused on how much higher the commercial property rate should be -- and its perceived effects on the local economy.

The bottom line was that Pittsfield wound up with tax classification rates that were closer together than those proposed by the mayor but still further apart than last year.

Giving this annual debate perspective were local business owners and Berkshire Chamber of Commerce officials, who laid out the negatives they see when it comes to attracting new or expanding businesses.

"Pittsfield isn’t business friendly," was the primary message, and a relatively high commercial tax rate is a glaring example. It is, they told councilors, what a business owner sees first when considering a move to the city or seeks to expand here.

Business advocates said the city is one of the 111 municipalities (out of 351) in Massachusetts opting to have a split tax rate, and Pittsfield is in the upper third among those communities in sporting the greatest gap between rates.

Councilor at-large Barry J. Clairmont who, with Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, led the argument before the council against the mayor’s proposed rates, said last week that he understands there are many factors to consider -- such as the effect of the property values on tax bills and the health of the regional economy. But for cities lacking overwhelming natural attractions or major institutions or employers -- such as Pittsfield once had with GE and Cape Cod communities with tourism or Cambridge with higher education and technology have today -- attracting new business is a difficult process, he said.

High commercial tax rates, Clairmont said, can cause business people to turn away without a second look.

"I think that [lowering the commercial rate] can have a positive effect -- especially when we are compared to other communities," Clairmont said.

Krol, who last year during the rate hearing before the council argued for a lower commercial rate, said he was in the minority along with former Councilor Michael Ward. But this time, his proposal for a lower shift ratio -- going from 1.72 to 1.68 -- won approval from the council.

"The point is we want to be business friendly," Krol said, adding that a higher commercial rate "does send a negative message."

The effect of a lower business rate over time, he said, would be to encourage commercial growth, new investment and employment, which in turn would spread out and lessen the tax burden for all taxpayers. Those sentiments were echoed by business leaders during the council meeting.

Krol acknowledged that lowering the commercial rate is a long-term objective, not something that "can change in one year."

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michael Supranowicz said, "We just ask that any increase should be fair."

As it is, he said, the commercial rate is among the highest when compared to the residential rate in Massachusetts, and businesses in the Northeast already face disadvantages over other areas of the country in terms of energy costs and other factors.

On the whole, businesses have learned to deal with the level of taxation in Pittsfield, Supranowicz said, but "the problem is, if the break-even point is crossed it could push some over the edge."

For the most part, Massachusetts cities are where optional higher commercial tax rates have been adopted. And with the mayoral form of government, there is the question of how much political considerations intrude when residential property owners are an overwhelming block of voters and business owners are a distinct minority.

The split-rate option, which is allowed through state legislation, "sets itself up as a politically convenient" one, Krol said.

A number of years might be required to see the positive effects of a lower commercial rate, Clairmont said, as it takes time for businesses to begin to recognize a more favorable tax climate. This does not make for an easy choice for a mayor or councilor who must run for office every two years.

Clairmont said he would like to see the effect of lower commercial rates over 10 years, but he acknowledged that would mean convincing residential taxpayers to pony up more before seeing the results.

"They will be rewarded in the long run, but in the short term would have to carry more of the tax burden," he said. "Maybe that is part of the problem."

Mayor Bianchi said he spoke with councilors and others after the budget total for this fiscal year was set in June, and determined that an increase of about 2.5 percent in the residential rate and 1.5 percent on the commercial side would be acceptable.

However, during its debate last week and after comments from some business owners, councilors lowered the commercial rate and increased the residential rate.

As a councilor in the past and as mayor since January, Bianchi said his philosophy has been to find a point of "equity in sharing the tax burden."

In a way, "I think it is all going to balance out in the end," Bianchi added, referring to the different amounts residential taxpayers now will not have to spend at local businesses because of the higher rate increase.

As for the political pressures, Bianchi said, "I have never found one person who says, ‘I want to pay more in taxes.’ "

The only constructive option, he said, is to send a recommendation to the council that is as fair as possible to all.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, who is heading into his 10th year on the council, said there are myriad factors for the administration to consider in setting the rates. A rate "that looks extremely high," he said, might be fair given a city’s specific circumstances. The mayor has to "balance many, many interests" in proposing rates that allow enough funding for the overall budget figure.

Those considerations include whether commercial property values are rising or stagnant and the status of residential property values; what services a city can offer companies compared to a nearby town with a single rate for both property types; what tax and other incentives a community offers to lure new or expanding businesses, which residential owners don’t receive; and whether there are key large industries or institutions that are paying the bulk of commercial rate taxes.

In Pittsfield, although not in most other communities in the area, the city also has not taxed to the limits allowed under Proposition 2 1/2. This reflects a concerted effort to keep taxes lower overall, Lothrop said, and city budgets during his tenure on the council have risen modestly, from about $118 million to $133.1 million.

Another factor, he said, is the amount of state aid the city receives, which represents a higher percentage than in many communities -- $68.6 million in the current fiscal year. And the city’s average actual tax bills are consistently found among the lower third or so of Berkshire County communities.

"I think the political dimension comes in having to balance all of these interests," Lothrop said.

Although most towns have a single rate, Adams is one that has two rates, but officials there have tried in recent years to close the gap. Those now stand at $21.67 per $1,000 for commercial and $18.25 for residential, said Town Administrator Jonathan Butler.

"It is trending lower," he said, and Adams officials are "trying to create a competitive advantage for the town."

A lot depends on factors like the overall economy, the level of state aid, and large bonded projects, such as the cost of a newly renovated Hoosac Valley Middle and High School, Butler said. Otherwise, he said, the commercial rate might now be lower in Adams.

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Daniel L. Bianchi, pictured during a meeting last month, says he knew what he was ‘getting into’ when he took over as Pittsfield’s mayor, but the job is ‘a lot more hectic’ than he expected. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"A look back: Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi's first year"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, January 6, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Daniel L. Bianchi says he felt comfortable immediately after being sworn in as mayor a year ago.

Bianchi said his nearly five-year stint as Pittsfield's finance director and treasurer, followed by 10 years as the Ward 6 councilor, prepared him well for the corner office at City Hall.

"I knew what I was getting into," Bianchi, 61, said in a recent interview with The Eagle's editorial board. "But it's a lot more hectic than I thought it might be."

Bianchi cited the hundreds of community, school and governmental functions he's attended. He also spent 2012 implementing -- with City Council approval -- several of his campaign promises, including the creation of a Small Business Fund, the expansion of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA), and the establishment of an open-door policy for those who wanted time with him.

As for the controversial issues -- dominated by the furor over Spectrum Healthcare Systems establishing a methadone clinic in the city -- Bianchi said he successfully tackled them head-on.

"I think everything that was put in front of us, we handled quite well," he said.

But Bianchi's critics -- led by several city councilors -- say the mayor fell short with the business fund, didn't communicate well with the council overall, and mishandled the Spectrum case.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont called the Bianchi administration a "huge disappointment."

"It seems to me [that] all we are doing on the council is making appointments to boards or accepting grants," said Clairmont, who also is in his first term. "I'm really waiting to see what the mayor's vision is [for Pittsfield.]"

A new relationship typically has growing pains. After eight years of James M. Ruberto and Gerald Lee leading the city as mayor and council president, respectively, Pittsfield began 2012 with the tandem of Bianchi and Council President Kevin Sherman.

In addition, the 11-member council sworn into office included five first-timers.

In Bianchi's first three months on the job, the political honeymoon remained intact with such high points as the council on March 27 fully supporting the mayor's Small Business Fund. And a month earlier, the council unanimously backed Bianchi's plan to expand, from seven to 11 members, the PEDA board, which oversees the development of the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.

In the Small Business Fund, the city has awarded two firms -- out of seven that applied -- a total of $70,000 from the $500,000 fund, which is designed to help promote the growth of small businesses through grants and forgivable loans.

Bianchi says it's too early to measure the fund's success, but Clairmont said he believes the mayor's initiative has fallen short of its expectations.

"While the fund is a good idea, it has been poorly marketed," Clairmont said. "There hasn't been any further publicity of the fund since its inception."

As for an expanded PEDA board, Bianchi said that adding new members has allowed the panel to create several subcommittees, such as finance and marketing, to help attract more tenants. The four additional board members, appointed by the mayor, took office in September.

"Within 90 days, we talked with Nuclea [Biomarkers] about a computing center," the mayor said. "They now have a facility with 350 servers all tied together."

In November, Nuclea, which develops diagnostic tests for several types of cancer, relocated its datacenter from South Street to the PEDA administration building on Kellogg Street. Currently, Nuclea, Mountain One Financial and the Western Massachusetts Electric Co. are the business park's tenants.

Mountain One's headquarters are there; WMECO's presence is a solar array project that was activated in October 2010.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo said she believes the larger PEDA board will jump-start further development in the business park.

"I could really see [the expansion] working, as I have watched the interaction of the veteran members and the new members," Mazzeo said. "Subcommittees are where all the grunt work gets done."

Bianchi's mayoral successes in 2012 extended into his management of the city budget, particularly in spending on public education. Most importantly, he brokered deals that settled contract talks with city teachers and resulted in a compromise school budget that took effect in July.

As a School Committee member, the mayor persuaded the teachers union and the committee to ratify a new three-year contract after a series of one-year agreements. Bianchi convinced both sides that teacher pay increases should be based on the amount of state aid the city receives during each year of the agreement.

The previous four, one-year deals had little or no across-the-board salary increases because of the uncertainty of state funding.

School Committee Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga praised Bianchi for his outside-the-box approach to settling the negotiations.

"The contract has paid dividends, and it has worked," Barbalunga said.

He also lauded the mayor for helping to reach a compromise on a $54.5 million school budget that educators and taxpayers could afford in fiscal 2013, which began July 1, 2012. The school spending is part of an overall $133.1 million city budget the council approved June 26.

"He knows the numbers, and he's not afraid to take his budget plan for a vote," Barbalunga said.

Bianchi said the most frustrating issue for his administration in 2012 was the lack of progress toward building a new or renovated Taconic High School.

For more than two years, the Massachusetts School Building Authority has been conducting a preliminary study to lay the groundwork for an SBA/city collaboration that will determine the type and cost of a high school project. The SBA would fund up to 80 percent of the project, with Pittsfield handling the remaining 20 percent.

Bianchi says it's time to move forward on the required feasibility study with the help of state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and the rest of the Berkshires' state legislative delegation.

"We want to make sure our state representative knows her way to the state Treasurer's office -- and she does," Bianchi said. "We need to look at a team approach, and our state delegation has been very good [on this matter.]"

Bianchi's biggest political black eye last year -- at least according to four councilors -- was his handling of the city's battle with Spectrum over where it would place a methadone clinic.

Clairmont, Christine Yon, Jonathan Lothrop and John Krol Jr. maintain the mayor, along with City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, misled the council into approving $100,000 as part of Pittsfield's settlement with Spectrum. The Worcester-based company had filed a federal lawsuit in 2011, claiming the Ruberto administration illegally denied them a building permit to renovate space on Summer Street, where the clinic eventually opened in October as part of the settlement.

The deal, announced in mid-August, came two months after the council agreed to a $100,000 separate line item in the solicitor's account. The four councilors say Bianchi and Degnan should have been more forthcoming about the intent of the funds.

"Only well after all the key decisions had been made were the council and citizens informed of the settlement," Lothrop said. "There was a huge lack of transparency from the mayor's office."

Bianchi defends his handling of the case, pointing out that he inherited the lawsuit and the confidentiality agreement attached to the legal proceedings leading up to the settlement.

"I think we did as good of a job as we possibly could," he said. "It was a situation that had to be managed, and we managed it well."

Overall, the mayor's ability to communicate with city councilors and the public has received mixed grades.

"We have a standing meeting every other Tuesday, and he's always open to my suggestions," Sherman said. "It's been a completely collaborative effort."

Bianchi's ability to be a team player was most evident when he worked with the City Council to establish the city's Charter Review Study Committee and help a local florist remain in business.

Bridget Brown, owner of the Berkshire Flower Co. on South Street, found Bianchi willing to listen to her plight. Brown was due to close Dec. 31 because of a conservation restriction established by the Pittsfield Conservation Commission 15 years ago, but Bianchi in November persuaded the commission to extend the restriction deadline another 10 years, allowing Brown's 25-year-old business to remain open.

"He seems like a regular working man, a common guy," Brown said.

Krol, however, is among the councilors who think Bianchi lacks the transparency to effectively communicate with the city and its citizens. Krol said transparency was more evident under Ruberto.

"In the past, the mayor sought out and worked on having a good relationship with councilors," said Krol, the Ward 6 councilor. "The communication isn't the same as before; can't say if that's right or wrong."

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi greeted supporters during his inauguration last January but has drawn some criticism since then. Councilor Barry Clairmont says the mayor’s administration has been ‘a huge disappointment.’ (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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Pittsfield’s charter review committee, headed by Edward Lapointe, has shown support for the ‘strong mayor’ form of government, in which mayors have the authority to appoint most employees. Pittsfield currently has a ‘weak mayor’ format. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"With 'strong mayor' relationship between Pittsfield mayor, council would change"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, January 13, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- As the city’s Charter Review Study Committee hones its choices for governmental revisions, an oft-discussed option has emerged with support on the 11-member committee -- the so-called "strong mayor" format.

If approved by the mayor and City Council -- and then by Pittsfield voters in November -- the relationship between the council and mayor would change dramatically as early as 2015. Such a revision would place more of a focus on the mayor, where supporters of the option believe it should be.

"I think it does make a whole lot of sense," said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, referring to the municipal plan many cities in Massachusetts have adopted.

The central feature gives the mayor the authority to appoint most or all department heads and other employees, which could include naming members of boards and commissions. With the city’s current so-called "weak mayor" format, the City Council reviews appointees submitted by the mayor and can reject them.

Bianchi said that charter change -- combined with a possible four-year term for mayor -- has gained wide support on the charter committee and would allow the mayor to forcefully pursue policies with his or her team.

As for a longer term in office, "It would have the potential of diminishing the politics" that can come up almost immediately after a mayor is sworn in, Bianchi said. "You are only in office a few months, it seems, and there is political activity. It makes it harder to concentrate on the work of the taxpayers."

A four-year term and the ability to appoint and dismiss department heads would tend to "minimize politics and enhance professionalism in government," he said.

The mayor, who is beginning the second year in his two-year term, said he would like the charter group to also consider upgrading administrative staffing, as well as pay increases to make Pittsfield more competitive when hiring top officials.

The next charter committee meeting -- during which the public can offer comments and suggestions -- will be Tuesday at 5 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.

Former longtime North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, who worked under the strong mayor format during his 26 years in office, said: "The big thing with the strong mayor form of government is it allows for leadership and the ability to carry out a vision for the city."

He added, "Policy should come from the mayor’s office, as well as vision, and he should have the authority to appoint his own people."

North Adams had a city manager/council format and later a weak mayor/council format from the 1950s through the mid-1960s. The city adopted the current government -- called a Plan A municipal form with strong mayoral powers -- in 1965.

The city also eliminated wards at that time and began electing nine councilors at large, Barrett said.

"That was done to eliminate a lot of the parochialism," he said, and to allow councilors to consider the needs of the entire city over that of a ward.

That option hasn’t been discussed during charter committee meetings in Pittsfield, although longer terms -- likely of four years -- for councilors and for School Committee members were supported by some officials during hearings held by the charter group.

Another important aspect of the strong mayor format in North Adams, Barrett said, is that the mayor also is chairman of the School Committee.

The Pittsfield charter committee is expected to issue its final report during the summer to the council and mayor, and any ballot proposals to alter or overhaul the city charter could then be revised or placed on the November ballot as is.

Because municipal charters are allowed under a section of Massachusetts law, the state Legislature also must review and approve a petition from the city on the changes before the citywide vote. Approval by the Legislature usually is routine.

Among councilors, support has been expressed for giving the mayor a four-year term and for some form of strong mayor format, but it remains unclear whether the council is ready to give up its authority to review mayoral appointments.

Council President Kevin Sherman said support on the council for retaining authority to review appointments is "a mixed bag" at this point, but he favors the change.

"I support the idea that a mayor should be able to appoint his or her team," Sherman said. "I think that makes sense on a lot of levels. It is more of a hindrance at this point to have 11 people chiming in on a personnel decision."

Sherman also favors a four-year term for mayor, as do most councilors and other city officials who have spoken up during charter group public hearings.

Councilor at-large Melissa Mazzeo said she thinks council review should remain in the charter, but has proposed a modified process adopted in Northampton and elsewhere in the state, which she said would reduce the likelihood of a nominee being questioned and rejected at a full council meeting.

That charter option has the mayor refer all appointees to a subcommittee of the council, which would review them and make a report to the full council.

"People who have questions can get them answered there, not before the council," she said. She added that, if residents think the mayor should have more appointment authority -- or favor other governmental options -- now is the time to express those views during the charter committee meetings.

Pittsfield currently operates under the "Plan B" option for municipal government, which allows council review of appointments, while North Adams uses the Plan A form.

The basic formats, outlined under Chapter 43 of Massachusetts General Laws, have been modified in one aspect or another depending on the preferences in each municipality.

For instance, some department heads could be subject to review by the council while others are appointed directly by the mayor.

The option already rejected -- though not officially eliminated -- in a vote of the city charter group is for a city manager/council format, called Plan E. This would have the mayor as a member of the council and acting primarily in a ceremonial role -- and usually elected by fellow councilors.

According to the Massachusetts Municipal Association, there are 46 communities in the state with a full-time mayor, eight with a manager/council format, 36 with elected town meeting representatives and a select board, and 260 with an open town meeting and select board.

Referring to the strong mayor format, Barrett -- who now serves on the North Adams City Council -- said the option doesn’t mean "the council is weak." He said councilors still must approve budgets, funding and all financial decisions, and can investigate and request information from the administration, as well as require the mayor to appear before the council. Department heads can’t be required to make that appearance unless it is allowed by the mayor, he said.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said he was sorry to see the manager/council format dropped so soon by the charter committee. He said he understands that committee members received negative feedback about the idea from residents, but said, "We always get comments" about any issue, and public sentiment could change the more an idea is discussed.

Krol also said he supports a four-year term for mayor and increasing salaries for administrative posts, but he was noncommittal on the need for the mayor to have appointment authority.

"I think it should be looked at," he said.

Massachusetts government formats

Full-time mayor/council 46

Council/manager 8

Elected town meeting representatives 36

Open town meeting 260

Source: Massachusetts Municipal Association

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"Deputy mayor idea gains traction in Pittsfield"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, January 13, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The idea of creating a new "deputy mayor" or "chief of staff" to handle day-to-day management of city departments at the direction of the mayor has gained traction in Pittsfield during the ongoing charter review process. However, the real issue is likely to be: How much would it cost?

Several members of the City Council said during a Charter Review Study Committee meeting in early December that they favor changes that would bring continuing, nonpolitical management expertise to City Hall in the form of a trained professional.

The first option for some was the city manager/council form of government, in which the mayor is a member of the council, which hires a professional manager to oversee city operations. In Massachusetts, eight communities have the manager format. But that option was rejected in a preliminary vote of the charter committee on Jan. 2.

The committee also voted 6-3, however, to consider a new administrative position to handle most management duties, leaving the mayor more time to create a vision for Pittsfield and work to implement it.

"Mayors do get eaten up" by management issues in dealing with the public and with city departments, committee member Michael J. McCarthy said before the vote.

The three members who voted against a new administrative position raised questions about how the position would be defined and about the exact duties, responsibilities and powers the official would have under the charter.

Salary costs also were a concern with many who have said they don’t believe a new position is warranted, as it would carry a significant salary if a professional manager were sought. In addition, the need to raise salaries for the mayor and department heads to attract top candidates also was expressed by several speakers, including Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and some councilors.

Bianchi, whose annual salary is $87,000, said hiring for administrative posts such as department heads has been difficult in recent years because other communities often offer higher pay.

And most who spoke before the charter committee said they favor paying School Committee members, who now are barred by charter from being paid. This would add more salary cost to the budget unless it would be balanced by cuts elsewhere and could have a bearing on how much is proposed for an administrative position to assist the mayor.

As for the role of a professional manager, Lowell City Manager Bernard F. Lynch and Mayor Patrick O. Murphy lauded the format as a way to focus on long-term planning and avoid political wrangling that can hamper progress.

Lowell, a city of about 106,000 that switched to a mayor/council governmental format during the 1940s, has had Lynch as its manager for six years; he has been a professional in the field for 26.

Lynch said managers are hired by the council, which includes the mayor, and hiring is based on training, education and experience. The managers in Lowell’s history have averaged four years in the job, he said, and managers’ contracts range from two to three years. Lowell’s manager is paid $175,000 annually.

The manager assumes an executive role in city government similar to a town manager hired by a select board.

Murphy, a member of the City Council, said the mayor is elected by councilors. He is paid $17,000 annually and councilors $15,000 each.

The Lowell mayor, who assumes a ceremonial but not an executive role in representing the government and serves on the School Committee, said the format tends to promote cooperation on economic development, multiyear planning and in other areas. He said he prefers it to a standard mayor/ council format, and he credited Lynch with a lead role in pulling Lowell out of fiscal difficulties during the recession and off a state Department of Revenue watch list.

"But no matter what format you have, it depends on the people in it," Murphy said.

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"Community Development director in California offered same post in Pittsfield"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, February 16, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The city has offered the position of Community Development department director to a California woman, Margo Wheeler, director of Community Development in San Bernardino.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said Wheeler visited Pittsfield for an interview, met local officials and employees and has been offered the post, which Deanna L. Ruffer left in September to take a similar job in Chatham.

"We liked her very much," the mayor said Friday. "We are now waiting to hear from her."

The mayor said Wheeler, who directs a similar department in a much larger city -- listed as having a population of 213,000 -- is "very interested in moving to the East Coast" and liked the Berkshires.

"I think she wants to be here," he said.

Wheeler’s resume is enhanced through recognition she has received nationally and by the professional organizations in which she has been active, Bianchi said.

According to a notice for a lecture by Wheeler posted on an Ohio University website in January, over a long career she has been community development director in California cities and was planning director for several years in Las Vegas.

In November, the mayor said that after a search for Ruffer’s replacement, the top applicant had turned down the job in part because of the offered salary of $73,000. Another search was begun at that time.

The Community Development directorship is a three-year position subject to appointment by the mayor that does not require approval by the City Council, according to the city code. However, Bianchi has said he would formally notify the council of his choice.

Community Development staff member Bonnie Galant has been serving as the department’s interim director. Bianchi praised her and other staff members for keeping the department running smoothly despite a number of city development projects begun or in the final planning stages.

If Wheeler accepts the position here, she still would not be likely to move immediately, Bianchi said, as she would have to wrap up details of her current job and deal with a home she owns in California.

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"Pittsfield Police union: Keep chiefs under Civil Service"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 3/6/2013

PITTSFIELD -- City police union members have joined Fire Department union members in pressuring the city to retain the Civil Service process for appointment of chiefs of both departments.

Two police union locals in the city issued a statement Tuesday supporting continuation of Civil Service for the chiefs -- highlighting an issue being debated by the Charter Review Study Committee. That group, which is expected to recommend revisions to the city charter, will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday, and the issue is an agenda item.

During a charter group meeting on Feb. 19, firefighters' Local 2647 President Tim Bartini said the union planned legal action that could require Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to pick a chief from among the top three candidates who passed the most recent Civil Service exam for the post.

Both Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski and Police Chief Michael J. Wynn were appointed by former Mayor James M. Ruberto in an "acting" capacity not involving the Civil Service process. Ruberto, like Bianchi, who took office in January 2012, have said the chief positions should be removed from the process to allow greater leeway in searching for and appointing the best candidate.

On Tuesday, the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 447 in Pittsfield, and Pittsfield Police Superior Officers Union Local 447S released a statement urging retention of Civil Service for chiefs. The union locals state that from 1981, when the police chief's job was removed from Civil Service after 70 years, there were "three different politically appointed chiefs, one temporary chief," and "a two-year period when there was no chief at all."

The statement, which will be reprinted as a letter to The Eagle, notes that city voters in 1991 approved returning the chief's position to Civil Service.

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"Mayor Bianchi loses key assistant Mattoon"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, March 17, 2013


Donna Mattoon is taking a job with IBM in New York City (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

PITTSFIELD -- The mayor will lose his right-hand person next month when Director of Administrative Services Donna Mattoon leaves to begin a new job with a former employer in New York City.

Mattoon, who was hired as the mayor’s top office assistant shortly after Bianchi took office in January 2012, will work in a communications role with IBM, her employer from 1998 to 2005. At that time, she had an office in Albany, N.Y., she said, and traveled to the New York office of IBM on a weekly basis.

This time, Mattoon said, she welcomes the move to New York because "that’s where four out of five of my children live now, and my granddaughter."

She expressed admiration for Bianchi and said she enjoyed serving in a key role in city government, but being distant from most of her family had begun to wear on her.

"This is all happening very quickly," Mattoon said Friday, referring to an unexpected email that came recently from her old boss concerning an upcoming opening in the New York office. "But as much as I love working for Mayor Bianchi, I love being with my kids more," she said.

Mattoon said it has slowly become apparent that "the kids aren’t coming home often enough. I think I have to come to them. I just feel strongly this is the right way to go at this time."

Mattoon, 58, whose husband, John, died in 2009, has resided in nearby Caanan, N.Y., for many years. She grew up in Pittsfield and graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1972.

"I am so happy for her," Bianchi said Friday. "As sad as we are to see her go, this is a great opportunity to be close to her family."

The mayor said he has begun preliminary discussions concerning "finding that next special person" to replace Mattoon, He said she’s been "invaluable" in overseeing and helping to launch a number of initiatives, such as the community centers for providing services by police, human service organizations and government agencies.

The position has been budgeted at $50,000 per year.

"I feel badly about leaving City Hall," Mattoon said. "I have some good friends here. Sometimes this has not been an easy job, but it has always been very rewarding."

In an email Mattoon sent Thursday to officials and employees in city government, she said in part: "You don’t always get to work alongside such good and dedicated people. Though much too brief, my City Hall experience has been very meaningful. More than anything, I have been deeply impressed by the competent and dedicated people who work here."

Mattoon also worked for The Berkshire Eagle from 1979 to 1997, and prior to accepting her current post, operated her own communications service for several years.

In 2010, she managed -- with help from other family members -- the successful campaign of her brother, Thomas Bowler, to become Berkshire County Sheriff.

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"Pittsfield drops lawsuit against former city attorney Richard M. Dohoney"
By Andrew Amelinckx, Berkshire Eagle, March 23, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The city of Pittsfield has decided not to pursue a lawsuit that alleged malpractice by former city attorney Richard M. Dohoney.

Filed in January, the complaint alleged that Dohoney gave the city bad advice regarding the demolition of an apartment complex. Dohoney served as city attorney under former Mayor James M. Ruberto.

Assistant City Solicitor Darren Lee said the city had filed the lawsuit against Dohoney shortly before the three-year statute of limitations on the matter was about to expire.

But after having had time to "really look into the claim," the city decided that the allegations "probably wouldn't have held up in court," Lee said.

"I always knew clearer heads would prevail," said Dohoney, of the law firm DeRosa and Dohoney in Pittsfield.

The complaint against Dohoney came on the heels of another civil suit that the city lost regarding Dohoney's legal advice on the demolition of a Melville Street apartment complex in April 2010. The building was owned by Pesu Inc., whose president is listed as Madeline C. Culpo in papers filed with the secretary of state's office.

Lee said the city believed its claim was valid when it filed the complaint.

"Someone was to blame," he said. "If I hadn't filed it and it was a good claim I could have been sued for malpractice myself."

Dohoney told the Board of Health in January 2010 that demolishing the building was legal.

Lee said he later learned that the day after Dohoney told the board to go ahead with its demolition plans, his advice was upheld by Berkshire Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ford, who had dismissed an injunction filed by the building's owners to stop the demolition from taking place.

Between 2000 and 2004, four apartments in the complex were cited six separate times for various sanitary code violations, including a non-functioning toilet and insufficient heat. More violations came in 2007. A final inspection in January 2010 determined that the original violations hadn't been corrected and the complex was ordered demolished.

In May 2012, two years after the building was demolished, the structure's owner filed an amended complaint in Superior Court stating that the demolition was illegal because there had been no required condemnation order in place before the building was taken down.

Following a court hearing in November, Superior Court Judge John A. Agostini ruled in favor of the building's owner. Pesu Inc. was seeking $175,000 in damages.

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Pending the City Council's approval next week, Mary McGinnis of Pittsfield would replace Donna Mattoon as director of administrative services. Mary McGinnis has been nominated as the Bianchi administration's next director of administrative services.

"Bianchi picks city businesswoman as next top aide"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, April 18, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has picked his next top aide at City Hall.

Pending the City Council's approval next week, Mary McGinnis of Pittsfield would replace Donna Mattoon as director of administrative services.

Mattoon left the post earlier this month to work in communications for IBM in New York City. She had been Bianchi's right-hand person since he took office in January 2012.

The position within the mayor's office is budgeted to pay $50,000. The job's duties include serving as the city's public information officer and coordinating and leading special initiatives.

The council is expected to vote on Bianchi's nomination of McGinnis at its regularly scheduled meeting at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, at City Hall.

McGinnis called the job "a great opportunity."

"I am a believer in what the mayor wants to do for the city," she said.

McGinnis, 55, has worked at Berkshire Medical Center for 34 years, most recently in the hospital's department that oversees patient safety. In addition, she owns Gallery 25 and Mary's Carrot Cake across from the Barrington Stage Co. on Union Street.

The Pittsfield native serves on the Pittsfield Cultural Development Board and board of directors for Downtown Pittsfield Inc. and is co-founder and chairwoman of the First Friday Artswalk. The monthly event established last May promotes local artists by having their works displayed in dozens of downtown-area businesses.

McGinnis also has to her credit having been the chief organizer for 13 years of Founders Day Weekend in Lee and former president of the Lee Chamber of Commerce.

Bianchi says McGinnis' resume makes her well qualified to help him lead the city.

"I am very impressed with Mary's commitment to and vision for Pittsfield," Bianchi said. "She knows both the challenges and the potential we have here in Pittsfield and is dedicated making our city a great place to live."

McGinnis feels she can make an immediate impact within the Bianchi administration.

"I know how to tap resources," she said. "I already have two pages of people who say they want to help the city."

related link: www.iberkshires.com/story/43798/Bianchi-Nominates-Business-Owner-Community-Leader-for-Position.html

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"Mayor Bianchi makes it official, takes out papers to seek second term"
Berkshire Eagle, May 24, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has taken out nomination papers to run for re-election in November. Thus far, he has no announced opposition for a second term.

Bianchi, who earlier had indicated his intent to run again, made it official in an announcement late Friday afternoon.

"It has been an absolute pleasure to serve as Pittsfield's mayor for the past 18 months," Bianchi said in a release. "I have been humbled by the enormous and diverse support I have received from people across the city during my first term in office. ... I look forward to continuing to work with them to serve the residents of Pittsfield for another term."

To win his first term, Bianchi defeated former city councilor Peter M. Marchetti in a very close race in November 2011.

Since taking office, Bianchi cited "progress with the creation of the Small Business Fund; the expansion of the PEDA board, and by securing the first tenant, with more Life Sciences projects in the planning stages."

He added, "I recognize there is more to do and I remain committed to an aggressive economic development program for the city."

Soon after taking office, Bianchi pushed the Pittsfield charter review process, which is expected to produce a completely revised city charter for submission to city voters in November. The City Council is to take a final vote on the charter plan on May 28.

The mayor listed as major goals working with the community and businesses to develop supportive programming for an expanded vocational education program and helping to complete planning construction of a new or renovated Taconic High School.

Establishing planned community centers in collaboration with community and wellness groups at Francis Plaza and Dower Square will benefit many citizens, he said.

"And, lastly, but certainly not least, particularly in the wake of what is happening across our state and throughout our country, public safety has been a top priority," Bianchi said. "With the initiation of a Neighborhood Watch Program, Pittsfield now has hundreds of residents trained to serve as the eyes and ears of the police in an effort to reduce crime and maintain safer neighborhoods."

The last day to turn in papers to the Registrar of Voters for signature certification is Tuesday, Aug. 6. The last day to turn in certified papers to the city clerk for placement on the ballot is Tuesday, Aug. 20.

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"Pittsfield mayor asks City Council to raise water rates"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, May 29, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- For the third straight year, home and business owners are facing a 2.5 percent increase in water and sewer rates, the added revenue to help fund millions of dollars in water and sewer system improvements.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has formally asked the City Council to boost the annual flat fee for residences by nearly $7.50. Bianchi is also asking those property owners with meters to pay a 7-cent increase per 100 cubic feet of water used/waste discharged.

If approved, the new fees and rates would go into effect July 1, the start of fiscal 2014.

The council on Tuesday night referred the mayor's proposal to its Finance Committee for review and a recommendation back to the entire 11-member panel for a vote. Committee Chairman Jonathan N. Lothrop expects the proposal to be taken up at a yet-to-be scheduled meeting in June.

The council has approved a similar rate and fee hike in each of the previous two fiscal years, following seven years of stagnant water and sewer bills. The increases are part of Pittsfield's five-year plan to gradually boost revenue to help pay for ongoing water and sewer projects, city officials said.

"We have got to keep our commitment to improving our system, while remaining cognizant of the rates users pay," Bianchi said prior to the council meeting.

"The 2.5 percent in fiscal 2014 will raise roughly $130,000 more in sewer revenue and an additional $100,000 on the water side," added Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

The proposed increases factored in, Collingwood noted the city's water and sewer rates will remain among the lowest in the state.

In fiscal 2014 alone, Pittsfield has scheduled $9.2 million in municipal water system improvements and $11.2 million for the sewer system. A combination of user fees, low-interest state loans, funding from the city's capital budget and other revenue sources is paying for the much-needed work, Collingwood noted.

The single biggest improvement in fiscal 2014 will be $9 million toward the ongoing upgrade of the city's aging wastewater treatment plant off Holmes Road.

Water system improvements include an upgrade of the Farnham Reservoir dam and water mains in the city's northwest quadrant, according to Collingwood.

However, beyond the five-year plan, he expects much larger water and sewer rate hikes.

"At some point, we'll have larger capital projects resulting in significant increases," Collingwood said.

Inside the numbers ...

The Pittsfield City Council is considering a plan to raise the combined water/sewer rates 2.5 percent for the third year in a row. If approved, the new rates would take effect in fiscal 2014, which begins July 1.

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"Pittsfield City Council approves charter revisions"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, May 29, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The state Legislature is the next and last stop for Pittsfield's proposed new city charter before the measure goes before voters in November.

The City Council on Tuesday night unanimously supported an overhaul of the document, which has remained virtually unchanged for more than 80 years.

In 1932, Pittsfield voters adopted the current city charter, which called for mayoral elections every two years and a City Council consisting of seven ward councilors and four at large seats.

In one of the more significant changes in the proposed new charter, elections for mayor would be held every four years instead of every two.

The revised charter will be reviewed by the Senate first, then by the state House of Representatives. If approved by both halves of the Legislature, Pittsfield voters will have the final say on the new charter during the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Council President Kevin J. Sherman is confident state lawmakers will act on the proposed charter in a timely fashion.

"Given it was unanimously approved by the council, unanimously approved by the Charter Review Study Committee and has the mayor's support, that should carry a great amount of weight with the Legislature," Sherman said Wednesday.

On April 30, an 11-member ad hoc study committee completed seven months of deliberations and decision-making by recommending that a revamped charter would better reflect municipal government in the 21st century.

Although voters will consider the changes to the charter in November, if the measure is approved the new provisions would not go into effect until January 2016. The next mayoral election occurs this November, and that two-year term would have to be completed before a four year mayoral term could begin.

Other charter changes include modern, clearer language throughout, especially in a section on the procedure for citizen initiative petitions and the recall of officials; and a provision that would allow payment for school committee members pending approval by the council and mayor.

The council's review of department head nominees recommended by the mayor would remain the same. But once they are appointed, those employees would serve at the discretion of the mayor without further review.

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"Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru rejected in City Council vote"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, May 29, 2013

PITTSFIELD - The City Council has rejected a special permit for a drive-thru considered crucial to the proposed Dunkin' Donuts restaurant at First and Fenn streets.

By a 10-0 vote, the council agreed to draft a written statement - with help from legal counsel - explaining the 11-member panel's rationale for opposing the drive-thru. The councilors have 90 days to finalize the letter and place on file with the city clerk.

Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont was in favor of the developer's request for the special permit, but he left the council chambers prior to the vote.

Tuesday night's decision followed a public hearing that had been continued from the council's April 23 meeting.

The developers left the meeting without commenting on the decision. However, officials of Cafua Management Co. of Andover had indicated at last month's meeting the city could face a lawsuit if denied the permit.

The council cited two main reasons for turning down the drive-thru: It could create gridlock at the busy intersection and the overall project by Cafua Management Co. of Andover didn't fit the city's downtown revitalization plans.

"Why did we have a master plan done if we aren't going to stick with it," said Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi.

Under city zoning, the coffee shop and eatery is a permitted use at First and Fenn; only the drive- thru required council approval.

Cafua Management operates the Dunkin' Donuts further south on First Street and wants a new facility at the current site of the former Plunkett School building. The developer had offered major design changes to make the structure's facade resemble the 104- year- old school, which would be razed.

A restaurant on the 0.84-acre Plunkett site and a drive-thru entering off Fenn Street and exiting onto First Street would create fewer traffic issues than the current site, according to the developers.

The plan called for up to 13 vehicles to line up at the drivethru, more than double than the number allowed with the current First Street site, which has been the object of complaints about snarled traffic and dangerous conditions.

"This store would be more compatible to our East Street store," said project engineer James Scalise of SK Design.

He had said other improvements would include a smaller building, more landscaping and less asphalt for better storm runoff control.

While the new Dunkin' Donuts would replace the First Street restaurant, the special permit for that site would remain with the property owners, Santos Realty Trust, according their attorney. Mitchell Boraski told the council his clients would likely seek to use the permit. He cautioned that relocating Dunkin' Donuts wasn't a "cure" for the traffic woes on First between Fenn and East streets.

The Community Development Board recommended approval of the site plan for the restaurant, but urged the council to deny the drive-thru.

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"Pittsfield mayor unveils 2014 budget with 2.7 percent tax rate increase"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, May 30, 2013

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi presents the 2014 budget to the City Council on Wednesday.

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on Wednesday unveiled his $137.7 million city budget proposal for fiscal 2014, which contains funding to improve public safety and city roads, and to revitalize a former school building.

The City Council will begin deliberating Bianchi's proposal in budget hearings that begin next week. The council has until July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, to adopt a fiscal 2014 spending plan.

If the council approves Bianchi's proposal in its entirety, city spending in fiscal 2014 would increase $4.6 million over Pittsfield's current $133.1 million budget.

A hike of that magnitude could result in a 2.7 percent increase in both the city's single family home and commercial tax rates, according to city financial officials. The council will not officially vote to set the residential and commercial tax rates until December.

Under the mayor's budget plan, the residential property tax rate could increase 63 cents -- from $16.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $17.33. That means the property tax bill for the average single family homeowner would rise $81.08, from $2,965.14 to $3,046.22 in fiscal 2014.

Pittsfield's commercial tax rate would increase from $34.47 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $36.31. That hike would increase the tax bill for the average commercial property owner by $476 from $17,603.42 to $18,079.87.

On Wednesday, Bianchi referred to his proposal as "fairly conservative."

The new spending initiatives include $70,000 for the Pittsfield Police Department to use for traffic enforcement, and another $45,000 for the department to hire a crime analyst.

"This to analyze [city] crime statistics so deployment of our [police] resources is more reasonable," he said.

His proposal also contains $55.6 million in spending for the city's public schools. Those numbers include funding for a revamped high school vocational education program, additional teachers at Egremont Elementary School, and more mathematics teachers at Pittsfield High School.

Bianchi is also asking the council to approve $4.4 million for capital projects, a significant decrease from the $9.8 million that the city approved in fiscal 2013 for investments in roads, bridge repairs and public safety.

The fiscal 2014 capital projects list includes $1.5 million for street improvements and $423,000 toward upgrades in school buildings. The largest school building appropriation is $130,000 to replace the gymnasium floor at Pittsfield High School.

Another $1.5 million is slated for the renovation of the former Hibbard School on Newell Street.

"We are hopeful Hibbard can be reused for various municipal and school needs," said Bianchi.

On the revenue side, city officials anticipate state aid to Pittsfield to increase 3.56 percent to $48.6 million in fiscal 2014. They also project local receipts of $11 million from lodging, meals and motor vehicle excise taxes, among others.

Bianchi also wants the council to appropriate $2 million from the free cash account to minimize the tax rate hike. That $2 million figure is $300,000 more than what the council approved for the same purpose in fiscal 2013.

The Pittsfield City Council will begin reviewing the proposed city budget for fiscal 2014. All budget hearings listed below are scheduled for 6 p.m. at City Hall. June 6, review includes city solicitor, Health Department, Pittsfield Municipal Airport, Cultural Development, Berkshire Athenaeum. June 10, review includes, Police, Fire and Community Development departments, Public Services & Utilities, city maintenance, parks and grounds, water and sewer enterprise funds. June 13, review of the School Department.

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"Modest raise ends up in city coffers"
Letter to the Editor, Berkshire Eagle, June 5, 2013

Is anybody else as outraged as I am that once again our elected officials are going to raise our taxes and water rates? Do they not understand how people are struggling?

My tiny raise every year is more than absorbed by tax increases, water rate increases, health insurance increases, and so on. I thought Daniel Bianchi did a good job as Ward 6 city councilor, fighting hard for his constituents, so I voted for him for mayor. My mistake. If Mr. Bianchi runs for another term I will not vote for him. Instead, I will vote for the next candidate who will reward us for our vote.

I hope the city’s charter does not change, or in the future we could be stuck for even more years with another mayor who sees nothing wrong with spending our future raises.

BERNARD PIERCE
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Pittsfield Mayor Bianchi defends $137.7 million budget"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, June 7, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on Thursday night defended his $137.7 million city budget proposal for fiscal 2014, calling it a financial investment to improve public safety, public education and retain quality public employees.

During the City Council's first of three scheduled budget review hearings, Bianchi urged councilors to view in a positive light his requested $4.6 million increase over Pittsfield's current $133.1 million.

The mayor noted $1.8 million of the increased expenditures includes funding for additional teachers at Egremont Elementary School and the Pittsfield High School math department.

"These are wise investments," he said, "not just expenses we have to cover."

The council is scheduled next week to review the entire $55.6 million proposed school budget.

Meanwhile, the 11-member panel needed under two hours to review and preliminarily approve 12 other departmental budgets that included Health, Cultural Development, Council on Aging, Berkshire Athenaeum and Veterans Services.

The budget scrutiny resumes on Monday with the council focusing on police, fire, community development public services and utilities, and proposed capital projects. Review of spending in the Pittsfield Public Schools is planned for Thursday. Both budget discussions begin 6 p.m. at City Hall.

The council has until July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, to adopt a fiscal 2014 spending plan.

If the council approves Bianchi's proposal in its entirety, it could result in a 2.7 percent increase in both the city's single-family home and commercial tax rates, according to city financial officials. The council will not officially vote to set the residential and commercial tax rates until December.

Thursday's budget review saw the council question the proposed significant increase in Veterans Services and decrease in workers compensation.

Veterans agent Rosanne M. Frieri says the $63,000 spike from $741,000 to $804,000 is due to more returning veterans making claims and seeking services.

As for the $70,000 reduction in workers compensation, city officials cite healthier municipal employees entering fiscal 2014.

"I'm confident we're going to improve on that number as we get more workers involved in safety and wellness programs," Bianchi said.

Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont added, "I want to give a shout out to the employees ... for paying attention to safety on the job."

Bianchi also is also asking the council to approve $4.4 million for capital projects, a significant decrease from the $9.8 million that the city approved in fiscal 2013 for investments in roads, bridge repairs and public safety.

Bianchi also wants the council to appropriate $2 million from the free cash account to minimize the tax rate hike. That $2 million figure is $300,000 more than what the council approved for the same purpose in fiscal 2013.

What's next ...

The Pittsfield City Council is currently reviewing the proposed city budget for fiscal 2014. Two upcoming meetings are scheduled next week for further discussion, both beginning at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

June 10, 2013: Review includes Police, Fire and Community Development departments, Public Utilities & Services, city maintenance, parks and grounds, water and sewer enterprise funds and capital projects.

June 13, 2013: Review of RSVP and School Department.

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"Mayor Bianchi appears poised to have unopposed run to second term"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/4/2013

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi appears to be headed to a second, two-year term as mayor. There are currently no major challengers to oppose him, and the one who has taken out papers says he won’t run. (Eagle file photo)

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, if he remains unopposed, says he’d credit that in part to earning the admiration of some former political opponents. (Eagle file photo)

PITTSFIELD -- Barring the emergence of an eleventh-hour challenger, Daniel L. Bianchi appears headed to a second, two-year term as mayor.

Bianchi, who during the past two election cycles narrowly lost a mayoral contest by 200 votes then won by 106 votes, learned Friday that in all likelihood he'll be running unopposed for re-election. The only other person to have taken out nomination papers for the corner office -- North Street business owner Gerald Ely -- had informed the city clerk's office he wouldn't be running.

The deadline for filing nomination papers -- with the requisite 300 signatures from registered city voters -- is Tuesday at 5 p.m.

If he remains unopposed, Bianchi said he'd credit that in part to the fact that some of his former political opponents have watched him in office and know him better.

"The feedback I've gotten is great," Bianchi said Friday. "A lot of people who weren't with me in the past have commented that I'm doing a good job."

In political campaigns, he said, "You're often defined by your opponents. But people have had an opportunity to get to know me as a person and as a mayor, and they have a certain satisfaction with me as a person and as a mayor."

Without the burden of running for re-election, Bianchi said he'd like to focus on fostering a healthy debate on important issues facing Pittsfield. Those include the development of the William Stanley Business Park, improvement of vocational education programs, and securing a new or renovated Taconic High School.

"I would also like to focus on a strong public discussion relative to the [city] charter revision," he said.

A vote on the revised Pittsfield city charter -- the document that defines city government and how it operates -- is expected to be on the Nov. 5 ballot. The charter revision was approved by a committee, the City Council and Bianchi; it is now is being reviewed in the Legislature.

Being mayor for nearly two years, Bianchi added, has only reinforced his desire to use his authority "to be a voice for people who might not have one" and to meet with residents of the city and others at the many public events he attends as mayor.

"I was out at four events in one day recently," he said. "They were all good events, things citizens appreciate you being a part of -- and I am happy to do those things."

Bianchi was elected mayor in 2011 after a long career in city politics, dating back to his role as treasurer and finance director under former Mayor Anne Everest Wojtkowski (1987-91). He also served as Ward 6 councilor for 10 years.

Ward councilor races

Other than Ely notifying the clerk he would not run for mayor, Friday saw Ward 6 Councilor John Krol stop by to pick up nomination papers for another term. Krol, reached later by telephone, said he had made a good start on acquiring the required 50 signatures for a ward seat.

Former Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols will be Krol's opponent, having submitted the required signatures to run in Ward 6.

In other races, Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon faces Tammy Ives of Sadler Avenue and Lisa Tully of Oak Hill Road. All three have submitted the required 50 signatures.

In Ward 3, where incumbent Paul Capitanio decided against running for re-election, six potential candidates have emerged. As of Friday afternoon, Nicholas Caccamo of Longview Terrace, a mayoral candidate in 2009, and Jeffrey Germann, also of Longview Terrace, have submitted the required signatures to run. Richard Latura of Dorchester Avenue, Jonathan King of Kenwood Street, Jennifer Lee McGurn of Capri Terrace, and Thomas Wells Jr. of Willard Place have taken nomination papers be not yet returned them.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli all have returned nomination papers. All remain unopposed.

At large, school committee

The council at large race and the School Committee race for six at large seats have attracted considerable interest and could result in significant change for both boards.

In the at large council race for four seats, potential candidates include incumbents Churchill Cotton, Melissa Mazzeo and Barry Clairmont. Mazzeo and Clairmont have submitted the required 300 signatures, while Cotton was said to be close to that total Friday.

Mark Miller of Williams Street and current School Committee members Kathleen Amuso and James Conant also have submitted papers for council at large. Donna Todd Rivers of Jason Street and Edward Carmel of Second Street had not submitted papers as of Friday.

Like Capitanio, Council President Kevin Sherman, elected at large, is not seeking re-election this year.

With Amuso and Conant leaving posts on the School Committee to run for the council, and committee Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga not seeking re-election, change on the school committee is already assured. And on Thursday, committee member Terry Kinnas confirmed he would not seek re-election, citing personal reasons.

Potential School Committee candidates for the six seats include incumbents Daniel Elias and Katherine Yon, and challengers Tanya Edwards of Dickinson Avenue, Brandon Mauer of West Housatonic Street, Anthony Riello of Shore Drive, Cynthia A. Taylor of Wendell Avenue, Brittany Lynne Douglas of Center Street, Pamela Farron of Brighton Avenue, and Joshua Cutler of Brookside Drive.

Of those, Elias, Yon and Taylor have submitted the necessary 300 signatures, while Cutler, Douglas, Farron, Mauer, Reillo and Williams had yet to do so Friday.

City Clerk Linda Tyer has submitted the 300 signatures for a spot on the ballot. She remains unopposed.

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Our Opinion: "A second term for Bianchi"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 8/7/2013

After a relatively peaceful two-year term -- uncharacteristic for Pittsfield -- Mayor Daniel Bianchi will win a second two-year term this November unopposed. Those in the mayor's camp will say this signifies a contented city. Opponents will argue that it signifies a stalled city, one that may stagnate if it doesn't start to move forward.

If supporters of former Mayor James Ruberto and mayoral candidate Peter Marchetti, who lost narrowly in the 2011 election, feared that Mayor Bianchi would tear down the accomplishments of the last decade and return Pittsfield to the dark ages, their fears have so far gone unrealized. Opponents of Mr. Bianchi set the bar so low for the new mayor that he had only to avoid being a disaster to clear it, and no disasters have befallen Pittsfield.

That doesn't necessarily mean those skeptics are now squarely in the mayor's corner, however. The ugly dispute between the mayor and several city councilors over City Hall's settlement with Spectrum concerning the methadone clinic, and the related issue of the torn allegiances of the city solicitor, opened some wounds that may have scabbed over but assuredly haven't healed. Of course, mayors have a right to grow angry with city councilors -- Mr. Ruberto certainly did. The councilors who were angry in return at Mr. Ruberto are now supporters of Mr. Bianchi, and vice versa, a product of the major political shift of two years ago.

Mayor Bianchi gets points for the efficient running of City Hall, which surprises no one who knew him as city finance director and treasurer under Mayor Anne Wojtkowski and as a city councilor. He has not emerged as an enemy of education or of the arts. Supporters of the mayor would say that he was never going to be an enemy, while opponents would argue that they made enough ruckus during two lively mayoral campaigns that he wouldn't dare become one once elected.

But while there has been little of the drama of the Ruberto era the past two years there has been little of the excitement either. Audiences would chuckle when Mayor Ruberto would begin yet another press conference by declaring that "It's a great day for Pittsfield," but those words were welcome. Big Ideas like a renovated Colonial Theatre and a downtown revival emerged and were realized during the Ruberto years, and Big Ideas have been absent the past two years.

Maybe the William Stanley Business Park will be fertile ground for the next Big Idea. The debate has been between waiting for industry to show up against all odds or settling for yet another retail development that may do no more than drive a current retail development out of business. Are there no other options? Could part of the business park become Pittsfield's version of New York's Central Park, a green oasis in the center of the city? Would a cultural project there further link Pittsfield to the culture around it, and the many cultural tourists who come to the Berkshires? Pittsfield is in desperate needs of playing fields that aren't underwater much of the time. Is there room for a ballpark and fields for football, soccer and lacrosse or a state-of-the-art track on the PEDA land?

There is no mayoral race this fall to provide a venue for batting about these and other ideas. There is an active race for School Committee shaping up, one that seems to have emerged because of job frustration on the part of current committee members. The seven-candidate race for the four city councilor at large positions provides the best opportunity for a real debate about the city's future, and we hope the candidates are up for it.

In the absence of a mayoral campaign, perhaps the proposed charter revision will provide the basis for a lively discussion about Pittsfield. That discussion is definitely needed. These opportunities every two years are too important to the city to let one slide by until 2015.

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"Pittsfield Mayor Bianchi gets free ride to second term"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/7/2013

PITTSFIELD -- Some local political observers are OK with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi running unopposed for a second term -- others not so much.

As the deadline for submitting nomination papers for the fall city election passed on Tuesday, a range of opinions about the uncontested race emerged during an informal survey by The Eagle.

"I personally thought the race would be a bit more exciting," said former City Councilor Peter Marchetti, who lost the 2011 mayoral election to Bianchi by 106 votes. "I'm voting for blank."

Referring to the mayor's comment in Sunday's Eagle that some former political opponents have told him they think he's doing a good job, Marchetti said he "definitely" is not among those.

Speaking to those who urged him to run again this year, Marchetti said he wants to make it clear he "didn't choose not to run because I thought [Bianchi] was doing a good job. I chose not to run to focus on my career."

A Bianchi supporter in 2011, Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo said the non-race for mayor "kind of shows the people are satisfied with the way things are going so far." She added, "If people are really dissatisfied with the mayor, I didn't see it."

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, who has clashed with the mayor on several issues, said he was "deeply disappointed we didn't get a mayor's race. I think there's been a lack of measurable economic development with this administration and a failure to have a progressive vision for the city."

Clairmont said he also worries voter turnout will be low with no mayor's race on the ballot, as voters also are expected to act on a proposed new city charter in November.

Former Mayor Edward M. Reilly, who served in the office for six years and ran unopposed in 1993, said, "I think it's an indication the mayor is working very hard. Usually, this happens after the first term. The people are patient."

After a second term, Reilly said, voters are more likely to demand a choice, even if they aren't ready to elect a new mayor.

Another former mayor, Anne Everest Wojtkowski, for whom Bianchi served as chief financial officer, said she normally prefers a race to bring out a vigorous debate. But she added, "If anyone is going to be unopposed, I'm glad it was Dan."

His years of experience in city government and intelligence make Bianchi a superior candidate, Wojtkowski said.

Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga, who is not seeking re-election to the School Committee, said, "It's disheartening to see these posts uncontested, but it gives the feeling that Mayor Bianchi is doing a good job."

Barbalunga said he would concur, although he didn't vote for the mayor in 2011.

Council President Kevin Sherman, who also is not seeking re-election, said, "I think it's a good thing to have multiple candidates and a wide-ranging debate, but these things go in cycles. Timing is everything in life."

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, who is unopposed, said his only concern about the mayor's office is that he wants to work with whoever is there to represent his constituents. "If he continues to be the mayor, I will work with him," Morandi said.

Ward 6 council candidate Joseph Nichols said he was surprised more people didn't run, which he said could indicate voter apathy. "But onward and upward," he said. "We'll see how it goes."

His opponent, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, said he was disappointed not to have a debate at the mayor's level, "because that is where the agenda of the city is set."

Krol said an overriding issue he's heard raised concerns the difference between the "progressive" administration of former Mayor James M. Ruberto said the Bianchi administration, which he described as "more conservative."

Bianchi will be the first mayor re-elected unopposed since Gerald S. Doyle Jr. in 1999. Reilly in 1993 and Robert T. Capeless in 1951 were the only other mayors to win re-election unopposed since Pittsfield began electing mayors in 1890.

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"Pittsfield water rate vote on tap Tuesday"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/12/2013

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council this week will consider raising water and sewer rates 2.5 percent for the third straight year, the added revenue to help fund millions of dollars in water and sewer system improvements.

On Tuesday night, the council is expected to vote on Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's proposal to boost the annual flat fee for residences by nearly $7.50. Bianchi is also asking those property owners with meters to pay a 7-cent increase per 100 cubic feet of water used/waste discharged. The council's regular August meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

If approved, the new fees and rates would go into effect retroactive to July 1, the start of fiscal 2014.

The council's Finance Committee recently reviewed and recommended the entire 11-member panel support the increase.

Councilors have approved a similar rate and fee hike in each of the previous two fiscal years, following seven years of stagnant water and sewer bills. The increases are part of Pittsfield's five-year plan to gradually boost revenue to help pay for ongoing water and sewer projects, city officials have said. If approved, the 2014 rate hikes will raise roughly $130,000 more in sewer revenue and an additional $100,000 on the water side, according to Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

The proposed increases factored in, Collingwood has noted the city's water and sewer rates will remain among the lowest in the state.

The rate hike will likely help pay for the $20 million in water and sewer system upgrades scheduled to begin this fiscal year.

The council on Tuesday also plans to act on the Finance Committee's endorsement of Bianchi's proposal to borrow $9.2 million to fund municipal water system improvements and $10.8 million for the sewer system.

A combination of user fees, low-interest state loans, funding from the city's capital budget and other revenue sources is expected to repay the loans, city officials have said.

The single biggest improvement in fiscal 2014 will be $9 million toward the ongoing upgrade of the city's aging wastewater treatment plant off Holmes Road.

Water system improvements include an upgrade of the Farnham Reservoir dam and water mains in on Lakeway Drive, Brooks Avenue and Pecks Road.

Inside the numbers ...

The Pittsfield City Council is considering a plan to raise combined water/sewer rates 2.5 percent for the third year in a row. If approved, the new rates would take effect retroactive to July 1, the start of fiscal 2014.

Service Current Proposed Change

Annual flat fee (1 toilet) $303.60 $311.04 +$7.44

Each additional toilet $157.34 $161.28 +$3.94

Metered* $2.88 $2.95 +$0.07

*Per 100 cubic feet of waste water

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"Pittsfield City Council OKs water, sewer rate hikes"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/14/2013

PITTSFIELD -- City home and business owners will pay higher water and sewer bills for fiscal 2014.

For the third consecutive year, the City Council has raised water and sewer rates 2.5 percent in order to help fund millions of dollars in water and sewer system improvements.

On Tuesday night, the council approved Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi’s proposal to boost the annual flat fee for residences by nearly $7.50. Bianchi’s request also included property owners with meters to pay a 7 cent increase per 100 cubic feet of water used/waste discharged.

The new fees and rates are retroactive to July 1, the start of the current fiscal year and will be reflected in the first quarter bills issued in October.

Councilors have approved a similar rate and fee hike in each of the previous two fiscal years, following seven years of stagnant water and sewer bills. The increases are part of Pittsfield’s five-year plan to gradually boost revenue to help pay for ongoing water and sewer projects, city officials have said. The 2014 rate hikes will raise roughly $130,000 more in sewer revenue and an additional $100,000 on the water side, according to Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

"We have no choice but to pay for these improvements or they will be forced down our throats," said Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont.

While Clairmont was referring to potential mandates from the federal and state governments to do the work, Collingwood says the city has taken the initiative with its municipal utility upgrades.

"We’ve been very proactive with our water and sewer systems," he said.

The proposed increases factored in, Collingwood noted the city’s metered water and sewer rates will remain among the lowest in the state.

The rate hike will likely help pay for the $20 million in water and sewer system upgrades scheduled to begin this fiscal year.

The council is considering Bianchi’s proposal to borrow $9.2 million to fund municipal water system improvements and $10.8 million for the sewer system. A combination of user fees, low-interest state loans, funding from the city’s capital budget and other revenue sources is expected to repay the loans, city officials have said.

The councilors on Tuesday postponed a vote on both requests until their Sept. 10 meeting in order to review additional information about the upgrades.

The single biggest improvement in fiscal 2014 will be $9 million toward the ongoing upgrade of the city’s aging wastewater treatment plant off Holmes Road.

Water system improvements include a $6.8 million renovation of the Farnham Reservoir dam and water mains in on Lakeway Drive, Brooks Avenue and Pecks Road.

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"Markey Talks Economics, Tours Pittsfield Police Station"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff - August 27, 2013

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Local officials on Tuesday found a welcome ear for the region's troubles in U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey, who is touring the Bay State as he settles into his new position as the state's junior senator.

"I think that Pittsfield is really the center of this area and it's important for Pittsfield to thrive so it actually creates a heartbeat for the Berkshires, so it creates a sense of long-term prosperity," said Markey, after hearing about some of the Berkshires' economic and transportation needs. "It's all about the economy, it's all about job growth, it's all about putting together a business plan for the 21st century."

Meeting in Mayor Daniel Bianchi's office at City Hall, Markey heard from the mayor, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Michael Supranowicz, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing and Eugene Dellea, president of Fairview Hospital and Berkshire Medical Center's Hillcrest Campus, and Sheriff Thomas Bowler.

Supranowicz expressed his concern over the loss of population — about 3 percent a year — that's been occurring since GE folded. More deaths than births and an outflow of young people is creating a situation that will drain funding from schools and the tax base.

"Our work force over the next seven to eight years may shrink by 8,000 to 10,000 people," he said. "That got us concerned so we're already starting to work on the issues."

The chamber and its business and educational partners are developing programs to show youth that careers can be made in the county such as internships and entrepreneurial programs.

Bianchi said there is also a push to show how attractive the area can be for startups and manufacturing, giving the example of a life sciences startup in Boston that is looking to the Berkshires for lower costs and better living conditions.

But there are stumbling blocks — some 16 acres of the William Stanley Business Park has foundations from the old General Electric buildings that could cost up to $10 million to remove to get the site ready for new manufacturing. Pittsfield is particularly looking to have a life sciences center located in the business park.

"I'm a great believer that we create opportunities as we make our area interesting to other people," said the mayor. "We're trying to encourage people to look at the opportunities that might be available out here in Berkshire County ... and that's where we'd come to you to help us prepare those opportunities."

Markey agreed that while he couldn't pump up the population, federal funding maybe available for programs to make the region economically attractive, including partnering on transportation and biotechnology. Some of that will be moving the life science development out of the universities and into the manufacturing field.

"I think that Western Massachusetts can play a big role in that area as well," said the senator. "And I think that we can work with federal funding, Community Development Block Grant money and other funding, in order to help the city, here in Pittsfield to reclaim some of its old GE properties and to repurpose them into a new manufacturing promise for the 21st century in a way that will attract young people, to stay here, to make their lives here and to make this region very prosperous."

It was important to not only keep young people in the Berkshires but in Massachusetts as a whole, he said, to ensure prosperity across the state.

"We have to work to ensure that Massachusetts continues to be the brain state. The universities and colleges of Western Massachusetts are part of this fabric of our state being the brain state," he said. "We have to create ways to hold all of these young people, or high percentage, here."

The senator later walked North Street up to St. Joseph's Church as the mayor pointed out some of the features — as well as the difference between the recent streetscape project to the section of the North Street that was not done. Markey also got a tour of the police station with Chief Michael Wynn and Bowler, a former Pittsfield detective.

Wynn said the building was constructed in the 1930s and had held a number of social service agencies. It was also a bomb shelter, so running new wiring or plumbing often requires a jackhammer, he said.

The building is not handicapped accessible, its rooms are cramped, its temporary lockups appear to also function as storage areas, the basement locker rooms and training rooms often flood, the heating system is ancient cast-iron boilers and adding technology is difficult.

When it was built, the force was mainly foot patrols, there were no women officers or employees, and technology was non-existent, all things that have changed dramatically, said Wynn.

"We've expanded into all the available space," he said. "We've carved locker rooms and restrooms, and maintenance facilities out of space that were originally office spaces and now we're bursting at the seams."

Bianchi said he wanted to be sure the senator understood the constraints that the police force has to deal with to operate in the antiquated building.

"I want the senator to have a flavor for it," he said. "There are federal dollars from time to time available for certain public safety centers so I'd like him to take that vision of our facility back with him."

Bianchi said it was good for the state to "have somebody who knows how the system works and how to get things done," referring to the senator's long tenure as congressman for the 7th (now 5th) District.

The senator was in Pittsfield as part of a swing through Western Massachusetts that included stops in Chicopee and Springfield before turning back north for a tour of the John Olver Transit Center in Greenfield.

The Malden Democrat said he was still getting used to being senator but it hasn't been too hard: He's found 51 of the Senate members had served with him in the House. He's also moved into John Kerry's old office and hired some of his staff to complement his own.

Still, he joked that "congressman was my first name ... so it does take a little time to adjust to a having new first name."

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"Plight of homeless in the Berkshires"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 9/29/2013

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

Recently, I was hospitalized at Berkshire Medical Center. I was struggling with a diagnosis and a real fear of having nowhere to go. I had been a victim of domestic violence and as a result I suffer from PTSD. Because of my diagnosis I was fortunate enough to be given a bed, in transitional housing, with a one-month stay. On the BMC Jones II unit I met a woman who had been living in a tent because she couldn’t afford housing.

When I got to Brenton House I decided to get involved by volunteering in a community garden dedicated to feeding the homeless and underserved in Pittsfield. As I attempted to find affordable housing I was appalled by all the waiting lists, some as long as four years. I was afraid I would never find suitable housing.

I then learned of the plight of the homeless in Berkshire County, one of the most beautiful places in the world. People are sleeping in abandoned buildings, tents, and walking the streets in the winter to keep from freezing.

I was further appalled to learn that there is something called the city block grant which is established specifically for needs such as homelessness and that not one penny of the grant went to the cot shelter started last year in Pittsfield. People will suffer this winter due to homelessness. A solution, the cot shelter, has been passed over for funding in favor of "other projects."

SUZANNE FLACH
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"'Catch-22' works against homeless"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 11/18/2013

To the Editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

As I become more involved with Berkshire Co-Act, the organization that created the gardens that provide food pantries and meal sites in Pittsfield with fresh organic produce, I learned more about the plight of the homeless in our county and surrounding areas and believe we can make lasting change to help them. First, there are many people, through no fault of their own, who will not even have a roof over their head, let alone food this winter. Second, there is no emergency shelter in Berkshire County this winter. When the local shelters fill to capacity. people are put on waiting lists, left to seek shelter in abandoned buildings, cars, tents. The number of homeless is expected to practically double this winter.

This seems so unnecessary when there is money available to meet this need. The COTS shelter in Pittsfield is an emergency shelter opened last year by Co-Act that served 131 individuals, with a total of 1,869 total guest night stays. Many who are homeless have degrees and/or jobs but cannot make their rent. Some are put on waiting lists for affordable housing that are two to three years long. A larger facility is needed than the one provided to Co-Act last year by the Salvation Army. Funds are available through the city block grant, which was put in place to help those who serve the city's most pressing needs. However, though more than $280,000 was spread over 20 programs, not one penny went to the COTS shelter.

Co-Act has been working to open a facility that will bridge the gap, but the issue of building codes is preventing us from moving forward. Many volunteer groups have come together in support of Co-Act and the new COTS shelter but without adequate funding we cannot install the $80,000 sprinkler system required under the building codes.

The authorities say the building we have been working to open is not safe to house people, so we have raised funds to make it safe. An alarm system that will go straight to the fire department is set to be installed. The ceiling will be tiled and an adequate number of volunteers will work the night shift. We have done everything we can to meet the building codes so we can get people out of the freezing cold where the reality is they may die.

The existing building codes, established for the safety of the people, are in actuality blocking the homeless from having the very shelter that will save them. These codes have been put in place based on past events and old ways of thinking. A new category for homeless shelters could be put in place with new building codes appropriate for a building such as a shelter or respite for people who may otherwise have no place to go, possibly dying due to exposure to freezing and below freezing temperatures.

As of this moment, it is pretty much a "Catch 22." For a solution to this growing problem the outdated building codes must be met yet the city block grant money intended to fund just such a need has been denied. It seems in the end it is simply a moral obligation of the community to see that the COTS shelter and programs like it are funded.

SUZANNE FLACH
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is a volunteer for Berkshire Co-Act.

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"Homeless need help this winter"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 9/30/2013

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

I’m a homeless veteran and spent a year at Pittsfield Soldier On. While I was living at Soldier On I discovered the Peal Street Community Center and submitted my name as a volunteer. I marched in the Memorial Day parade and was overwhelmed by the support of the community toward us veterans, so I wanted opportunities to give back.

Shortly after volunteering there began a series of trainings offered to become an advocate for Co-Act, helping people in need. I also discovered that Co-Act and the Salvation Army opened a nightly cot shelter in Pittsfield last winter for the homeless to get in out of the extremely cold nights. The shelter exceeded everyone’s expectations. It was opened 130 nights and had more than 1,869 people spend the night over that period of time. These are people who could have gotten frostbite those nights. I have seen the pain and the expense for the taxpayers of frostbite victims. Many end up on disability and have painful consequences for life. Currently this year’s cot shelter is on hold due to lack of funding.

The city block grant, which in many cities portions money out to shelters, awarded nothing toward this year’s shelter. It appears that the committee that decides how to allocate the money didn’t see a need for the homeless this winter. It’s getting cold out there and the homeless will have nowhere to go this winter unless funds are received.

OGDEN PRATT MOSS III
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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Local News - "Downtown Pittsfield losing four stores; three point to parking issues"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, 10/07/2013


Pittsfield Bra & Girl on North Street closed in August. Dan Alden, who owned the store with his wife, April Burch, said the decision to close was based on personal reasons and other work commitments. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

PITTSFIELD -- Call it fate, karma, coincidence, an anomaly -- or the result of the risks all small business owners face.

Whatever the reasons, four small downtown Pittsfield businesses -- Pittsfield Bra & Girl, Jess-et-Mia and Treehouse on North Street, and Twin Hearts Hand Works on Willis Street -- have closed or will be closing.

The owners cited different reasons for closing, with most of the reasons centering around family issues. But three also raised concerns about a lack of parking and/or small amounts of foot traffic -- issues that Rob Proskin, the president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s board of directors, said are being looked at. Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has a quality-of-life committee that meets every month to discuss the issues of parking and foot traffic that the three business owners raised.

Dan Alden, who owns Pittsfield Bra & Girl with his wife, April Burch, said the decision to close the North Street store in August was based on personal reasons and other work commitments. The couple owns a similar store in Great Barrington, which continues to operate, and they also have other jobs. They opened their Pittsfield store in the fall of 2010.

"It was a very tough decision," he said. "We had a great relationship with the city of Pittsfield. They were very supportive of our endeavors. We just had one too many irons in the fire."

Unlike the others, Alden said parking along North Street was not an issue. "I found the parking to be real good," he said.

The Jess-et-Mia storefront will be open until at least Nov. 1 and possibly through the holidays, while its mobile spray tanning business will carry on. Treehouse and Twin Hearts plan to close by the end of October.

"The No. 1 reason we are closing is there's no parking," said Mia Fabrizio, who co-owns Jess-et-Mia with her friend, Jess Lynam. "Foot traffic is very low. We are not getting customers into the store. People who do come in really like it and usually buy something."

Fabrizio also said the construction on North Street, which often blocked the doorways of small businesses, took a toll on their contemporary women's clothing boutique, which opened in November 2010.

While Fabrizio is moving out of the area, Lynam said she may open a similar business in a different location by herself at some point.

Heather Fletcher, who co-owns Treehouse with her husband, Jim, said the business was taking too much time away from their two-child family. Treehouse sells maternity and toddler items, and hosts classes for parents and their newborns.

She also said a lack of foot traffic hampered the business, which opened in September 2011.

"Every week, I would get somebody who would say, ‘I never come down this way,' " Fletcher said.


The co-owners of Jess-et-Mia, Jess Lynam, right, and Mia Fabrizio may keep their store open through the holidays before closing. Fabrizio said that a lack of parking and foot traffic is the biggest reason for closing the store. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Cara Carnevale, who owns Twin Hearts, which sells yarn and handicrafts, said she wants to spend more time with her two teenage sons and the animal sanctuary that she operates in Cheshire. She is also planning to sell the building on Willis Street, which she owns.

Carnevale said the city seems more interested in major building projects, such as the Beacon Cinema.

"I don't think that [Pittsfield] is very supportive of small businesses," Carnevale said. "Their goal and their focus has been on places like the movie theater, and they're attracting people who they're giving tax breaks to. It's very tough."

Proskin, the president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., disagreed with Carnevale's claim that the city has more of an interest in bigger businesses than with smaller ones.

"Based on my experience and talking with the mayor, absolutely not," Proskin said. "There's not a stretch of truth. Things get magnified when you're going out of business and magnified the wrong way."

Proskin said it is unusual for four small downtown businesses to close almost simultaneously, but he added, "How many have opened over the last year?"

Proskin, who owns BBE Office Interiors on North Street, said businesses in downtown Pittsfield that have only a few employees struggle more with the issues that larger firms like his are able to handle.

"The other locations, the little ones -- and I say ‘little' on the manpower side -- have a tougher time making a go of it, and no matter what happens it is magnified tremendously," Proskin said. "Having said that, we've been working with the city on having the parking garages open fairly soon."

There have also been discussions about establishing metered parking on North Street, Proskin said, which he said would free up parking spaces that are often occupied all day by employees.

Proskin said the success that North Adams-based Persnickety Toys has had since opening a store on North Street, and expansion plans being considered by the Mad Macs computer store, are proof that small businesses are succeeding in downtown Pittsfield.

"What is it about them that they're succeeding and they have the same problems and the same issues?" he said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224. On Twitter: @tonydobrow

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Editorials - Our Opinion: "Plight of city's downtown stores"
The Berkshire Eagle, Opinion, 10/07/2013

Pittsfield has lost one small downtown business and will be losing four more in the weeks and months ahead, and while there are many different reasons for their departure, the losses all hurt. The issue is whether or not Pittsfield could have done something to keep them in business.

Pittsfield Bra & Girl has closed, Jess-et-Mia, the Treehouse and Twin Hearts Hand Works are in the process, and Bisque Beads & Beyond announced in June it would be closing. Four of the five are on North Street, with Twin Hearts on Willis Street after a move from nearby North Street five years ago. With the Christmas sales season approaching, this would seem to be an odd time for a business to call it quits.

The co-owner of Jess-et-Mia told The Eagle that an absence of parking and light foot traffic made it difficult to draw customers. However, Great Barrington has less available parking downtown than does Pittsfield and more foot traffic on its main and side streets. Towns and cities everywhere have problems with parking, but the issue in Pittsfield has long appeared to be the unwillingness of shoppers to walk a couple of blocks to go to a store. If drivers insist on always finding a spot in front of a chosen store, than yes, there is inadequate parking.

The owner of Twin Hearts asserts that city government is not supportive of small businesses while giving tax breaks to major projects like the Beacon Cinema. The Beacon is a major reason why North Street has the foot traffic it has, however modest, and it is a draw for neighboring restaurants. The tax breaks collected for the Beacon by the Ruberto administration are paying and will pay dividends. It isn't clear what more can be done to help small businesses, but a discussion of that issue might enliven what is shaping up as an unusually quiet October for Pittsfield leading up to the November 5 city elections.

The ease of Internet sales has undermined local retailers around the country, as have the big box chain stores with their mammoth parking lots. The harm that will come to small businesses is another reason to think twice before bringing yet another big box store to the William Stanley Business Park. It is in the best interest of Pittsfield to do what it can to help small businesses downtown and elsewhere, and ideas are welcome as to how to do so.

Readers' Comments:

The Eagle again shows an amazing lack of vision for business or what happens in its reporting area.

Did they forget the melee? did they forget the rampant crime and shootings and murders in Pittsfield? Start with making all of the downtown safe, that would be a huge help.

People feel SAFE in Great Barrington's downtown. They do not in Pittsfield.

As for tax breaks, use the small business exemption and let landlords that rent to small businesses enjoy that relief. Not one person in the Pittsfield Assessors office or tax collectors office is versed in any of the help that can be extended to small businesses. For all the money spent on small business development, again not of the agencies that are supposed to help them have an outreach or educational seminars about tax breaks for small businesses.

The Eagle asks why a business would close when the holidays are upcoming? I guess the Eagle doesn't know what a lease is, when it is up it is up and if you can't afford rent or to sign another 1-5 year lease, your business closes.

~~~~~

"Tricia" wrote:

North Street stores have to lower their prices significantly and the shoppers will come regardless of parking issues. It is true, however, that North Street is not walker friendly. Great Barrington seems more walker friendly than Pittsfield, but also Great Barrington residents overall have more disposable income than Pittsfield residents. Pittsfield has a very depressed economy as compared to Great Barrington. Pittsfield has few jobs, low pay for what jobs there are, and a much higher population of poor people. North Street was a booming place when I was growing up, but this was because employment in the city was high, manufacturing was booming, and people were willing to spend. More jobs equals more spending. Get the picture?

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"Pittsfield voters approve city charter changes"
By Phil Demers, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 11/05/2013

PITTSFIELD -- Voters have agreed to changes to the way the city is governed for the first time since 1932: The new Pittsfield charter was voted in comfortably on Tuesday, 4,682 to 1,489.

"I'm happy it passed, and I'm happy it passed by the margin it did," City Council President Kevin Sherman said following the vote. "I think we have a more clear document now."

The new charter that was approved updated the language of Pittsfield's prior charter, created the potential for compensating city School Committee members with stipends and revised how vacant elected positions are filled, as well as how citizen initiative petitions and recalls of elected officials proceed.

Those changes hit the books instantaneously, according to City Clerk Linda M. Tyer.

But starting in 2015, anyone elected Pittsfield mayor will serve four years -- twice as long as the current two-year term -- another change set forth by the new charter.

Proponents of the step said it will enhance the mayor's ability to plan long-term, while providing job security and more time off from campaigning.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, in an interview Tuesday night, said he would have preferred such circumstances when he was elected to the office in November 2011.

"It depoliticizes the operation of government and provides a dynamic that serves the public better," Bianchi said.

Not all agreed with this assessment.

Lou Markham, a former city councilor, said though it may limit councilors' ability to play politics with a secure mayor -- only up for election every four years -- the mayor will wield unprecedented political clout during council races.

"The mayor will be able to pick his favorites and show enormous influence," Markham said.

It already happened this election cycle, Markham said, when Bianchi ran unopposed. He said the mayor effectively supported incumbent councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Joseph Nichols and Ward 1 council candidate Lisa Tully, who won her race against incumbent Christine Yon on Tuesday.

"The mayor said he wanted to take the politics out of the city charter," Markham said. "It's been obvious to anyone watching (this election cycle) that politics will still run things."

"It's a concern that's been brought up, and I understand the concern" said Sherman. "I'm hopeful that we elect good enough people in office to make the best decisions for the city."

"The fact of the matter is we need to focus on our jobs as public service jobs," Bianchi said.

An 11-member appointed committee oversaw preparation of the new charter. The committee was advised by Stephen McGoldrick of the Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

The group's original charter draft extended both the mayor's and city councilors' terms to four years. However, only the mayoral term extension survived a council review of the proposed charter in May.

The state Legislature reviewed and cleared the document in August, and it was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick.

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"Our Opinion: New faces on City Council"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 11/06/2013

The Pittsfield City Council received a mild shake-up Tuesday, with three newcomers added to the mix, one beleaguered incumbent voted out of office and another at-times-controversial incumbent hanging on by a narrow margin. With some councilors and Mayor Daniel Bianchi at odds going into the election it will be intriguing to see how the election affects that relationship beginning in January.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, who successfully kept a methadone clinic out of the ward and ended up painted as divisive as a result, was unseated by challenger Lisa Tully, who portrayed her as an obstructionist. The dynamic of the race totally shifted after Ms. Yon won the preliminary election, and while Ms. Tully demonstrated the potential to be an excellent ward councilor in the campaign it will be interesting to see if she shows the same political independence as her predecessor. In the other ward races, John Krol, an independent and progressive councilor, easily won re-election in Ward 6 and promising young newcomer Nicholas Caccamo handily won Ward 3, succeeding Paul Capitanio, who did not seek re-election.

All three councilor at large candidates won re-election but their results varied dramatically. The pro-Bianchi Melissa Mazzeo was the top vote-getter, the steady, solid Churchill Cotton took third and the vocal skeptic Barry Clairmont clung to the fourth and final spot over Donna Todd Rivers, pending a potential recount. Kathleen Amuso, buoyed by her long School Committee experience, grabbed the second spot and should not face much of a learning curve. The decisive passage of the city charter was encouraging as the crisper, cleaner document will eliminate confusion and gives the mayor a four-year term, providing the chief executive time to execute policies without having to run for re-election every two years.

In North Adams, Mayor Richard Alcombright deservedly won a third term based upon his efforts to push the city forward in the face of severe economic challenges.

While the renovation of Monument Mountain Regional High School narrowly won approval in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, the failure to override Proposition 2-1/2 in Great Barrington to finance the project puts its future in jeopardy. If the renovation, with its 48 percent state funding, is blocked, this will be a huge long-term loss for the BHRSD, educationally and economically.

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"Pittsfield voters' call: More political harmony"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 11/07/2013

PITTSFIELD -- Voters in the election apparently delivered a message concerning the City Council and its relationship with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi: Let's have more political harmony over the next two years.

Some councilors who were perceived or painted as anti-Bianchi did not do well -- even with the mayor unopposed on the ballot and likely not instilling a sense of urgency in his supporters.

And a new city charter providing for a four-year term for future mayors passed overwhelmingly, despite specific opposition to that provision.

Bianchi said Wednesday he wants to look toward the future. He said he was pleased to see the election of Lisa Tully in Ward 1, Nicholas Caccamo in Ward 3, and current School Committee member Kathleen Amuso to an at large council seat.

Tully, a candidate Bianchi publicly supported, "is hard-working and committed," he said, Amuso will bring government experience and Caccamo, 27, a youthful perspective.

"I'm confident this will be a good, hard-working council," he said, "and we will have a busy and productive next two years."

Ward 1 incumbent Christine Yon, who was defeated by Tully, 565 votes to 480, was one of three councilors cited by some Bianchi supporters as having routinely opposed administration initiatives. Yon denied that, saying she voted independently to represent her ward -- such as in opposing a methadone clinic in Ward 1, which was later sited elsewhere but not before a bitter public debate.

"I would just like to congratulate my opponent," Yon said Wednesday. "She ran a hard-fought campaign."

"I've enjoyed serving the citizens of Ward 1 and of Pittsfield," she said. "It was a great experience, but it is time to open a new chapter in my life. I've spent four years and gave 100 percent -- sometimes at the expense of my family. I look forward to spending quality time with them."

In other results Tuesday, Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, often cited as an opponent of many Bianchi initiatives, won a second term as one of four at large councilors by just 16 votes. He had argued that while his questioning style might seem tough, he is concerned about financial issues, not in opposing the administration.

He was, however, cited negatively by Bianchi supporters for his recent lengthy comments questioning an administration request for the city to join five local towns in negotiating with GE during an environmental cleanup along the Housatonic River.

Clairmont, who is a certified public accountant and often scrutinizes budgets and programs, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, also cited by some Bianchi supporters as anti-administration, nevertheless won handily over former Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols for re-election, 753 votes to 373.

Krol won despite public support from Bianchi for Nichols. He said voters apparently agree with his contention that he has been a consensus-builder on the council.

Whether the overwhelming vote in favor of the new city charter -- 4,688 votes to 1,491 -- was a factor in council races is an unknown. However, Clairmont and Yon both opposed it because of a four-year term for mayor, beginning in 2015. Krol said he was leaning in favor but said he'd leave the decision up to voters.

Despite some answers Tuesday, the election did leave technicalities, if not questions, in its wake.

City officials were still not 100 percent certain Wednesday that Ward 3 Councilor-elect Caccamo -- who works at Pittsfield High School -- can take office despite an apparent ban against school employees serving on the council in the newly approved charter.

City Clerk Linda Tyer said prior to the election that, as far as she could determine, Caccamo was elected under the old charter, which allowed school department personnel to be councilors. In the 2015 election, however, Caccamo could not run for the council while a school employee.

Tyer said Wednesday that from what she has learned from talking to other officials, the determination on such questions would be made at the city level, by the city solicitor's office -- not at the state level.

Bianchi said he will ask Solicitor Kathleen Degnan to review the situation and how charter-related issues that crop up should be addressed.

Caccamo won Tuesday with 1,013 votes to 308 for Richard Latura, his opponent in Ward 3. Incumbent Paul Capitanio did not seek re-election.

Another election question is whether a recount will be requested. In a close race, Donna Todd Rivers finished 16 votes behind Clairmont for the last of four at large council seats. Neither could be reached Wednesday for comment.

Tyer said candidates have 10 days following the election to request a recount, adding that she had received no requests.

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"Mayor Bianchi's plan: 2.59 percent tax rate hike"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 11/25/2013

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is proposing higher residential and commercial tax rates that reflect a 2.59 percent hike in the overall local tax levy.

"It's a tax rate that is pretty balanced and compares with the budget," Bianchi said Friday. "And it will recognize the need to moderate the commercial tax rate."

The mayor's proposal, which will be the subject of a public hearing before the council on Tuesday, shows a residential tax rate of $17.09 per $1,000 of property valuation, compared to the $16.70 per $1,000 approved last year.

Commercial property owners would pay $35.38 per $1,000 valuation, compared to $34.47 last year.

If the city budget through June 2014 were to be funded with a single tax rate, that figure would rise from $20.52 per $1,000 to $21.03 for this year, reflecting a 2.5 percent increase in the rate.

Last year, the council modified the commerical-residential rate ratio after Bianchi proposed a rate shift of 1.72, up from 1.66 the previous year, prompting complaints from business owners. Councilors voted to set the shift ratio at 1.68.

The proposal this year would create a virtually identical shift of 1.682.

Under state law, municipalities are allowed to shift the percentages of the tax burden each property classification is responsible for, resulting in different rates. All but a handful of those that set different rates assign the higher one to commercial property.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who last year proposed reducing the split in the rates to relieve the tax burden on businesses, said Friday, "It is good the mayor is being conscious of the plight of business."

But Krol said he would prefer to drop the commercial rate further, adding that he and other councilors "have attempted to nudge it" lower at the annual rate hearings in recent years.

"I think I look forward to hearing what the public has to say as well," Krol said.

When both rates go up, the actual dollar amounts can be higher for businesses, he said, because the average property values are much higher.

During the rate hearing last November, business owners and chamber of commerce officials claimed rising commercial taxes would send a negative message and prevent Pittsfield from attracting new businesses, possibly forcing others to move to a neighboring town.

Information submitted with the mayor's proposal, prepared by the treasurer's and assessor's offices, shows a total local tax levy of $70,342,981 for fiscal 2014, compared to $68,567,362 for fiscal 2013. The increase is $1,775,619 in the amount to be raised in taxes.

In addition, figures show that on the average Pittsfield residential property, valued at $177,766, the tax bill would be $3,038 with the proposed $17.09 tax rate.

For fiscal 2013, on an average-valued residential property of $177,553, with a rate of $16.70, the bill was $2,965.

On the average commercial property valued at $508,764 and the proposed rate of $35.38, the bill would be $18,000. On the average-value property last year, $510,688, and with the $34.47 rate, the bill would have been $17,603.

Veteran Ward 5 Councilor Johathan Lothrop said tax rate hearings each year have typically found someone arguing for raising or lowering the commercial or residential rate. However, he called the current proposal and the overall tax increase a conservative one and in a "pretty reasonable middle space."

He added that city officials must weigh the wishes of diverse constituents in setting the rates. "Our job is trying to balance them when we can," he said.

Other figures submitted with the rate proposal show that, unlike most communities in the Berkshires, the city remains well below its levy limit under Proposition 2 1/2. The excess capacity this year is listed as $9,495,391, up from $7,390,986 last year.

Proposed rates

Residential property

* Fiscal 2014: $17.09 per $1,000

* Fiscal 2013: $16.70 per $1,000

Commercial property

* Fiscal 2014: $35.38 per $1,000

* Fiscal 2013: $34.47 per $1,000

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related link: www.iberkshires.com/story/45251/Pittsfield-Sets-2014-Tax-Rates-Average-Bill-Up-83.html
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"In 6-5 vote, Pittsfield Council gives edge to businesses in tax rate"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 11/27/2013

PITTSFIELD -- On a close vote, city councilors altered the residential-commerical tax rate split proposed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to one that's slightly in favor of business interests.

Tuesday's 6-5 vote in favor of the change, proposed by Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, resulted in a residential tax rate for this year of $17.15 per $1,000 property valuation and a commercial rate of $35.17 per $1,000 for commercial property. Bianchi had proposed rates of $17.09 per $1,000 and $35.38 per $1,000, respectively.

The rates were $16.70 per $1,000 for residential and $34.47 per $1,000 for commercial property.

Tax bills reflecting the new rate will be sent soon.

During a public hearing on the rates, business owners and representatives asked councilors to lower the split, contending it places an unfair burden on businesses and acts a disincentive for firms thinking of coming to the city or expanding here.

Connie Boyle, president of the Berkshire Hills Country Club, said the rate structure "is a very difficult thing and unfair to the commercial element."

Boyle told councilors the situation "puts a tourniquet around the business community" and discourages growth, adding that many business are still struggling in a weak economy.

"The golf industry is not in great shape right now," he said.

June Roy-Martin, vice president for membership with the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: "In previous years, the council has been able to balance this burden ... and we ask that you do that this year."

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who has advocated for much lower commercial rates to boost business in Pittsfield, initially proposed rates of $17.22 per $1,000 for residential property and $34.91 for commercial, but that motion failed on an 8 to 3 council vote.

Clairmont then proposed a figure between the proposals by Krol and the mayor, which was adopted.

Other councilors said they understand that businesses are struggling, but said they also hear from seniors and others on fixed or limited incomes who are struggling with taxes.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop said he believes the tax rate split has remained fairly constant for at least the last five years. He said the overall percentage of the tax burden paid by residential property owners has remained around 63 or 64 percent of the total, and it would again under the plans offered Tuesday.

However, Krol argued that the city should consider sending a more dramatic pro-business message by lowering the commercial tax rate more.

The new rates would fund an overall local tax levy of $70,342,981, which was approved by the council and mayor in late June and is 2.59 percent higher than the previous year.

The local levy last year was $68,567,362. The increase is $1,775,619.

For the average residential property, valued at $177,766, the bill with the new rate would rise by $83.55. For the average commercial property, valued at $508,764, the bill would rise $289.51.

Several councilors said they want to put an added focus next budget season on finding ways to consolidate government operations and reduce costs to avoid annual tax hikes.

Voting in favor of the motion to change the mayor's tax rate proposal were councilors Clairmont, Krol, Melissa Mazzeo, Christopher Connell, Paul Capitanio and Churchill Cotton.

Opposed were Christine Yon, Kevin Sherman, Anthony Simonelli, Jonathan Lothrop and Kevin Morandi.

After Clairmont's amendment passed 6-5, the council voted 8-3 to set the new rates for the current fiscal year.

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"City, others come together for long-term solutions for homeless in Pittsfield"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, 12/09/2013

PITTSFIELD -- Within two weeks, a transitional shelter expects to add 10 more emergency beds for the winter as Pittsfield develops longer range solutions to help the community's homeless.

Officials at Barton's Crossing say they will nearly double their overnight shelter capacity from 12 to 20 in an effort to meet the city's shortage of emergency housing.

"[Our activity] will pick up as it gets colder and the winter harder," said Jay Sacchetti, vice president of Berkshire services for ServiceNet, the operator of Barton's Crossing.

Sacchetti's remarks came during the latest community forum Monday afternoon at City Hall to address Pittsfield's short- and long-term needs for individuals and families trying to keep a roof over their heads.

During the hour-long meeting, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, along with his director of administrative services, Mary McGinnis, announced the formation of a community focus group to identify resources needed to help those who spend weeks and months going from shelter to shelter. Those wishing to participate on the panel should contact the mayor's office at (413) 499-9322.

"Homelessness is persistent, something every community faces," Bianchi said.

Since early November, city officials, representatives of several private shelters, social service agencies and local clergy have been working to replace the emergency cot shelter that operated last winter at the Pittsfield Salvation Army.

Last week, Berkshire Health Systems donated $45,000 toward the extra staffing and security needed to add more overnight beds to a rear wing at Barton's Crossing. Besides emergency shelter, the North Street facility provides transitional shelter for up to two years and programs to help the homeless find permanent housing, jobs and health care.

Furthermore, Soldier On last month, which primarily works with veterans, added 10 emergency shelter beds -- for men only -- at its West Housatonic Street facility.

However, city police and see an increasing need for women and families.

Ellen Merritt, executive director of the Christian Center, is currently trying to find temporary housing for a family of nine who could no longer afford pay rent for a low-income apartment.

"There's a 16-year-old who has dropped out of school and a 2-year-old who looks so tired, his eyes are about to pop out," Merritt said.

Local housing officials agree more than 20 emergency beds are needed but more importantly, solutions to help "short circuit" the vicious cycle of homelessness.

"I hope we can fund long-term solutions through cooperation that are cost effective," said Berkshire Co-Act Executive Director Paul Deslauriers. Deslauriers oversaw the Salvation Army's emergency shelter.

Any long-range plan will need support from the state, including the Legislature passing revamped health care regulations, according to Brad Gordon, executive director of Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority.

"The bill would extend stays at substance abuse places ... and make it less likely people would become homeless," Gordon noted.

He also called for a boost in the state's minimum wage to help the homeless find decent paying jobs.

While city, shelter and social service agency officials admit the number of homeless adults and children has been under reported, the Rev. Quentin Chin says homelessness can't be treated as a bottom-line figure.

"Every person has an individual story to tell," said the interim pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pittsfield.

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"Pittsfield considers tax amnesty deals with overdue taxes a growing problem"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 12/10/2013

PITTSFIELD -- The Bianchi administration is considering a property tax amnesty program and more aggressive follow-up on tax title cases in a bid to reduce the rising total amount of overdue taxes.

City Finance Director and Treasurer Susan Carmel said the total outstanding receivable amount now stands at about $7 million and "has been going up year to year."

Carmel said $4.8 million is owed on properties in the tax title phase, which means the bills weren't paid during the fiscal year in which they were sent, and the city has subsequently placed a lien on the property for the amount owed. Some properties have taxes owed for more than one fiscal year.

Another $2.2 million was not paid during fiscal year 2013, which ended on June 30. If payment is not made or a payment plan worked out, some of those properties could land in the tax title phase as well. Liens typically are not placed until the end of the following fiscal year while the tax collector's office continues to send notices to the property owners.

Carmel and Tax Collector Marilyn Sheehan said there are a number of factors that have contributed to the increase in the total, but fallout from the financial sector meltdown of 2008-09 and the recession that followed certainly played a role.

Providing some perspective, Sheehan said nearly 17,000 tax bills are sent out by the city, and money is owed on 600 to 700 by the end of the fiscal year. About 90 percent of the properties are single homes, but there also are rental and business properties and undeveloped land.

Until the end of the fiscal year, bills are considered overdue, and the tax collector notifies property owners of their obligations. As of June 30 each year, the city could immediately place a lien on the property and begin the tax title process which could eventually end in taking the property. However, Sheehan said the city typically sends additional notices to those who owe for the past fiscal year and a final notice in January.

The liens normally are placed in June on properties on which taxes are still owed from the previous fiscal year. By that time, Sheehan said the number of bills overdue for that period has been significantly reduced.

Regardless of when a late payment is made, there is a 14 percent penalty, assessed annually. Once a lien is placed on a deed and the tax title process is underway, the interest fee goes up to 16 percent of the amount owed. The property owner also could be charged for court fees.

For fiscal year 2012, ending June 30, 2012, Sheehan said there were more than 600 overdue bills initially but the number added to those in the tax title phase -- which could ultimately end with the city seizing the property through Massachusetts Land Court -- was cut down to 144.

For fiscal year 2013, which ended on June 30, there were about 700 properties with outstanding bills. "I hope to whittle it down to under 100," she said.

The city is now is almost halfway through fiscal year 2014. Final late notices will be sent in January for fiscal 2013, and the liens will be recorded next June. Once the liens are filed, Sheehan said the tax title process is handled by the treasurer's office and the city solicitor.

Bianchi said the administration "is contemplating another amnesty program. We had one several years ago and it was pretty successful."

That would involve "some accommodation" for taxpayers "who come forward and pay their [back] taxes," the mayor said. It might entail a reduction of interest on amounts owed or other inducements to spur resolution of overdue bills.

The details of the amnesty plan are being considered, he said, and he intends to submit a proposal to the City Council.

Meanwhile, Bianchi said the treasurer and City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan "will pretty aggressively pursue" tax title cases, seeking to resolve as many as possible. "We will evaluate each and every one of them," he said. "We have to know the status of each and what we have to do."

In some cases, Bianchi said, filing paperwork with the court could be all that is required.

The mayor said that most situations resulting in long overdue bills are unique. Sometimes, he said, an elderly couple will have died and the title is unclear or the heirs are unable or unwilling to take on a large tax bill. Or someone has lost their job and can't keep up with bills.

The annual list of those going into the tax title process that was posted in June shows a number with partial fiscal year payments outstanding, many with apparent total tax bills outstanding and some with taxes owed for two or three years.

Carmel said it is important for taxpayers to understand the process of moving toward tax title that commences at the end of each fiscal year on June 30, and what the options are for working out a payment plan to pare down the bill over time.

More information on the tax title process is available on the city's website at
www.cityofpittsfield.org/city_hall/tax_title.php

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Melissa Mazzeo says she’ll run for council president. (Berkshire Eagle file)

"Mazzeo likely to be elected Pittsfield City Council president"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 12/15/2013

PITTSFIELD -- Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo is poised to become the next president of the City Council, according to local political observers.

She is believed to have a comfortable majority of votes pledged to her in her bid to succeed Council President Kevin J. Sherman, who did not seek re-election.

"I have had people approach me and ask me to try for president," Mazzeo said last week. "I intend to."

She said her name will be placed in nomination but declined further comment.

The vote will come during the council's organizational meeting on Monday, Jan. 6, following the day's inaugural events.

City councilors, School Committee members, the city clerk and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi will be sworn in for new -- and in a few cases first -- terms of office, beginning at at 10 a.m. in council chambers in City Hall.

After she is administered the oath of office by Berkshire Probate and Family Court First Justice Richard A. Simons, City Clerk Linda Tyer will swear in School Committee members and the 11 councilors for 2013-15.

Three were elected to the council for the first time in November. For the first time, the School Committee will be sworn in at the inaugural ceremonies with the city government officials.

If elected president, Mazzeo would be the second woman to serve in the post. The late Imelda C. LaMountain was elected council president after the 1989 election. That year also saw a second term for city's first woman mayor, Anne Everest Wojkowski, who defeated then-Council President Angelo C. Stracuzzi for a second term.

Ward 5 Councilor and Council Vice President Jonathan Lothrop has previously expressed an interest in the council presidency. "I have publicly said I would be interested in being president," he said this week, "and if you asked me do I believe I have the skills to be council president, I think I do."

But Lothrop said he believes it's "premature to say anything more about that now." And he said he's witnessed divisive campaigns for council president and would not want to see that happen next year.

Lothrop added that ideally, "Every councilor should search their own conscience and choose who they think will be best for the council." At the end of the day, he said, "no matter what happens, the council has to go forward."

After the council reorganizes for the next term, Bianchi will be sworn in and then deliver his inaugural address.

Bianchi, the city's 38th mayor, said he will briefly speak about the past two years and about his goals for the next two -- including initiatives in public safety, education, the economy and other areas.

He said plans for the reception following the ceremonies remain incomplete at this time.

Bianchi will be the last Pittsfield mayor to serve a two-year term, as under the new government charter, mayors will serve a four-year term, beginning with the 2015 election.

A former councilor, he succeeded former Mayor James M. Ruberto, winning a first term in 2011 by a 106-vote margin over former Councilor Peter Marchetti. Bianchi was unopposed in the Nov. 5 election.

Sherman, elected as a councilor at large, replaced Gerald M. Lee as council president in 2011.

Filling the at large vacancy created with Sherman's departure is longtime School Committee member Kathleen Amuso, who was elected to the council in November.

Also new to the council in 2014 will be Ward 1 Councilor-elect Lisa Tully, who defeated incumbent Christine Yon in the election. Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo will replace incumbent Paul Capitanio, who did not seek re-election.

Caccamo defeated Richard Latura in the election.

School Committee members to serve in the next term are incumbents Katherine Yon and Daniel Elias, and newcomers Anthony Riello, Cynthia Taylor, Pamela Farron and Joshua Cutler. The mayor also serves on the committee.

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"New Council President In Pittsfield"
By Jim Levulis, wamc.org - January 6, 2014

The inauguration of the Pittsfield city government today involved the election of a new council president.

A standing room-only crowd of residents, family members, as well as current and former political and community leaders saw Melissa Mazzeo elected city council president. Also in attendance was former president Kevin Sherman, who did not seek reelection. But for the first time since 2002, the vote was not unanimous. Councilor John Krol nominated the most senior member of the council, Jonathan Lothrop, to take the seat.

“I know this is a little different than we’ve done in the past, typically there’s an 11 to nothing unanimous vote for council president, but I think this year we are going to have a little more transparency in this discussion,” Krol said during the nomination period. “I think that’s a good thing because we are celebrating democracy here today. At the end of the day, we are going to have a vote and we’re going to have a council president. I think the majority will be respected and also I think the minority of this vote will also be respected. So with that being said, I’d like to nominate the most veteran councilor Jonathan Lothrop who has a great deal of institutional knowledge and that’s my nomination.”

By a seven to four vote Mazzeo got the nod and took the president’s chair. Mazzeo was the top vote getter in November and is entering her third term on the council. She says this time around she was ready to accept a nomination to lead the council.

“I knew that, through talking to a number of the councilors, that I definitely had seven strong votes,” Mazzeo said. “I definitely feel that they wanted to just put it out there that it wasn’t going to be unanimous and that’s their prerogative. I’m hoping moving forward, I plan on being a really fair council president. I think it’s what we owe the citizens, the ones that put us up there to do the job.”

Lothrop says he will continue to bring the knowledge and experience of a veteran councilor. He called himself a “government geek.”

“That’s what democracy is all about,” Lothrop said. “You put yourself out there and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I certainly look forward to a very transparent city government and I think as issues come arise there will be full debate. That’s the way it’s always been. I’m going into my sixth term. I’ve completed ten years on the council so I definitely have a lot of institutional knowledge. I try to bring that wisdom, knowledge and experience to the debate. I’ve often been able I think to bring a perspective that maybe some of the newer councilors don’t always have.”

After being elected president, Mazzeo selected Councilor Christopher Connell to sit beside her as the council’s vice president.

“Councilor Connell and I actually work really well together,” Mazzeo said. “We’ve done a number of petitions together. We’ve been working for about a year and a half now with [Police] Chief [Mike] Wynn in getting the fine systems for parking, jay-walking violations and things like that. We just get along really well so he was a good fit for me.”

The ceremony also included the swearing-in of three new members to the 11-member council. Under a provision of the new city charter, approved by voters in November, the six elected members of the school committee took part in the ceremony for the first time. Capping the event at City Hall, Mayor Dan Bianchi gave his second inaugural address.

“I expect that we are going to be all rolling up our sleeves and doing good work for the people of Pittsfield,” said Bianchi.

Bianchi, a democrat, ran unopposed in November and will serve the final two-year for a Pittsfield mayor. The city charter extends the mayoral term to four years starting with the 2015 city elections.

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"Pittsfield Sets Eyes To Future With Inauguration"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, January 6, 2014

Pittsfield, Massachusetts — Monday was a day of reinvigoration for city government when the elected officials took their oaths of office and set their sights on the future.

The city's swearing-in ceremony featured oaths by the newly elected School Committee, City Council, city clerk and mayor.

In a jam-packed City Council chambers, officials restructured by electing Councilor at Large aiujhjhjnd top vote-getter Melissa Mazzeo as council president; she picked Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell to serve as vice president.

"I'm excited. It is a little nerve racking but I'm ready to help out in this capacity," Mazzeo said after the ceremony. "It is a team effort and you are really just guiding the dialogue... As a council we have a lot to do, together."

Mazzeo said she doesn't have a specific agenda she wants to push as president but is looking forward to leading the council into tackling big issues such as the building new or renovating Taconic High School and implementing the new city charter. Now starting her third term, Mazzeo was elected with a vote of 7-4 over Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop.

The new school is a major priority for the administration as Mayor Daniel Bianchi laid out in his inaugural speech. Bianchi ran unopposed and took his oath of office for another two years — the last mayor to serve two years because the new charter has changed the office to four years.

Bianchi focused on developing the William Stanley Business Park, building or renovating the new school and public safety as his main goals for the upcoming term.

"Working together, we have the potential to unleash the creativity and innovation that will make Pittsfield a great small city," he said.

When Bianchi took office two years ago, he focused on those three initiatives and on Monday he recapped the progress. For developing the business park, Bianchi said he expanded the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority board, brought on Nuclea Biotechnologies to open a computer center there and is "aggressively seeking similar and other businesses that will bring innovation, new jobs and expanding economy to Pittsfield."

"I believe that the William Stanley Business Park will someday be the region's center of innovation, the place where Pittsfield will find its future," he said.

To couple with that, Bianchi said he has been pushing for small businesses by creating a $500,000 fund to give companies technical assistance and has met with 158 different companies about economic development. But, employers had already stopped hiring graduates from the school system, so Bianchi said he has placed a focus on creating the pipeline of students to jobs.

"Many of our local companies told me they no longer looked to the school vocational department as an employee pipeline. The program had changed and students were spending less and less time with hands-on internships that prepare them for employment. And with an aging workforce, employers were worried about filling new positions," Bianchi said.

He said he re-established strong partnerships with businesses and schools as well as expanded vocational offerings. But there is more to be done.

The city has entered the feasibility study stage of building or renovating Taconic High School and in the next week or so, a designer will be picked to envision the new school.

"A well-functioning 21st century comprehensive career vocational technical high school, which will include all of the workplace skills required by innovative businesses and manufacturers, will be a key element in the outstanding overall education that students receive in Pittsfield schools," Bianchi said. "And it will also help to ensure the future success of local employers and our community."

Three new members were elected to the City Council, one being longtime School Committee member Kathleen Amuso.

After taking office on Monday, Amuso said she is excited to be able to help move the building project along in her new capacity.

"I am glad today is here. I am really excited about the work that needs to be done," the newly elected at-large councilor said. "It is a long two months from the election until you get sworn in. But, I did do a lot of work."

Amuso has still pushed for the building project, meeting with the state School Building Authority to pick a designer.

Also new to the council is Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo, who said he is looking forward to school's building project discussions.

"The mayor's inaugural speech sounded good. Its certainly exciting to see the progress in the school project," Caccamo said. "Its excited [to be here]. I look forward to working under Melissa [Mazzeo] and with the mayor."

Caccamo said he already has an array of both ward-specific issues he would like to address as well as citywide initiatives he believes can help.

And Amuso isn't just focused on the school. Public safety is another goal of hers.

"Safety is a big issue and we have to make sure the people feel safe," Amuso said.

In the last two years, Bianchi said he created a public safety task force, re-established the dormant Police Advisory Committee, opened community centers at public housing facilities, hired a crime analyst and reeled in two grants to help combat gang violence.

Yet, Bianchi is still pushing for the building of a new Police station because "we can not ask police officers to do 21st Century police work in an inadequate, early 20th century facility that lacks much of the technical capabilities required for the job."

While the administration has a lot of goals on its agenda, newly elected Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully says she believes the city has the right leadership to make it happen.

"There is so much potential and with the right group, which I think we have, it is achievable. I think we are all heading in the same direction," Tully said.

Tully just squeaked by in the election, upsetting the incumbent, and she says he hopes to make the voters proud. While she said the phone calls and work began right after the election, the reality didn't sink in until Monday's ceremony started.

"The minute they hit the gavel, it hit me," Tully said, adding that she too has a lot of ward-specific and citywide issues she hopes to address.

Tully is a supporter of Mazzeo and is happy that she will be the president.

"She's the number 1 voter getter for a reason. She works hard for the city," Tully said.

Mazzeo didn't win the nomination easily though. After nominated by At Large Councilor Churchill Cotton, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol nominated Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop. The council was split on their first vote of the new term, which Mazzeo winning over Lothrop for the presidency.

At a reception at the Berkshire Museum, Bianchi called the reformation of the city's government a "new opportunity" and that he is "so excited with the initiatives we are going to under take in the next two years."

Taking their oath and rededicating themselves to the city includes Councilors at Large Barry Clairmont, Cotton, Amuso, Mazzeo, Tully, Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, Caccamo, Connell, Lothrop, Krol and Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli. City Clerk Linda Tyer also took the oath of office. Six new School Committee members — Daniel Elias, Joshua Cutler, Pamela Farron, Katherine Yon, Anthony Riello and Cynthia Taylor — were sworn in as well.

During the ceremony, the Taconic High School Chorus performed; Tyer was given her oath from Hon. Richard Simons; the council drew new seating arrangements; Bianchi was administered the oath from Hon. Rudolph Sacco and the invocation was given by Rev. John Salatino and the benediction by Rabbi Josh Breindel.

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"Bianchi proposes $1 million incentive in effort to land MBTA rail project"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/29/2014

PITTSFIELD -- A fourth Berkshire County location has emerged as a possible site for a transit rail car manufacturer, while a second financial incentive is being suggested as a way to bring that company to Pittsfield.

The Renfrew Center Building on Print Works Drive in Adams has joined sites in Dalton, Lee and Pittsfield as possible locations for a transit rail car manufacturing facility, officials announced Tuesday during a meeting to discuss the proposal with possible suppliers at Berkshire Community College. The one-hour meeting attracted 66 people, the majority of them representatives of county manufacturers.

Meanwhile, Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi asked the City Council Tuesday to approve a $1 million allocation from the city's Economic Development Fund as an additional financial incentive to lure a manufacturer to Pittsfield.

At their meeting, councilors expressed strong support for the idea but voted unanimously after a lengthy discussion to refer the proposal to the council's Community and Economic Development Committee for further review. The committee plans to meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. and could make a recommendation in time for the council's Feb. 11 meeting.

Some councilors also expressed support for adding additional money from the fund to the incentive, saying the opportunity is great and calls for decisive action on the part of the city.

The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, charged with developing the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, already has offered a $1 million incentive to a manufacturer who will locate in the park, which is the proposed site in Pittsfield.

Berkshire County is one of several areas in Massachusetts that have expressed an interest in being the site for a transit railway car manufacturer that will build new vehicles for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Orange and Red lines.

The contract stipulates that the final assembly of those MBTA transit cars will have to take place somewhere in Massachusetts. The project could bring between 200 and 250 jobs to the Berkshires, depending on the amount of work that needs to be performed here.

"This is a very important project," Bianchi said during the meeting. "Obviously, if this was to land in the William Stanley Business Park it would be a home run. If it landed anywhere in the Berkshires, as far as Pittsfield is concerned, it's a triple."

Pittsfield's economic development fund was created from a $10 million settlement that the city of Pittsfield received from the General Electric Co. as part of the PCB cleanup agreement that was finalized in October 2000. Under the terms of that agreement, GE provided $1 million annually to the city of Pittsfield over the decade that ended in October 2010.

Bianchi said the possibility of a transit rail car manufacturer locating in the Berkshires justifies the offering of economic incentives.

"It meets all the criteria," he said.

At 79,500 square feet, the Renfrew Center building is much smaller than what the three other sites can offer. But 1Berkshire economic development specialist David W. Curtis said it was recently put on the list when a potential manufacturer indicated their company may be interested in a smaller space.

"In the beginning, when we were talking to companies, it was too small," Curtis said. "Most wanted 100,000 to 200,000 square feet and many were in the 150,000 to 200,000 range. There's a parcel adjacent to that building which can be used for expansion, and it directly abuts the rail line. We started to put it out there. Some potential bidders came to us and said they were no longer looking for a large space, but 85,000 to 100,000 square feet."

PEDA's Executive Director Cory Thurston said the deadline for companies to respond to the project's Request For Proposal, or RFP, has been extended from the end of February to May 1, and that the state is expected to award the $850 million contract in late December.

The meeting was held to inform possible local suppliers for a transit rail car manufacturer the parameters of the proposal. If the manufacturer decides not to locate in the county, Curtis said 1Berkshire plans to provide the company with a list of local suppliers no matter where it chooses to settle.

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"Councilors supportive but send $1M incentive plan to committee"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 1/30/2014

PITTSFIELD - The City Council diverted Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's bid to send a $1 million economic message to help lure a major new manufacturer to Pittsfield.

However, councilors also left little doubt that, upon further (rapid) review, they're likely to approve the funding and might suggest adding to the pot.

Bianchi proposed taking $1 million from an economic development fund set up by GE as part of an environmental cleanup agreement for former company property off East Street - including the current William Stanley Business Park. A site in the park is proposed for the manufacture of new rail vehicles for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which is estimated to bring with it up to 250 jobs.

The city site is one of four in Berkshire County being offered to potential bidders on the $850 million MBTA vehicle contract, who have until May 1 to file bids that include where in the state the work will be done.

If approved, Bianchi's proposal would add to the $1 million the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority - which manages the Stanley Park - already has pledged from its own development fund.

"I would like to see unanimous support for this," Bianchi told councilors, adding that he believes that will happen when the vote is taken. He said it would send a powerful signal to potential bidders.

But while the council voted unanimously Tuesday, it was to follow normal protocol under council rules and refer the request to committee - in this case, the Community and Economic Development Committee - for review. At large Councilor Churchill Cotton, the chairman of that committee, immediately announced there would be a meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m., which would allow the full council to take up the matter again on Feb. 11.

Bianchi said specific questions about the use of the funding could not be answered until after the MBTA accepts a bid from a contractor and that firm then chooses the Pittsfield site for a facility. Only then would exact details of the agreement be negotiated, he said.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont advocated a referral to committee rather than an immediate vote, so that possible restrictions on use of the $1 million could be considered and other related issues aired. However, he made it clear he agrees with the concept if such a manufacturer could be brought to the city.

City Community Development Director Douglas Clark told councilors that the $1 million, along with the $1 million PEDA has pledged, is at this point, "just trying to get us [ Pittsfield] an at-bat" in the bidding process, and striving to "send a message" to the bidders.

It is really to "pique the interest" of the firms, Clark said, adding that there "is no second step" unless a company decides to locate a plant here and then wins the MBTA contract.

In answer to questions, Corydon Thurston, executive director of PEDA, said there are also three other proposed Berkshire County sites, and that any one of those would benefit the city as well as the county. Those sites are in Lee, Adams and Dalton.

Thurston said the Stanley Park site would require new construction, unlike other proposed sites, but that a foundation in place there could expedite that process, especially given the amount of seed money offered.

He said the MBTA proposal specifies that the construction of vehicles must begin within a year of the awarding of the contract.

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell and other councilors indicated they would consider adding more money to the incentive from the GE development fund, which had $5.5 million in it as of Dec. 31.

"I think we need to be aggressive," he said. "If there is an opportunity, we should seize it."

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Sarah Eustis, the chief executive officer of Main Street Hospitality Group. (Stephanie Zollshan | Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Hotel on North: Luxury hotel plan for North Street in Pittsfield gets special permit"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 5, 2014

PITTSFIELD -- It isn't often a reception with refreshments is held to announce a new development project in Pittsfield. Rarer still is when such a reception draws about 60 people in the afternoon and includes many city government and community leaders.

Laurie and David Tierney, who plan the Hotel on North in two historic buildings they own at 273 to 297 North St., and members of their development and management team provided details of the upscale 45-room hotel. The reception and press conference was in advance of a meeting before the city's Community Development Board, which was asked to approve special permits for the $8 million project.

In less than 14 minutes Tuesday evening, the board unanimously approved special permits for the parking plan, which will involve off-site spaces beyond the 41 located behind the buildings; and permits approving the size of the 68,160-square-foot project as required in the zoning district, and waiving a second loading area that would otherwise have been required because of the size.

"A boutique hotel has been a dream of ours for years. This is a project very close to our hearts," Laurie Tierney told the gathering, which included city councilors, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and other city officials, along with downtown merchants and representatives from cultural and business organizations.

When traveling, Tierney said, her family always seeks out unique places of lodging that provide exceptional service, which is the stated goal for the hotel.

In addition, Tierney and other speakers stressed a commitment to the community and local businesses and organizations -- especially in utilizing local vendors and contractors, as well as partnering with cultural organizations.

"We believe in local; that's why we wanted this to be a community announcement," she said.

Several times during the event, speakers were interrupted by applause while announcing aspects of the project -- once after Tierney asked, "Are you excited now?"

A key detail was that the management team that operates The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge and The Porches inn in North Adams will manage the new hotel. The Main Street Hospitality Group was formed by the Fitzpatrick family, which restored and has operated the historic Stockbridge inn since 1969.

Owner Nancy Fitzpatrick said the two families are friends, and she has been involved for some time with the Tierneys in the search for the right building. "We looked at a lot of buildings," she said.

Principals in the management group include Sarah Eustis, Fitzpatrick's daughter, the chief executive officer, and Bruce Finn, general manager of the Red Lion Inn, the chief operating officer.

Eustis and Finn said they plan a unique "destination hotel" in downtown Pittsfield and one that stresses service for visitors. As at the other inns managed by the group, the employee selection process is thorough and training is extensive, Finn said.

The project architect is David Tierney's sister, Karen Tierney Hunt, who expressed excitement at working with the historic, side-by-side brick buildings, both built in the 1880s and on the National Historic Register. Hunt said historic preservation tax credits will be sought for the project, and historic features and color schemes will be preserved, enhanced or restored.

Photo boards illustrating a number of possible room and building features and others showing floor plans were on display at the meeting. None of the rooms or bathrooms are expected to be identical, and unique features, such as columns, will be incorporated into the interior design.

Hunt said she has a vision of creating an active centerpiece for the downtown that might recall "Thursday nights on North Street" from decades ago.

Two restaurants on the lower level of the buildings facing North Street -- Mad Jack's and Spice Dragon -- will remain. A central lobby near the main hotel entrance with marquee and revolving door will have a bar, gift shop, gallery and other space open to the public.

An atrium will allow natural light into each floor level from the roof to the lobby.

There will also be computer facilities, a boardroom and conference space. Finn said market research indicates many of the thousands of Pittsfield area business visitors might stay at the hotel.

Room rates, he said, would average from about $130 per night to just more than $200, depending on time, season and other factors.

In answer to questions, the Tierneys said the expectation is for about 80 construction jobs during the building phase and from 35 to 50 full- and part-time employees working at the hotel.

David J. Tierney Inc. is the general contractor. An opening during late spring 2015 is projected.

The marquee overhang at the entrance and parking spaces required for valet parking will require additional permits from the city.

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The civil service task force meets Thursday at City Hall in Pittsfield. It will recommend options to the mayor by May 1. (Jim Therrien / Berkshire Eagle Staff).

"Pittsfield civil service task force to recommend options to mayor by May 1"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 2/7/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Members of a city task force studying the pros and cons of the civil service system honed their goals Thursday and received some input from Police Chief Michael J. Wynn.

The group, appointed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to recommend whether civil service coverage should be retained for the police and fire chiefs, and possibly other employees now in the system, also elected attorney Pamela Green to act as chairwoman.

After some discussion, the group decided it should recommend to Bianchi by May 1 "options for appointing permanent police and fire chiefs."

Information concerning civil service in general and other options adopted elsewhere also will be considered, but task force members indicated the focus will be on the two positions.

A principal impetus for creation of the task force was to end a situation in which both current chiefs were appointed several years ago on an acting basis and not under civil service provisions, even though the two posts are considered within civil service in Pittsfield.

Former Mayor James M. Ruberto appointed both Michael J. Wynn in the police department and Robert Czerwinski in the fire department on a provisional basis after expressing dissatisfaction with the civil service process.

Bianchi also has expressed dissatisfaction with civil service, particularly its testing and job candidate qualification provisions, and has left the situation intact. During the study that led last year to adoption of a new chief government charter, options for civil service were discussed but quickly tabled as ardent supporters and opponents of the system emerged.

However, a study of civil service options for Pittsfield was recommended, to begin early in 2014.

The task force, meeting for the second time, also has heard from a representative from the Civil Service office and an official involved in a switch from civil service to a localized testing and hiring system in Amherst.

"I don't necessarily believe civil service is the best system, but it is the system we have," Wynn told the group Thursday. But he said that for a number of years in Pittsfield, administration of the system's options has been handled "extremely poorly."

The chief said the system offers flexible options that the city hasn't taken advantage of on testing and hiring, particularly when combining the use of "assessment center" evaluations for top administrative personnel.

While a city could set up its own testing and hiring system and conduct assessment centers with realistic job simulations, Wynn said those services will require funding that is provided under civil service.

Input on the costs of a local system will be sought from Northampton officials during the group's next meeting on Feb. 27.

Concerning testing, the chief said he has found the civil service tests themselves more on "things you could look up," while assessment center simulations force an applicant to react and perform in a lifelike job situation.

Asked how his acting chief status affects him, Wynn said he has felt he has the authority of a permanent chief during the nearly seven years since his appointment, but he believes "the bottom line is this should not be stretched out this long."

Residents and the departments' employees deserve to know they have a permanent police or fire chief, he said.

Group members, including police Officer Jeff Coco, president of the patrolman's union, firefighters union President Tim Bartini, attorney Michael J. McCarthy -- who also served on the charter study group last year -- indicated that they want to explore the greater use of assessment centers and the associated costs, as well as other testing options.

Summing up, Green said they should consider "Civil service, yay or nay, and if civil service, how do we use it? And what are the costs?"

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"Pittsfield among 1st to fingerprint school workers"
The Berkshire Eagle, February 23, 2014

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts (AP) — Pittsfield schools have signed up to be among the first in the state to take part in a fingerprinting process and national criminal database check for school employees.

A state law passed last year requires most school employees to be fingerprinted and go through more detailed criminal background checks. Potential school employees are checked to see if they have a criminal history in the state.

The new background check system will screen for any possible criminal histories in other states.

A fingerprinting center has been set up in Pittsfield to handle schools in Pittsfield and other districts.

Pittsfield Schools Superintendent Jacob ‘‘Jake’’ McCandless said the district hasn’t yet begun fingerprinting employees. He is still waiting to hear from the state on who will be fingerprinted and when.

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"Sobering financial assessment for Pittsfield School District"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 28, 2014

PITTSFIELD -- Delivering a sobering financial assessment, the Pittsfield schools superintendent this week described for School Committee members the steep challenges they face in crafting a fiscal 2015 budget.

Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless provided an overview of the preliminary budget, which follows a series of meetings with school and city officials to gather cost estimates and project the operational needs. Thus far, prior to a thorough review, the total is nearly $2 million higher than the current budget year, McCandless said.

In general, he said, one of his key goals will to be "respectful of the public we serve," including city taxpayers, during the budget process. He called for a transparent and straightforward process that spells out what school officials believe is needed and what that would cost -- as well as the details behind budgeting decisions.

And McCandless advocated working closely "as a team" with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and the City Council on a spending plan, while keeping the lines of communication open throughout.

"We have to be honest about where we are and who we are," the superintendent said.

"At the end of the day, my sincere hope is that we can provide a level-services budget next year," while also continuing some growth in strategic areas, he said. Those areas include career/technical education programs and new computer technology.

The superintendent then detailed just how difficult that task could be by listing hundreds of thousands in anticipated new costs to meet new state mandates or critical needs that have been underfunded and employee contractual obligations.

Pittsfield schools should spend an additional $100,000 for career/technical education, he said, in part because the city is promising an enhanced 15-course vocational program for the planned new Taconic High School.

While funding about 80 percent of the school construction cost, the state will require that the city provide adequate funding for vocational programs, he said.

Another $90,000 is direly needed for two special education team leaders, McCandless said, to relieve teachers of paperwork and bureaucratic tasks that teachers in most other districts don't have to shoulder.

He said $70,000 will also be required to meet the new state educator evaluation system goals of statistically determining an educator's record of moving students forward.

McCandless termed that cost, along with the cost of new standardized testing equipment and training expenses, unfunded state mandates.

As Pittsfield schools begin implementing the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARRC) student testing, McCandless said the city will need $165,000 in computer and other equipment and supplies and another $40,000 in technical and other support personnel.

This includes an additional 320 iPads or Chrome Books in fiscal 2015. The standardized tests will be taken in an online, paperless format.

The school bus fleet also is being replaced and will cost the schools from $230,000 to $350,000 next year, McCandless said. If a bus cost figure of $300,000 is chosen, he said, the system already faces $765,000 in higher costs if the level of services this year is to be maintained.

And another $1.3 million is needed to meet contractual obligations next year to employees, McCandless said. Principals, directors and coordinators have, in addition, requested more than $2 million in new employee positions during the first round of budget meetings.

Those requests break down to 52 positions systemwide, or 45 full-time-equivalent positions. After listening to the back-up reasoning for the personnel requests, "that 52 is not disrespectful [of taxpayers]," the superintendent said, adding that many of the positions -- if fully funded -- would relieve severe understaffing situations, such as in the number of school nurses and in the informational technology staff that maintains an expanding systems.

"The public does need to know this," said Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon, referring to the rising costs of education and the higher percentage of students from low-income families. "Things are different now," she said.

"This is not the same public we served 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago," McCandless said. With a rising number receiving free- or reduced-cost school lunches, the city faces "more challenging needs today," he said.

Committee member Pamela Farron, who works with special needs students at Berkshire Community College, agreed, saying the college also is seeing many more students needing assistance. "I think we are in a crisis situation, and we need to address it," she said.

Committee member Cynthia Taylor advocated vocal parental involvement in the school budget process as it moves from the committee to the mayor and finally to the council in June.

McCandless responded that the schools directly affect a sizable percentage of the city's population of about 42,000. There are 6,000 students, all of whom have at least one parent and an extended family, he said, and there are 1,200 employees in the schools and their families.

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Our Opinion: "Tough education reality"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, February 28, 2014

The state often has good ideas when it comes to public education. It doesn't always provide the dollars necessary to help financially strapped municipalities put these good ideas into practice. The result is city officials struggling to meet rising educational demands and costs when revenue is not keeping pace.

This is the reality that the Pittsfield School Committee began confronting Wednesday night when Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless outlined the fiscal 2015 budget for the city's schools. Like most northeastern cities, Pittsfield's tax base is shrinking but it has more low-income families whose children deserve a good education. It must maintain the quality of its schools to not only serve students but attract families and businesses to the city. And it must address state mandates.

While the state will fund about 80 percent of the cost of a new Taconic High School, it may cost the city $100,000 to improve its vocational program to meet state demands and release that funding. The red tape generated by special education programs is largely the reason why two more special education teachers are needed at a cost of $90,000. The state's new educator evaluation system will cost the city $70,000 to implement, and the state is mandating the purchase of new standardized testing equipment. If the state thinks a new program is important enough to mandate it, it should also provide funding. If no funding is provided to local school systems, then the mandates cannot be all that important.

The superintendent's urging of a team effort among school and city officials and open lines of communications among them was welcome, as the poor working relationship between the School Committee and City Council has recently hampered efforts to accomplish what was already a difficult task. The cost of education continues to rise, and not just because of mandates, while the pool of money to pay these costs stagnates or declines. Tough decisions are ahead, and it will be easier to make them and confront their ramifications if all parties share information and are respectful of one another and of the realities facing city taxpayers.

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"Pittsfield officials at odds over need for consultant on charter issues"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 2/28/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The committee reviewing city ordinances for potential conflicts with the new Pittsfield charter remains at loggerheads over whether to seek funding to hire a consulting firm.

The five-member group decided Thursday to seek input from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on whether he would recommend funding for the work, prior to another committee meeting on March 13.

Patrick Smith of General Code of Rochester, N.Y., gave a presentation to the committee Thursday at the request of group Chairwoman Linda Tyer, who is also the city clerk. He described the steps his firm would take in reviewing the charter and ordinances for conflicts, as well as for conflicts with Massachusetts General Law.

Included would be a review of the city code for possible updates, along with comparisons with codes of other municipalities in the region. The firm already works with Pittsfield on newly adopted ordinances and works with more than 100 Massachusetts cities or towns.

Smith said the cost for the service would be $13,900 and would include final preparation of the list of changes for a vote on adoption by city officials.

City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, who is designated as an adviser to the committee, contended, however, that the committee's charge in the new charter is to review the ordinances only, not check for conflicts with state law or take on other tasks.

For that purpose, Degnan said, her office could assist the committee.

Quoting from the charter, the solicitor said the City Council, which under the charter provision appointed the review committee, was not authorized to also ask it to look for conflicts with state law and therefore the request was not valid. "This is the trump card," she said, referring to the charter section calling for an ordinance review.

Committee member and City Councilor at large Barry Clairmont disagreed, saying the council was seeking to expand the review while also covering the requirements in the charter. The charter also specifically lists the council as the appointing authority for the review committee, he said.

Tyer cited another section of the charter that calls for a periodic complete review of the document for potential conflicts or the need for updates. A review by General Code, she said, would accomplish that and ensure the city's governing documents were as well crafted as possible from the first year under the new charter. The city charter -- the first complete revision in 80 years -- was adopted by voters in the Nov. 5 election.

Tyer also noted Smith's comment that the cost might ultimately be lower than the cost of having to hire General Code to advise on changes and updates identified through an in-house review.

"Doing this piecemeal, I think might cost more," Smith said.

He said the firm would have an attorney/editor experienced working in Massachusetts review the current city code and send back detailed recommendations, along with a checklist for possible changes. After receiving the draft document back from the city, the firm would review it again and send back a final draft for consideration.

A comprehensive ordinance change package could then be readied by the consultant for adoption by the city in a single vote, Smith said, adding that General Code has performed the service for Gardner, Springfield, Braintree and other communities in the state.

After more debate, the committee unanimously decided to send two representatives to meet with Bianchi to determine whether he might request funding for the consultant.

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"Top aide to Pittsfield mayor stepping down"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 3/28/2014

PITTSFIELD -- After a busy year as director of administrative services for the city, Mary McGinnis soon will return to Berkshire Health Systems, where she has 35 years of service in nursing-related positions.

McGinnis, who became Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's top administrative aide in April 2013, has worked under a 12-month leave of absence from her job with BHS.

Often in a whirlwind of municipal activity in the mayor's office, McGinnis said she enjoyed the experience and is proud of the initiatives and programs she has helped direct.

"From the homeless group, and Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, the Civil Service Task Force and the Shannon Grant Program, we've had some very, very intense programs and projects," she said Thursday.

"In my wildest dreams, I didn't think it could be as challenging, and as rewarding," she said.

McGinnis stressed that she had "many, many people helping me get the job done," including a succession of youthful interns and numerous members of community organizations and municipal departments.

While she will miss the job, McGinnis said the learning curve was often steep on one new subject after another. "We could be dealing with 12 different categories in an hour," she said, adding that her experience dealing with stress as a nurse "was very helpful."

"Mary has done a great job and certainly got involved in a lot of hot issues," Bianchi said Thursday. "She did a terrific job working with the homeless group, with the Civil Service Task Force and others. She's been a wonderful representative for this office, and we will miss her."

When McGinnis began her leave, she had been a licensed practical nurse with a specialty in respiratory care for 34 years at the hospital. By returning to BHS, she said her service record relative to benefits and her pension will remain in place.

In the City Hall job, she replaced Donna Mattoon, who had left the Pittsfield area for a private sector position.

The position has been posted by the city Personnel Department with an April 1 deadline for submission of applications. The salary is listed as from $49,498 to $52,030.

Duties include performing "varied, responsible and confidential functions," requiring knowledge of municipal operations and the "exercise of judgment in response to inquiries" from the public or other employees.

The director also plans and implements programs as put forth by the mayor.

McGinnis, a Pittsfield native, also is a local businesswoman, the owner of Mary's Carrot Cake and a gallery, and she has a long history of work with community and civic organizations. Those include the Pittsfield YMCA, Catholic Youth Center, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., Women's Club of Pittsfield and Berkshire United Way and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

She was a founder of the First Fridays Artswalk event.

While living in Lee for many years, McGinnis owned a bed-and-breakfast and was active in the Lee Chamber of Commerce and as the Founders Weekend chairwoman.

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"Pittsfield mayor to revive Human Rights Commission"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 3/31/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said he plans to appoint new members to the city's Human Rights Commission, which apparently has been dormant since the end of the 20th century.

Bianchi said he's seeking advice from the city solicitor's office on the proper procedures for selecting a slate of new appointees and having them confirmed.

According to the city's website, the most recent six members had terms that ended from 1996 to September 1999. Up to nine members could serve on the board.

As originally established, the commission had authority to investigate claims of discrimination, mediate disputes or refer parties to state or federal agencies. It also could issue reports and recommendations to the mayor following an investigation.

In an unresolved dispute, the commission may "hold hearings, subpoena witnesses, compel their attendance, administer oaths, take the testimony of any person under oath" -- and require the production of evidence to any matter under investigation by the commission.

Those powers could be exercised only with a majority vote of the commissioners.

As conceived, seven commission members would be appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, one would be the school department's personnel officer and another the council president or a designee.

According to the ordinance that established the rights commission, the group is to "receive and investigate complaints of, and to initiate its own investigation of" discrimination in employment, housing, education, recreation or public accommodations.

The discrimination could be against a person or group and stem from either a public or private source, according to the ordinance. Discrimination could be based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, marital status, handicap or sexual orientation.

The mayor said he is following a similar process he used in appointing members last fall to the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, which also had been dormant for many years. The committee, with city and school department officials and representatives from community organizations and groups, has begun to meet and recently completed revisions and updates to the city's affirmative action policy and a 37-page plan.

Bianchi said the plan is receiving a final review by the solicitor's office, and he intends to submit it to the City Council for review.

The rights commission, which was established during 1990-92, was adopted around the time the affirmative action policy and plan were adopted. Both had been on file for many years but apparently not actively followed. Both initiatives were brought back, after members of the local NAACP chapter last year asked if the city had an affirmative action policy.

The chapter has pressed the city to step up efforts to recruit and hire more minority job applicants citing low percentages among current city and school employees.

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"School bus plan crashes"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 4/10/2014

Pittsfield city councilors should not rubber-stamp any School Department proposal, but if they can’t come up with specific objections to a well-researched, well-argued proposal they should logically approve it. That failed to happen Tuesday night when three city councilors squashed a sound proposal to replace the city’s aging school bus fleet.

The plan, nearly four years in the making, called for the floating of a $2.7 million bond over five years to purchase 43 buses. The current fleet was purchased with a 12-year bond that the city still owes money on, and the five-year bond would provide flexibility in terms of trade-ins and other options Pittsfield does not have now. A two-thirds council majority was required to pass the bond, and it failed with Councilors Lisa Tully, Kevin Morandi and Anthony Simonelli in opposition and Councilor Nicholas Caccamo abstaining because he is a school system employee. That status is hamstringing the new Ward 3 councilor, who otherwise could be counted upon as a supporter of responsible educational proposals like this one.

The objections by the three opponents were largely general in nature. Mr. Simonelli of Ward 7 doesn’t believe that the city should be in the "transportation business," but Kristen Behnke, the assistant school superintendent for business and finance, can point to an auditor’s study concluding that owning buses is more cost effective than hiring a contractor. Superintendent Jason McCandless said his experience as a superintendent in Lee convinced him it would cost more to hire a private contractor because of the lack of competition for such a contract in the Berkshires. Facts should trump philosophical beliefs.

That Ward 1 Councilor Tully drives a 10-year-old vehicle is her business and no argument whatsoever for the city keeping an aging school bus fleet. Ms. Tully and Councilor Morandi said taxpayers were concerned about rising costs, and those concerns are actually a good argument for replacing the fleet in a responsible five-year period. It is arguably more costly, and also unsafe, to struggle to keep aging buses on the road rather than the scrap heap where they belong. The "tighten our belts" argument put forth again by Mr. Morandi of Ward 2 cannot be used as an excuse to reject good School Department proposals without merit.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who is also a member of the School Committee, was sanguine after the vote, observing that there is time before the fleet purchase was to have been made in August for another vote on the bond. Perhaps the mayor figures he can arm-twist at least one vote in favor of the plan, but as it stands now, three indefensible votes have caused a thoughtful school bus plan to crash.

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"The road to ruin"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 4/12/2014

Pittsfield, like many Massachusetts cities, faces genuine economic challenges, but it isn’t Lawrence or Springfield. One way to become Lawrence or Springfield is for elected officials to talk constantly about how bad-off the city is and then vote to make the city worse. In this way the claim becomes self-fulfilling.

Tuesday’s City Council vote defeating a $2.7 million bond to buy a fleet of new school buses, which failed because it did not get the eight votes necessary for a super-majority, was bad enough on its merits. It is worse because the argument that the city can’t afford projects like this one, when in fact it can’t afford not to do them, creates an image of Pittsfield as a poor city that has quit on itself.

Opponents of the bond appear to be punishing the School Department for actions related to the funding of the current bus fleet a decade ago. This is a new School Department, led by a new superintendent who argued persuasively for the bond on Tuesday night. Replacing the buses a few at a time only postpones the inevitable while the costs of maintaining the aging buses rises.

While Pittsfield is not a poor city, it is one that wants to improve itself economically, and to do so it needs to attract businesses and employees, including, ideally, young people with children. Snubbing the School Department and going cheap on school buses, of all things, is the equivalent of putting up a "Keep out" sign on the border. Businesses and families don’t have to look too far around the Berkshires to find welcome signs.

Pittsfield can be its own worst enemy, tearing itself down rather than building itself up, finding ways to avoid doing things rather than doing them. It broke that behavior pattern in recent years but appears to be regressing. That is the road to the worst of self-fulfilling prophecies.

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Megan Whilden, Pittsfield's director of cultural development, announced on Tuesday she is leaving her post next month. Tuesday, April 15, 2014. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff / photos.berkshireeagle.com)

"Pittsfield cultural leader Megan Whilden moving on"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle, 4/15/2014

PITTSFIELD - Megan Whilden, a driving force behind Third Thursday, Word X Word and other downtown events that put Pittsfield on the cultural map, is moving on.

After a nine-year run, Whilden announced Tuesday afternoon she was leaving the municipal position of cultural development director to take the reins of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College.

Whilden says her resignation is effective May 16, the day after the first Third Thursday celebration of the year. Starting June 2, she officially replaces Barbara Hochberg, who is retiring as director of OLLI.

"It's hard leaving a position that is truly so much fun," Whilden said in an Eagle interview from her office at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. "I'm personally excited to see what the next person brings with a fresh set of eyes and new ideas."

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi already has begun the search for a new cultural development director, advertised with a salary range of $45,000 to $50,000. Bianchi hopes to find someone with the same drive and business sense as Whilden.

"Her creativity, energy and connection to the cultural community are what's needed," he said. "Arts and culture are also big business."

BCC President Ellen Kennedy said she can't wait for Whilden to bring her talents and enthusiasm to OLLI, celebrating its 20th anniversary of primarily educating people 50 and older who don't want to enroll in college.

"We've always admired her creativity to make programs work," Kennedy said. "OLLI is about giving people an opportunity to explore different things."

Appointed by former Mayor James M. Ruberto in January 2005, the California native has helped spearhead the creation of several downtown and citywide events that have attracted tens of thousands of visitors each year.

One of Whilden's first big undertakings was Third Thursday, the downtown block party held once a month from May through October, which brings together local merchants, performing and visual artists. Following Third Thursday's debut in 2007, Whilden and the city followed up with events including First Fridays Artswalk, The Big Read, Word X Word, 10 X 10 and coming soon, Shakespeare in the Park.

Ruberto says the cultural activities - all designed to make the arts accessible to all - have been a key to Pittsfield's decade-long downtown revitalization.

"Megan showed through energy and commitment to be as welcoming as humanly possible, that Pittsfield is the type of community to be a part of," he said.

Whilden's hiring was key to Barrington Stage Company's decision to relocate from South County to downtown Pittsfield in 2006, according to Artistic Director Julianne Boyd.

"We knew there was a champion for the arts when the city created the position," Boyd said. "You need a cheerleader in the arts."

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"Bianchi to nominate Sabourin for director of administrative services post"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 4/22/2014

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's nominations for the next director of administrative services and for a reactivated Human Rights Commission will go before the City Council tonight.

Bianchi also is resubmitting a school bus purchase request to borrow $2.7 million for 43 new city school buses. The plan was rejected by one vote during an April 8 council meeting.

Julia B. Sabourin, of Holmes Road, is the mayor's choice to succeed Mary McGinnis in the top administrative post. McGinnis is leaving in May to return to Berkshire Health Systems, where she had been employed in nursing-related capacities for 35 years before taking a year-long leave of absence to work at City Hall.

Since 2009, Sabourin has been an English Language Arts teacher at Reid Middle School. She also has served since 2011 as a team leader of seventh-grade teachers and other staff members to improve instruction and oversee the use of testing data in teaching, and providing professional development and classroom support.

Sabourin has experience as a grant writer and grant program administrator at Reid. This includes a three-year 21st Century Grant award totaling $501,000 for educationally based programming for at-risk middle school students.

According to her resume, Sabourin received a bachelor's degree in political science in 2008 from Boston College and later a master's degree in elementary curriculum and instruction.

Nominated for the nine-member Human Rights Commission, which has been inactive since the late 1990s, are seven persons chosen by the mayor, one is the council president or a designee and there is a school system designee.

Bianchi has submitted the names of Cecelia Rock, Louis Perez, the Rev. Alfred Johnson, Susan T. O'Leary, Dr. Len Kates, Robert Sykes, and Pam Malumphy.

Council President Melissa Mazzeo is nominating Councilor at large Churchill Cotton to the rights commission, and School Committee member Josh Cutler was selected by Harry Hayes, the human resources director for the school system.

Created in the early 1990s, the Rights Commission has authority to investigate claims of discrimination, mediate disputes or refer parties to state or federal agencies. It also can issue reports and recommendations to the mayor following an investigation.

In an unresolved dispute, the commission may "hold hearings, subpoena witnesses, compel their attendance, administer oaths, take the testimony of any person under oath" and require the production of evidence to any matter under investigation by the commission.

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Julia B. Sabourin (Jim Therrien/Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Sabourin approved as top administrative aide to Mayor Bianchi"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 4/23/2014

PITTSFIELD - Julia B. Sabourin won unanimous City Council approval Tuesday to become Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's top administrative aide.

The council also unanimously approved Bianchi's seven nominees to the revived Human Rights Commission and two other commission appointments.

Sabourin will become director of administrative services next month, succeeding Mary McGinnis, who is leaving after a one-year leave of absence from her longtime nursing-related employment at Berkshire Health Systems.

"I am pretty excited to take this position," Sabourin said after the council vote. "There are a lot of exciting things going on in the city right now."

Currently an English Language Arts teacher at Reid Middle School and a grant writer and administrator, the Holmes Road resident has worked at the school since 2009.

Sabourin said her interest in applying for the city post also stems from undergraduate work she did at Boston College and from community outreach work she's done while administering a three-year 21st Century grant that funds programs for at-risk middle school students on a year-round basis.

"When it came up, it was something I was really interested in," she said of the city post.

Sabourin, a native of the Amherst area, received a bachelor's degree in political science in 2008 from Boston College and later a master's degree in elementary curriculum and instruction from the college.

Nominated by the mayor for the nine-member Human Rights Commission, which has been inactive since the late 1990s, are Cecelia Rock, Louis Perez, the Rev. Alfred Johnson, Susan T. O'Leary, Dr. Len Kates, Robert Sykes, and Pam Malumphy.

In addition, Council President Melissa Mazzeo nominated Councilor at large Churchill Cotton to the rights commission, and School Committee member Josh Cutler was selected by Harry Hayes, the human resources director for the school system.

The ordinance creating the commission, which dates to the early 1990s, specifies that format of nominating commissioners.

Under the ordinance, the Rights Commission has authority to investigate claims of discrimination, mediate disputes or refer parties to state or federal agencies. It also can issue reports and recommendations to the mayor following an investigation.

In an unresolved dispute, the commission may "hold hearings, subpoena witnesses, compel their attendance, administer oaths, take the testimony of any person under oath" and require the production of evidence to any matter under investigation by the commission.

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"Responsible management, not a dilemma"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 4/23/2014

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

I'm responding to The Berkshire Eagle's editorial regarding the issues at BerkshireWorks and its executive director ("BerkshireWorks dilemma," April 18). Perhaps there may be a "dilemma," or an issue. Issues regarding personnel are not to be taken lightly and often take time to investigate and appropriately resolve. Employees have rights and when the law and procedures are not followed there are consequences that can result in damages that would cost the very taxpayers who the Eagle editor seems so concerned about.

Personnel issues should not be discussed even in the public sector until it is appropriate to do so. The Eagle disagrees because the taxpayers fund BerkshireWorks. It is true this is a public sector, taxpayer funded agency, however, it doesn't exempt it from the law. It shouldn't exempt it from good business practices. Given the editor's logic relative to taxpayer-funded entities, a personnel issue at the Crane Company, General Dynamics or Berkshire Health Systems should all be open to public discussion because of their funding from the U.S. Treasury, Department of Defense and Health and Human Services respectively. The Eagle's logic doesn't hold up.

The Eagle states regarding BerkshireWorks, "Whatever the problem is, it didn't have to happen. BerkshireWorks had been by all accounts effectively serving the needs of county residents under the interim director John Barrett." "By all accounts"; which accounts are those? What evidence does The Eagle offer of the agency's effectiveness? Who at The Eagle is capable of evaluating the effectiveness of that agency? Is The Eagle suggesting that it couldn't be improved by more qualified leadership?

Here is my dilemma. As mayor of Pittsfield I'm the "appointing authority" for the executive director of the BerkshireWorks, but beyond that I have little or no authority over the staff, their conduct or their operation. The arrangement is a governmentally contrived authority and the system of the agency's operation makes very little sense. Established by state statute, I have the authority to appoint the BerkshireWorks director because, according to statute, the mayor of Pittsfield is designated the "lead elected official" in the county. It is anybody's guess what that means. I could disregard qualifications and literally appoint anyone I want without a legitimate search as has been the case in the past. In this particular case, a broad search was conducted, twice, and many résumés received. A screening occurred. The current executive director was interviewed by seven professionals, including a manager of BerkshireWorks. His references were thoroughly checked.

I have an obligation to the taxpayers and more importantly to the unemployed workers of Berkshire County who need the services of this agency. Even given my limited authority relating to BerkshireWorks, I take my obligation seriously. I am not going to be bullied or intimidated by an ill-informed, opinionated Berkshire Eagle editor. It is critical that we are fair, thorough and that we follow the law and good management practices. That is just what I intend to do.

DANIEL L. BIANCHI
Pittsfield
The writer is mayor of Pittsfield.

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"Longtime employee of BerkshireWorks files discrimination complaint"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 4/25/2014

PITTSFIELD -- A longtime employee of the BerkshireWorks Career Center has filed a discrimination complaint against the career center and the city of Pittsfield, The Eagle has learned.

The complaint was filed by Daniel L. Collins, who is currently the manager of human resources at BerkshireWorks, and has been an employee of the career center for more than 35 years.

It was not clear on Thursday what Collins was alleging in his complaint, which was filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

MCAD spokesman Keith Healey declined to comment on the specifics of Collins' complaint other than to say that it has been filed.

"It's an active investigation at this time," Healey said.

Collins also declined comment, referring all inquiries to his attorney, Richard M. Dohoney of Pittsfield. Dohoney is traveling and could not be reached.

William Monterosso, who took the helm in January as the executive director of BerkshireWorks, recently was placed on paid leave from the agency.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who hired Monterosso, has declined comment on his status because it is a personnel matter. The mayor could not be reached on Thursday regarding the complaint.

A Pittsfield native, Monterosso returned to the Berkshires from West Virginia, where he had served as the executive director of the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. He has 15 years of experience in workforce development, having also held positions in that field in the state of Kentucky.

The BerkshireWorks Career Center is a quasi-public agency chartered by the Berkshire Regional Employment Board to provide job training, planning and assistance to county residents. The mayor of Pittsfield is the appointing authority by virtue of being the leading elected official of the county's largest municipality.

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"The right vote on buses"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 4/24/2014

The Pittsfield City Council’s vote Tuesday night to approve a $2.7 million school bus purchase plan revives a well-conceived proposal that benefits the city while avoiding past mistakes. Just as significantly, it heals a self-inflicted black eye.

The five-year bond fell a vote short of the necessary two-thirds majority needed for approval two weeks ago, but Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully switched her no vote to in favor Tuesday night. Ms. Tully deserves credit for doing the additional homework over the past two weeks that caused her to conclude that the proposal, developed by school officials and the Bianchi administration, was a financially sound one that merited her yes vote.

By biting the bullet and purchasing 43 new buses over the next five years, Pittsfield avoids the half-measure of staggered replacements that would only lead to increased repair and maintenance costs as the buses break down. The current aging fleet was purchased over 12 years, and the five-year bond means that there will presumably be far better trade-in options after the bond is paid.

Rejection of the proposal sent word out far and wide that penny-wise, pound-foolish arguments shortchanging the school system were holding sway in Pittsfield, which would cause damage well beyond the continued use of rattletrap buses. Tuesday’s vote, in contrast, sent out the message that Pittsfield is willing to invest in its schools -- and in itself.

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"Higher pay proposed for Pittsfield department heads, officials"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 5/3/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Higher rates of pay for department heads and other officials are proposed in a new city salary schedule proposed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

The new schedule, proposed as an amendment to Chapter 16 of city code concerning personnel, would replace the existing scale. It will go before the City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

Bianchi said the proposal stems from a study conducted for the city in 2012 by consultant Rachel Brown of Medfield, to determine how Pittsfield supervisors and professional employees are compensated compared to those in similar communities. Comparatively low levels of pay are considered a factor in Pittsfield's difficulties in attracting candidates for key posts and in retaining employees over time.

While officials have been aware of those problems, Bianchi said, funding across-the-board raises is never easy. "There is never a good time" to seek pay raises, he said.

The overall cost of the proposed raises would depend on vacancies and at what level each of the officials has reached at the time the schedule is approved, he said.

The consultant "made recommendations for a new salary structure," Bianchi said, and his proposal is largely based on that report.

The mayor also named a committee, consisting of Director of Finance and Treasurer Susan Carmel, Community Development Department Director Douglas Clark, Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood and Personnel Department Director John DeAngelo, to further review the study information.

The consultant considered data from 15 communities similar to Pittsfield in terms of size, geography and other factors, Bianchi said.

The proposed new schedule sets a starting salary and a range of pay, depending on experience and performance, for supervisory and professional posts. At the top level, which includes the mayor, police chief and fire chief, salary would start at $92,213 to start to a potential maximum of $119,887. Bianchi currently is paid $87,000 annually.

The next level, starting at $83,830 and ranging as high as $108,979, includes the commissioner of public utilities.

The level just below that ranges from $76,214 to $99,081 and includes the director of finance and treasurer, the community development director and the solicitor.

The lowest management pay scale on the schedule would pay $35,552 to start and range to a maximum of $46,217.

The proposal would make raises retroactive to July 1, 2013, start of the current fiscal year.

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"Pittsfield Council Previews 2015 Budget"
By Joe Durwin, Pittsfield Correspondent, iBerkshires.com - May 5, 2014

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — School and road funding were the key topics of discussion, as Mayor Daniel Bianchi presented an overview of the coming fiscal year at a joint meeting of the City Council and School Committee last week.

Bianchi said he projects a budget of $148,142,000 for fiscal 2015, and although he said estimates presented are not yet finalized, it will likely mean an increase of about $4.4 million over last year's $143.7 million budget.

"These numbers very well may change," Bianchi told officials on Wednesday, depending in part on unknowns in state funding allowances.

Under provisions of the new city charter passed by voters in November, the mayor is now required to convene a joint meeting of the city and School Committee to review the city's financials and budget projections 60 days before the beginning of the fiscal year.

Within the overall budget, a $57.2 million school budget was approved by the School Committee, an increase of $1 million over this year. Much of that increase is the result of $1.3 million in increased payroll costs from already negotiated contractual obligations, as well as several hundred thousand in unfunded mandates from the state to comply with testing requirements.

"While it looks like an increase, from a level service perspective, it's actually a cut in schools," said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol.

"I wouldn't necessarily call it a cut, and I don't think services are being cut," said Bianchi, who praised what he called "a very collegial and collaborative" budget process between his administration and school officials in finding flexibility in funding. "We're not losing any teachers, we're not losing any programs."

"To me, what I'm hearing is that there are different thoughts about what the school budget should like," Krol told Bianchi. "I think there are a lot of people in this community that believe strongly that we should be investing in a more robust way in our schools."

"I think we're funding the school department, and every other department, in a responsible way," Bianchi told the councilors.

School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said the finalized school budget did not allow for the kinds of improvements the committee would like to see in Pittsfield schools, but ultimately concurred with the compromises made to reach the current figure.

"I think we're in the best place we can be at the moment, to help the schools move forward and get the budget approved," said Yon.

"I think a $1 million [increase] is adequate," said at-Large Councilor Kathleen Amuso, a former School Committee member. "It could be $10 million and it would never really be enough."

A final capital improvement program, encompassing all the city's planned road work, major construction projects and large equipment purchases, was not yet available, an omission challenged by at-Large Councilor Barry Clairmont. Under the new charter, that part of the budget is also supposed to be presented to the City Council at least 60 days before the fiscal year.

"We should not be ignoring what the charter says," Clairmont told Bianchi.

"This is a new charter, and we're working toward that," said Bianchi, who told the council that the initial wish list from city department heads totaled $44 million just in capital projects.

"It's going to be a lot lower than that," said the mayor, who said he is continuing to meet with staff to arrive at a final plan.

Bianchi again acknowledged the public's concerns about the conditions of roads, both seasonally this spring and longtime paving needs, and suggested this would improve with the implementation of a new paving management software system the city has purchased.

"We will be assessing each and every road — accepted and unaccepted — and every sidewalk in the city," said Bianchi. "This is a management tool that is going to allow us to plan much more effectively."

"We are still establishing our priorities," Bianchi told the councilors, with regards to when a finalized list of planned road improvements would be available.

link: www.iberkshires.com/story/46425/Pittsfield-Council-Previews-2015-Budget.html

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Doreen Wade registered a lengthy discrimination complaint against Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi during the first meeting of the revived Human Rights Commission Monday. (Jim Therrien / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"First discrimination complaint registered against Pittsfield mayor"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 5/13/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Less than a month after reviving the city Human Rights Commission by appointing its first new members in more than a decade, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is the object of a wide-ranging discrimination complaint.

Doreen Wade of Medford, a native of Pittsfield who said she sought city assistance last year to establish a business here, registered the commission's first complaint Monday at the organizational meeting. She spoke for more than 30 minutes, detailing what she said was discrimination concerning city funding to assist businesses and concerning city jobs she applied for.

Wade also accused Bianchi of making racially insensitive comments and at one point of intimidating her by speaking loudly and shaking his finger in her face during a meeting at City Hall.

Commissioner Susan O'Leary asked whether Wade thought the alleged treatment of her "was inefficiency or discrimination."

"Discrimination," Wade responded, later adding, "I'm just going to say it out and out: The city leadership is racist; it needs to be investigated."

Reached after the meeting, Bianchi denied Wade was discriminated against. "That is so far from the truth, it almost doesn't deserve a comment," he said.

He added that until he has more information about her statements, he wouldn't comment further. "I am sure the Human Rights Commission will listen to her and make a determination," Bianchi said.

Commissioners asked Wade to produce emails, documents and other written information she referred to in her statement so that they could review the material prior to the next commission meeting on June 9.

They also said it is crucial that City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan attend the next meeting to provide guidance on the commission procedures as outlined in a city ordinance adopted during the early 1990s.

"We will table this to revisit in June," said commission Chairman Josh Cutler, also a School Committee member and a school department appointee to the board.

City Councilor at large Churchill Cotton, who was appointed by council President Melissa Mazzeo, said, "These are really pretty serious charges. I am not sure how we should proceed."

"That's why we need Ms. Degnan here next time," Cutler said, a statement echoed by commissioner Pamela Malumphy and others.

Before hearing from Wade, members had said they need legal guidance because of the powers granted the rights commission under the enabling ordinance. Those include being able to subpoena testimony and documents during an investigation and require people to testify under oath.

The commission members nominated by Blanchi are Cecelia Rock, Louis Perez, the Rev. Alfred Johnson, O'Leary, Dr. Len Kates, Robert Sykes and Malumphy.

Wade said she was making her complaint as an individual, not on behalf of the NAACP or another organization.

Before speaking, she asked if commissioners could fairly consider such a complaint since Bianchi is the mayor.

"I have no problem acting independently," Cotton said.

Malumphy said the commission is set up to act as an independent group and has the option of referring issues to state or federal agencies, such as the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination or the Attorney General's Office.

As established, the commission has authority to investigate claims of discrimination, mediate disputes or refer parties to state or federal agencies. It also could issue reports and recommendations to the mayor following an investigation.

In a dispute that can't be resolved, the commission may "hold hearings, subpoena witnesses, compel their attendance, administer oaths, take the testimony of any person under oath" -- and also require the production of evidence to any matter under investigation by the commission.

Those powers can be exercised only with a majority vote of the commissioners.

According to the ordinance that established the rights commission, the group is to "receive and investigate complaints of, and to initiate its own investigation of discrimination in employment, housing, education, recreation or public accommodations.

The discrimination could be against a person or group and stem from either a public or private source, according to the ordinance. Discrimination could be based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, ancestry, marital status, handicap or sexual orientation.

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William Monterosso has resigned as executive director of BerkshireWorks Career Center. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Update: BerkshireWorks Executive Director William Monterosso resigns"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 5/20/2014

PITTSFIELD - William Monterosso has resigned as the executive director of the BerkshireWorks Career Center, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development said on Tuesday.

A Pittsfield native, Monterosso was hired in January by Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. He was put on paid administrative leave by the city of Pittsfield more than a month ago.

Bianchi confirmed that Monterosso had resigned, but declined to comment on the reasons why. "It's a personnel matter," he said.

The city had been conducting an investigation relating to Monterosso's employment status, although officials have declined to elaborate on the reason.

Neither Monterosso, nor his attorney, Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. of Pittsfield, returned telephone calls seeking comment.

Inquires to the executive director's office at BerkshireWorks were referred to finance/human resources director Daniel Collins, and manager of program operations Melanie Gelaznik.

Although BerkshireWorks is a quasi-public agency, Monterosso was employed by Berkshire Training and Employment. The mayor of Pittsfield is the appointing authority for the executive director's position by virtue of being the leading elected official of the county's largest municipality.

Monterosso had 15 years of previous experience in the workforce development field. He most recently had served as the executive director of the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities.

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"Healing BerkshireWorks"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 5/21/2014

The resignation of William Monterosso as executive director of the BerkshireWorks Career Center brings to an end a stalemate that undermined the performance of an important Berkshire agency. It is of critical importance that the right choice be made as his replacement.

Hired in January, Mr. Monterosso was put on paid leave in April, and while city and state officials were silent on what transpired specifically during that time period at the quasi-public agency, it can be said that morale at BerkshireWorks had cratered. The most tangible event to emerge during that period was the filing of an age discrimination suit with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination by Daniel Collins, the BerkshireWorks finance/human resources director.

Mr. Monterosso was hired by Mayor Daniel Bianchi to replace interim director John Barrett III, the former mayor of North Adams, who had wanted to continue in the position he had been appointed to by Mayor James Ruberto. There were no apparent reasons to replace Mr. Barrett, who was evidently respected by workers. Mr. Barrett had performed an added service by warning the press and public about the pending disaster that was the new website of the Department of Unemployment Assistance, an action that infuriated state officials.

The Monterosso saga is made worse by the fact that there was no need for a new executive director in the first place. There is that need now, and Mr. Bianchi, the hiring authority for BerkshireWorks, is obligated to find a capable leader who will enable this bruised agency to heal.

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"Pittsfield mayor rolls out ‘level-services' budget; spending up 2.66 percent"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 5/30/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has submitted to the City Council a $141.2 million fiscal 2015 budget plan he termed a "maintenance budget or a level-services budget."

The total reflects a $3.65 million, or 2.66 percent increase over the current city budget for the July-to-June fiscal year.

As proposed, the budget would require a 4.54 percent increase in the tax levy, which at $73.5 million is up by $3.1 million over the current year.

Broken down, the municipal budget is proposed at $75.9 million, or 3.63 percent higher, and the school budget is proposed at $56.5 million, a 1.8 percent increase.

"This fiscally sound budget is developed to prepare the city of Pittsfield to be able to lay the foundation for important initiatives in the future development of Pittsfield," Bianchi said.

He said a significant factor in the city tax levy increase was the comparatively small state aid increase of 0.91 percent. Projected aid to the city totals $49.2 million.

A section of the document also estimates that if all property were taxed at a single rate, that rate would be $22 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, compared to the same single rate for this year of $21.03 per $1,000 valuation.

He said the budget includes allocations for downtown parking management, continued downtown streetscape improvements and toward construction of a new public works garage to replace the facility damaged in a 2012 fire.

The mayor unveiled a $10.8 million capital spending plan for next year, listing several investments he said will streamline city operations for greater efficiencies going forward.

Among the capital proposals, Bianchi listed a reorganization plan to locate all inspection services personnel together to make those easier for contractors and residents to access; the purchase of computer software to allow an online format for applying for city permits, which now can require visits to more than one office; and purchase of five smaller first-response vehicles for the fire department (costing $270,000) to reduce the need for initially responding with a larger vehicle.

The mayor also noted that he has asked the city's Ambulance Review Committee to examine the feasibility of "dispatching ambulance services from fire stations to enhance critical response time."

The council will begin its section-by-section review of the city budget on Saturday, June 7, and conclude with an evening session on Thursday, June 12, on the school portion of the budget.

Bianchi listed as key drivers of the budget increase a $700,000 hike for public safety expenditures for personnel overtime, a $450,000 increase in city employee pension-related costs, and a $1.2 million increase in debt service related to several city projects in recent years.

Councilors referred the mayor's budget requests to the Committee of the Whole, or the entire council, which will review the proposal.

Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, reached after the short noontime meeting, said his initial thought is that the Bianchi's plan "really is a maintenance budget."

However, Lothrop said he will be asking specific questions about a number of budget items, such as what percentage of project costs will be reimbursed through state or federal aid or grants and what percentage the city will pay.

Lothrop said about $5.5 million in priority work on streets and roads has been identified, and he would want to know how much of that will be included in the next budget.

Other aspects of the mayor's proposed budget include $200,000 toward a planned turf field at Berkshire Community College, $39,005 for a crime scene vehicle, $500,000 toward downtown parking management improvements; $100,000 for improvements at Wahconah Park, and $100,000 toward radio replacement for the Police Department.

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Jennifer Glockner

"Pittsfield City Council confirms Jennifer Glockner; OKs 5 percent pay hikes"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 6/11/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has confirmed Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's choice for director of cultural development and approved a 5 percent pay raise for 25 nonunion city workers.

Jennifer Glockner, who previously served in the Cultural Development office as coordinator of tourism efforts, was unanimously approved without debate by councilors. She was chosen by a search committee and nominated by the mayor to replace Megan Whilden, who left last month to become director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College.

The pay raises were for 25 employees in city government who are not represented by unions and have not received a pay increase in five years.

The raises had been included in a new salary schedule submitted by Bianchi that included raises for department heads and managers. The two categories were separated at the request of the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee, which is still reviewing the proposed raises for department heads and is expected to make a recommendation at a future council meeting.

The nonunion worker raises were not approved unanimously, in part become of some opposition to the fact they are retroactive to the beginning of the current fiscal year, July 1, 2013. The funding for the raises is in the current city budget.

City Personnel Director John DeAngelo confirmed the total cost for the raises will be $43,320.

The council voted 9-2, with at large Council Churchill Cotton and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi opposed, to allow the raises. Cotton said he was against retroactive pay raises, and Morandi said he has heard from many constituents who have not had raises in recent years.

"I certainly will listen to what they have to say," Morandi said.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop said many government employee raises are given retroactively because of delays while other groups of employees settle contracts or otherwise negotiate raises. "This is not unusual in government," he said, adding that the group of employees still would not have received as much of a raise as most other city workers in recent years.

Speaking in favor of Glockner for the cultural development post prior to the council vote, Andrew Kelly, the city's Cultural Development board chairman, said, "I am sure she will represent Pittsfield very well and very professionally."

Glockner, who most recently was tourism program coordinator in the city department, has worked with the visitors center, RSVP, DiscoverPittsfield.com, the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau.

She also has worked for the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, as a public relations director for Winstanley Associates and for The Berkshire Eagle advertising department. She is a volunteer and officer for various local charitable enterprises.

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"Pittsfield’s resident loss steepest of all state’s towns, cities"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle, 6/14/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The decline is not steep, but the city of Pittsfield has reportedly lost more residents than any other city or town in Massachusetts between 2010 and 2013.

Citing recently released U.S. Census Bureau figures, the Boston Business Journal found that Pittsfield lost 653 residents over that three-year period.

Massachusetts has 14 counties that contain 39 cities and 312 towns, according to information listed on Secretary of State William Galvin’s website.

The population decrease in Berkshire County’s largest city is only 1 percent, but it follows a 2.3 percent drop in Pittsfield’s population in the decade before the 2010 U.S. Census, the federally mandated head count of every U.S. resident, which takes place every 10 years.

Pittsfield’s population dropped from 44,710 in 2010 to 44,057 last year, according to the Boston Business Journal.

The city’s slight population loss during that three year period is reflected throughout Berkshire County. According to the Boston Business Journal, the 10 fastest shrinking communities in the state over that three-year time period are all located in the Berkshires: Pittsfield is ranked seventh. Williamstown is first, followed by the Berkshire’s other city, North Adams, in second place.

Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, said the organization always views with caution the figures released in the years between the annual census headcounts. It’s because those numbers are based on "sample data" that is "incomplete," and given the size of our communities can also be "inaccurate," he said.

In other words, a change of two or three households in a small Berkshire town can make a bigger impact percentage-wise than they would in a much larger community.

In Pittsfield itself, Karns said he’s skeptical of the most recent numbers given the yearly fluctuations in the city’s population that the census bureau reported throughout the early 2000s.

"It’s not that [the bureau is] doing anything nefarious or anything," Karns said, "the number historically hasn’t been right, so there’s no reason to believe that they will continue to be right."

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is also skeptical about the numbers.

"One percent is well within the range of error," Bianchi said.

Countywide, Karns pointed out that the projected population loss in the Berkshires is normally lower than the actual number. Berkshire County’s population fell by 2.8 percent following the 2010 census, the biggest decrease among the state’s 14 counties. However, the census bureau in 2009 had predicted the county’s population would fall by 4.2 percent.

Berkshire County’s population has also been declining slowly since it peaked in 1970.

"We’re reasonably sure the population continues to decrease," Karns said. "There are a lot of reasons for that. It’s a little bit more advanced [here] than in other places, but this is a trend that all of the Northeast and the upper Midwest are dealing with. We have a more aged population, and a relatively small migration in."

In Williamstown, the figures show the town lost 154 of its 7,753 residents between 2010 and 2013, a drop of 2 percent. North Adams also experienced a 2 percent drop, as the Steeple City lost 253 of its 13,786 residents during the interim three-year reporting period. North Adams experienced a 6.6 percent drop in population between the official 2000 and 2010 census periods.

The other Berkshire communities on the Boston Business Journal list of shrinking populations are, in order, Hinsdale, Adams, Lanesborough, Richmond, Great Barrington, West Stockbridge and Clarksburg. None of the population decreases in these municipalities are greater than 2 percent.

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“Berkshire County jobless rate lowest in 6 years”
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle, June 25, 2014

PITTSFIELD -- When North Adams Regional Hospital closed in late March, it was expected the loss of one of the county's major employers would create havoc with the local unemployment rate.

Instead, the opposite has occurred. Berkshire unemployment has been slowly descending since January, and has now reached its lowest level in six years.

The local jobless rate fell almost a full percentage point in May to 5.4 percent, according to state figures released on Tuesday. It's the first time the Berkshire unemployment rate has dropped below 6 percent since November 2008,when it was 5.5 percent. It is the lowest the local rate has been since it hit 4.9 percent in October 2008, according to Heather Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.

Berkshire unemplyment is still slightly higher than the seasonally unadjusted state rate of 5.2 percent (the state's seasonally adjusted rate is 5.6 percent), and almost a percentage point lower than the national unemployment rate of 6.3 percent. The numbers released Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account seasonal construction jobs and positions in the travel and tourism industry.

The good news, according to Boulger, is that May's Berkshire unemployment rate is almost a point and a half lower than the 6.8 percent registered in May 2013. However, Boulger said last month's numbers also show a drop of 1,300 workers in the county's total labor force during the last 12 months, which signifies that more county residents have either dropped out of the employment system entirely, or have moved out of the Berkshires.

"The number of long-term unemployed and underemployed are not being counted," said Boulger, referring to the Berkshire County numbers. Citing figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Boulger said the country's underemployment rate, those taking either part-time work or jobs outside of their fields, is 12.2 percent. Those figures aren't broken down by county, but Boulger said based on the national figures she believes the underemployment rate in the Berkshires is around 10.8 percent.

"That's only a guess though," she said. "It's not a solid number."

Boulger said the impact that NARH's closing had on the local unemployment rate is reflected in the state's latest numbers, but added, "something is offsetting it."

"Either more people are dropping out of the labor force, or they're becoming employed," she said. "Construction and travel and tourism tend to hire in May. They may not be all hospital employees. ...The majority of people have either been hired for seasonal employment, or through growth with local companies."

Boulger said no Berkshire job sector showed an unusual increase in jobs last month.

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi was encouraged by the numbers, but said he'd like to have a better understanding about what they really signify.

"It's hard to dive into them with any sort of certainity," Bianchi said. "I think we have do just that.”

"We want to know where the movement has been. What sectors are doing really well and why."

The number of Berkshire residents collecting unemployment benefits, which is how the state calculates the number of unemployed county workers, is 3,791, the lowest figure in at least 13 months. The county's total labor force and number of employed also increased in May. The number of employed county residents rose by 1,129 workers in May, after falling by 227 employees in April.

Unemployment is also down in the North Adams, Pittsfield and Great Barrington labor market areas. Unemployment in the Great Barrington and North Adams areas dropped a full percentage point in May to 3.6 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively. Unemployment in the Pittsfield area fell to 5.7 percent in May from 6.5 percent.

The jobless rate in the Berkshire's two cities also dropped in May, but not as significantly as the county rate. Unemployment in North Adams dropped half a percentage point to 7.9 percent, the lowest number in over a year. In Pittsfield, the rate dropped to 6.0 percent from 6.6 percent, also the lowest rate in more than a year. In May 2013, the jobless rate in North Adams was 8.9 percent, while the unemployment rate in Pittsfield was 7.8 percent.

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"Pittsfield Council Approves Budget, Shoots Down Capital Projects; North Adams Passes Budget"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC northeast public radio, June 25, 2014

The Pittsfield City Council approved a $141 million budget for 2015, but is not seeing eye-to-eye with Mayor Dan Bianchi on capital investments.

The council approved the municipal budget by a vote of 9-2 with many expressing concern about not enough investment in public safety. The budget includes funding for two police officer hires for downtown walking patrols, although Police Chief Michael Wynn requested five. Councilors Lisa Tully and Kevin Morandi voted no, citing the 5 percent tax increase for residents and businesses needed to support the $4.1 million budget hike.

“Maybe we should be looking at cutting some things and consolidating some things,” Morandi said. “But I haven’t seen that done here. So I think it would be a good time to start maybe looking out a little more for what we can really afford in this city.”

The council had until the end of June to pass a new budget, which has been worked out in meetings over the past several months. Morandi asked Bianchi what would happen if the council sent it back to the mayor, who would’ve had to call a special meeting before July 1.

“So this could be not approved tonight and sent back to you,” said Morandi.

“Well it could be, but you shouldn’t do it because it would be irresponsible unless you offered some recommendations for cuts which you haven’t done to this point,” replied Bianchi.

However, the mayor’s $9.5 million capital budget failed to get the necessary two-thirds vote. The council had suggested a $7.5 million plan. Councilors Jonathan Lothrop, Barry Clairmont, John Krol and Morandi opposed borrowing the money that would fund improvements, which Bianchi read to the council.

“Sidewalk repairs at the schools won’t happen,” Bianchi said. “The bleacher replacement at Pittsfield High School won’t happen. A number of other things won’t happen as well. I can go on if you’d like.”

The sticking point for those refusing to pass the capital spending plan was that it did not designate money to buy a new fire engine, requested by the fire department. Councilor Krol voted to send the plan back to the mayor.

“Clearly everyone here wants a fire engine, so let’s get it in the capital budget,” said Krol.

Bianchi proposed five SUVs also requested by the fire department to respond to 3,800 yearly medical calls instead of sending engines, according to the mayor. Those were removed from the plan at the council’s request. Those who voted to approve the capital measures, such as Councilor Kathleen Amuso, said they want to see a new fire engine and believe Bianchi can make it happen in the future.

“He did take out the five emergency vehicles,” Amuso said.

“Which I didn’t agree with,” Bianchi chimed in.

“I know you didn’t,” responded Amuso.

“But this is a compromise,” Bianchi said. “And I thought we were working together on this, but if you want to play this out, feel free councilors.”

“But I do think it could come to us before the beginning of next year’s budget,” Amuso said. “I’m voting for this because I don’t want to put the other items on hold.”

The city has about $2 million in state aid and money from last year’s capital budget for roadwork, according to Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood. Councilor Lothrop, who voted no on the current capital plan, says the fire truck, at a cost of roughly a half a million dollars, could easily be added since the original proposed spending plan was near $11 million.

“Frankly our next council meeting is only in two weeks and it would be hard pressed to understand where any of these projects would be negatively affected for two weeks,” said Lothrop.

Councilor Anthony Simonelli voted to approve the capital plan.

“I don’t think it’s just a fire truck that’s the issue and if it is I think one issue is questionable in my mind even though I think a fire truck is needed,” Simonelli said. “I would strongly suggest that anyone who voted against it set up an appointment and meet with the mayor and discuss it so that it can get aired out. Time is of the essence here.”

Mayor Bianchi says he plans to include money for a fire engine in next year’s operating budget. After the meeting, the mayor said he is seriously considering whether to submit an altered capital spending plan to the council at its next meeting July 8th.

“We may not get to attend to some of those projects,” Bianchi said. “But, that’s yet to be seen.”

The council could also reconsider its vote. Meanwhile, the North Adams City Council approved a $37.7 million budget. That’s an increase of $1.2 million, but takes nearly 20 people off the payroll across city and school departments. It includes $600,000 in cuts and a revenue package that increases water and sewer rates by 10 percent.

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"Pittsfield Council Passes 2015 Budget Minus Capital Plan"
By Joe Durwin, Pittsfield Correspondent, iBerkshires.com - June 24, 2014

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — By a 9-2 vote on Tuesday, the City Council approved the $141.2 million budget proposed by Mayor Daniel Bianchi for the coming fiscal year.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully voted against the FY15 budget, which represents a $4.1 million increase over the previous year. Both councilors cited the increase as too much of a tax burden on lower-income homeowners and local business.

"Over half of my constituents are over 65," said Tully. "I'm getting emails, I'm getting phone calls, begging me to support them.

"We're not increasing our tax base, so that's being passed on to the residential taxpayers of Pittsfield," said Morandi, also voicing concerns about the requisite tax rate increase that will follow from this budget at the end of the calendar year. "Now is the time to send a message, not in December."

Bianchi said that for the council to vote down the budget at this juncture would be "irresponsible, unless you offer some recommendations for cuts, which you haven't done to this point."

"I have to agree with the mayor on this," said Councilor Barry Clairmont. "The time to suggest cuts is during the budget hearings. Talking about it now, having not proposed any cuts, to me that's just sort of lip service."

Other councilors voted to approve the operating budget despite reservations with some aspects.

Councilors Jonathan Lothrop and John Krol voiced disappointment that more positions were not budgeted in the police and fire departments, saying public safety was a major concern of residents

Councilor Kathy Amuso felt that more could be done to fine-tune expenditures and reduce spending through more rigorous reorganization.

"I think we need to start doing things differently," said Amuso.

While the main budget passed, the proposed $7.5 million Capital Improvement Program received only seven votes, one less than the two-thirds majority required, with Clairmont, Lothrop, Krol, Morandi voting in opposition.

While several compromises were brokered between the council and mayor in a previous hearing earlier this month, continued disagreement centered around the purchase of a new fire engine, which though supported by a majority of the council did not make it into the list of capital expenses.

Bianchi said the purchase is planned for next year, expressing the opinion that the current vehicle capacity is "adequate."

"We'd love to be able to have everything that we ask for, but it's just not possible," said Bianchi.

Councilor Anthony Simonelli expressed concern about the failure to pass the capital plan, suggesting that the councilors who voted in opposition should arrange to meet with the mayor soon in order to negotiate their concerns. Others, however, suggested that this is not an immediate necessity to pass the capital project plan, and the city will not suffer by waiting until the council's next meeting in two weeks.

"It's hard for me to see where a delay of a couple of weeks is a major problem," said Lothrop.

"I haven't heard anyone [on the council] that says they don't want the fire truck," agreed Krol. "My suggestion is, if it's a priority for you, then we make that recommendation, and strongly say that to the mayor."

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"Three people robbed, one at knifepoint, over the weekend in Pittsfield"
By Andrew Amelinckx, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 6/25/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Police are investigating three reported robberies, including one that left a victim with lacerations.

The three separate robberies took place between midnight Friday and 11 p.m. Sunday, police said.

Around midnight on Friday, a 21-year-old Adams man leaving a nearby bar was robbed by two men in the area of South Street and Park Square. The man told police the two men punched him and knocked him to the ground, stole a small amount of cash from him, and damaged the front tire of his bicycle.

The victim apparently slept outside and came to the police station early Saturday morning to report the crime.

The men are described as a white male, approximately 5-feet tall, who was on foot, and a black male, about 5-foot-8 who was on a bicycle.

On Saturday night, a 45-year-old Pittsfield man was treated at Berkshire Medical Center for lacerations to his forehead, cheek and arms. He told police he was walking on Onota Street near West Union Street just after 10 p.m. when he was approached by two teens. A knife was put to his throat and the pair demanded his money. After they got his money and had taken the knife from his throat, the man fought back and was cut several times during the ensuing struggle, police said.

The first suspect in that case is described as a tall, thin dark-skinned black male wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt. The other suspect was described as a light-skinned black male.

Sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. Sunday, a 60-year-old woman walking on Melville Street had her purse snatched from her shoulder by a suspect described as a young black male, about 5-foot-6, wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up.

The woman told police she had been at the Cumberland Farms on First Street just before the robbery.

Pittsfield Police Detective Captain Patrick F. Barry said it was still too early to say whether these crimes are linked. All three continue to be under investigation.

Anyone who may have witnessed the crimes or has information concerning them is urged to call police at (413)448-9700.

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"Local Media Question Pittsfield's Press Protocol"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC, July 10, 2014

City government in Pittsfield is now operating under a new media protocol that has raised transparency concerns among some.

The policy put in place last month aims to streamline information from city departments to members of the media by funneling press releases and interview requests through the mayor’s office. Julia Sabourin became Mayor Dan Bianchi’s administrative assistant in May. Under the once informal, but now formal written policy, she sends out the press releases and handles questions city employees may have regarding media requests.

“Things have been running a lot more smoothly and we’ve been getting I think a lot more people involved in the press than were before,” Sabourin said. “Sometimes reporters have relationships with certain people in City Hall and they don’t always get to hear all sides of the story so we’ve been able to connect reporters with everyone involved in a project.”

A letter from Mayor Bianchi recently published in The Berkshire Eagle said the policy was meant to increase transparency. The mayor went on to question “Can there be complete transparency when an issue is partially examined by a reporter and then editorialized by the newspaper’s management?” Bill Everhart has been The Eagle’s editorial page editor for 19 years.

“We always try and get every side of every story,” Everhart said. “And the best way to get every side of every story is with open communication and complete transparency to whatever extent is possible. So if the mayor has that concern his policy is not going to address it. It will probably make it even more difficult to get every side.”

An Eagle editorial published five days before the mayor’s letter questioned why the policy came about now during Mayor Bianchi’s second term.

“It’s really no secret that the mayor is not a great fan of dealing with the press [and] is suspicious I think of The Eagle in general,” said Everhart.

Everhart says in general The Eagle’s reporters haven’t had any issues getting information from department heads understanding total access isn’t guaranteed. He questions whether that will continue if department heads must relay information they give to the media to the mayor’s office or get permission from the mayor’s office before doing an interview as stated in the policy.

“We do want access and we had it before,” Everhart said. “I think now it’s going to be a really constraining affect. They are going to be intimidated about what they say and if they say anything.”

Sabourin says the policy was put in place because city employees increasingly had questions about how to respond to reporters, especially those from markets like Albany and Springfield who may not be as familiar with Pittsfield officials.

John Krol is currently a Pittsfield City Councilor. He is the creator and the main host of the radio talk show, Good Morning, Pittsfield, which has been on the air since 2006. Krol worked as the city’s public affairs coordinator from 2005 to 2007 under Mayor James Ruberto before becoming the media relations manager at Berkshire Healthcare Systems. Krol also previously served as WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief. He says he has no issue with having a protocol, but it depends on how it is acted on. Krol says city employees have told him they cannot appear on his show even though they have appeared multiple times before.

“Those individuals have been asked not to appear on my particular program,” Krol said. “That has been a policy that even came before this written policy from this administration.”

Krol had reached out to those individuals without going through the mayor’s office—something he says the mayor did not agree with.

“A member of the media would recognize that it is not your responsibility to follow the administration’s protocol,” Krol said. “It’s the administration’s obligation to follow their own protocol. So if you reach out to an individual to speak with that individual then it’s on that individual to follow through with the protocol and make sure that the internal process is followed.”

Blogger and former newspaperman Dan Valenti says his website was blocked on City Hall computers and has since been unblocked. Sabourin denies that ever happened. Valenti, who refers to Mayor Bianchi as “The Empty Suit” on his website and talk show, says he has been denied interviews with Bianchi for asking tough questions.

“If the city decides through the mayor that a certain reporter, broadcaster or member of the media is quote unquote unfriendly, they’re not going to get a call back,” said Valenti.

Mayor Bianchi did not return a call for comment in time for this broadcast.

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"Spiteful City Hall missing major opportunity"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 7/18/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

My name is Craig C. Gaetani, and older residents will certainly remember what I did for the city of Pittsfield in the mid-1980s. Younger people probably don’t know a thing about me, but read on.

Over the past few years, I have been advancing some ideas I and my colleague Dr. Lawrence K. Wang have about making minor changes to the city’s two drinking water filtration plants that could save maybe $100,000 to $200,000 per year in operating costs. More importantly, the city is under decree from state and federal environmental agencies to add additional treatment stages at the Pittsfield sewage treatment plant for removal of certain chemicals before the water is released back to the environment following treatment. I have been told by Mayor Daniel Bianchi that, according to figures given him by Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood, these upgrades could cost between $70 and $80 million.

Dr. Wang and I are scientific and engineering consultants and educators in physics, chemistry, biology and environmental engineering. We both worked for many years for world-renowned scientist Dr. Milos Kroftka, our colleague and mentor who was recognized as the world’s leader in flotation technology.

Dr. Kroftka, with significant input from Dr. Wang and myself, created the Kroftka-patented sandfloats which are at the heart of the two Kroftka-designed plants sold to the city in 1983. We designed everything in the project, including all of the electrical and plumbing work. This saved taxpayers $100 million in upfront costs for the two plants and $15 million in water rates that were significantly lowered over the past 30 years because of the lower operating costs of the plants we built.

In recent months, I have contacted the mayor, Mr. Collingwood, City Council President Melissa Mazzeo and all the members of the council through written submissions of information and appearances in person about the water filtration plant changes and
the sewage treatment plant decrees. The figure of $70 to $80 million for what will be nothing more than the design and construction of a third stage of treatment is preposterous. The present sewage treatment plant is predominantly a primary and secondary stage facility, and it should cost no more than $5 to $8 million to build a third stage. Dr. Wang and I are willing to show them how, at a savings to ratepayers of between $40 and $50 million.

We have tried to communicate with the mayor, Mr. Collingwood and the council to inform them that they must look into any and all technologies that meet the regulatory standards at a dollar amount that taxpayers can afford. Are ratepayers ready to watch their sewer and water rates rise by four to eight times what they are now or do they think city officials should listen to what Dr. Wang and I have to say?

This administration has stopped me from going to the water plants to get further information. This was conveyed to me in a letter from Mr. Collingwood and by the mayor himself in a meeting in his office where I found him to be unprofessional and a bully. Wagging his finger at me, he said I should put on my "best scientific hat, as in the future I would be dealing with Mr. Collingwood." I asked him to set up a meeting with Collingwood. He said he would, but it never occurred.

This incident took place in mid-October of 2013. Recently, I read an article about Doreen Wade, who said she was treated badly by the mayor, and it sounded to me exactly the way I was treated. I believe I was discriminated against by Bianchi based on age, as he told me what I did for the city was in the past, some 30 years ago, as though that meant what I had to say today was unimportant.

To help our clients, we are able to explain complex scientific concepts in ways they will understand. My goal is to save big bucks for the taxpayers and water rate payers of Pittsfield. I have tried to communicate this to the mayor but could never get a word in edgewise.

To Mayor Bianchi and the City Council, I promise that I will expose to the public that you do not have the city’s residents and their pocketbooks at heart. To Council President Melissa Mazzeo, I took you to the larger of the two treatment plants I built and gave you a full tour of the facility, educating you as to why floatation facilities are much less costly to purchase and operate than any other technology presently available for building drinking water and sewage treatment facilities. All you seemed to
get out of this tour was that I hadn’t given the city 24 hours notice that I was going to appear there. I have not seen you since.

To Mr. Collingwood, I firmly believe that the mayor and City Council are in the dark about what I am trying to do for the city because of you. In 2011, former Mayor Charles Smith and I came to visit you at your office. We tried to help you and you pretty much showed us the door. Thanks to Mayor Smith’s steadfast faith in me, he allowed me to move Kroftka Engineering forward and the result was two world class drinking water filtration plants for the city of Pittsfield at a cost residents could afford.

To my fellow city residents, taxpayers and ratepayers, you must get involved with city politics and vote in local elections. If you don’t vote, individuals like those I am dealing with now will be back again. If my efforts in these matters fail, so be it, I will know that I have tried to help my fellow residents. If I do fail, I may set my sites elsewhere, perhaps on running for mayor. If I do, Mr. Bianchi had better get on his best hat, the one he told me to wear in dealing with Collingwood. I can guarantee that if I run against the mayor he will face an opponent who is not like anyone he has ever dealt with.

CRAIG GAETANI
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Gaetani has earned city’s respect"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 7/23/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

I am writing in reference to Craig C. Gaetani’s letter to the editor of July 18, "Spiteful City Hall misses major opportunity."

I have known Mr. Gaetani for more than 40 years, and I know him to be a sincere individual who is concerned about everything. I followed his progress in the early 1980s in bringing Kroftka technology to Pittsfield as an alternative to what the city was considering. It may be hard for many readers to comprehend that through his efforts he did indeed save city residents more than $100 million by convincing then Mayor Charles L. Smith and the City Council that the technology he helped create, "the Kroftka sandfloat," was the best way for the city to go early in building the new drinking water filtration plants.

Mr. Gaetani is a very straightforward individual, and he tells it like it is. His attitude has saved every taxpayer and utility ratepayer of the city of Pittsfield more money than any other person in Pittsfield’s history past, present, and hopefully in the future. The negative treatment that he incurred by Mayor Bianchi, Mr. Collingwood and the full City Council is abhorrent. I hope that Mr. Gaetani does run for mayor in the future, and Mr. Gaetani is very correct in stating that unless we city residents go out to vote these types of individuals that Mr. Gaetani is dealing with now will be back in office.

I suggest to anyone who cares about our city to call or write to Mr. Gaetani, and encourage him to run for mayor in 2015. Thank you, Mr. Gaetani for opening the eyes of our city residents about this matter, and good luck in what you do.

JOSEPH DINICOLA
Pittsfield

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"City offices belong in City Hall"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 8/5/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

The proposal by Mayor Bianchi to move city departments from City Hall to another location is not prudent or wise (Eagle, July 26.) We the people want all of our government offices under one roof in a city owned building. The added expense of $126,000 per year to a privately owned building is ludicrous.

As I entered the front doors of City Hall to pay my taxes I saw a plaque in the entryway that said our city offices began performing in this venerable City Hall in 1967 under the leadership of former Mayor Remo DelGallo, and the guidance of the late historian Sam Sass, a time when our city was thriving. Now with a city in dire straits and on the eve of destruction, this mayor wants to move these offices from City Hall to a privately owned building. This makes no sense, unless he wants them closer to his office at Global Montello.

This part-time mayor is, seemingly without City Council approval, moving government offices out of City Hall. I find this troubling that the business of "we the people" is being moved to a building that is not a public building owned by our city but rather one that is privately owned. This move is not prudent and it is ill-conceived. At a time when most communication and business is on-line reducing paper files and increasing efficiency, putting the taxpayers of our city and many seniors on fixed incomes on the hook for the $126,000 plus in rent per year, along with the cost of the move, is another unnecessary burden on "We the people."

DONNA M. WALTO
Pittsfield

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"Pittsfield City Council calls on mayor to address office move queries"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/13/2014

PITTSFIELD -- City councilors want Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to appear before them Sept. 2 to answer questions on his plan to move city inspection services to rented office space at 100 North Street.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont filed a council petition with the request, listing a number of questions he has about the proposal. Clairmont also has requested a subsequent nonbinding vote of the council to support or oppose the plan, which Bianchi has said does not require council approval.

At the council meeting Tuesday, Clairmont asked that members vote on his request, which they approved.

Bianchi’s proposal calls for leasing 9,000 square feet of second floor space at the historic First Agricultural Bank building at First and Fenn streets, which is owned by Scarafoni Realty. The cost would be $126,000, or $14 per square foot, in the first year of a three-year agreement; $13 per square foot the second year, and $12 per square foot the third year.

Bianchi contends the move would consolidate scattered inspection services offices, now mostly in the basement level of City Hall, into modern office space at one location. He said that will encourage developers, contractors and others to "do business with the city of Pittsfield," which could produce more tax or other revenue to offset the rental costs.

He said developers have complained about the atmosphere of the current offices and that they are not all in one location. The basement area of City Hall often is damp in wet weather, he said, and moving employees out and using the basement for storage or other purposes would provide a healthier environment for the workers.

Clairmont said on Wednesday that Bianchi did a poor job of informing councilors of his intentions, which he said were in the planning stages by April. "It would have been nice to have some communication beforehand," he said. "It was poor communication at the least."

Bianchi could not be reached Wednesday for comment on the council’s request.

In his list of submitted questions for the mayor, Clairmont asked which city personnel would be moving into the new offices, what were the reasons for moving; what data was used in making the decision to move; how will the vacated basement space be used, when would the move take place, and how many permits were issued last year that involved more than one permitting office.

Clairmont also seeks information on a request for proposals for office space that the city posted and to which Scarafoni was the lone downtown property owner to respond. And Clairmont asked for specific information about the lease agreement.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop added a question to the list, asking for an opinion from the city solicitor on whether the mayor would require council approval to sign a lease for the office space.

Clairmont said he was making the request under Section 2-7 of the new Pittsfield government charter, approved in November, which states in part: "The City Council may make investigations into the affairs of the city and into the conduct and performance of any city agency."

The section also states that the council may request specific information from the mayor on municipal matters and may request that the mayor "be present to answer written questions relating to that information at a meeting."

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Roseanne Frieri at the 2012 Memorial Day Parade at Pittsfield Cemetery. (Stephanie Zollshan/ Bekshire Eagle Staff)

"Pittsfield Veterans' Agent Rosanne Frieri is suspended"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 08/07/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The city's veterans' agent, Rosanne Frieri, has been suspended without pay for an unspecified period by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

The mayor termed the cause "work-related" issues, while Frieri said the suspension late Tuesday afternoon followed her refusal to meet with Bianchi in his office.

Frieri also said her suspension followed a series of disagreements with the mayor or administration officials over details of the programs her office oversees.

She met Tuesday with Personnel Director John DeAngelo in her office, she said, and was asked to attend a meeting with the mayor; then was informed that "if you don't meet with the mayor today, you will be suspended without pay."

Frieri said she refused and soon after left for the day.

"I had been badgered by the mayor on a different occasion," she said, describing a scene in which Bianchi "started yelling and screaming at me. I said, never again without a third party."

Bianchi said Wednesday that the suspension is not for a specific time period, adding that he doesn't know how the matter will end. "It depend on what happens over the next week," he said.

Bianchi said Frieri, who has been the full-time veterans' agent here for seven years, and also is an agent for several Berkshire County towns as an independent contractor, has not been fired.

The mayor declined further comment about the situation, calling it a personnel matter he could not discuss.

He added that he believes other staff members can handle services for veterans, which include assisting with Veterans Administration medical or other benefit claims, without Frieri in the office. It will be "the highest priority," he said, "to have an office that can meet the needs of our veterans."

Frieri said she has concerns about the operation of the office, citing paperwork relating to veterans. "Basically, I am the one who runs the show," she said, adding that there are papers "I have to sign off on."

Bianchi said there won't be a problem with official paperwork, adding, "There are other veterans agents in Berkshire County."

Frieri said disputes included what she saw as foot-dragging in approving aspects of an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning program for veterans, which she helped launch this summer at a Richmond site. The pilot eight-week session, in which vets worked with and rode horses as part of their therapy during reintegration into society, was the first in the state, Frieri said, and most of the cost was approved for reimbursement through the state Department of Veterans Services.

"That should have been fully embraced and gone a lot more smoothly," she said, but Frieri contended that different offices in City Hall questioned and slowed down a program "that had been approved in Boston. I kept getting more frustrated," she said.

In addition, Frieri flew to Chicago in early June to attend a workshop on the horse therapy program. Her request to the city for reimbursement for the trip, costing $920, was denied, she said.

While in Chicago, Frieri was photographed by the Chicago Tribune, and the photo appeared in a June 9 article on the workshop.

For some time, she said, "I also felt there was a terrible strain," between her and the mayor, and that Bianchi "doesn't acknowledge me" when they meet at public events.

Frieri said she plans to meet with an attorney today to discuss the situation.

"I don't know what is going to happen at this point," she said. However, she said of the suspension, "I think it's unjustified."

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"Troubling circumstances of Frieri departure"
The Berkshire Eagle, Opinion: Editorial, 8/8/2014

Pittsfield is now without a veterans’ agent following the suspension without pay of Rosanne Frieri by Mayor Daniel Bianchi. Mayor Bianchi says the suspension is "work-related" and Ms. Frieri cites disputes within City Hall that may be at the root of the issue. What is most worrisome is that Ms. Frieri didn’t make a case for herself because she was uncomfortable meeting with the mayor in his office.

Ms. Frieri told The Eagle’s Jim Therrien that on a previous occasion the mayor "started yelling and screaming at me. I said, never again without a third party." Ms. Frieri is not the first person to claim to have experienced the mayor’s wrath in his office -- most recently City Councilor Barry Clairmont said he was "dressed down" by the mayor when he was last in his office in City Hall. People will lose their tempers, but in the mayor’s case, it appears to be a pattern and a counterproductive one when it comes to governing.

The mayor told The Eagle that there are other veterans’ agents within Berkshire County to help with paperwork, but they are not as familiar with the cases as is Ms. Frieri. She is an experienced veteran regarded highly enough to serve as veterans’ agent for several other Berkshire towns as an independent contractor. Her concerns about how efficiently the office will run in her absence are likely justified.

Ms. Frieri has been the veterans’ agent for seven years, beginning during the tenure of Mayor James Ruberto, and if the two had any disputes, they didn’t emerge in public with her suspension. Ideally, Ms. Frieri will be back on the job soon, but when she is, her relationship with Mayor Bianchi is probably irreparably damaged. City government is complicated enough when running smoothly, and in Pittsfield’s City Hall, there is too much drama.

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"Hearing could set the fate of Pittsfield Veterans Agent"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/12/2014

PITTSFIELD -- A hearing that could lead to the firing of Veterans Agent Rosanne Frieri has been scheduled for Friday, according to Freri, who said she might consider legal action against the city and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

Frieri was suspended by the mayor on Aug. 5, after she said she refused to attend a meeting with Bianchi "without a third party" being present. She said that was because the mayor had "badgered" her during a prior meeting in his office and she felt bullied.

Bianchi could not be reached Monday for comment. He initially said the issue was a personnel matter and he could not comment on it, but after Frieri talked about the suspension in the media he issued a release Friday. It said allegations include that Frieri did not prepare a fiscal 2015 budget for her office after being directed to do so and did not attend a City Council meeting when asked to do so to speak on the budget.

Frieri said Monday that she has received a registered letter from the city that stated it was possible she will be terminated from her job. The letter notified her of a hearing on Friday, she said.

Frieri said she has been conferring with her attorney, Albert J. Cimini, of Pittsfield, and will follow his advice in responding to the meeting notice. Contacted Monday, Cimini declined all comment at this time.

The locks on her office have been changed, Frieri said Monday, adding that it appears the mayor has made up his mind to fire her.

Frieri said she might consider legal action against the city, adding that she is reluctant to cause a distraction or added cost for the city, "but I am not letting this go."

She also said she's concerned some of the veterans she has been working with, who are seeking state or federal benefits, could have their claims delayed. In some cases, she said, she had obtained power of attorney to help a veteran file a claim.

Bianchi has said he believes the office can function without problems with Frieri absent, with other staff members handling the duties. He said there will be a priority on meeting the needs of veterans working with the office.

Veterans agents in Massachusetts assist veterans and act as an advocate on their behalf in applying for state and federal benefits, and by providing information on a range of programs. State programs are overseen by the state Department of Veterans Services, and federal programs are generally provided through the Veterans Administration.

Cities and towns in Massachusetts are required to have a designated veterans agent, although some communities have formed districts and jointly support a staff for the purpose. Such a district system for each region of the state has been discussed in the Legislature, and at least one study of regionalization and other veterans service issues has been proposed.

In Pittsfield, the position is full time and pays $49,843 annually, according to paperwork Bianchi recently submitted as part of a salary rate schedule change for supervisors that is before the City Council.

A military veteran, Frieri was hired for the post by former Mayor James M. Ruberto in 2007. Frieri also works as a private contractor, acting as veterans agent in Dalton, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Lenox, Peru and Richmond.

Frieri said she believes disagreements with the mayor over the operations of her office led to her suspension. Specifically, she cited an equine program launched this summer to provide therapy for veterans who are re-entering civilian life and have post-traumatic stress disorder or other brain-related conditions.

Although approved by the state Department of Veterans Services, which generally provides 75 percent funding to communities for programs, Frieri contends she met several roadblocks and delays in gaining approvals from city departments. An eight-week horse therapy program eventually was held in Richmond.

Some have been critical of Frieri's work in the office, reflected in comments on The Eagle's Facebook page and elsewhere. Others praised her work and voiced support.

The Eagle also has learned that a written statement critical of Frieri as veterans agent was submitted to the mayor in 2012.

Of the criticism, Frieri said Monday that some veterans are disappointed when they do not receive the government assistance they thought they were entitled to because of their service. "I can put it [paperwork] in pre-approved, but the state [Department of Veterans Services] has the final say," she said.

The same is true, Frieri said, of the Veterans Administration when it comes to approving or denying a benefit claim.

Issues that can be a factor in denial of benefit claims, she said, include false or incorrect information on applications or having a service discharge status that disqualifies a veteran for a particular program.

Veteran John Nesbit of Pittsfield, who participated in the equine therapy program this summer, said the program was beneficial to him and other vets and he hopes it can continue and be expanded.

Nesbit said of Frieri, "I have known her for years. She works hard, she's earnest; she's genuine. And she really came through for me when I needed this."

Frieri said that, at this point, she would not return to the city post unless there is a change in what she termed a "hostile" workplace.

"I take pride in what I do in helping veterans," she said, "but I can't work in a hostile environment. Things would have to change."

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"Frieri is an ally to city veterans"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 8/13/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

I am writing concerning Rosanne Frieri as a veteran. She has served the Pittsfield veterans’ office for years and has helped so many veterans, including myself, with paperwork and contacts we needed to know so we could talk to the people who could help veterans. She does an extraordinary job and always will.

Mayor Bianchi will come up with garbage to let her go [she has been suspended.] As you can tell, the mayor does not care or give a damn about veterans who fought wars and sacrificed their bodies and died for their country so we could have freedom. As the Veterans Administration pays 75 percent of the funding, the mayor still has a problem.

I know Rosanne takes pride in her job but not why she works in a hostile environment. Support our veterans’ agent.

GARY VAN BRAMER
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Reverse course, return Frieri"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 8/14/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

Director of Veterans Services Rosanne Frieri should be commended and not suspended for her efforts to help our young vets of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine Assisted Learning Program is a big step for all participants and will shorten the time for them to return home to their families, easing the anxieties and stress of the terrible consequences of war on all of our veterans. Director Frieri has invested almost a thousand dollars to go to Chicago to attend a workshop there on the horse therapy program. It is apparent, that as of this moment she has not been reimbursed by the city of Pittsfield.

As a veteran, I urge the mayor to get behind Director Frieri and push through the help that is needed to get things back on track.

The federal government has just passed a bill that President Obama signed to speed up treatment for our veterans. Surely the mayor will apply to the VA to get some of the funds that are being made ready for the treatment of our combat veterans -- yes, even the ones who director Frieri got suspended for when she tried to help them.

Let us all take a deep breath, start all over again, and let us not keep our vets in limbo until the director is returned to doing the job that she is better than anyone else at doing, according to some of the veterans she has been working with.

TONY PASTORE
Pittsfield

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The door to the Veterans' Services Department at Pittsfield City Hall. (Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC).

"Pittsfield Veterans' Agent Faces Termination Hearing Friday"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, August 14, 2014

A Pittsfield employee’s job hangs in the balance with a hearing scheduled for Friday. It could determine whether the city’s veterans’ agent will remain employed.

Friday’s termination hearing comes just over a week after Mayor Dan Bianchi suspended Rosanne Frieri without pay.

“There were concerns I had about her performance and when she decided not to meet with me, the decision was pretty easy to put her on administrative leave,” said Bianchi.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Frieri said she was uncertain if she will show up for Friday’s hearing and directed further questions to her attorney, Al Cimini. Cimini did not return a call seeking comment. Speaking with The Berkshire Eagle, Frieri was quoted as saying she refused to meet with Bianchi unless a third party was involved, claiming she had been “badgered” by the mayor during an earlier meeting in his office.

Bianchi has also come under fire from Medford resident Doreen Wade, who claimed similar actions on the part of the mayor. Wade, a black woman, said Bianchi made racist comments to her and then physically intimidated her by standing over her during a subsequent meeting in his office with Will Singleton, president of the Berkshire County NAACP Chapter, in the room. Singleton has said the mayor got agitated during that meeting, but never left his seat. Bianchi has said Wade’s claims of racism are false.

“As far as Ms. Frieri, I guess when certain people get into hot water they fabricate things,” Bianchi said. “I think that’s exactly what’s happening here. Anybody that knows me, and I’ve got five decades of history, knows that I’m not a bully and knows that I treat people fairly and you can ask anyone in this building.”

Former Mayor James Ruberto appointed Frieri to the nearly $50,000 a year-position, which handles state and federal benefits for more than 130 of the city’s veterans, in 2007. The position was included among adjusted pay scales allowing for increases based on longevity and performance approved by the City Council earlier this week. Frieri also serves as veterans’ agent for the towns of Lenox, Dalton, Cheshire, Peru, Lanesborough and Richmond. Mayor Bianchi says Pittsfield’s veterans are still being adequately served in Frieri’s absence.

“We’re fortunate to have another person in that office that does a very good job,” Bianchi said. “I immediately got a call from the Veterans Services Department in Boston who understood what kind of situation we were dealing with here in the city of Pittsfield and they stepped right up and said any help we can give you. I’ve gotten calls from many, many veterans who’ve offered to help.”

According to The Berkshire Eagle, Frieri is also considering legal action against the city and Mayor Bianchi. The termination hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. Friday at Pittsfield City Hall.

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"Loss of Frieri hurts area vets"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 8/15/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

I am writing concerning the suspension of our Pittsfield Veterans Agent Rosanne Frieri. She has been there to support me and countless other veterans in our area. She has helped so many by giving information on a bevy of federal, state and local benefits that veterans may be entitled to.

On a personal note, she always takes the time out of her busy schedule to acknowledge me with a hello and ask how I’m doing. Her assistance with the benefits I was entitled to helped me tremendously.

Veterans agent Rosanne Frieri has been a great source of guidance to me over the years and her suspension comes at a considerable loss to all the veterans in our area. Please support our veterans agent Rosanne Frieri.

LEE A. RENNIE
Pittsfield

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"Frieri is champion for local veterans"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 8/15/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

I am a disabled veteran who has known Rosanne Frieri for over 31Ž2 years now. She has helped me in many ways in receiving supplement pay, or Chapter 115. In all the time I have known her she has been a champion, a hero in helping veterans, or showing them what they need to do and have to help them in their situations.

Rosanne and I have been to many events, whether it was to place flags for our fallen veterans, or helping to improve the life and quality of our heroes. Her suspension I believe to be possibly political, or even personal. She has handled matters for veterans for years. I am proud to know her, and know that she has support from our veterans, and our community.

I am also some one who attended her pilot program and saw results from equine therapy with horses and know that this is an inspired act of fulfilling her duty, and helping those with trauma, and emotional issues. This can be stress retained in the minds of combat veterans or mental health issues and to all other veterans the struggles meeting today’s challenges.

I am a disabled American veteran who is attending my last semester at BCC and one who has attained so far an academic excellence achievement award in business careers, and will have an Associates Degree. This has been something I could only have done, with the help of Rosanne Frieri. I am a success story due to her help as a veteran, and as a friend.

PETER A. TANGHERLINI
Pittsfield

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"Termination Hearing For Pittsfield's Vet's Agent Postponed"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, August 15, 2014

A hearing that could determine whether a Pittsfield city employee retains her job has been postponed.

Speaking at City Hall Friday morning, Mayor Dan Bianchi said the hearing, which had been scheduled for 10:30 a.m., has been pushed to next week at the request of the city’s Veterans’ Agent, Rosanne Frieri, and her lawyer. Bianchi suspended Frieri without pay last week. The mayor spoke with WAMC News earlier this week.

“There were concerns I had about her performance and when she decided not to meet with me, the decision was pretty easy to put her on administrative leave,” said Bianchi.

Pittsfield’s veterans’ agent receives an annual salary of nearly $50,000. The mayor’s office says Frieri, a veteran herself, did not provide a fiscal 2015 budget for the veterans department and did not attend a city council meeting in July that she was told to be at to address the office’s budget. The city treasurer prepared the budget instead, according to the mayor’s office. Bianchi’s office also claims Frieri showed up late to work without giving prior notice. Bianchi says Pittsfield’s 130 veterans are being adequately served in Frieri’s absence.

“We’re fortunate to have another person in that office that does a very good job,” Bianchi said. “I immediately got a call from the Veterans Services Department in Boston, who understood what kind of situation we were dealing with here in the city of Pittsfield and they stepped right up and said any help we can give you. I’ve gotten calls from many, many veterans who’ve offered to help.”

The department’s other full-time employee had no comment on how the office has been running without Frieri.

The mayor’s office also provided letters from four area veterans’ organizations that unanimously passed votes of no confidence on Frieri. The votes from Berkshire Chapter 65 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, VFW Post 448, American Legion Post 68 and Disabled Veterans Chapter 15 all took place within a two-week period in May 2012. The Vietnam Veterans of America and Disabled Veterans chapters also rejected the city’s concept of creating a Veteran’s Advisory Board at those same meetings. Those groups said they believed the Berkshire Veterans Coalition was adequately communicating the needs of county veterans with the city. World War II veteran Tony Pastore has been the chaplain for Disabled Veterans Chapter 15 for the past 30 years and treasurer for two. Pastore says the issues some veterans had with Frieri stemmed from the Berkshire Veterans Coalition wanting to manage Pittsfield’s Veterans’ Day parade instead of the city.

“And they took it out on her,” Pastore said. “They sent all these stupid letters around. Anybody who signed that letter ought to be ashamed.”

Reached by phone Wednesday, the chairman of the Berkshire Veterans Coalition had no comment on Frieri’s status with the city of Pittsfield. Pastore is one of a handful of veterans who’ve written letters published in The Berkshire Eagle supporting Frieri and her work.

“I didn’t see anybody in there writing a letter about Mayor Bianchi and what he’s done for them,” Pastore said. “I mean, come on.”

Pastore says Frieri is an asset to the city’s veterans and hopes any differences on the behalf of both parties can be put aside.

“This is very important to these veterans,” Pastore said. “We cannot let them lose this lady.”

Neither Frieri nor her attorney returned several requests for comment. The exact date for Frieri’s termination hearing has not been set.

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"Hearing postponed for Pittsfield vets agent Frieri"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/16/2014

PITTSFIELD -- A job-related hearing Friday for suspended city Veterans Services Officer Rosanne Frieri was postponed at the request of Frieri’s attorney, likely until next week.

Local veterans, meanwhile, have been weighing in on Frieri’s performance in the office, which she headed from 2007 until her suspension by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on Aug. 5.

The mayor had requested that she attend a meeting in his office related to her job performance, but Frieri said she refused because she had felt bullied and "badgered" during a prior meeting with the mayor, and she was immediately suspended without pay.

Letters to The Eagle generally have supported Frieri, as have some comments on the newspaper’s Facebook page, but other social media comments were highly critical.

In addition, Bianchi’s office released to the media this week four letters that were received by the mayor in May 2012 -- from American Legion Post 68, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 448, Chapter 65 of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and Chapter 15 of the Disabled American Veterans, all of Pittsfield. The letters state that the memberships of the individual chapters had voted unanimously on a motion of "no confidence" in Frieri as the veterans service officer.

City Director of Administrative Services Julia Sabourin said Friday that a number of veterans also have called the mayor’s office to say they favor removing Frieri.

Bianchi did not list the letters as a reason for suspending the veterans officer, and took no action after the letters were received.

However, he issued a statement Aug. 8, saying Frieri was suspended for not preparing a department budget for fiscal 2015, not presenting her budget to the City Council when asked to appear, for being uncooperative with a co-worker and arriving late for work without proper notification.

Reached Friday, Frieri said she was aware of the 2012 letters, but contended that no action was taken against her at the time because the complaints "were not valid."

She said believes some older veterans "were not used to having a woman in there," and she was the first to serve in the position. There have not been similar issues with "the younger [veteran] population," she said.

Also serving as a veterans officer on a part-time, independent contractor basis in Lanesborough, Lenox, Dalton, Richmond, Peru and Cheshire, Frieri contended that she is respected in the region for the work she has done over the years.

In Pittsfield, the position is full time and has paid $49,843 annually, although the amount could rise under a new salary rate schedule for supervisors that recently was approved by the City Council.

Frieri said that, when she took over the office, there were 14 veteran clients and a budget of $77,000 in the state Department of Veterans Services programs she oversees for city veterans. Today, there are 130 clients and the budget totals more than $803,000, which she said illustrates how she has worked to expand services to veterans.

In general, the state reimburses communities at the rate of 75 percent for spending related to Department of Veterans Services programs for veterans. Veterans service officers assist vets and can act as an advocate for them in applying for state benefits, as well as for federal benefits through Veterans Administration programs.

It is also true that inevitably some benefits decisions she made or gave advice on were "not popular" with vets she or the state believed were not eligible for benefits or no longer eligible, Frieri said.

Concerning the current job-related allegations, Frieri said she did attend a June 7 City Council session on her budget, which received tentative council approval at that time, but not a later session on the overall city budget.

She contended that she did prepare an operational budget for her office, "which is essentially the same every year."

Frieri added that she has never been "written up" by the mayor for employment-related issues.

She also has said she might consider legal action over the situation, saying she does not want to cost city taxpayers money but believes she has to defend her reputation.

No new date for the hearing on Frieri’s employment was announced Friday, but it is expected to be held next week.

Neither Bianchi nor Frieri’s attorney, Albert J. Cimini of Pittsfield, could be reached for comment.

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"Veterans in the middle"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 8/18/2014

The postponement Friday of a job-related hearing regarding suspended Pittsfield Veterans Services Office Rosanne Frieri at the request of Ms. Frieri’s attorney provides additional time for a resolution to be found, if it is not too late. Beyond the dispute over the reasons for the suspension, the role of city veterans in this situation, if any, has become an issue.

A statement from the office of Mayor Daniel Bianchi says Ms. Frieri was suspended for, among other reasons, failing to prepare a budget for fiscal 2015 and failing to present a budget to the City Council. Ms. Frieri has told The Eagle she prepared a budget, attended a City Council session on her department budget but not the overall budget session, and was suspended for refusing to meet with the mayor, asserting that she had been badgered by him at a past meeting.

The mayor’s office also released letters from two veterans’ groups from 2012 saying that they had passed votes of "no confidence" in Ms. Frieri. The letter from Thomas J. Landry, commander of Charles A. Persip Pittsfield American Legion Post 68, said the vote was unanimous with two abstentions. The letter from Thomas Van Wert, commander of the Disabled Veterans Chapter 15 of Pittsfield said the vote was passed unanimously.

Neither letter offers any hint as to what Ms. Frieri did or failed to do to get the votes of "no confidence." The absence of any formal complaints since then suggests that the issues the groups had with the veterans agent have been resolved. But more significantly, if Ms. Frieri was suspended because of what the mayor has described as "work-related" issues, the "no confidence" letters are of no relevance. If they were significant, the mayor could have acted on them two years ago.

The Eagle has printed letters to the editor from local veterans defending Ms. Frieri and praising her job performance. It has received no letters from veterans praising the suspension, criticizing her performance or explaining the past "no confidence" votes. The issue here is between Mr. Bianchi and Ms. Frieri, and her relationship with veterans, which appears sound, is not significant.

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"Pittsfield Veterans Officer Rosanne Frieri's firing by Mayor Dan Bianchi confirmed"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, August 25, 2014

PITTSFIELD -- City Veterans Officer Rosanne Frieri has been fired by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, according to her attorney, who said that details concerning her pension or any severance agreement have yet to be discussed.

Albert J. Cimini, of Pittsfield, also termed the firing "wrongful and actionable," and said he and Rosanne Frieri are considering a lawsuit.

Al Cimini also said he will attempt this week to meet with city Personnel Department officials about the status of any benefits due Rosanne Frieri, who was suspended on August 5 without pay after failing to attend a meeting with Dan Bianchi to discuss her job performance.

Rosanne Frieri has said she would not attend a meeting without an attorney or independent third party because of what she termed "badgering" by the mayor during a meeting in his office in March. She said there had been a series of disagreements in recent months with the mayor and other officials at City Hall over aspects of the operation of her department.

In a letter Cimini said was sent to Rosanne Frieri and dated August 5, titled "First Written Warning," the mayor cited among reasons that the department head had failed to prepare a fiscal 2015 budget for the office, was late for work without giving proper notification, and did not follow a directive to attend a July 15 City Council meeting to speak about deficits in the fiscal 2014 veterans office budget.

City officials could not be reached immediately Monday for comment.

This article will be updated.

To reach Jim Therrien: jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_therrien

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"Frieri officially out as Pittsfield vets agent"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/26/2014

PITTSFIELD -- An attorney representing city Veterans Officer Rosanne Frieri confirmed Monday that she has been fired by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi but said that details concerning her pension or any severance agreement have yet to be discussed.

Albert J. Cimini, of Pittsfield, also termed the firing "wrongful and actionable," and said he and Frieri are considering a lawsuit.

Cimini said he will attempt this week to meet with city Personnel Department officials about the status of any benefits due Frieri, who was suspended on Aug. 5 without pay after failing to attend a meeting with Bianchi to discuss allegations about her job performance.

Frieri has said she would not attend a meeting without an attorney or independent third party because of what she termed "badgering" by the mayor during a meeting in his office in March. She said there had been a series of disagreements in recent months with the mayor and other officials at City Hall over aspects of the operation of her department, which she headed since 2007.

The mayor denied on Monday that he had acted in an intimidating manner toward Frieri in March. "I don't belittle people; that is not my style," he said.

Bianchi said someone had registered a complaint against Frieri over a comment she allegedly had made and was in his office when he asked the veterans officer to come in. "My recollection was that I encouraged her to stay focused on her mission [as veterans officer]," he said.

In addition, Bianchi said Monday there are no plans to discuss a severance agreement with Frieri; he said the city Retirement Board is the proper place to inquire about any pension issues.

In a letter Cimini said was sent to Frieri that was dated Aug. 5, the mayor cited among performance issues that the department head had failed to prepare a fiscal 2015 budget for the office, was late for work without giving proper notification, and did not follow a directive to attend a July 15 City Council meeting to speak about deficits in the fiscal 2014 veterans office budget.

In a registered letter, dated Aug. 21 and released Monday by Cimini, Bianchi cites a meeting at City Hall on Aug. 19 concerning Frieri's job performance. Bianchi refers in the letter to allegations he previously raised before concluding, "I am therefore terminating your employment as of today."

One issue, Bianchi said, was that Frieri had refused to meet with him, her supervisor, without an attorney present. "You were advised that you had no legal right to make that demand," he stated in the termination letter.

Cimini said Monday that Frieri was "within her rights" to ask to have an attorney present, given her description of a March meeting in the mayor's office. He said that a witness, former city Director of Administrative Services Mary McGinnis, was present and has supplied him with a statement describing the March meeting.

McGinnis' statement described the mayor's demeanor toward Frieri as "disturbing, hostile and intimidating," Cimini said, and she stated that "Rosanne did not respond." McGinnis also stated that the mayor was "yelling loudly," the attorney said.

Reached Monday, McGinnis said, "It was a very toxic atmosphere in there," adding that she would like to see that come out.

McGinnis worked for one year as the mayor's top aide before returning from a leave of absence from her longtime nursing-related job with Berkshire Health Systems.

In denying Monday that he had belittled Frieri at the March meeting, Bianchi said that "what is lost in all this, is that I took a lot of criticism from veterans when I came into office for supporting her [Frieri]. I had shown support for my staff."

Since her suspension, letters of "no confidence" in Frieri as veterans officer from several local veterans groups that were sent to the mayor's office in 2012 have been released. Individual veterans also have sent letters to The Eagle both praising her work and describing callous or abusive verbal treatment when they went to the city veterans office.

Bianchi said that "work-related issues" over time ultimately led to Frieri's suspension and firing, adding that "there is only so much I can say as this is a personnel issue."

Bianchi, in his termination letter, said that Frieri failed to prepare a fiscal 2015 budget for her department, and that city Finance Director and Treasurer Susan Carmel "had to repeatedly remind you to prepare the budget and you failed to do so."

He said Carmel prepared the fiscal 2015 budget and signed it herself.

In addition, Bianchi stated that, "You [Frieri] were also directed to appear before the City Council ... at a meeting on July 15, 2014, since your [fiscal 2014] budget was in deficit," adding that Frieri did not attend.

Frieri has said she did attend the June 7 council hearing on her new budget, which was approved, adding that she believes she did complete a new budget that is typically the same each year. She said Monday that she believes she also signed a copy of the budget paperwork but that it is possibly in her former office, and she has been locked out of the second-floor City Hall office since her suspension.

Alleged "inappropriate and unprofessional emails" sent to City Accountant Ben Wax by Frieri also were mentioned in her termination letter, as were alleged "demeaning" comments to city Procurement Officer Colleen Hunter Mullet.

Frieri contends she experienced a series of roadblocks to the operation of her office stemming from disputes with Wax, Hunter Mullet and others over spending approvals or veterans programs that began only in recent months. Referring to the auditor's office, she said, "I always got along great with people in that office."

Bianchi said no decisions have yet been made on filling the veterans officer position, but that he might consider an interim appointment. He said he believes the remaining staff is keeping up with veterans services.

Commenting on why he believes his client's firing was wrongful, Cimini said Monday that one reason is he asked to look at Frieri's personnel file and it "was completely clean," having no performance warnings or other negative information.

Bianchi said he could not comment on a personnel issue but added, "Suffice it to say, it wasn't empty."

Contacted by phone, Fred Dupere, of Dupere Law Office of Westfield, who is representing the city, said Frieri's attorney is entitled to his opinion, but "we would vigorously defend any action against the city."

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"Pittsfield: Veterans Agent Fired"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, August 25, 2014

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Veteran Services Agent Rosanne Frieri has been terminated, according to the mayor's office.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi said on Monday she was fired for "work-related" reasons.

"She received a letter of termination," Dan Bianchi said. "Now we'll take the next steps."

Rosanne Frieri has an attorney and has suggested the possibility of a lawsuit.

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"Ex-veterans officer files discrimination complaint against Pittsfield, mayor"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/9/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Former city Veterans Officer Rosanne Frieri has filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination over her firing in August by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

Frieri's attorney, Albert J. Cimini of Pittsfield, said the complaint was filed Tuesday at the MCAD's Springfield office. The complaint, which names Bianchi and the city, alleges "a hostile work environment," job-related retaliation, and discrimination based on age, sex and disability, he said.

"This is basically a wrongful termination case," Cimini said, adding that he would not release further details of the complaint at this time, as the city has not yet been served notice.

Bianchi could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the complaint.

Cimini said complaints to the MCAD are automatically cross-filed by the agency with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

If the issues cannot be resolved at the administrative level, the attorney said, "at any point we have the ability to file [a lawsuit] in Superior Court."

Frieri was suspended by the mayor without pay on Aug. 5 and later notified in a registered letter dated Aug. 21 that she had been fired. Bianchi cited among performance issues that, as a department head, she had failed to prepare a fiscal 2015 budget for the office, was late for work without giving proper notification, and did not follow a directive to attend a City Council meeting to speak about deficits in the fiscal 2014 veterans office budget.

Alleged "inappropriate and unprofessional emails" sent to City Accountant Ben Wax by Frieri also were mentioned in her termination letter from the mayor, as were alleged "demeaning" comments made to city Procurement Officer Colleen Hunter Mullet.

Frieri has contended that she experienced a series of roadblocks to the operation of her office, stemming from disputes with Wax, Hunter Mullet and others at City Hall over spending approvals or veterans programs. She said the alleged resistance to her efforts intensified in recent months.

In suspending Frieri on Aug. 5, Bianchi cited her refusal to meet with him as directed to talk about job performance issues. She contends that she had been "badgered" verbally by Bianchi during a March meeting and would not attend another meeting without an attorney or neutral third party present.

Bianchi has denied he acted in an intimidating manner in the March meeting, saying, "I don't belittle people; that is not my style."

Bianchi said a complaint had been lodged against Frieri over a comment she allegedly had made, and the person was in his office with an attorney when he asked Frieri to come in.

Frieri's version of the March meeting has been supported by former city Director of Administrative Services Mary McGinnis, who described the mayor's demeanor toward Frieri as "disturbing, hostile and intimidating," according to Cimini.

McGinnis later told The Eagle there was a "very toxic atmosphere in there."

McGinnis worked in the mayor's office for one year as his top aide before returning from a leave of absence from her longtime nursing-related job with Berkshire Health Systems.

Cimini has asserted that one reason he believes the termination was wrongful is because he asked to look at Frieri's personnel file at City Hall and it "was completely clean," having no performance warnings or other negative information.

Bianchi has said he could not comment on a personnel issue but responded to the comment, saying, "Suffice it to say, it [the employee file] wasn't empty."

After Frieri's suspension, the mayor's office released letters of "no confidence" in Frieri as veterans officer from several local veterans groups that were sent to the mayor in 2012. Individual veterans also have sent letters to The Eagle both praising her work and describing callous or abusive verbal treatment when they went to the city veterans office.

Frieri was appointed to the post in 2007 by former Mayor James M. Ruberto.

Fred Dupere, of Dupere Law Office of Westfield, represents the city in the matter. He has said the firm "would vigorously defend any action against the city" filed by Frieri.

Concerning the open veterans services post, Bianchi said this week he intends to ask a panel of local veterans to work with the city Personnel Department in recommending a new director of the city's Department of Veteran Services. The full-time position is posted on the city's website and elsewhere, and the deadline for submitting an application is listed as Friday.

The job requirements include assisting veterans in applying for state or federal benefits. The salary is listed at $48,099.

Former city Director of Veterans Services Larry Caprari, who is now retired, has been hired to work in the office until a new director is hired.

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"Pittsfield mayor welcomes ‘opportunity for a just hearing' on discrimination complaint"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, 9/12/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said in a brief statement released Friday that he "welcomes the opportunity for a just hearing" on a complaint filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against him and the city by former Veterans Services director Rosanne Frieri.

Frieri, who was fired by the mayor Aug. 21, filed a complaint with the agency on Tuesday in Springfield, alleging "a hostile work environment," job-related retaliation and discrimination based on age, sex and disability, her attorney said.

Bianchi received formal notification of the complaint on Thursday, according to his office. He released this statement on Friday, saying: "MCAD is an agency that was set up many years ago to hear workers' complaints. They are required to review every complaint regardless of its merit. The city has a history of MCAD complaints often being dropped during the review process or just before the MCAD issues a decision. We welcome the opportunity for a just hearing."

Albert J. Cimini of Pittsfield, who represents Frieri in the matter, told The Eagle Tuesday the filing was "basically a wrongful termination case." He noted that if the process before the MCAD fails to produce an acceptable settlement, Frieri also has the option of filing suit in Superior Court.

He has said she is seeking to be reinstated in her job.

Frieri was first suspended without pay on Aug. 5 and later fired on Aug. 21 by the mayor.

He alleged she had failed to prepare a fiscal 2015 budget for the veterans services office, did not follow a directive to attend a City Council meeting to address deficits in her 2014 budget, was late for work without giving proper notification, and sent "inappropriate and unprofessional emails" to a city official and made "demeaning" remarks to another.

Frieri contends that she was verbally "badgered" by the major during a March meeting in his office and that other officials at City Hall afterward began to raise objections to veterans programs she was overseeing, such as a pilot equine therapy program she established this year for local veterans.

The mayor has denied Frieri's allegations about the March meeting.

A job posting on the city website sought applications for a full-time director of Veterans Services for Pittsfield. Applications were due by Friday.

Bianchi has said he will create a panel with local veterans and city Personnel Department officials to review the applications and make a recommendation on a replacement for Frieri. A former city veterans officer, Larry Caprari, who is retired, has been hired to work in the office until a new director is hired.

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"A raw deal for vets agent"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 10/02/2014

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

As a grateful veteran, I am disgusted and upset by Mayor Bianchi’s decision to terminate veterans agent Rosanne Frieri. She has an impeccable record of service for her community, fellow veterans and country.

Ms. Frieri has been known to go above and beyond the call of duty to help veterans, including me. I am in complete agreement with letter writer Daniel Swift ("Loss of Frieri, a loss for veterans," Aug. 27), a retired colonel from Pittsfield. He made several good points, such as that Ms. Frieri, like any other employee, is protected by established personnel policies. She definitely should have been given an opportunity to be heard, and I also believe veterans should have had the opportunity to speak on her behalf. The vacancy of this position affects so many people in our community.

I also agree with Mr. Swift that the suspension and termination should not have occurred without a formal process. Having an impeccable personnel file or service record obviously means nothing to the mayor. I must commend her for all that she has done and I am sure she will in her own way continue to do so.

GARY VAN BRAMER
Pittsfield

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"Pittsfield City Council approves raises for department heads"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/13/2014

PITTSFIELD -- A new pay schedule for city department heads, which includes raises as well as performance requirements for future pay hikes, was approved Tuesday by the City Council.

The council voted 9 to 2 to accept a modified salary schedule from the one submitted by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in the spring. The process of subcommittee review leading to the vote also followed a consultant's study that showed city pay levels were below average for similar communities and positions.

The mayor said his goal was to bring manager salaries more in line with those of other communities, with the aim of reducing turnover and improving departmental efficiency by retaining experienced employees.

"I know this is politically very difficult to do," Bianchi said following the council's approval. "I know some people were unhappy, but this is something that had to be done."

The council voted to make the raises, which had been proposed to be retroactive to July 1, 2013, retroactive to July 1 of this year, the start of the new fiscal year.

In total, Bianchi said, the raises for 25 managers will cost about $193,000, based on some further adjustments he plans for eight positions in the percentage of the initial raises. The total cost as referred from the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee on a split 2-2 vote was $228,000.

Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi voted against the salary plan. Amuso, as she had at the subcommittee level, said she believes some of the initial raises were too high, in the range of 25 to 40 percent, although she agreed raises were justified.

Morandi maintained his prior position that city taxpayers "continue to struggle" and cannot afford tax increases.

During the committee review of Bianchi's proposal, councilors decided to consider his salary, along with that of councilors, School Committee members and the city clerk separately at a future meeting, as they are elected officials. In the mayor's case, he also is in a position to propose raises.

However, on Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop's motion, the council put the clerk's post back into the list of department heads, where it was in the original proposal. Although she is an elected official, she cannot propose pay hikes, he and other councilors said, and is primarily a department head.

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell and Bianchi noted during the debate that the new pay schedule also includes the option of the mayor approving or withholding future pay hikes based on a manager's performance. Previously, raises were based primarily on years of service.

Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said he was persuaded to vote in favor in part by the high level of turnover among city managers in recent years. "That really stood out," he said, adding that there are "indirect costs" to the city in recruiting and then training new department heads that could be avoided with a higher pay scale.

Pittsfield had become "a training ground" for supervisors, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said, because of low pay rates compared to other communities.

"A good manager will save you money every single time," Lothrop said prior to the council vote.

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"Pittsfield's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee approves revised policy"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 8/20/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The city's Affirmative Action Policy and Plan has been updated for the first time in two decades and is on its way to the desk of Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

The Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, a group created as part of the plan, approved the revised, 38-page document Wednesday on a unanimous vote. The group recommended that the plan be sent to the City Council for re-adoption.

"I want to thank everybody for the work you did for almost a year," said Mary McGinnis, committee chairwoman. "The first leg of this is done."

Bianchi, who in the past has said he would submit the finished policy to the council, could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

If the policy is formally approved by the mayor and council, it would complete an odyssey that began in the spring 2013. After members of the local chapter of the NAACP asked whether there was such a policy for Pittsfield, the plan was found "gathering dust," apparently not having been actively followed for years.

The policy was adopted in 1991, McGinnis said Wednesday, then revised in 1994.

The current version of the 12-person advisory committee, formed in October 2013, is charged with monitoring city hiring practices and related activities with the goal of adding diversity to Pittsfield's overwhelmingly white work force.

Members of the NAACP and others have noted there were only a half dozen African-American teachers among the 600 in city schools, despite a high percentage of students of color, and there apparently are no blacks working in City Hall offices.

Goals and committee duties listed in the policy include promotion of affirmative action training for supervisors; distribution of information on and hiring goals and hiring timetables; assessing grievance processes and providing explanations; undertaking work force analyses; reforming and enhancing recruitment and job-posting practices; assessing discipline policies, handicapped employment regulations, promotion, purchasing and contracting policies. Also, helping to establish a diverse city workforce, hearing regular progress reports from personnel officials; compiling hiring and related statistics, and coordinating efforts where applicable with the Human Rights Commission.

The committee on Wednesday also reviewed hiring and recruitment efforts after receiving reports from Michael Taylor of the city Personnel Department and Harry Hayes, human resources director in Pittsfield city schools.

Hayes said the schools are still trying to fill some open positions for the next school year, and he won't have firm figures on diversity until the committee's Nov. 19 meeting. But he said efforts to recruit from online sites that reach candidates of color, along with similar, companion efforts from city government, have expanded interest in employment here among minority job seekers.

Career centers at more than a dozen colleges in the region also were contacted directly to post information about job openings in Pittsfield schools, Hayes said.

Committee member Warren Dews Jr., referring to a prior discussion of traveling to traditionally African- American colleges to recruit graduates for teaching and other jobs in local schools, said he would volunteer for such an effort.

Dews, vice president of audience development, sales and marketing at New England Newspapers Inc., which includes The Berkshire Eagle, also offered to talk with personnel officers about free public service video spots and other free online services and Internet links through the media company.

Taylor said the number of job applications from minority candidates, which are now being tracked, has increased. The discussion led to ideas for cross-notifying as many department, agencies, organizations, businesses and business groups and religious groups as possible -- along with all of the committee members -- about job opportunities.

The committee also decided to pursue new collaborative efforts to promote and fund affirmative action training for department heads and other city employees, working with businesses and organizations that might be planning the same type of training.

The city has held two training sessions, the most recent in May, which cost $1,500.

Cecilia Rock, who also serves on the Human Rights Commission, another group revived recently by the Bianchi administration, urged collaboration on training with the commission, which she said is allowed under its enabling ordinance to accept funding for such purposes.

Committee member Eleanore Velez said the time also is right for the group to plan and promote more community outreach about what it has been doing and the progress that has been made.

"This has been quiet work, but it is important work," Velez said, adding that residents should be made aware of the progress and that the committee and the city have "demonstrated a commitment" to equal opportunity.

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Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi reads an official proclamation Friday, joining the city of Pittsfield with the U.N. initiative of cities for peace on the steps of City Hall. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff / photos.berkshireeagle.com)

"Pittsfield officially registed as City of Peace for International Day of Peace"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/20/2014

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and Fidel Moreno on Friday helped launch events leading up to the International Day of Peace this weekend.

Bianchi read a proclamation at noon on the steps of City Hall, officially registering Pittsfield as a City for Peace in alliance with the United Nations' Cities for Peace.

"I like to think we are becoming a more peaceful world, but when you see some of the awful things happening around the world, you see we have a long way to go," the mayor said.

Moreno, of the nonprofit organization Healing Winds, was an organizer of the ninth annual Rock, Rattle & Drum Powwow in Adams in August, with the theme, "Living in Harmony, Fulfilling Our Destiny."

On Sunday, Moreno plans a Peace in the Streets Medicine Wheel Drumming Circle, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at Springside Park in Pittsfield. Gatherings around the world will celebrate the day at noontime on Sept. 21, marking the anniversary of the U.N.'s first Day of Peace in 1982.

Other events are planned Sunday in Lenox and elsewhere in the county.

Also attending the brief event at City Hall was Adam Hinds, coordinator of the city's Community Connection program to addresses the causes of youth violence and gang activity. He and many others have focused in recent weeks on neighborhood and community solutions to youth violence, in part in reaction to a shooting involving two city teens last month.

Moreno said promoting peace involves promoting a dialogue on issues that divide people. He said he's advocating regular panel discussions focusing films that young people could watch, along with parents, therapists, people in law enforcement and others.

The time seems right for community action to promote peace, he said, adding that the city's proclamation and the ongoing events help keep the issues -- along with others, such as the debate over corporal punishment for children -- in everyone's mind.

Also on Sunday, there will be International Day of Peace ceremonies at the Old Stable venue at Eastover in Lenox.

The gathering will be at 11:45 a.m., in preparation for the noon Minute of Silence Moment of Peace in the community. Michael Johnson, from Pathways To Peace, will speak about the history and global impact of the Peace Day.

After the Moment of Silence, singer and songwriter Jo Ann Spieswill lead in song.

For more information, visit InternationalDayOfPeace.org or PathwaysToPeace.org.

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"Pittsfield council asked to OK $500K to overhaul parking"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/21/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council will be asked this week to approve $500,000 to begin funding a comprehensive overhaul of Pittsfield's downtown parking system.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi seeks borrowing authorization to pay for the development of bidding specifications, and to pay for a "smart meter" system for North Street, parking garages and other downtown locations; to purchase informational and directional signage to reduce confusion about parking regulations and clarify where parking is available; and for new lighting for parking lots and other improvements.

Community Development Director Douglas Clark said a consultant would be hired to develop specifications for the new meters, signage, new lighting and other features included in the wide-ranging recommendations, which resulted from a $75,000 study that began in fall 2013.

Working since then with a study committee of local officials and representatives of downtown businesses and other stakeholders, parking consultants Nelson Nygaard produced the report upon which the borrowing request is based.

Among key recommendations are the creation of "demand-based pricing" for premium parking spaces, primarily along North Street, while eliminating time limits. Essentially, that means charging for spaces in the most sought-after areas of the downtown during daytime business hours, while allowing free or lower-cost spaces elsewhere to encourage their use by employees of businesses or agencies to free up more premium spaces.

That format has been used successfully by a number of cities to increase the availability of premium spaces for residents or visitors heading for shops, restaurants or entertainment venues, the consultants said.

A map included in the report recommends a 50-cent-per-hour charge to park on North Street from Housatonic Street to White Terrace, and a 25-cent-per-hour charge for spaces on North Street from White Terrace to Stoddard Avenue, and along Wahconah Street between North to Seymour streets, as well as around City Hall on Fenn Street, Bank Row and nearby streets.

The map shows three hours of free parking allowed on Wendell and Bartlett avenues, and on side streets off North Street.

The full Nelson Nygaard report and related maps can be viewed under City Council agendas, on the city's website at www.cityofpittsfield.org.

Other than the new system, which would include some form of kiosk metering in which a motorist pays with cash or a credit card and selects the amount of time required, new signage would direct motorists, especially visitors to Pittsfield, to lot parking and better explain whether spaces are free or metered and the cost details.

Other key recommendations include to streamline the divided management structure overseeing parking spaces, garages and fee and fine collections, as well as to consider zoning or other changes to enhance the overall parking system.

Clark said city officials have been discussing options for streamlining management operations, part of which are handled through city government offices and part of which the police department handles.

The consultants also recommended considering a separate authority to oversee parking issues and facilities, including maintenance issues and future enhancements, and to ensure the system is financially self-supporting.

The consultants likewise recommend considering the creation of new parking spaces in areas such as on West Street near Park Square and elsewhere in the downtown, and improving several alleyways between buildings to facilitate pedestrian traffic from lots or side streets, where free or low-cost parking is available, and North Street.

Many of the recommendations, including the exact parking fees charged and management structure for the system, will require further approvals by city boards and the administration, Clark said. But he added that the report's recommendations has received wide support -- after some initial skepticism -- from many downtown merchants, and the overall proposal was recommended by the city Traffic Commission.

The study process included an online survey of residents and others, meetings to discuss the evolving draft report and other outreach efforts by the consultant and city officials.

The $500,000 for parking-related improvements is requested to the council among $4.9 million in proposed capital projects for the city, including $3 million for street improvements, $1.2 million for replacement of an airport hazard beacon and $200,000 for Streetscape Phase 4 design work.

The council meets Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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"Pittsfield council irked that mayor didn't seek approval on office move"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/25/2014

PITTSFIELD -- City councilors raised few pointed questions about Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's plan to shift inspection services personnel from City Hall to leased space at 100 North St., but they were critical of the way the proposal was rolled out as a nearly done deal.

Bianchi briefed councilors for about an hour Tuesday on the lease he intends to sign this week for 9,000 square feet of office space on the second floor of the First Agricultural Bank building at the corner of Fenn and North streets, which is owned by Scarafoni Realty. He said the first city employees will likely be in place there by Nov. 1 and other offices will move in by January 2015.

The mayor said the lease was a managerial decision and involved funds already in the budget, not requiring approval by the council, and that wasn't disputed by council members. However, Ward 6 Councilor John Krol pressed Bianchi on why it would not be "best practice" to seek council approval regardless.

The agreement "is not a lease I need an approval on," the mayor said, adding that his administration has searched for some time for suitable space to replace damp, cramped conditions for many of the employees in the basement of City Hall.

Asked if he could postpone the signing, Bianchi said it already has been delayed and he did not want to jeopardize the agreement by waiting any longer.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, who was on vacation and did not attend the meeting, is pursuing answers to several written questions he submitted about the agreement and lease, and he is seeking City Hall emails related to the deal. He also has called for a nonbinding council vote on the lease and is expected to renew those requests at the council's first October meeting.

The lease agreement would cost the city $14 per square foot in the first year, which would equal $126,000, but since signing of the lease has been delayed past the original proposed date and not all the space is ready for occupancy, the actual figure for the current fiscal year would be about $75,000, Bianchi said.

The city has an option to lease the space for slightly less per square foot in each of the next two fiscal years.

The mayor also insisted that "for today, this is the best option" to move employees out of an unhealthy environment and to create a "one-stop shopping" office where contractors, developers and property owners could more easily obtain various permits from various city departments.

After a few years, he said, the city may have other options for the offices, such as the current police station on Allen Street across from City Hall. The city is seeking state federal funds for a new station at another location, and if that occurs, the building would be one option to consider for the inspection services, Bianchi said.

Bianchi contends that the city will immediately benefit overall from having modern, attractive offices for its inspectors, which will lead to more efficient and additional development permitting and a streamlined, quicker process along with "greater customer satisfaction." Other cities are creating similar office space for their inspection services, he said.

However, Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi asked why they were only now receiving the full details of the plan, which was mostly in place by spring.

"I do wish we had received this in May or June," Amuso said. "It would have helped me understand it better."

Morandi didn't raise serious objections, but said, "The way this was rolled out was not done very good. I'm a councilor and I didn't know about it until I read it in the newspaper."

Bianchi said he meant "no disrespect to the City Council in the way it was rolled out," but he asserted that "this was elevated to a political issue that it did not have to be elevated to."

He said that there was no need to have a full presentation earlier to the council, adding, "This was a well thought out, well planned" initiative and a management decision.

Bianchi added that he would respond in writing to Clairmont's questions about the plan, but that he intends to sign the lease this week.

Clairmont also has requested all the City Hall emails concerning the lease proposal. He received some emails, but said he believes there are many others not provided to him, and he has appealed that to the Secretary of State's office.

Reached Wednesday via text message, Clairmont said he had agreed to a delay request from the mayor so Bianchi did not appear to brief the council at a Sept. 2 meeting. "I am disappointed I was not extended the same courtesy," the councilor stated.

Krol and Morandi asked whether another proposal to add online permitting would not have been a less expensive way to enhance permitting.

Bianchi said online permitting "is the wave of the future" and will streamline the system but won't replace the need for the offices, at least in the near future. He said both proposals should be implemented, saying, "They will complement each other."

The offices expected to move to 100 North St. are the building inspectors, the Health Department, Public Utilities, including engineers, fire inspectors, the conservation agent and the permit coordinator from the Department of Community Development.

The lease agreement was negotiated after Scarafoni Realty was the only property owner that responded to a request for proposals for leased space within two blocks of City Hall, Bianchi said. Other requirements, he said, were for 9,000 square feet, accessible offices and rest rooms and reception areas, and computer and meeting space.

The agreement was determined by a Realtor to be within the local market price range, the mayor said, adding that utilities, maintenance and janitorial services are included.

Two employees of the current basement offices at City Hall spoke in favor of the lease agreement. Cheri Rodhouse, who works in the building inspections office, said that mold and mildew issues constantly plague employees, creating odors and a damp atmosphere, resulting in allergic reactions.

Gerald Garner, city building commissioner, was asked to describe the conditions. He said water enters the basement through the foundation and from storm runoff, and it would require "extensive work" to alleviate the problems, which might ultimately not be realistic.

Bianchi said plans for the basement space include storage and short-term uses.

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"Good move, but a poor process"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 9/25/2014

The need to get City Hall employees out of a watery, decaying basement was a no-brainer, and establishing those employees in leased space to provide one-stop shopping for contractors, property owners and others seeking various permits has real advantages. The process by which Mayor Daniel Bianchi accomplished this, however, left much to be desired, and would have irked City Councilor Daniel Bianchi back in the day when the Ward 6 councilor insisted that the city’s chief executive keep its legislative body fully informed of City Hall actions.

The $105,000 cost of the lease for the first year at 100 North St. in property owned by Scarafoni Realty has been reduced to $75,000 because of the delay in signing. Other options for the city offices may emerge, such as the current police station on Allen Street if the police move to expanded quarters. Making the City Hall basement suitable for human habitation appears to be prohibitively expensive.

The mayor provided this and other information to the City Council Tuesday night after the lease agreement was essentially a fait accompli. Mr. Bianchi reminded the councilors that he has the authority to make lease agreements without City Council approval, which councilors did not dispute. This, however, was not an agreement to lease garage space or a similarly routine action. Moving employees out of City Hall makes it far more significant than the routine lease.

City Councilors Kathleen Amuso and Kevin Morandi, neither of whom are among the councilors the mayor has apparently written off as implacable enemies, each expressed disappointment that they didn’t know about the plan, which has been in the works for a couple of months, much earlier in the process. Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, who was seeking further information on the lease agreement that is to be discussed by the City Council in October, is on vacation and was not in attendance Tuesday night. That discussion has largely been rendered irrelevant, as the mayor insisted Tuesday night that the signing of the lease could not be postponed further without jeopardizing the plan.

As a ward councilor, Mr. Bianchi was a stickler for getting all available information from City Hall, so he cannot fault current city councilors for insisting on the same. The move of offices to 100 North St. has both immediate and potential benefits, but duly elected city councilors should have been involved earlier so they could ask questions before, not after, the agreement was a done deal.

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"Pittsfield switching to Blue Cross/Blue Shield; 'significant savings' seen"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 9/30/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The city has decided to switch its employee and retiree health insurance carrier when a three-year contract expires next June.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said Tuesday that the new agreement for Blue Cross/Blue Shield coverage is expected to result in "significant savings" and "equal or better coverage" for those in the plans.

The Pittsfield Employees Commission, which includes representatives from city and school employee unions and retirees, voted Monday in favor of the change from the current Group Insurance Commission coverage.

While some officials praised the new coverage as an improvement expected to save the city and employees money, there was criticism over a lack of transparency leading up to the decision.

School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon decried the fact committee members and school officials only learned of the pending agreement recently. "I was quite surprised we were not informed," she said, adding, "It may be the best plan in the world, but I just don't understand it; we are hearing about it after the fact."

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, who was involved in the process that led to the city joining the GIC system in 2009, said he has concerns about the potential for increases in the third year of the Blue Cross proposal. He added that none of the other councilors he had spoken to knew about the switch before it was imminent.

"That was completely unacceptable; I am not OK with that," Lothrop said.

"I am not second guessing the decision, but my beef is the council was not consulted."

Lothrop said he asked the city to consider switching from Blue Cross coverage to join the GIC in 2007, and there were a number of public meetings, some televised, before the proposal went to former Mayor James M. Ruberto for final negotiations with GIC.

The increases in insurance costs to the city over the past six years have been demonstrably lower than they were in prior years, he said, and that helped the city avoid layoffs during the recession. Lothrop said he's worried that it could take up to two years to switch again if larger cost increases return.

Bianchi said Tuesday he intends to brief the council on the change in carriers, but the decision was an administrative one, not requiring council approval. There will be no request this fiscal year for new funding, he said.

Bianchi said the terms of the contract were worked out through "back and forth" discussions involving the PEC members, who were in contact with their rank and file members to gauge support.

The initial Blue Cross proposal was rejected, he said, but a revised package was accepted and approved by the PEC on Monday, just prior to an Oct. 1 deadline for notifying GIC that its contract would not be renewed after June 30, 2015.

A key change made in the coverage proposal, the mayor said, was establishment of a mitigation fund to reimburse covered employees or retirees if the new coverage results in higher out-of-pocket costs.

According to city Personnel Director John DeAngelo, the mitigation fund will be capped at $250,000 per year. The estimated savings to the city, however, was from $2 million to $2.5 million over three years, he said.

Bianchi said the city currently spends nearly $21 million annually on health insurance.

"I think it's a win for the city," said Brendan Sheran, president of the United Educators of Pittsfield and a member of the PEC. "It will save the city money and save us money; it's a positive thing."

He also acknowledged "the time frame was not ideal to give people a chance to digest the change." As a result, a bidding process will be required when the city next seeks proposals from insurance carriers, Sheran said.

A majority of the PEC, which has about 15 representative members, approved the switch to Blue Cross, he said, "It was not an overwhelming majority, but a majority."

But Sheran said he was convinced of the advantages of making the switch. "I think they are going to offer better benefits for many members and cut costs for 60 to 70 percent of members."

The health care options in terms of network physicians and hospitals also will be expended under the Blue Cross plans, he said.

The teachers union and the PEC had an independent analysis done of the Blue Cross offer and its cost estimates, which confirmed they were valid, Sheran said.

Nancy Dinofrio, the city's employee benefits analyst, said Tuesday that GIC normally does not provide a quote for coverage until March of the year in which a contract expires, "and there is no negotiation." GIC has provided coverage since July 2009.

The Blue Cross plans will be offered to the city through the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association, which also is the city's liability insurance carrier.

Dinofrio said there are about 1,100 employees enrolled in the city's insurance plans currently, and about 1,000 retirees or their survivors who receive Medicare supplemental coverage.

The city's share of the costs will remain at 85 percent, with 15 percent the responsibility of the insured, under the new insurance plans.

Informational sessions are expected to be held to explain the coverage options and details of the plans.

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"Another done deal"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 10/03/2014

As was the case with the pending move of some city employees from City Hall to new quarters, Pittsfield’s change of insurance carriers is apparently a done deal with no input from the City Council. In this case, the School Committee and school officials were left out of the process, along with, once again, city voters.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi announced Tuesday that upon a vote by the Pittsfield Employees Commission the city would withdraw from the state’s Group Insurance Commission when its coverage contract expires next June and sign on with Blue Cross/ Blue Shield. Pittsfield joined the GIC in 2009, in the process avoiding devastating insurance hikes that could have caused layoffs in the early months of the recession. The GIC has performed well for the city, although it is clearly not popular with everyone in the union hierarchies.

The City Hall and PEC predict savings for the city, although it is noteworthy that a mitigation fund, capped at $250,000 a year, was established in case the switch to Blue Cross results in higher out-of-pocket insurance costs for employees or retirees. In recent years Blue Cross, a highly profitable "nonprofit," has gotten more recognition for paying outrageous salaries and bonuses to top executives than it has for reducing insurance costs or serving clients.

The PEC vote breakdown was not announced but it was clearly far from an overwhelming vote in favor and it appears the rank-and-file members were not involved in the process to leave the GIC.

In fact, it appears no one outside of City Hall and the PEC was involved in the process.

In 2009, Mayor James Ruberto closely involved the press -- and by extension the public -- in the process of moving to the GIC. City Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, a councilor then and now, proposed switching from Blue Cross to the GIC in 2007, and televised council discussions as well as public hearings cast light on the arguments for and against the change two years later. When it happened the city was ready. This time, as is too often the case, the change came out of the blue. The switch may pan out, but the announcement of done deals accomplished with no input from relevant elected and appointed officials and with no vetting before the public is far from an ideal way to run a city.

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"Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi, local firms back Tennessee Gas Pipeline project"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/02/2014

PITTSFIELD - Unlike a number of local officials in Berkshire County, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has spoken out in favor of a proposed Tennessee Gas expansion project, contending that increasing natural gas supplies is vital to the region's economy.

Bianchi, along with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. representatives, laborers union members, and a Berkshire Gas Co. representative on Monday stressed the need for the $6 billion plan to install a new gas trunk line across Richmond and northern Massachusetts to Dracut.

Several opponents of the project also spoke before the City Council's Health and Public Safety Committee, which was considering a petition asking the full council to take a stand on the project.

While numerous select board members and other local officials along the proposed pipeline route have spoken against it, Bianchi said that Berkshire businesses, especially major employers, will find it difficult to expand or even remain in the county if natural gas supplies are not adequate.

"They could all be impacted negatively until we expand the supply," he said.

Because electric power generators in New England are increasingly relying on natural gas as aging oil- or coal-fired plants and nuclear plants are retired, electricity rates are expected to spike. Not only are the Berkshires now competing with the South and other regions of the county with extensive natural gas supplies, Bianchi said, but nearby New York state has lower power generation rates because of gas supplies being developed in from the massive Marcellus shale region in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York.

Without gas capacity expansion there could be "severe consequences" for the local economy, Bianchi said.

The mayor did not endorse the specific route proposed for the new gas line, which is expected to change over the next year during a pre-permit filing stage. The company, a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan, expects to file its formal permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission next fall.

The route currently cuts across the southeastern corner of Pittsfield and passes through the city's watershed, which extends into Hinsdale, and Bianchi has asked for changes there to avoid any negative environmental impacts.

In answer to questions from Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, company officials said Tuesday that one alteration being considered would move the gas line away from the city's Cleveland Reservoir in Hinsdale. Otherwise, they said, there has been an attempt to follow existing utility routes on its path toward the Greenfield area.

Christopher Farrell of Berkshire Gas Co., one of a dozen local gas suppliers or users in the state that has contracted to purchase additional gas from Tennessee Gas, spoke about the supply issue. Current gas supplies for the Greenfield and Amherst areas, which Berkshire Gas also serves, are at capacity levels, Farrell said, meaning that if a new large company or organization sought additional gas, that might not be possible.

In Berkshire County, he said, supplies allowing expansions are expected to be adequate for six to 10 years, although Farrell and other speakers said that the constrictions within the New England gas pipeline system - as opposed to other areas of the country where infrastructure has expanded greatly in recent decades - is still expected to cause spikes in the cost of both gas for heating and for power generation.

Jane Winn, of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, one of many local advocates who have opposed the new pipeline, and other speakers, questioned the industry's estimates of the need for additional gas the project would supply. They have argued that the region "is at a crossroads," and the state should press ahead with wind, solar and other forms of energy as the era of fossil fuel use is ending.

Both opponents and supporters have said they see natural gas, a cleaner-burning fuel than oil or coal, as a bridge fuel while more efficient renewable power is developed to replace it. They differ, however, on whether the proposed pipeline is necessary for that bridge.

Because the bulk of the gas passing through the new line would be extracted through the controversial fracking process, the new line "would make it impossible" for the state to meet its goals for reducing climate change emissions, Winn said.

In fact, she said, the chemicals used in the fracking process and the methane that typically leaks from gas lines would counterbalance any environmental benefits from burning a cleaner fuel.

Attorney C. Jeffrey Cook, who represents a number of small local industrial firms and Unistress Corp., also advocated for increasing local gas supplies. He warned that without it companies will continue to leave the area for the South or elsewhere.

Committee Chairman and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said he had not heard from the business community concerning the gas line project and urged them to make those opinions known to the council.

Adam Lupino, New England region policy coordinator for the laborers union, said he appreciated Bianchi's comments, which he hoped would change the mostly negative tone of most discussions about the project at prior public meetings in the communities along the proposed route. Economic factors "need to take center stage," he said.

Allen Fore of Kinder Morgan, Bianchi and other speakers also stressed that the company will not submit a specific permit request to FERC until next fall, and there will be ample time for citizens and groups to offer comment and suggest changes or alternatives. Bianchi said he believes an environmentally sensitive project will emerge through a collaborative process.

Concerning pipeline safety issues, opponents cited explosions or other issues at other pipeline systems around the nation. Company officials said the 50-plus year record of having gas truck lines in Massachusetts is a good one, and the accident record details can be checked on the company's website or on the FERC website.

The council committee did not take vote on whether to oppose the project, agreeing unanimously to refer the issue back to the full council.

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"Pittsfield RSVP board removes program director amid 'significant concerns'"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/02/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The city's RSVP program director has been removed by the advisory board less than five months after her appointment in June.

The change apparently is related to the loss of grant funding for up to three years, although details were not confirmed by officials as of Thursday evening.

Deborah Sadowy, who was appointed in June to the full-time director's position, has been removed through a vote of the RSVP board. She has been replaced on an interim basis by Sheila Pia, whom Sadowy had succeeded as director.

City Director of Administrative Services Julia Sabourin released an emailed statement from Carolyn Valli, executive director of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, who serves as president of the 17-member RSVP board.

Valli, who reportedly was out of the city Thursday and could not be reached for further comment, did not directly address details of Sadowy's removal or the long-term funding issues in her statement.

"RSVP is a viable volunteer organization that places people's skills and talents with the needs of the community," Valli stated. "Funding for RSVP comes from the City of Pittsfield and from the Corporation of National Community Service. We are funded in the current budget and have secure funding until June 30, 2015."

She added, "RSVP will begin a comprehensive planning process to find funding for the FY 16 budget. This is a new opportunity to refocus on the core programs and principles that have made RSVP an integral part of the community.

Mayor Bianchi was informed of the decision Monday afternoon, September 29th."

Sabourin said the announcement from the RSVP board came after an executive session. She said that City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan will work with RSVP as it seeks other sources of funding to make up for the loss of the grant.

The grant sought reportedly would have covered three years, beginning in July 2015.

In an annual report on the program posted on the city's website, the Corporation for National Service grant funding totaled $42,189 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013. The funding the city provided that year was listed as $64,100.

In that report, three full-time employees were listed, the director, Pia, an administrative assistant and a volunteer coordinator. Half the salaries of each were paid by the city and half by the federal grant.

There were also 11 volunteers providing assistance in the office at the Berkshire Athenaeum and 25 volunteers drivers providing transportation for Pittsfield seniors, according to the report.

RSVP in Pittsfield, now in its 44th year, recruits volunteers 55 and older and matches them to community service assignments in the city and surrounding towns.

Bianchi issued a statement Thursday, saying, "I was pleased with the selection process and decision the board made to hire Ms. Sadowy. However, city employees have a 6-month probationary period. The board had significant concerns and made the decision to ask for her resignation."

Sadowy could not be reached Thursday for comment. Before being hired in June for the RSVP post, which currently pays $48,080, she served as director of human resources and in other positions for United Cerebral Palsy Association of Berkshire County, and previously as community resource director with the Pittsfield YMCA.

RSVP Advisory Board Vice President Eric Wilder, of Goodwill Industries, did not return a call requesting comment on the situation.

Details could not be confirmed Thursday concerning the long-term effect on RSVP funding, programs and staffing, and whether other funding sources might be available to replace the lost grant or whether an application might be resubmitted next year or only after three years.

Michael Taylor, of the city Personnel Department, said there is no search yet under way for a new RSVP director. Based on past practice, RSVP has selected the director and put the name forward to the mayor and City Council.

In the announcement of Sadowy's appointment in June, the release stated that the search and interview committee consisted of Wilder; Andrew Perineck, a past president of RSVP; Rosemary Gould, secretary of RSVP; Vincent Marinaro, treasurer of RSVP and director of the city Council on Aging, and Valli.

Under the selection process, Sadowy's name was then forwarded to the mayor.

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"Fired RSVP head Sadowy: Situation was impossible"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/05/2014

PITTSFIELD -- The former director of the city’s RSVP volunteer program, who was fired by the advisory board late last month, says she was thrust into an impossible deadline situation and given little help and no training before being dismissed after a major funding grant application was denied.

"I am just astonished over it," Deborah Sadowy said of her dismissal.

She said she worked for 35 years in local human service organizations like the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Berkshire County and the Pittsfield YMCA before being selected by a search committee of RSVP board members in June for the director’s job.

"I have a good reputation in the community," she said, adding that she never had similar problems with any of her previous employers.

Sadowy said she was informed of her dismissal by advisory board President Carolyn Valli, board Vice President Eric Wilder and Michael Taylor of the city Personnel Department. She said it was attributed to the organization missing out on a major three-year federal grant.

The application was denied because it was submitted less than a day after the Sept. 9 deadline, Sadowy said.

The grant from the Corporation for National Service would have been similar to others previously received by the organization, and would have added about $40,000 a year to the RSVP office budget, beginning in July 2015. In recent years, the grant has comprised roughly 40 percent of annual budget, with the city providing roughly 60 percent of the funding.

Sadowy contended that the situation she inherited upon starting in early July proved an impossible atmosphere in which to succeed. "What they were looking for me to do is create a miracle," she said. "I don’t know of anyone who could have done that in that period of time."

Sadowy said she immediately faced a three-week deadline for filing a year-end progress report for RSVP, which she contends should more appropriately have been the responsibility of her predecessor, Sheila Pia, who was familiar with details of the program activities over the past year.

Immediately after that, Sadowy said, the Sept. 9 deadline for the grant loomed, and again she had difficulty obtaining details about programs that she had not overseen over the past year, and she said her requests for help were mostly ignored.

"I had no training on anything," she said. "I had to teach myself."

Sadowy added that she informed the RSVP executive board at a meeting of all that would be required to complete the grant application, and she expected they would meet periodically to discuss the application’s progress, but that didn’t happen.

And at one point, she said, "I specifically told Vice President Eric Wilder that I was overwhelmed."

Sadowy said she did get the grant application completed in time in paper form, but then had trouble filing part of it using an online e-grant application system she had never worked with before, and the application was finally processed on the afternoon of Sept. 10, hours late.

She said she assumed the grant would go through anyway, in part because she had called an e-grant help line several times, which documented the problems she was having with the system, but the grant was denied for being late.

Even so, Sadowy said she knew that the Pittsfield RSVP had gotten such a decision reversed after a similar grant application filed in the past by Pia was turned down. The decision was reversed after an appeal for help from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, she said.

Sadowy said she was encouraged by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to make a similar appeal to the congressman, which she did but had not heard back from his staff before she was fired.

She added that Bianchi, who is the appointing authority as the RSVP operation is considered a city department and the director’s job a city post, had also encouraged her not to worry about her job days before the RSVP board members came to her office to tell her she was fired.

Reached Saturday, Bianchi said that, after a conversation with Sadowy, "I understood that there were technical issues [with the e-grant program], but when I talked to board members they said it was more than that."

The mayor said he urged them to work with Sadowy to try to resolve the issues, but that the board came back with a recommendation to remove her from the director’s post. He said it has been the practice of the mayor’s office to defer to the RSVP board in hiring directors, and he accepted their recommendation to fire Sadowy.

"I feel bad about the way this worked out," Bianchi said. "But that is why you have a probation period, because you don’t want someone who is not in the right position."

He added, "Sometimes it is not a right fit for one reason or another ... but we wish her the best."

Sadowy said she believes a personality conflict also developed between her and Valli, especially after she began trying to institute changes in the types of jobs senior volunteers are assigned -- a task she had been given by the board. The goal for the changes was to find more interesting volunteer jobs that might better appeal to the aging baby boom generation.

Sadowy said she has always been "an assertive person" in pursuing such an organizational change, but that once changes were made they were always considered positive ones. She said she didn’t understand how an apparent personality conflict with the board president originated.

Valli was out of the area Saturday and could not be reached for comment. A statement from her, released earlier by the mayor’s office, said in part, "RSVP will begin a comprehensive planning process to find funding for the FY 16 budget. This is a new opportunity to refocus on the core programs and principles that have made RSVP an integral part of the community."

The city’s RSVP budget of more than $100,000 has funded a director’s post, which now has a salary of $48,080, an administrative assistant and a volunteer coordinator. About half the salary for each full-time position was covered by the city and half by the federal grant.

According to Taylor, there is currently no search under way to replace Sadowy. Pia, who retired from the post earlier this year, has stepped in as interim director.

RSVP in Pittsfield, now in its 44th year, recruits volunteers 55 and older and matches them to community service assignments in the city and surrounding towns.

Sadowy also said that in the time leading up to her firing, board members "never talked to me [about any problems], never did any of that ... I was just astonished by it," she said of her firing.

She declined comment when asked if she was considering legal action.

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"Pittsfield Ordinance and Rules Committee proposes $28,000 hike in mayor's salary"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 10/07/2014

PITTSFIELD -- A City Council committee is recommending an approximately $28,000 hike in the mayor's yearly salary, and that School Committee members receive a $4,000 annual stipend.

The Ordinance and Rules Committee had previously reviewed a set of higher salaries for city government managers, which later won approval from the full council. The salaries of the mayor, School Committee members and councilors themselves were separated out to be reviewed alone.

Ward 4 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop on Monday renewed his previous recommendation that the subcommittee support a raise to $110,000 for the mayor [up from the current $87,700] and a $4,000 stipend for School Committee members, who had been barred from receiving any payment in the old Pittsfield government charter.

However, the option to pay those six elected officials was included in new city charter that was enacted by voters in November 2013.

Along with voting support for $4,000 payment, the subcommittee members approved an amendment specifying that the mayor -- an ex-officio member of the School Committee -- would not receive the stipend. And the councilors specified that no benefits are to included with the payment.

As with the mayor's raise, the pay for committee members won't kick in until after the next city election in November 2015.

The vote was 4-1 with Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi opposed. He said he could not support adding six new paid positions when many residents are struggling with their tax bills.

In considering a hike in the mayor's salary, councilors debated and eventually approved an amendment from Council President Melissa Mazzeo, who is a member of the Ordinance and Rules Committee, to link the mayor's salary to those of the police and fire chiefs. Mazzeo recommended that the mayor be paid either $110,000 or 5 percent above the average of the chiefs salaries, whichever amount is higher.

That figure today would be about $116,000, based on the police and fire chief salaries, which were raised over the summer along with those of other city managers. It could decline as far as $110,000 if a new chief took office at a lower salary.

Mazzeo noted that the old city charter had a similar percentage differential of 5 percent, which ensured that the mayor was paid at least slightly more than top administrators.

In proposing the new managerial salary schedule earlier this year, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi based it on a consultant's study that compared city pay rates with those for similar positions in other communities in Massachusetts. It found that Pittsfield paid lower salaries for most positions, and the mayor said that was making it difficult to attract and retain department administrators.

In speaking about the need to raise the mayor's salary, Lothrop pointed out that it was lower than that of many other communities and the city school superintendent. He said that anyone hired to oversee a budget in the private sector the size of Pittsfield's with hundreds of employees would be paid much more.

The raise for the mayor's position was approved unanimously. The council is expected to take up both salary changes at its Oct. 14 meeting.

Lothrop had previously proposed a $2,000 raise in the salary of councilors, who now receive $8,000 plus the option of health insurance. But that was not recommended by the subcommittee. Councilors last received a raise in 1995.

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“Berkshire jobless rate ticks up past 6 percent: County's total workforce decreases by more than 1,200 workers last month”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, October 21, 2014

PITTSFIELD – Berkshire County unemployment exceeded the 6 percent threshold in September for the first time in four months.

The number of unemployed county workers increased slightly last month, but the county's total labor force decreased by more than 1,200 workers, according to figures released on Tuesday by the state Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The jobless rate ticked up from 5.7 percent in August to 6.1 percent in September.

State unemployment is currently 6 percent, slightly higher than the national rate of 5.9 percent.

Heather Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, attributed the increase to the normal fluctuations that occur when the summer tourism season ends.

"After the summer season ends, there's a little bit of an uptick in the unemployment rates due to seasonality in September and October," Boulger said. "It has a lot to do with seasonal hiring and college kids going back to school.

She said last month's jump in the local figures, "is nothing more significant than we would have anticipated.

"There always seems to be a hiccup in September and January," she added. "Twice a year we go through this."

Last month's Berkshire unemployment rate is almost a full percentage point lower than the 6.8 percent registered in September 2013. Last year, county unemployment was 6.2 percent in August.

"There's more people in the labor force, and more employed," compared to a year ago, Boulger said. "So that is significant."

Unemployment also increased in the county's three labor market areas last month, with the biggest jump occurring in the Pittsfield area, where the jobless rate went from 5,9 to 6.3 percent. The area where local unemployment was highest last month is in North Adams, where the rate is 7.5 percent. But that figure is only a tenth of a percentage point higher than it was in August.

In the county's two cities, unemployment jumped from 6.1 to 6.8 percent in Pittsfield last month, and from 7.8 to 8.0 percent in North Adams.

In the Pittsfield area, total employment dropped by 900 jobs between August and September, a decrease of 2.4 percent. That is the second largest decrease among 12 similar areas across the state, behind only Barnstable, which lost 8,200 jobs, a drop of 7.1 percent. However, over the last 12 months, the number of jobs in the Pittsfield area has increased by 500, a jump of 1.4 percent.

"It shows again that we're not completely out of trouble," Boulger said, referring to the city and town area numbers, "and that we still have a long way to go."

However, Boulger said Berkshire job listings on the JobQuest website have dropped to 1,076, from the 1,500 to 1,700 level that were common during the summer.

The figures released on Tuesday are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account seasonal construction jobs and positions in the travel and tourism industry.

The labor force, unemployment, and jobs estimates for Massachusetts and every other state are based on statistical methodologies specified by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Call Tony Dobrowolski, at 413-496-6224 drobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter

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"Pittsfield councilor considers petition on outside work by mayors: City Councilor Clairmont considers petition"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, October 30, 2014

PITTSFIELD – Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's work for a private-sector firm while in office could lead to a proposed ordinance designed to ban the practice.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont tried unsuccessfully this week to attach such a provision to a pay raise proposal for the mayor's position. After that bid was rejected by councilors, Clairmont said he will consider a separate ordinance to further define the "full time" mayor provision in the city's charter.

Bianchi said Wednesday that such an ordinance is unnecessary and likely would discourage potential candidates from seeking the office. While he declined to discuss his work with an energy services firm, Bianchi said he acts as mayor "seven days a week and 24 hours a day."

Clairmont tried to attach an amendment to a mayoral pay raise proposal that passed the council Tuesday. It will provide for a raise to $95,000 annually from $87,787, beginning in 2016, with annual adjustments based on inflation.

Referring to Bianchi's work with Global Montello Group, the energy services company for which he served as local office manager when running for mayor in 2011, Clairmont proposed an amendment barring any mayor from doing outside work. A mayor "should not have outside income," Clairmont said.

Council President Melissa Mazzeo said the city charter approved in November 2013 states only that the mayor's job is full-time, but "does not preclude a person from doing another job."

The charter language, she said, was purposely phrased not to preclude other income for a mayor. "That's why it was written that way" by the Charter Review Study Committee, Mazzeo said.

The charter states in part: "The mayor shall devote full time to the office and shall not hold any other elective public office," and may "hold no other compensated city position."

Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso told Clairmont on Tuesday that the issue of a mayor working outside the office is something "we should leave to the voters," adding, "I don't think we should start nit-picking that."

Asked by Ward 6 Councilor John Ward whether Clairmont's proposed amendment would be legal, City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan said it would not be. She said the pay raise issue was vetted by the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee, and the councilor's amendment was only proposed during the final council debate.

Degnan said such an ordinance should be put forth in a council petition and then sent to Ordinance and Rules for review before being acted upon by the full council.

She added that she believes a ban on outside income for a mayor would be a mistake. Attorneys, like herself, who work at City Hall have traditionally been allowed to work on cases while in office, Degnan said, and people in other professions also might do some work while in office.

"Conflict [of interest] is the issue," she said, referring to whether any conflicts exist between the outside employment and the person's duties in a city position.

Contacted Wednesday, Bianchi said, "I look at this job as seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I get calls at 2 in the morning. It really is a full-time job. My weekend [coming up] is booked."

He said Clairmont's proposal, if enacted, could discourage candidates from running for mayor. "We don't want to make it so restrictive that people won't want to do the job," he said.

"This is also an aggressively political job," Bianchi said, which he added can provide discouragement that an outside work ban would compound.

The mayor has declined requests from The Eagle to describe his work outside the office, expect to say it hasn't interfered with his duties as mayor. He said Wednesday, "I'm not going to describe it. All I can tell you is, I work at this [the mayor's job] seven days a week, 24 hours a day. You have to look at the job that the person is doing."

Bianchi said restricting outside work would likely discourage a number of other employees as well, such as police officers or teachers, from working for the city. "You have to be reasonable," he said, adding, "It's worth a debate, I guess."

He continued, "I'm a full-time mayor. What I do beyond that, I don't know how relevant that is."

Bianchi said residents should also consider that "we are in a politically rabid arena, and we have councilors here who are focused on getting you out of office."

Clairmont said Wednesday that he is considering a petition concerning outside employment for the mayor but hasn't yet decided to file one.

He said he would like to hear more about what the mayor has done for the energy supply firm or as an independent consultant working with the company — and whether Bianchi is still working in that capacity.

Clairmont, who is an accountant with Lombardi, Clairmont & Keegan, said he has a number business clients in the Berkshires for whom the mayor has acted as a consultant on the purchase of energy supplies, such as natural gas or electricity, at a savings over purchasing directly from utilities.

Concerning Bianchi's business office at 110 North St., Clairmont said he now is satisfied it has been closed, based on the mayor's answers to that effect at a council meeting to his questions about moving city inspection services to the same building.

However, Clairmont said he believes the public should be informed whether the mayor now maintains another office and how extensive is his outside workload, if any.

Call Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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“Environmental group: Pittsfield mayor's energy firm ties create conflict in gas pipeline debate”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 11/10/2014

PITTSFIELD – The Berkshire Environmental Action Team contends that Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has a conflict of interest concerning the proposed $6 billion Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. project, which he has publicly supported as needed in the Berkshires.

The group on Monday filed a formal complaint with the state Ethics Commission, contending that the mayor should immediately recuse himself from the ongoing permitting process.

Bianchi, who has prepared a written disclosure statement concerning the situation, said the conflict allegation is baseless, and he doesn't plan to bow out of the debate.

In a prepared release by BEAT, group Advocate Michael Muadin said in part, "He [Bianchi] needs to immediately recuse himself from any formal executive actions related to this pipeline."

Muadin said during a subsequent telephone conversation that while the mayor may have filed a disclosure statement, "it is after the fact," and the alleged conflict has existed until now.

The organization's press statement notes that the mayor was the Pittsfield office manager for Global Montello Group prior to his election in 2011 and has continued part-time as a consultant for the energy services firm.

The release said Global Montello has done business with Tennessee Gas Pipeline, adding that the mayor "remains in bed with the energy industry that is trying to force this pipeline on the people and their land."

Muadin added that Bianchi "needs to immediately and publicly disclose the exact nature of his relationship with Global Montello and whether or not any communications concerning the pipeline, verbal or written, have passed between himself and Global Montello."

Bianchi has been a consistent supporter of the project, saying it would benefit the county and Western Massachusetts economically by lowering fuel and electricity costs. In his conflict of interest disclosure form, released Monday, the mayor contends that he has no conflict because no actions involving the proposed pipeline will be required of him as mayor.

"I have no ability or responsibility to stop or to assist in the laying of the gas pipeline described above; nor have I used my position as mayor to influence the affected landowners one way or the other, " Bianchi stated in the form.

He added, "I have no affiliation or relationship with Kinder Morgan," referring to the parent company of Tennessee Gas. "I do perform some consulting work for a company called Global Montello Group, but my consulting work is not being performed on city time nor does it enhance or hinder the ability of Kinder Morgan to lay a pipeline in the city of Pittsfield."

The multi-state energy distribution giant seeks to build a new natural gas line from upstate New York through Richmond and then north and east through the northern sections of Massachusetts to Dracut. A large number of officials and residents in the communities along the proposed route have come out in opposition.

Permits are being sought for the project through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Kinder Morgan is expected to file its formal permit application with a final design about a year from now.

The issue of the pipeline could resurface before the Pittsfield City Council on Wednesday, as a petition from Jane Winn, BEAT's executive director, remains on the council agenda under unfinished business. It was tabled at a prior meeting so that business groups would have more time to offer comment.

The petition seeks to have the council take a nonbinding vote on the project.

Winn said in the group's release that the mayor "needs to recuse himself from saying anything further on this subject given that he has worked for, and apparently still works for, a company that stands to profit from this pipeline at the expense of everyone else in the Berkshires."

She said the issue affects all residents of the region because of the environmental impacts and impacts on "our Beautiful Berkshire Brand as a naturally clean, creative, and critter-filled place that should not be marred by the biggest gas infrastructure project we have ever seen."

At past council meetings, Bianchi has spoken of what he sees as a strong need for more natural gas in Massachusetts and New England, saying shortages at gas-fired generation plants during peak electricity demand periods already are causing spikes in electricity rates.

Bianchi and several local business leaders have said firms seeking to expand or locate here are at a disadvantage because natural gas is more plentiful and cheaper in other regions, including nearby New York.

Environmentalists and others say the state is at a point where it should steer away from fossil fuel dependence toward renewable energy sources and energy efficiency efforts.

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“Transparency from mayor would help”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 11/12/2014

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi's work in the private sector has become a source of contention twice this fall — as a potential distraction from his duties as mayor and as an alleged conflict of interest. Transparency may have defused these issues.

Mr. Bianchi was the local office manager for Global Montello Group, an energy services company, at the time he ran for the first of his two terms as mayor. An Eagle story after his election indicated that he would not continue with Global, which could have been the mayor's intent or a misunderstanding, as he has continued as a part-time consultant.

City Councilor Barry Clairmont referred to the mayor's outside work last month when he offered an amendment to a proposal raising the mayor's pay barring mayors from outside work. When that didn't succeed, the councilor said he would consider an ordinance designed to prohibit it.

The Berkshire Environmental Action Team contends that the mayor's work with Global represents a conflict of interest given his support of the proposed Tennessee Gas pipeline project through the Berkshires and Massachusetts. Monday, BEAT filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission requesting he recuse himself from the permitting process.

The mayor of Pittsfield will be receiving a salary of $95,000 annually beginning in 2016, which should be more than adequate. Banning mayors from any work in the private sector, however, could reduce the pool of good candidates. The city charter bars the mayor from any other public office or compensated city position, which is sufficient.

It appears unlikely that any Berkshire town or city official will impact Tennessee Gas, which needs only federal approval it is confident of receiving. Ideally, the mayor would oppose a project whose detriments are tangible and benefits debatable, but regardless of how the Ethics Committee rules, residents know of the mayor's part-time work and can factor that into the equation in interpreting his support.

That Mr. Bianchi has been defensive about his work with Global Montello is not surprising as that is his default position. However, if he had been more open all along, the impression that he was trying to hide something — like potential conflicts or possible time away from his elected duties — may not have arisen, or not had the same impact when those concerns inevitably did.

Transparency is the best policy. It heads off controversies and in these cases enable people to judge a mayor's positions based on all the factors that may go into determining them.

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A full house is present Wednesday during a session of the Pittsfield City Council during which it voted 8-1 to oppose the Tennessee Gas Co.'s pipeline project. (Jim Therrien — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Tennessee Gas Pipeline: Pittsfield City Council votes to oppose plan: Pittsfield Council votes opposition to gas line plan”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 11/12/2014

PITTSFIELD – The Pittsfield City Council has voted 8-1 to join some three dozen other communities in the state voicing opposition to the proposed $6 billion Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. project.

The council had been urged by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team to take a vote on the issue, which a number of towns along the proposed gas pipeline route across Massachusetts to Dracut have done.

"I am very pleased that Pittsfield has now joined 38 other communities, some not along the pipeline route, in sending a strong message to FERC [Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission] that we don't want this," said Jane Winn, the executive director of BEAT.

The council's vote is non-binding on permitting for the project. The process is about a year away from submission of a final project design.

Prior to the vote, a number of speakers in the packed council chambers voiced opposition and urged the council to take a negative stand on the project. Winn and others reiterated that they believe the pipeline would negatively affect the environment and the image of the "Beautiful Berkshires Brand" as a tourist destination.

Opponents also argued that the state should steer away from major new fossil fuel infrastructure toward renewable energy projects and energy efficiency and become a leader in that regard.

BEAT also had called on Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to recuse himself from the debate over the pipeline because of his affiliation with Global Montello Group, an energy services firm that does business with Kinder Morgan, the parent firm of Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The mayor was the Pittsfield office manager for Global Montello prior to being elected in 2011, and he has said he sometimes acts part time as a consultant for the firm.

Bianchi has supported the project, saying the region is at an economic disadvantage with other regions because of insufficient supplies of natural gas, which affects heating as well as electricity costs for businesses and property owners.

He also reiterated during the public comments portion of the meeting his earlier statements that he doesn't believe he has a conflict of interest as he is not expected to take any action on the proposal, which will primarily be decided at the federal level.

He added that he has a duty as mayor to speak out on issues important to the city.

Bianchi left the council chambers prior to the council's vote and did not add further comments in the debate.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said he was pleased to be able to show his opposition to the gas line project, saying that recent news reports that Kinder Morgan had submitted a preliminary route for the line that still comes close to the city's watershed and Cleveland Reservoir. That had clinched his negative feelings about the project, he said.

Even though the city had raised objections to that portion of the route, "Kinder Morgan didn't want to change it," Krol said.

Councilors Christopher Connell, Lisa Tully, Kevin Morandi and Nicholas Caccamo all spoke in opposition to the plan, saying they feared the possibility of environmental damage, especially in the watershed area.

Morandi and Connell said councilors had waited several weeks to take the vote because they were told local business officials would come in to register their support, but no one did that.

Councilor at large Churchill Cotton said he was not prepared at this time to vote against the project. He said he was not convinced any detrimental effects of the gas line would outweigh the benefits of having an additional source of natural gas.

Opinions both for and against the project at this point are estimates, he said.

Ward 4 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop recused himself as he also sits on the Conservation Commission, which might be called upon to weigh in on the gas line project during the permitting process.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont was absent.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@ berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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"Pittsfield Mayor Appoints New Veterans' Agent, Former Has Filed Discrimination Complaint"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC public radio, November 12, 2014

Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi has selected a new director of veterans’ services, filling a void left by the termination of the former director this summer. The appointment goes before the City Council on Wednesday.

Mayor Bianchi has appointed James Clark as Pittsfield’s new director of veterans’ services. Bianchi suspended and then fired director Rosanne Frieri in August over performance concerns. The mayor says Clark is a combat veteran with about 30 years in the military including time at West Point.

“He has a deep knowledge of the laws relative to veterans’ rights,” Bianchi said. “I’m really looking forward to having him here. I think he is going to be a great advocate for our veterans.”

Frieri, who also serves as veterans’ agent for six other area towns, filed a wrongful termination complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in September, which has not been resolved.

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James H. Clark

Pittsfield: "New veterans officer has extensive training"
Clark confirmed unanimously by City Council
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 11/12/2014

PITTSFIELD - A retired army lieutenant colonel and Taconic High School and West Point graduate has been named the city's new veterans service officer.

James H. Clark, of Pittsfield, was confirmed unanimously Wednesday by the City Council, after his name was submitted by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

Clark, 54, fills a city department head vacancy created after Bianchi fired former Veterans Service Officer Rosanne Frieri in August. Frieri has since filed a complaint over the dismissal with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which is pending.

Clark said after the council vote that "this is something I always wanted to do ever since I came back here." He said he was inspired to assist returning veterans from his work with two of the army's Community Based Wounded Warrior Transition units, one of which he commanded.

He added that he has always remembered reading a quote from Gen. George Washington to the effect that the nation's ability to maintain an effective military in the future will always depend on how Americans perceive that current veterans are treated.

Clark graduated from the Military Academy at West Point in 1985 with a bachelor of science degree in general engineering and sociology, and then served in a number of army roles in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He has experience in information and communications technology, both in the military and at private firms.

Since January 2013, Clark has worked as an assistant teacher at Morningside Community School.

Other experience listed on his resume includes advising and mentoring Afghan military personnel in Kabul for DynCorp International; commander of an army Wounded Warrior transition unit in the Southeast U.S.; executive officer of a light infantry battalion based in the Northeast region; aide-de-camp on the staff of the commandant of the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.; company commander and head of a technical assistance team serving Army War College students; and chief of data and satellite communications in Kuwait and Somalia.

Clark also worked for GE Plastics in Pittsfield, managing readiness and accessibility for 400 databases globally while responsible for quality assurance for new and revised software applications.

He also lists work with Takeda Pharmaceuticals as IT operations coordinator and for Anixter International as director of operations responsible for distribution of structure wiring and communications products worldwide. Both jobs were based in Illinois.

Clark also commanded a tank battalion in Germany and served in other officer assignments at several military facilities in the U.S. He holds a top secret military security clearance.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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"Pittsfield mayor, supporters denounce councilors, Eagle coverage"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, November 14, 2014

PITTSFIELD - Supporters of Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi ripped his opponents on the City Council on Wednesday for allegedly obstructing the mayor's initiatives and failing to work for the good of the city.

During a lengthy public comment session at the City Council meeting, speakers also accused The Berkshire Eagle of painting a negative image of the city through its news coverage involving the mayor.

Bianchi joined in the criticism as well, decrying what he termed excessive and sometimes personal attacks from some councilors, and at one point terming the newspaper's coverage "irresponsible."

The comments of supporters followed sometimes harsh criticism from council members and others over several controversies involving the mayor this year, which have drawn media coverage.

Phyllis Smith cited what she called "disturbing behavior by this council," which she said was the worst she could remember. Some councilors, she said, have shown "blatant disrespect for the mayor" and reflexively questioned his proposals.

She called for officials to begin working together, adding, "The time has come for Pittsfield's elected officials to serve the city of Pittsfield and not your own agendas."

Smith said The Eagle focuses on negative news and fails to promote many positive initiatives in the city.

Louis Costi, a former councilor, called for more support for the mayor, saying, "he deserves credit, not discredit" for initiatives, such as the ongoing transfer of city inspection services into offices at 100 North St. Moving the offices to a single location, and moving some employees out of unhealthy basement offices at City Hall, was "good for the city," Costi said.

Diane Ferrero said it is "disheartening" that "all the headlines in the local paper" cast a negative light on the city. "There are many high spots," she said, referring to the anti-youth violence efforts and formation of a group to help preserve Pittsfield's historic structures.

"I ask the City Council to have a more cooperative spirit," Ferrero said, adding, "A few seem hell bent on slowing down the process" and "nit-picking" or second-guessing the mayor's proposals.

"This does not help the city," she said.

Pierre Joseph said he believes The Eagle "sometimes comes across as anti-business," and should "feature more positive things."

"Pittsfield is only going to be great if you guys stop fighting," Joseph Cardillo told councilors. "There are no winners if you're fighting."

Bianchi said during the public comment session that he believes "a balanced approach" is needed on issues, adding that isn't possible in light of what he termed slanted or negative newspaper coverage. He said he considers The Eagle's news coverage "irresponsible."

The mayor also said Councilor at large Barry Clairmont's suggestion during a recent meeting that the council consider barring mayors from outside work while in the office reflected "mean-spiritedness," adding, "I think this is personal."

Bianchi said there is a need to work cooperatively for the good of the city. "I strongly urge you all to try to do better ... to improve government," he said.

Two members of the Charter Review Study Committee that drafted the current city charter last year, Michael McCarthy and David Murphy, reiterated earlier statements on the outside income issue. They said the committee deliberately did not add language in the charter that would bar a mayor from outside work while in office, as long as the mayor's job is considered full time.

The intent was to not disqualify an attorney, landlord, business owner or other potential candidates from running for mayor, they said.

Bianchi was the manager of the local office of Global Montello Group, an energy services company, before being elected in 2011. He has said he still does some consulting work for the firm but works "50 to 70 hours a week as mayor."

Clairmont was absent from the meeting after a having recent medical procedure. Contacted Thursday, he said he watched the meeting on cable TV. Those who spoke "basically paraded up and scolded a supposed small group of councilors who don't support the mayor. Obviously, it was all orchestrated," he said.

He added, "Clearly, these are people who are drinking the Kool-Aid. It is sad that they think that."

The mayor's supporters "think it is the council putting up roadblocks, but it is the mayor acting unilaterally and not involving the council," Clairmont said, mentioning the transfer of offices to 100 North St. and a recently announced switch in the city employee health insurance provider as examples of Bianchi making unilateral decisions without involving the council.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said after the meeting that "this is something we have seen before," referring to what he believes was an event orchestrated by the mayor or supporters to intimidate councilors who have opposed him. "These are all longtime [Bianchi] supporters for the most part," Krol said. "This kind of thing is getting old."

The councilor added, "It's ironic that he has been one of most negative forces in Pittsfield government for more than 10 years." As a councilor, Bianchi "voted against the Colonial [theater], voted against the baseball stadium, but then it was providing checks and balances," Krol said.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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"Mayor's message - don't challenge party line"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 11/14/2014

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi stepped up to the microphone before Tuesday's City Council meeting to criticize councilors for being obstructionist and The Berkshire Eagle for being irresponsible. Translation: Toe the City Hall party line and don't go poking around in any dark corners.

This is nothing new from the mayor, who doesn't like criticism or critics. What was new was that — coincidentally enough — a contingent of Bianchi acolytes showed up at the open microphone session to offer a preview of the mayor's remarks. They also formed a cheering section that ignored Council President Melissa Mazzeo's pleas for an end to the applause that marred the session.

The mayor's calls for cooperation and an end to negativity on the part of the City Council were richly ironic coming from someone who was consistently negative and a lone "no" vote during his tenure as a Ward 6 city councilor. Mr. Bianchi was among the leaders of the opposition to a new downtown ballpark — a terrible loss for Pittsfield. He was late to the game on downtown cultural development in general and the Colonial Theatre restoration in particular.

Back then, Mr. Bianchi described himself as a council watchdog. However, city councilors who adopt that role now that he is mayor are regarded as traitors. Councilors who ask that they and the city be kept informed of the mayor's plans and actions or challenge them are only doing what Pittsfield voters expect them to do.

It is obvious that the mayor and his supporters don't want to read any bad news coming out of City Hall, but The Eagle is obligated to pursue and report it. The BerkshireWorks debacle, for example, involved taxpayer money and disrupted an important agency. The Eagle owes it to its readers to explore what happened and why. Blaming the messenger won't make this issue go away.

We trust that members of the City Council won't be intimidated by the mayor or bullied by his supporters no matter how often they show up at meetings to scold the councilors and make a ruckus. Voters didn't elect them to be City Hall rubber-stamps any more than Councilor Daniel Bianchi was elected to be a rubber-stamp.

Mayors who are confident in themselves and their policies don't have to resort to the kind of theatrics witnessed Tuesday night. Rather than look for scapegoats, Mr. Bianchi would be better advised to accept criticism, work with all city councilors, and in general take a more positive, constructive approach to his position as the city's chief executive.

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"Pittsfield mayor proposes split tax rate to fund increase"
The Berkshire Eagle, 11/19/2014

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is proposing a split residential/commercial tax rate for this fiscal year to fund an overall 4.48 percent increase in the local tax levy of $73,504,043, up from $70,349,001 last year.

The City Council will meet on the mayor's plan at 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

Both taxpayer classifications would see higher rates under the proposal. The rates are $18.06 per $1,000 of value for residential property and $36.62 per $1,000 for commercial and personal property.

That compares with $17.15 per $1,000 for residential, and $35.17 per $1,000 for commercial for fiscal 2014, which ended on June 30.

If there were a single city tax rate, that would be $22.06 per $1,000 this fiscal year, compared to $21.03 for fiscal 2014.

According to information provided with the tax rate proposal, the increase on a residential property worth $100,000 would be $81 this year, and $145 on a commercial property of that value.

The city also continues to tax well below its levy limit under Proposition 2 1/2. The excess levy capacity is listed as $8,460,822, compared to $8,489,372 last year.

— Jim Therrien

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"Tax hike is unacceptable for Pittsfield residents"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the editor, 11/23/2014

To the editor:

We live in Pittsfield's Ward 2 and are distressed by the proposed tax increase on residential and business properties. Our family is financially struggling along with businesses and families throughout Pittsfield.

Our population has dropped since 2012, unemployment was 6.3 percent as of September. This rate, as we know, does not accurately tap those who are not looking for work or people who are only able to find part-time work. Standard practice doubles the rate to account for these factors; so, Pittsfield's real unemployment rate is 12.6 percent.

The median hourly income in Pittsfield is a meager $17.09 (mean $22.23).Now the mayor wants to increase taxes for the second time in two years. This increase is absolutely unacceptable. We will experience increased fixed monthly expenses that results in a lower contribution to Pittsfield businesses and consequently tax revenues from those businesses will fall.

A City Council and mayor who disregard these facts and insists on increasing budgets on the backs of this strapped population are abandoning the interests of their constituents.

Charles Kronick Ann Kronick
Pittsfield

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"Frieri a loss for vets, city"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, November 21, 2014

To the editor:

I cannot understand why Mayor Bianchi fired Rosanne Frieri from the veterans' office. She is a wonderful, caring person. She has helped many veterans, my husband Mike included, in many ways.

She gave us the help and support we needed, no matter how busy she was. She would take the time to sit with and help me, told me what I had to do and how to go about getting the help my husband needed.

She did a fantastic job, has a loving heart and cares about all the veterans who served and are serving our country. My husband and I wish Rosanne the best in the future and hope she can continue to help the veterans. They need her!

Marge Signor
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Respectful supporters, revisionist history"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, November 21, 2014

To the editor:

As a former resident of Pittsfield, circumstances require me to return often so I try to keep up on the local news. I tuned in to PCTV on Nov. 12 to watch the City Council meeting and was astounded to read the Berkshire Eagle article and editorial on the meeting.

At no time did I observe disrespect or raucous behavior by anyone who spoke or sat in the audience. The Eagle and two councilors labeled the outpouring of support for Mayor Bianchi as orchestrated. Why not say the same about the long line of residents who spoke out against the proposed pipeline and repeatedly demanded the mayor's recusal from the discussion? By Eagle standards, was that not also orchestrated? Was their applause not raucous?

As for the newspaper's and Councilor John Krol's revisionist history — ancient history I should say — you continue to single out Dan Bianchi as having been against a stadium for downtown Pittsfield. It was the citizens of Pittsfield who voted against a new stadium and, very wisely, against a civic authority which would have had eminent domain powers across city limits. The Eagle twisted the truth on that issue 10-plus years ago and continues today.

Dan Bianchi, along with Anne Wojtkowski, was one of the first people to initiate the conversation about developing the Colonial Theatre and continued to push to make that happen. What he objected to was the proposal that the city put down $1 million from its own coffers toward funding. He strongly felt that there were other means for funding a project he fully supported. Once again, The Eagle continues to propagate misinformation and untruth in its biased reporting.

Alice Jones
Buzzard Bay, Ma.

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"Pittsfield City Council facing long agenda"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 11/24/2014

PITTSFIELD - The City Council faces a 46-item agenda for its meeting Tuesday, including a bid to restrict a mayor's outside business activities and other issues that have sparked debate at the subcommittee level.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont seeks a city code amendment that would restrict the mayor from conducting business for a non-municipal purpose during normal City Hall business hours.

The councilor has been critical of Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi for continuing to do some work for Global Montello Group, an energy services company he was employed by in Pittsfield prior to his election in 2011.

Clairmont attempted in October to attach an amendment to a mayoral pay raise request that would ban mayors from working elsewhere while in office, but that bid was rejected by the council.

Bianchi has said he works 50 to 70 per week and is "a full-time mayor," but also has done some consulting work for Global Montello after taking office. He and other officials have said restricting a mayor's ability to earn outside income might discourage some residents from running for the office.

The council also will take up proposed adoption of a state provision allowing a council to add funding to a school budget. The council currently can only delete from a school budget's bottom line.

School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon and Councilor at large Churchill Cotton filed the petition with the council. The council's Ordinance and Rules Committee has recommended 3-2 against the proposal.

Also on the agenda are several petitions filed by Craig Gaetani, a frequent critic of Bianchi and other city officials. He seeks changes in the public comment period at council meetings to allow more than three minutes per speaker.

The Ordinance and Rules Committee recommended unanimously that the petition be filed.

Gaetani also seeks documentation of "the names, salaries, and residences of every person working for the city of Pittsfield, and an ordinance allowing conversations between private individuals and city officials to be recorded.

Councilors also will consider a schedule of higher fees for Board of Health inspections and creation of a managerial nursing position in the department to replace a nursing job, and the mayor's nominations to the Human Rights Commission (Maryann Hyatt, the Youth Commission (Ann Gallo) and the Green Commission (Anthony Barnaba).

The entire agenda can be viewed at www.cityofpittsfield.org/government/city_council

Reach Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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"Berkshire jobless rate sinks to lowest level in six years"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, 11/26/2014

PITTSFIELD - The Berkshire County unemployment rate dropped precipitously in October, reaching its lowest level in six years.

The county jobless rate fell more than a percentage point, from 6.1 percent in September to 5.0 percent, according to figures released on Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

It's the lowest Berkshire unemployment has been this year; the previous low was 5.5 percent in May. Overall, Berkshire unemployment is at its lowest level since October 2008, when it reached 4.9 percent.

"It's even more huge when you consider what it was a year ago," said Heather Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, referring to the drop between September and October. Berkshire unemployment was 6.9 percent in October 2013.

"We expect it to fluctuate from month-to-month; that's just the nature of the numbers," she said.

Big drops like last month's are sometimes due to seasonality, but they can also lead into other things, Boulger said.

"At this particular time it looks really good," she said. "There are more people in the labor force, the number of unemployed has dropped, and there's a significant number of job opportunities available for people who want to work."

The drop in the Berkshire rate mirrored events across the state. State unemployment dropped from 6.2 percent in September to 5.1 percent last month.

Last month's numbers are seasonally unadjusted, which means that taken into account seasonal construction jobs and positions in the travel and tourism industry.

The number of Berkshire residents receiving unemployment benefits last month dropped to 3,557, the first time it's been under 4,000 since May. According to Boulger, the county's total labor force has risen by 2,111 workers over the last 12 months, a figure that includes and additional 963 between September and October. There were 1,473 job postings in the Berkshires as of Tuesday, she added.

Unemployment also dropped significantly in the county's three labor market areas last month. The biggest drop occurred in the North Adams area, where the jobless rate fell to 6.1 percent from 7.5 percent. Unemployment in that area was 7.7 percent in October 2013.

In the Central Berkshire-Pittsfield area, total employment remained at the same level as September, but has increased by 2 percent, or by 700 workers, since October 2013.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at (413) 496-6224.

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"Bianchi detractors aren't focused on city"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 11/28/2014

To the editor:

I voted for Dan Bianchi for mayor of Pittsfield, but I am notone of the orchestrated supporters Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont refers to. I do not agree with the mayor on the school bus purchase issue, was less than pleased when he recommended retroactive raises for city employees, and find the discussion on parking meters disturbing when we have spent $75,000 on consultants and propose to spend another $500,000 to design the meters, $300,000 more to buy the hardware, and are not even talking about what the return on investment for $875,000 is.

Having said that, I voted for Bianchi for mayor, not Clairmont and those other lemmings who are most certainly anti-Bianchi. I read with anger and surprise his comments and that of Councilor Krol, who is clearly a Kool-Aid drinker. Your sarcasm and unprofessionalism are unnecessary and unwarranted, and it is clear to me that you and the Gang of Three do not get it.

The icing on the cake for me is the discussion the Council had over the mayor's salary. The superintendent of schools is responsible for a budget of $56 million, gets paid $157,000 and has at least six people who make more than $100,000 a year. The acting fire chief makes about $90,000 a year, and the acting police chief, with incentives, and educational bonuses makes over $100,000 a year.

The mayor, who is the CEO of Pittsfield, with a budget of over $144 million makes $87,000, and when the consultant suggested a salary of $110,000, one of the lemmings who is anti-mayor proposes a $95,000 salary. Nothing personal about that?

We gave people retroactive raises last year to July because we want to retain good city employees, and some of the percentages were between 5 and above 15 percent. Did we have a stampede of city employees leaving city government? What's the problem here we're trying to solve?

And the Gang of Three are complaining because the mayor doesn't tell them everything? We didn't elect them to run the city we elected him, and I don't blame him for reacting defensively.

Proposals for $100 million new school, talk of a new police station, almost $900,000 for parking meters, and where is the taxpayer in all this? There are more employees now in city government with 34,000 citizens than we had in the GE era when we had 48,000 citizens, and electricity costs will rise by 29 percent and the people on fixed incomes who can least afford it are never considered in the equation.

If you can't put your personal issues aside and work for the best interests of the city, and provide goods and services that the taxpayers, who seem to be forgotten in this discussion, can afford, then, you don't belong on the Council. It's time that Councilor Clairmont, who seems to have intimate knowledge of what happens at City Hall, either gets it, or runs for mayor. Because councilor, you are not the mayor and nd won't be in my lifetime.

Kudos to City Council President Melissa Mazzeo for retaining her decorum and professionalism. And in the interest of full disclosure, Councilor Anthony Simonelli is related to me. He has my deepest sympathy.

Carmen J. Simonelli
Pittsfield

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"Pittsfield Schools Ponder Potential Budget Increase"
By Joe Durwin, iBerkshires.com Pittsfield Correspondent, December 13, 2014

Pittsfield, Massachusetts — Rising costs from utility rates and contractual obligations for annual teacher raises will necessitate either a significant budget increase or cuts to educational services in the coming fiscal year.

Due to these factors, simply maintaining a level service budget would require an increase more than twice that of last year's increase, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Kristin Behnke informed the School Committee on Wednesday.

On top of expenses budgeted last year, Behnke said the district anticipates entering the next school year with a $1.4 million hike in payroll from negotiated collective bargaining with local teachers unions.

"As a district, it's one of the challenges that we face every year," Behnke said of the pay increases, which have occurred at a rate of 2-3 percent annually for the past several years. "Starting with a 2.48 percent increase [this year] out of the gate just with the contractual obligations is a real difficulty for us as a school system."

Additionally, rate hikes in electricity and natural gas are expected to cost the district over half a million dollars more next year, according to current estimates.

The district will also need to come up with another $370,000 to begin paying off a new fleet of buses purchased earlier this year, bringing the total increase from both utilities and buses to $925,000.

Last year's school department budget saw an increase of 1.78 percent, or about one million dollars. Given the additional costs from just these three factors alone, the district would require a 4.11 percent budget increase just to provide the same school system services as last year.

The district would then need to put forward a proposed budget of $58,849,399 to the City Council in order to avoid cuts to programs or staffing, an increase of $2.32 million over last year's city appropriation.

"That is a level service budget," Behnke said. "If you're going to take what we have today and you're going to pay for it again next year, that would be the budget."

Some adjustments to those figures will be made, after collective bargaining negotiations are completed, and various grant awards are confirmed and factored in. Estimates of utility costs are also likely to see some fluctuation in the coming months.

"I just want to bring this to your attention now, as we begin the budget process," Behnke told the committee.

The process of budget consideration has begun earlier than usual this year, as the district continues to adapt to new stipulations in the city's revised charter requiring that the School Committee agree upon a proposed budget to put forth to the council by May 1 for the following fiscal year.

Superintendent Jason McCandless said he anticipates beginning the process of conferring with Mayor Daniel Bianchi on the budget early in January.

For the first time, however, Pittsfield's mayor may no longer be the final word on how high the school budget can go, following the recent adoption of an obscure piece of 1980s state legislation that would allow the mayor's budget figure to be overrided, provided a majority of the School Committee and supermajority of the City Council vote in favor of raising it.

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"4.1 percent Pittsfield Public Schools budget hike to maintain current service levels"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, 12/30/2014

PITTSFIELD - City taxpayers can expect to pay 4.1 percent more for public education just to maintain the same level of instructional programs and services for the 2015-16 school year.

A combination of scheduled salary increases, debt payment for new school buses and skyrocketing electric and heating bills already has the current $56.5 million school budget increasing to a projected $58.8 million for fiscal 2016 starting July 1, according to Pittsfield Public School officials.

The $2.3 million spike in operating expenses immediately puts pressure on the school administration and Pittsfield School Committee to prevent sticker shock when budget deliberations kick into high gear in mid-February.

"It's upsetting to see we're so far behind to start out," said committee Chairwoman, Katherine L. Yon. "The administration has done a great job of cutting the budget in the past, but now we have slim pickings."

The potential $2.3 million budget hike includes $1.4 million more to pay teachers, support staff and administrators and $370,000 extra to help pay off the borrowing for new school buses.

The spike in Western Massachusetts Electric Co. rates will cost the district an additional $108,000 to power the districts 12 school buildings, administration office complex and other facilities. Heating those structures will mean an additional $422,000 for Berkshire Gas Co.

"We were at a great rate [for both of them] for a few years, but we knew the rates were going up and [fiscal 2016) will be the first full year under the new rates," said Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi admits there's little wiggle room for savings in the new school budget, as well as for the rest of the city's overall spending, which stands at $141 million for the current fiscal 2015.

"The school figure is very preliminary, but the reality is we have a tough year ahead," said Bianchi, also a school board member by virtue of his position. "I've already told the rest of our department heads there's a good possibility for level services or we may need to make cuts."

Aside from higher fixed costs, city and school officials worry the state's budget woes could lead to zero increase — maybe a reduction — in local aid to municipalities and school districts.

The expected belt-tightening by school and city officials would be reminiscent of the local budget crisis during the Great Recession of several years ago. At that time, the School Committee began a closer working relationship with the City Council to avoid reductions that would deeply cut educational programs and services.

"We do have a record of having a lot of resiliency in dealing with our budgets," Yon said. "We've also had a good relationship with the City Council, which is already aware of our situation for [fiscal 2016.]"

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter

Here is a tentative look at the Pittsfield School Committee's meeting schedule on the fiscal 2016 budget. All meetings begin at 6 p.m. in the Pittsfield High School library.

Feb. 11: Discussion of enrollment projections/grant funding

Feb. 25: Budget overview

March 11: Budget workshop, line item review.

March 25: Budget public hearing, committee considers recommendations for budget.

April 8: Committee votes on proposed budget, forwards to City Council.

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Year (2014) In Review: "Natural gas pipeline proposed"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, December 30, 2014

In January, Kinder Morgan, which owns the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., began notifying local communities of its plans to extend a natural gas pipeline from New York state through eight Berkshire municipalities. The proposal sparked fierce opposition from homeowners, town officials and political leaders — Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi was a notable exception — in the affected communities, especially in Lenox, Richmond and Dalton.

In response, Kinder Morgan in December announced it will amend the pipeline's route to follow Western Massachusetts Electric Co.'s existing power line corridor through the Berkshires, which goes through Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton, Hinsdale, Windsor and Peru.

"School project approved"
In November (2014) in Pittsfield, the Massachusetts School Building Authority approved a proposal to begin a design plan for building a new Taconic High School facility on its current site.

"Big capital contracts in Pittsfield"
In May (2014), Pittsfield finally received a $9.7 million earmark from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to construct the 20,000-square-foot Berkshire Innovation Center in the city's developing William Stanley Business Park. The capital grant includes a $6.5 million state earmark that was awarded to the city in 2008, but never received.

In June (2014), Unistress Corp., of Pittsfield, announced that it had been awarded a $70 million contract — the largest in the company's 46-year history — to build precast concrete deck panels for the new Tappan Zee Bridge being constructed over the Hudson River in New York. The project was expected to create 100 new jobs in the Berkshires.

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"Looking ahead to 2015 and beyond for Pittsfield"
By [Mayor] Daniel Bianchi, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 1/1/2015

PITTSFIELD - This is the time of year for thoughtful reflection. One year ends and a new one begins. Many individuals will consider the past 12 months with great seriousness, regretting certain things, cringing at particular actions or statements made, wishing they had a specific day they could do over again. Life doesn't work that way.

I am not wise enough or vain enough to think that I could suggest how someone else should lead their lives. Perhaps the best that any of us can do is to hope that we do enough good things that serve as positive examples to others, whether they be our contemporaries or members of a generation of people in a position to effect the distant future.

For me, I will take inventory of the past year. I'll make a New Year's resolution to do better or be wiser in the future. I will also attempt to look at the positive things that I have initiated,participated in, or influenced. My goal will be to do more of that in the future.

I have learned that much of the work that a leader does will benefit people he or she will never know, people of future generations. I have thought a great deal about this concept as we face a variety of decisions in 2015.

Do we bother to invest in the future or hold the line for folks right now? Perhaps we do a combination of both.

A commitment was made to pursue a very forward looking initiative, an innovation center on the William Stanley Business Park. When completed, that center will give our small- and medium-sized businesses engaged in the applied materials, life sciences and plastics sectors access to advanced research and technology. This will enable them to grow their businesses, employing additional people from not only the next generation, but from this one as well.

Investing in a new high school may not seem prudent given a stagnant regional economy and the recent population trends for Berkshire County. A new comprehensive school is, however, an economic development initiative as well as an educational initiative. With rigorous academics, and well-developed programing, a new high school will provide businesses with the employees of the future.

It will be incumbent that a closer partnership be developed with our regional higher educational institutions, BCC and MCLA. Courses in advanced manufacturing and custom sciences at these institutions will further satisfy the need for more advanced training for the workforce of tomorrow, while providing reasonably priced higher education for Berkshire families. These advanced capabilities will allow businesses to development more sophisticated materials, cutting edge applications and advanced products.

In 2015 our energies will be committed to the final stages of the downtown streetscape, a new beginning for the Common, a promising planning phase for the Morningside neighborhood, the roll-out of a comprehensive highway management program, a new public parking system and the continued grass-roots public safety efforts from the Shannon initiatives, the ambassador program, and the neighborhood watch programming.

I am committed to providing educational and employment options for our citizens and for transforming Pittsfield into a 21st century manufacturing center as well as a vibrant cultural hub. All of these initiative and others will be pursued with a renewed sense of public good and public service.

In 2015, please join the dedicated public staff and core of volunteers committed to creating a promising future in Pittsfield and Berkshire County. Happy New Year.

Daniel Bianchi is the mayor of Pittsfield.

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"2015: Do or Die for New Taconic High School"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, December 31, 2014

PITTSFIELD - By Memorial Day, the city could embark on building a $115.7 million comprehensive high school municipal officials consider key to developing a work force crucial to Pittsfield's economic future.

The City Council will have 120 days — until May 25 — to decide on constructing a new Taconic High School, provided the Massachusetts School Building Authority board of directors endorses the scope of the project and estimated price tag at a March 25 meeting.

City Council President Melissa Mazzeo says it's a matter of weighing the bottom line against the future of public education.

"I do wrap my head around the cost, but since I have been involved in so many meetings, I see it as a good investment," she said, referring to her three-year stint on the city's School Building Needs Commission.

MSBA and council approval would culminate nearly a decade of debate, studies and planning for a secondary school that will integrate core academic courses with all the city's vocation/technical programs.

"We spend millions on education — directly or indirectly — each year in Pittsfield and now we need a game-changer for our community," said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

The two-term mayor echoes the sentiment of project supporters that a new Taconic will be instrumental in bolstering Pittsfield's economy for generations to come.

"It's naive to think a single company will bring 500 jobs here," he said in a recent Eagle interview. "To allow small businesses to grow and compliment what Berkshire Community College has to offer, the only way to grow is through a good high school."

"It's about education — the foundation of what we do," added Pittsfield School Committee Chairwoman Katherine L. Yon. "The way out from poverty is through education and Pittsfield can be that shining light."

Before the final votes, state, city officials, the project consultant and architect firm must finalize the design and expected cost — roughly two-thirds likely funded through the MSBA.

On Nov. 19, the state agency's board of directors unanimously approved the concept and educational plan for a 21st century high school on the Valentine Road campus that would replace the existing 45-year-old secondary school.

"We really do need this project," Mazzeo said. "For people who went to metal shop and other trade courses years ago, vocational education is so much different now."

Since the vote, project officials, led by architect, Drumney, Rosane, Anderson Inc., of Waltham and consulting firm Skanska USA Building Inc., have been refining the construction details and financing plan for the proposal.

"You look at everything, trying to find items you can cut ... as we're cognizant of costs," said Kathleen A. Amuso, co-chair of the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission.

Based on DRA's timeline, the architect and Skanska must hammer out a final proposal by Feb. 6 and submit the documents to the MSBA three days later.

The commission welcomes last minute public input at their meetings, with its members expected to fan out into the community to answer questions about and drum up support for a new Taconic.

Currently, Skanska representatives anticipate a 64 to 68 percent reimbursement rate through the MSBA. Skanska officials have said the rate depends on the construction bids received, a bidding process that's another two years away.

If built, the new Taconic would be 247,770 square feet, slightly larger than the existing facility, which was completed in 1969. The grade 9 through 12 comprehensive high school would house all the city's vocational/technical programs, which would mesh with English, math, science and other core academic course.

The city is eligible for up to 80 percent state funding, but because of economic and other factors, some costs are ineligible for reimbursement and the true market cost of this type of construction is higher than the state reimbursement rate, the actual rate is typically lower. Hence, Skanska foresees a two-thirds reimbursement for city taxpayers.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter

Key dates in finalizing and seeking approval for a new Taconic High School:

Jan. 12,: Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission reviews scope of project and sends to cost estimators by Jan. 15

Feb. 5 & 6,: Project consultant and architect finalize cost estimate.

Feb. 9,: Commission votes on project scope and budget, submits documents to the Massachusetts School Building Authority by Feb. 12.

March 25,: MSBA Board meets in Boston to vote on project scope and budget.

March 26 - May 25,: If approved by MSBA, the City Council has 120 days to approve the project budget.

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"Pittsfield committee finishing review of city ordinances"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 10, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The committee reviewing city ordinances for possible conflicts with the government charter approved in 2013 is close to submitting its recommendations to the City Council.

City Clerk Linda Tyer, who acted as chairwoman of the five-person group that began meeting in February 2014, said members have reached agreement on a number of language and other changes.

"This was an accomplishment," she said. "It was a big task."

The committee waded through the 25 chapters of city code — www.ecode360.com/PI1888 — or the set of ordinances approved by the council over the years. Each chapter, she said, includes all the revisions councils have approved, including everything from job title or duty changes to city department reorganizations to new pay rate schedules.

"It is not a very sexy task, not like building a theater," the clerk said, "but the code is what really drives the day to day operations of the city departments and the boards and commissions. I call it sort of a playbook."

Also serving on the review committee were former City Clerk Jody Phillips, Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, David Murphy and Victoria Kane. City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan acted as adviser.

The committee was appointed by the council in December 2013 to check for needed updates and conflicts with the new charter document, which Pittsfield voters approved that November, adopting the first complete overhaul since 1932.

"That was a lot of work and a long, tedious process," Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said Friday. "I want to thank the members and the solicitor as well."

Tyer said the group will meet next on Jan. 21, and it is hoped a set of recommended revisions can be approved for submission to the council along with a report.

Exhibits will be included with the report, she said. These include a red-lined version of the ordinances highlighting language the group considered changing, which was maintained by Phillips and is some 400 pages in length.

The ORC (Ordinance Review Committee) took a decidedly methodical approach," a draft of the report states. "The ordinances were reviewed section by section, line by line."

Of about two dozen concerns or questions the group discussed at length, Tyer said, only one concerning the Board of Assessors remains to be decided upon, and that has been referred to Degnan for an opinion.

The board is unlike other municipal boards with appointed members, the clerk said, in that all three assessors are both full-time employees and appointees. The solicitor will be asked whether the board is a "multiple member body," as defined elsewhere.

The report will be sent to the council, she said, and it is expected to go first to the Ordinance and Rules Committee and then back to the full council for a vote. The solicitor would then prepare the required changes to bring the code into conformance with the charter, Tyer said.

Tyer said the committee stuck to a review of the code of ordinances toward preparation of amendments required to bring the code into conformity with the new city charter — a task specified in the charter. But she remains convinced a professional review to check for conflicts with Massachusetts General Laws, best practices used in the codes of other cities or other potential flaws.

Tyer and other review committee members had recommended in the spring that General Code of Rochester, N.Y., be hired for such a review, and the firm provided a cost estimate of $13,900. The firm, which reviews each code change adopted in Pittsfield under an annual contract with the city, also has wide experience in the field, having worked with numerous communities in the region, Tyer said.

However, Bianchi did not approve the funding, saying he was skeptical of the need for an outside consultant. Degnan also said she felt her office could handle a review for conformity with the new charter.

Tyer said Friday she would still argue that, since it will cost the city money to have General Code review the recommended ordinance changes stemming from the committee's report, it would be cost-effective to expand the scope of that work.

"I think we would have to talk about the merits of it," Bianchi said. "I would also want to have the solicitor weigh in on that."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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"Pittsfield council to weigh putting teeth into Affirmative Action Policy"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 11, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The City Council will be asked to adopt Pittsfield's Affirmative Action Policy and Plan as a formal ordinance, with supporters hoping to ensure it isn't ignored and has some legal weight behind it.

Dennis Powell, the new president of the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP, and Councilor at large Churchill Cotton have submitted a petition for Tuesday's council meeting to have the early 1990s-era plan, which was revived and updated this year, adopted as a city ordinance. They said they will ask that it be sent to the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee for review, where they can make a detailed presentation on their reasons.

"I have had a number of constituents talk to me about the enforceability of it," Cotton said Friday.

The councilor added that, as a city ordinance, rather than a policy, "it would be more enforceable. The other policy sat on a shelf."

The policy was resurrected in 2013 after former NAACP President Will Singleton asked whether the city had such a policy in place. It was found in an office "gathering dust," having lain effectively dormant for years. That led to formation of an Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, and that group in August 2014 completed a review of the 38-page plan and updated it before submitting it to the council, which placed it on file.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi has said he has reservations about adopting the document as an ordinance, concerned that might open the city to unforeseen and undue legal challenges.

"I would be happy to have a discussion on it," Bianchi said Friday, but added, "I don't know if it should be given ordinance status."

He said Assistant City Solicitor Daren Lee, who worked with the Affirmative Action committee in updating the plan, had raised similar concerns.

Bianchi noted that the committee is now in place and reviewing city hiring practices on a regular basis, and that hiring trends show that more minority candidates are being hired for city and school positions. "We could let this operate as a policy for a couple of years to see if [the city] is living up to the letter of the policy," he said.

The city also now has a revived Human Rights Commission, the mayor said, which he argued shows progress on issues of discrimination as well as hiring practices. The HRC also had been dormant since the late 1990s.

In inquiring about the existence of an Affirmative Action Policy, NAACP members cited the very low percentage of minority employees, especially African-Americans, in city government and the school system — unreflective of the percentages in the city's population.

"We want to at least make sure that unlike the last affirmative action plan, it has some teeth to it," Powell said. "That one sat on a shelf and collected dust, and it wasn't part of everyday government in the city."

He said that Cotton has identified Chapter 17 of the city code of ordinances as a section "where this would fit nicely. This will ensure it has the force and effect of an ordinance."

Powell said he realizes that the city has an Affirmative Action Committee in place, but he is concerned that, if the policy is not being followed, there is no mechanism for requiring that it be followed. "This would hold people accountable," he said.

He added that having an ordinance also might be more effective at creating a diverse city work force, "which will make it better for everybody. It gives the city a chance to take the lead on this and effect change."

Mary McGinnis, the chairwoman of the Affirmative Action Committee, said the ordinance issue is one that should be discussed, but she believes "we are moving in the right direction, more than in the last 20 years," and the committee is committed to the goal of a diverse work force. "Like anything else, it can slide if you don't follow it closely," she said.

McGinnis said her biggest concern is that she would like to have one person "own it," meaning be responsible for ensuring the policy if followed on a daily basis. She said she hopes that the planned hiring of a cultural proficiency coach for the schools and the city government will be a step in that direction.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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The First Transitional Housing for Homeless Women at 213-A Francis Avenue in Pittsfield had an open house and dedication celebration on Sunday. The newly renovated space is dedicated to Barbara Wampler. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

"Berkshire Co-Act dedicates new space for homeless women"
By Derek Gentile, The Berkshire Eagle, January 12, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The two-story house on Linden Street is a modest-looking edifice. But it is now a place where hope is born.

Berkshire Co-Act, a non-profit community advocacy group based in Pittsfield, dedicated on Sunday a shelter for homeless women that will be located in that house.

About 60 supporters mingled and sampled baked goods and other refreshments at the open house.

The house was an abandoned residence before Co-Act acquired it and fitted it with donated furniture, according to Belle O'Brien, a member of the organization's Board of Directors.

Executive Director Paul Deslauriers explained that there are about 30-40 homeless women who contact various social services agencies in the city every month. Some are recovering drug addicts, others have medical issues, legal difficulties, disabilities, unaddressed physical problems and a host of other problems.

The new shelter will accommodate six homeless women and one supervisor, said Deslauriers.

Deslauriers added that the city also finds shelter for the remaining female homeless population, "but that's more like a cot and blanket for the night. This program is attempting to take that situation a bit further."

The women work for their room and board by performing a total of eight hours of housekeeping a week at homes around the city. Many of those homes are inhabited by senior citizens, he said.

"It's a win-win for these senior citizens," said Deslauriers. "Our women earn their keep and some of our elderly homeowners, who are struggling to remain in their homes, are getting free maintenance."

In addition to being given a roof over their heads, the women also receive job and other types of counseling.

This is just one of Co-Act's many advocacy programs, said Deslauriers. Other programs include a homeless women's day center, job and relationship counselling, skill building workshops, a food bank, affordable housing and removing blighted houses in the city.

The Linden Street home is dedicated to longtime homeless advocate Barbara Wampler. Wampler, 82, originally from New Bedford, recalls her parents taking in homeless people in the 1930s. She has opted to continue that practice. She is now 82.

"It's an honor," she said, to have the home named after her.

Wampler pondered the question a reporter asked her as to why she has been working to house the less-fortunate for so many years.

"I think it comes from a philosophy of 'To whom much is given, much is expected,'" she said. "And I've always believed I've been given a lot."

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251. dgentile@berkshireeagle.com>; @DerekGentile on Twitter


Barbara Wampler takes a turn at blessing the space during an open house celebration for First Transitional Housing for Homeless Women at 213-A Francis Avenue in Pittsfield on Sunday. The newly renovated space is dedicated to Wampler. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

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The new Taconic High School, at 253,000 square feet, will have two- and three-story sections that help break up the box shapes, and will have a smaller footprint than the current school. (Illustration courtesy of DRA)

"Taconic High School: $115.7 million design features angles, glass, natural lighting"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 16, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The proposed new Taconic High School will feature angles and plenty of natural lighting, including in the vocational shop areas.

Carl Franceschi, president of Drummey Rosane Anderson of Waltham, updated the city's School Building Needs Commission this week on the nearly completed schematic design for the new school, estimated to cost $115.7 million in state and city funding.

The new Taconic will be constructed on the same site as the current 45-year-old school off Valentine Road, which will be razed. The main entrance to the L-shaped school will be located to the north of the current school and main driveway and will face south.

A slanted roof structure over the three-story entranceway and main lobby area, angled features at corners and slanted screening on the flat roof to hide utility equipment are designed to recall "the Berkshire Hills," Franceschi said, and to avoid a flat-top, big-box look.

The planned 253,000-square-foot school has two- and three-story sections that help break up the box shapes, and will have a smaller footprint than the current school.

Natural lighting through extensive glazing at the main entrance, along the classroom and hall spaces, glass overhead doors in the shop areas and similar features, will allow an abundance of natural lighting, as opposed to hallways and other sections of the current building, Franceschi said.

The firm also is recommending solar panels for the roof.

Despite design features creating a more varied side view, the roof is flat, he said, adding that new materials make flat roofing more durable and low-maintenance than in the past, often with a warranty of 25 to 30 years.

Some city councilors and commissioners, however, have questioned whether a pitched roof would not be more suitable and/or attractive. In light of those concerns, and in order to provide a design update for the council, School Building Needs Commission co-Chairwoman Kathleen Amuso, who also is a councilor, asked the council to set a special meeting for Feb. 3 on the project.

According to the current timetable for completing the Taconic design and firming up the cost estimates, the council could be asked to vote to approve bonding for the school in April.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop said Tuesday that he would rather the council receive more information on the roof design and other aspects of the project "sooner rather than later," as the deadline for a decision on funding is approaching.

Amuso told councilors she has asked the design firm for specific information concerning the roofing, the glass features and other items about which questions were raised.

The public also will be able to ask questions during the Feb. 3 council session.

In recommending a flat roof, Franceschi told the commission that the size of the roof would make it difficult and much more costly to have a pitched roof, but his firm would provide that if city officials decide it is preferable. He said drawbacks would include dealing with ice and snow falling around the more than 30 egress points in the new school.

Concerning the windows, he said in answer to a question that the glazing used normally does not require washing, only rain to keep it clean, and sun-screening within the glass would be used as needed. Safety glass, such as that used in motor vehicles, would be installed where needed.

Commission members also have asked for more detail on the security methods to control the numerous entrances around the building.

Skanska USA, the school district's project consultant, has said that, depending on final determination on a level of state reimbursement for the work, the school district expects the state reimbursement to be from 64 to 68 percent of the total cost.

Paul Kneedler of the firm said that the project schedule calls for preliminary construction cost estimates to be ready by Feb. 4, for Skanska and DRA to reconcile any differences in their estimates by Feb. 6, and for the School Building Needs Commission to vote on the project scope and budget as of Feb. 9.

The final schematic design and budget information would be submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority on Feb. 12. Presentations on the project are planned before the SBNC and Pittsfield School Committee on March 16, and before the council on March 24.

The plan would go before the MSBA for scope and budget approvals on March 26, and the council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the project and bond on April 14.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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"Put Taconic plan to city-wide vote"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 1/21/2015

To the editor:

Last week, The Eagle showed a nice rendition of what the new Taconic High School will look like. Lovely. But I am fearful that the committee has allowed this to be a consultant-driven process that has ignored the reality of the county's demographics and the trends of where we are heading.

Both Pittsfield and Taconic high schools are somewhere about 60 percent of the student population of when Taconic was built in 1969. In 1969 the high schools had three grades, and in 2015 they contain four.

I recognize the time that has been spent on this design, but if you enter a highway and need to travel east and start travelling west, is the time and miles put in travelling the wrong direction valuable? This high school will cost more than is proposed (they always do), but will leave us with a legacy of costs for at least two generations.

Before we stick a shovel in the ground, we should add the 25-30 percent of space needed to accommodate all 1,800 of Pittsfield's high school students, recognizing that in 10 years, we will be housing only about 80 percent of that number. Then, once a new high school is completed, we can turn our attention to converting the iconic Pittsfield High School into a municipal building which houses the entirety of city government, the Police Department, and possibly even some of the quasi-governmental groups currently renting space throughout the community. Maybe we could even bring the School Department into the fold so that some of the duplication between the school and municipal sides of government could be eliminated.

Two high schools equals two principals, double the mechanical systems to maintain, double the pavement, etc. to maintain. It makes no sense, as the city has lost 15-18,000 people since its peak in 1970.

Many folks say the community's long-time population has a sentimental attachment to two schools. Well, I am one of those people and I have the New England sensibility to understand that when the situation changes, we need to re-evaluate how we operate. The current School Building Needs Committee is building the perfect high school for half the city in 1970. I want to build the perfect school for all the kids in 2020 and beyond.

But if the school and city officials doubt the support for my proposition, the easiest way to gauge the level of support for a $45-$50 million debt to be assumed would be to schedule a special election prior to making further commitments. The money spent is still valid and most of the current design is salvageable. Pittsfield is fortunate in the amount of land available at the Valentine Road site, so adding on could be a simple matter if the smart folks in the room wanted it to be.

If we are arguing so much about roof design (which should have been locked in way before this point in the process), it seems wholly reasonable to lock in a question of much greater importance as the city and county continue to shrink and become greyer at the same time. April 7 would be a great day for and election.

Dave Pill
Pittsfield

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"Pittsfield mayor asked to rescind public works reorganization plan"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, February 12, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is being asked to resubmit his plan for reorganization of the departments of public services, public utilities and maintenance after it was approved by default because the City Council did not act on the request within the 60 days required under the city charter.

Asked Wednesday whether he would resubmit the proposal, the mayor answered via email, saying, "It is something to consider, but we have an organizational structure in compliance with the charter."

Ward 4 City Councilor Christopher Connell, chairman of the Ordinance and Rules Committee, acknowledged at a council meeting Tuesday that he did not schedule action on the mayor's administrative order in time, resulting in it being approved after the time limit had expired. He submitted a petition requesting that Bianchi rescind the approval to reorganize the departments, and the council referred the petition to the mayor on a 10-1 vote with President Melissa Mazzeo opposed.

During the council meeting Connell said, "This slipped through the cracks," after further language changes in the original proposal were submitted, resulting in delays at the committee level. He asked that the mayor "bring this back so we can properly vote on it."

"I would like to see us start over and do this right," said Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi, echoing other comments by councilors.

City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan said, however, that scrapping the department reorganization at this point would be problematic, because the council subsequently approved new ordinances, some involving positions in the departments related to the reorganization.

On Tuesday, the council also referred to the city solicitor a report from the Ordinance Review Committee on proposed ordinance changes needed to conform with the new charter. The five-person committee, headed by City Clerk Linda Tyer, reviewed city ordinances during a number of meetings over the past year and prepared a report on suggested changes.

Degnan is now expected to recommend the language changes required to update the city code to conform with changes in the new charter, which was adopted by voters in November 2013.

Councilors also referred to the Ordinance and Rules Committee a petition from resident and veteran Craig Gaetani requesting that war veterans 65 and older have their property taxes waived.

A petition from resident James Wilusz also was referred to the subcommittee. He seeks a city ordinance banning future retail business "that sells drug paraphernalia products."

The council also approved the appointment of Jeffrey Arena, Jacob Barbour and Matthew Killeen as city police officers, and Jason Harrington and Kevin Brady as city firefighters.

A communication from the Police Advisory Committee to the council recommended no action be taken on a petition from Le'Marr Talley, requesting a vote of city residents on motor vehicle stop and search and related policies. The petition was filed by councilors without further action.

During advisory committee discussion on Talley's petition, members said they did not believe the question was one they were authorized to deal with, that it was likely a matter for state officials or lawmakers.

Police Chief Michael Wynn told committee members at their meeting that questions raised by Talley about the PPD's policies for stopping and searching vehicles were not accurate. He said the department's policies comply with legal requirements.

Other petitions referred Tuesday include one from Public Health Director Gina Armstrong, requesting support for the Age Friendly Community Taskforce 2020, which was referred to the council's Public Health and Safety Committee; and a petition from Gaetani requesting that the council ask Bianchi to set a time period when residents can meet with the mayor, which was referred to the mayor.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

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"Pittsfield RSVP hires new director, secures grant"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, March 10, 2015

PITTSFIELD — A woman with social service experience in the states of Washington and Kansas has been hired as director of the Pittsfield Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

Cheryl Whalen, who moved to the Berkshires last year after her husband, Thomas Whalen, joined the business department faculty at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said she was excited to find a position in her field.

After living for many years near Spokane, Wash., and for nearly three years in Kansas, where she was director of the McPherson County Council on Aging, the couple recently purchased a home in Adams, she said.

Whalen added, "All of this area is beautiful."

"She has just the right personality for this job," said Carolyn Valli, president of the RSVP board of directors. "And she is an incredibly hard worker."

Valli said that the local program, which matches seniors with organizations or other entities seeking help, also recently received approval for an annual grant through the Corporation of National Service Corp. For many years, the organization has been a major source of funding for the RSVP organization, along with city funding, in a budget of around $100,000 in recent years.

The rejection of a three-year grant from the funding source last fall after the application was not submitted before a deadline, led to a dispute between former Director Deborah Sadowy and the board. She was dismissed in September.

Sadoway contended a lack of training and support from the board concerning the important grant application put her in an impossible position to meet the deadline, just a few months after she was hired.

Since the fall, the program has been directed on an interim basis by former directors Sheila Pia and Normalyn Powers. Whalen was able to work with Powers for a few weeks prior to becoming director in February, including during the grant application process.

"I felt very fortunate that I got to watch them do it and helped," Whalen said. "It's pretty complicated."

The grant, which is for the fiscal year beginning on April 1, is for $40,689. It is a three-year commitment but a new application must be submitted annually.

The amount is similar to the funding level the RSVP had unsuccessfully applied for last fall. Valli said the staff recently learned the grant had been approved, adding, "We were dancing in our seats."

"One of the things we were looking for was a strong grant writing background, and she has that," Valli said, referring to Whalen.

With a countywide COA in Kansas, Whalen oversaw a $450,000 annual budget, according to her resume, and worked with eight senior center boards. She also served for a time as student success coordinator at McPherson College.

While in eastern Washington, her positions beginning in 1990 included manager of a community living program, social worker, case manager/therapist at a mental health center, and social service coordinator with Catholic Charities of Spokane.

Whalen and Valli said the organization plans to expand services in several areas. RSVP will work with other Central Berkshire organizations to provide mentoring for students and financial literacy coaches for adults.

"There are quite a few retired teachers," Valli said, and the hope is to match some up with students to provide mentoring.

The need for financial coaching crosses all socio-economic levels, she said, as assistance can mean personal finances or something more complicated like purchasing a home.

"We really want to try to have more focus on the community needs," Valli said, adding that another in the Pittsfield area is child care.

Whalen said another upcoming volunteer initiative for which RSVP will supply most of the participants, involves mass planting of chestnut trees in the Springside Park area. About 60 volunteers will be needed, not all of them seniors, she said.

One of the little known facts about the RSVP, Valli said, is that is that people under 55 can also ask about volunteering opportunities.

"If you want to volunteer, this should be your first stop," Whalen said.

As director of the Pittsfield RSVP, which has an office at 16 Bartlett Ave., Whalen will be paid $48,090 annually. The phone number is 413-499-9345.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@ berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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Councilor at large Barry Clairmont was first elected in 2011 and narrowly won re-election in 2013. (Eagle file)

"Pittsfield Councilor Barry Clairmont won't seek re-election"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, March 12, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Councilor at large Barry Clairmont has announced that he won't seek a third term in the fall election.

Clairmont said in a statement that time constraints caused by his growing business led to his decision.

"My accounting practice is experiencing strong and steady growth," he said. "I have assessed the demands on my time and the ability to manage many competing priorities. While I am dedicated to my work as a city councilor my first commitment must be to my partners and our clients."

Clairmont was first elected as one of the four at large council members in 2011 and narrowly won re-election in 2013. As a councilor, he has often clashed with the administration of Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, especially over fiscal issues.

"My experience as a member of the Pittsfield City Council has been challenging and engaging," he said in his statement. "It is a privilege to represent the citizens of Pittsfield, and I will finish the remainder of my term with the same enthusiasm people have come to expect from me."

Asked for his reaction, Bianchi issued a release on Clairmont's announcement, saying, "I wish him the best in his future endeavors."

I was very surprised," said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol in an email. "I wish him the best, and the council will definitely miss him."

Krol said Clairmont "provided a thorough, detail-oriented approach that was a huge asset to the council in fulfilling its role as a check and balance to an administration that has attempted to circumvent the council consistently."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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"Pittsfield Eyes Innovation Center And New High School"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Radio, March 25, 2015

As Pittsfield approaches the groundbreaking of an innovation center and the expected approval of a new high school, Mayor Dan Bianchi says the city’s finances are strong.

As part of a new city charter approved in 2013, Pittsfield’s mayor is required to deliver a pre-budget proposal review of the city’s finances. For the city’s fiscal 2016 budget, Mayor Bianchi expects a three percent increase over the current $141 million spending plan, noting rising energy costs. The Democrat says 36 percent of the city’s funding comes from state aid, which is expected to rise one percent under the proposals of Republican Governor Charlie Baker.

“This, what I call an anemic increase, is going to hurt the city of Pittsfield,” Bianchi said. “We have experienced small state aid growth for the past few years. What this does is basically create an unfunded mandate for the city of Pittsfield. Especially the city of Pittsfield because we’re recognized by the state as having the capacity to be able to tax more than what we are. So when state aid is cut it essentially creates a mandate for us to make adjustments.”

About 50 percent of Pittsfield’s revenue comes from property taxes, according to Bianchi. He says he’s committed to maintaining a modest increase in the city’s business and personal rates. He anticipates using $2 million from free cash to offset tax increases. With $10 million in back taxes owed to the city, Bianchi says a new tax title auction process has brought in more than $1 million since January.

“The tax title auction itself, when we sell the right for a third party to collect back taxes, I think will generate somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million,” said Bianchi.

While the city’s finances are strong and unemployment is dropping, Bianchi says the lack of business sector diversity continues to be an issue. The city is banking on an innovation center to break ground this summer on former General Electric land with a $10 million state grant to boost the city’s tax base and improve the economic climate for life science companies.

“It will give them access to the latest technologies and processes,” Bianchi said. “It’s going to be a valuable element for the growth of those corporations. We’re going to have partnerships with research institutions such as the University of Massachusetts, RPI and the nanotechnology center over in Albany.”

Meanwhile, Bianchi expects a new Taconic High School will stem the tide of city students choicing out to other schools at an annual cost of $2.4 million to the city. Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless expects 100 additional students will come to the new $121 million vocational school replacing the current 45-year-old building, bringing with them $1.7 million in tuition.

“We lose out of district students at the front door of Taconic,” McCandless said. “We lose our own students at the front door of Taconic. With a new facility and programs that are worthy of this new facility the city has an ability to become a magnet. Keeping more of our own students and attracting from neighboring communities. This is math that matters to taxpayers.”

The state is expected to reimburse about 65 percent of the school project, meaning the city would pay roughly $42 million. At the projected bond rate, the project would create an estimated annual tax increase of $106 for a $150,000 home. The Pittsfield City Council is expected to vote on borrowing the money at an April 14th meeting putting the project on pace to break ground in a year. Most of the 11 councilors like Kathleen Amuso have voiced their support for the new school, ten years in the making.

“This is something that I can wholeheartedly support,” said Amuso.

The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce is endorsing the new Taconic school, with president Jonathan Butler saying there are 1,700 unfilled jobs, including skilled worker positions, in Berkshire County. Some residents have raised concerns about the project’s cost claiming tough economic times in the city.

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“Eight councilors confirm 'yes' votes for new Taconic High School”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, March 26, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The proposed $120.8 million new Taconic High School may have enough City Council votes in hand to ensure a $44 million bond to cover the city's share of the project.

An informal survey by The Eagle this week found eight councilors voicing support for the project and the required bond, which the council will be asked to endorse on April 14. One councilor could not be reached on the issue and two others declared themselves undecided.

The number eight is key in this instance, since a so-called supermajority of the council — at least 8 of 11 — is required to approve bonding. The proposal is to bond the city's share over 28 years, although exact details of the loan, such as interest rate and number of years, won't be finalized until later in the planning process.

Pittsfield expects to receive the balance of the funding through the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which could issue final project approvals at its June 3 board meeting. Preparation of construction designs would follow, leading to an anticipated groundbreaking in March 2016.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont could not be reached for comment. In the past, he voiced support for a less expensive version of the project, estimated at $116 million.

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli responded in one word in an email, saying he is "undecided" on the project.

Kevin Morandi, the Ward 2 councilor, also declared himself undecided. "I certainly understand something needs to be done with Taconic High School," he said. "But an important consideration for a councilor is what can the taxpayer afford."

The city has many elderly taxpayers, he said, and an apparently growing number of low-income families. "We also have a lot of expenses coming up," he said, mentioning necessary water and sewer system upgrades and other city schools in need of renovation work.

"These are things we definitely have to wrestle with," Morandi said.

Eight councilors said they plan to support the new school.

"I am 100 percent in favor of the Taconic project," said Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso, who also is co-chairwoman of the city School Building Needs Commission, which has unanimously endorsed the project and budget figure. "The [commission] has included teachers, administrators, fire and safety officials, the City Council, the School Committee; we just concluded meeting at six schools with the PTOs of many schools, and many others in this process," Amuso said.

"As a result of this, we have modified the design to be state of the art and a design that people are very pleased with," she said.

"I am in favor of the project," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop. "The [school] is in very difficult condition. The building condition has been cited as a concern in the last accreditation report, 10 years ago. The technological changes in vocational education from nearly 50 years ago are significant. We need a new school. We need a inter-generational commitment to a future for our children and grandchildren."

"I favor it," Council President Melissa Mazzeo said in an email.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who also serves on the 21-member Building Needs Commission, has been a vocal supporter of the project.

"This will be the most important vote by the council in a generation," Krol said, after school officials gave a final presentation Tuesday of the schematic design for the school and responded to councilor questions.

Councilor at large Churchill Cotton stated, "I am in favor of the Taconic project."

"The presentations have been very impressive so far," said Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo. "The final product will be an asset to the community for years to come. It's no secret I've been supportive of education and I will continue to support education in all forms."

Lisa Tully, representing Ward 1, sent out an email to constituents explaining her support for the project.

"There are many reasons why we should have a new high school, but what makes it a difficult decision is the cost to the taxpayers," Tully said. "If I thought for one minute by voting 'no' on the school that it would save the taxpayers money, I would vote it down. Unfortunately, in the next few years Taconic will need a new roof, boiler system, many cosmetic repairs and it needs to be brought up to code for handicapped accessibility. These repairs will cost approximately 36 million dollars. After all the repairs, we will still have an old building."

Council Vice President Christopher Connell, like Tully, referred to the fact the city would be getting a new school for $44 million, while if it funds repairs on its own it would not receive any state funding and still have a school that opened in 1969.

Connell added that a new Taconic, with modern vocational-technical education facilities, as well as academic classrooms arranged around open, flexible spaces and other features of a new structure is conservatively expected to cut in half the current school choice deficit Pittsfield has because many residents send children to other districts.

The school choice money flowing back into the city could, in effect, pay for the annual cost of the bond, Connell said. "I think it's doable," he said.

If the bond is approved, project planners estimate the annual tax increase for residential property owners would be about $106 on a house assessed at $150,000. Morandi has asked that commercial property rate estimates be updated as well for the April 14 meeting.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@ berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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"Pittsfield launches drop-in downtown youth center"
By Derek Gentile, The Berkshire Eagle, March 22, 2015

PITTSFIELD — There were young people playing pool, air hockey, foosball and young people just sitting around having snacks.

There were grown-ups, too. And city officials.

They all gathered on Sunday afternoon to celebrate the official opening of a two-story drop-in center, called "The HuB" at 243 North St.

"I think this is wonderful," said Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who was on hand for the event, and in fact, displayed a remarkable facility for air hockey. "This is an important step for the city. It's important to listen to young people, because we expect them to listen to us."

In fact, the city did listen.

"We were hearing that for a lot of young people in the city, there was not a lot to do here," said the Rev. Ralph Howe, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Pittsfield.

Howe said when the church determined the need was valid, it created a nonprofit umbrella organization, the Fenn Street Community Development Corp., to oversee the center and apply for public and private funding.

Police Chief Michael Wynn noted that the key is that the center's offerings are based on input from young people.

"There are a lot of youth-based organizations here," he said. "But a lot of them are run by grown-ups. Something with input from kids fills the gap better."

The facility is open Monday through Friday, from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., according to Executive Director Michael Williams. Summer and weekend hours are planned, and the center will be open more often in the summer, he said. The hope is to attract young people between 14 and 24, Williams said.

There is a game room on the first floor, with snacks available. In addition, there are carrels that will house computers for kids to do homework. The basement features a gym and a lounge area.

Williams explained that almost everything was donated. A total of $1,500 was spent on the facility.

There will be adult supervision, he said, including trained volunteers. Anyone wishing to become a volunteer should contact Howe at the First United Methodist Church.

Initial reaction from young people was positive.

"I'm impressed," said Shawn Morgan, 15, a Pittsfield High School student and a member of the city's Youth Commission. "It's something else for kids to enjoy."

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251. dgentile@berkshireeagle.com @DerekGentile on Twitter.


Vanessa Knights, 15, and Austin White, 16, play foosball on Sunday at "The HuB," Pittsfield's new drop-in center for youth. The downtown center, which celebrated its opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception, provides youths a safe place to come after school. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

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"Pittsfield City Council president aims to curb meeting disruptions"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, April 2, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A recent disruption that prompted a short recess during a City Council session has led council President Melissa Mazzeo to propose more specific rules governing the public comment segment of meetings.

She also plans to ask that a police officer be present during every council meeting.

The council's March 24 meeting was recessed for about five minutes by Mazzeo after she unsuccessfully attempted to get resident Craig Gaetani to yield the floor after he had spoken for the maximum three minutes allowed for public comments.

Gaetani, a frequent critic of Mazzeo, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and others in city government, had attempted to speak longer than that. He said he also intended to use the time of five other people who had signed up to speak but had designated him as their spokesman.

He contended that Mazzeo and other councilors had agreed at a prior council meeting that a person could ask someone else to take their place at the podium if they were uncomfortable speaking.

"I will be speaking for 18 minutes," Gaetani said during the public comment session after his three minutes had elapsed.

"No, Mr. Gaetani, you're finished now," Mazzeo responded.

A brief argument on that point ensued, leading to Mazzeo's call for a recess.

While the meeting was in recess and recording by the local cable television crew halted, Mazzeo and a police officer who had been at the meeting for another agenda item approached the seated Gaetani. Mazzeo insisted he could not speak again, and the meeting resumed soon afterward.

"If you continue to be disruptive, you will be asked to leave," Mazzeo said.

Gaetani spoke at the start of the meeting for his allotted three minutes and then for one other person on the public comment list before Mazzeo gaveled a halt to the meeting. He spoke against the level of property taxes in Pittsfield and the cost of the proposed new Taconic High School project.

As in the past, Gaetani also accused Mazzeo of attempting to silence him or divert or effectively kill the numerous citizen petitions he has submitted in recent months to the council.

He also alluded to his previously mentioned consideration of a run for mayor, saying, "If I decide to run, you can be sure common sense will prevail." He promised to install a "lean and efficient government," and told councilors "your days are numbered," and "the entire council has to be voted out of office."

Gaetani said Thursday that he intends to hold a press conference to announce a run for mayor, adding that he is unconcerned about the new council rules Mazzeo is proposing. "I could care less," he said.

As a mayoral candidate, he said, he will have ample opportunity to speak to the public.

Gaetani's disputes with the mayor, Mazzeo and other officials date back several years, after he began pushing for the city to use Kroftka purification technology to deal with upcoming upgrades required for the city water and sewer systems.

The Krofta company, founded by Dr. Milos Krofta, for whom Gaetani worked, was hired during the 1980s to install a water filtration system that was credited with saving Pittsfield a significant amount over other methods being considered.

Gaetani contends such methods could save the city millions today, but asserts he and a colleague, Dr. Lawrence Wang, are being ignored or dismissed by city officials. Wang also spoke at the March 24 council meeting.

He also caused a July 2014 meeting of the city Human Rights Commission to abruptly adjourn when he refused the chairman's request to yield the floor amid criticism of Bianchi. And Gaetani has engaged in several arguments with Mazzeo during council meetings over the past year or more, often after he had submitted a petition to the council.

Mazzeo said Wednesday that she has spoken with Police Chief Michael Wynn and other officials about the situation. She intends to propose that the council adopt as part of its rules a section of the state Open Meeting Law that specifies who may speak at a governmental meeting. "I want this to be really clear," she said.

The language, included in Section 20, paragraph F of the OML, states: " No person shall address a meeting of a public body without permission of the chair, and all persons shall, at the request of the chair, be silent. No person shall disrupt the proceedings of a meeting of a public body. If, after clear warning from the chair, a person continues to disrupt the proceedings, the chair may order the person to withdraw from the meeting and if the person does not withdraw, the chair may authorize a constable or other officer to remove the person from the meeting."

The council president said she wants to be sure everyone is aware that insulting comments, open campaigning for political office and speaking longer than the allotted time — especially when the council has a long agenda, as was the case on March 24 — she will first issue a warning and, if necessary, have the person removed from the meeting.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@ berkshireeagle.com @BE_eagle on Twitter.

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"Pittsfield will have a race for mayor in fall"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 1, 2015

For the first time in four years, Pittsfield will have a race for mayor. That competition is good for the city and its residents.

City Clerk and former ward councilor Linda Tyer announced her candidacy Tuesday at City Hall, surrounded by a number of current and past Pittsfield public officials. She will challenge incumbent Daniel Bianchi, who has said he will run for re-election but has yet to make his formal announcement. If anyone joins the field, a preliminary election will be necessitated.

Mr. Bianchi was unopposed two years ago in what was an unusually quiet election year for Pittsfield. A mayoral race will trigger debate, and this race is particularly important because the mayor will serve for four years for the first time in city history following a change in the charter.

Ms. Tyer established an aggressive tone, asserting that "there is an absence of leadership and it has costly consequences." By declaring that she would not be "distracted by outside interests," she signalled that the mayor's outside employment with Global Montello Group, an energy services company, would be a campaign issue.

The next City Council will be without Ward 5's Jonathan Lothrop, who announced that he would not seek a seventh term. The senior councilor after 12 years in office, Mr. Lothrop cited an increased work load at the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, where he is a supervisor of the agency's Family Resource Unit, and a desire to spend more time with his family as reasons for his decision.

During his tenure, Mr. Lothrop has been a vocal advocate for many of the projects that boosted downtown and generally helped make Pittsfield a better place. Well-informed and articulate, he can also make a strong case for or against an issue without being disrespectful of those who don't share his opinion. He has been an effective councilor for his ward and the city.

Mr. Lothrop's departure, along with that of Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, who is also not running for re-election, will create two vacancies on the City Council. Peter White, a former Ward 2 councilor who established a progressive record in his tenure, has announced he will run for an at large seat.

Ideally, many more candidates will be coming forward for elective office in the weeks ahead. Pittsfield is not short of issues as it moves forward during tough economic times and the best way to discuss issues and offer ideas is within a vigorous election campaign.

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"No pay for teachers, no money for school"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, April 2, 2015

To the editor:

If the city of Pittsfield can't afford to pay its teachers and wants to cut spending to the tune of $1.3 million, how can the city plan to spend $44 million on a new school? If you can't pay the bills you already have, why are you planning to purchase something you really don't need? Sure the school needs work, and you may need to raise taxes for the repairs, but isn't that what you do with properties? You repair them? Do you purchase a new house just because your current one needs work?

I'm afraid to think how many families have left our wonderful county to hopefully find a job and a living wage. As a matter of fact, maybe the city should wait to see what its census figures are before making such a huge mistake. Take a look around Pittsfield! How many properties to do pass in your travels that are for sale or vacant? Do you really need a new school for your declining population?

Scott Chapman
Cheshire

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“Lawmakers don't see reality of homeless”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, April 3, 2015

To the editor:

In response to the March 27 article "Funds set to run out for the homeless," our state lawmakers are once again putting the weakest in harm's way.

I grew up in Pittsfield/ Berkshire County, attended local schools and graduated from UMass. with a Masters Degree in wildlife. I worked for 30 years for Mass Wildlife, and upon retiring, I now work for the nonprofit organization Co-Act in at the Pearl Street Day Center at 55 Fenn Street in Pittsfield. We receive no financial aid from the government, we solely depend on donations and what few grants we can obtain. All of us volunteer our time there. We handle over 50-plus people a day.

I see the reality daily and deal with their problems and needs daily. Lawmakers should open up their eyes and get a real grip on reality. Over the years I personally have seen this problem expand including a new group, some of the middle class that have lost their jobs or lost hours do to downsizing.

I do not say I am an expert, but I am not just an advocate, I was homeless for over a year, living on the streets of Pittsfield. I met a lot of good people and made a lot of close friends while in that situation.

If you doubt me, call me at the Pearl Street Day Center, 413-445-4445, and I will show you what really is out there.

Joseph J. Kirvin
Pittsfield

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“Pittsfield officials outline further fiscal 2016 school budget cuts”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, April 6, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Administration officials on Monday outlined for School Committee members the final $730,856 in spending reductions they propose to deal with an anticipated fiscal 2016 budget shortfall of just over $2 million.

At a prior meeting, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless and Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance, had described $1.3 million in reductions that included elimination of 28 full-time equivalent teaching and other staff positions.

The programs currently offered by the school system will "not be devastated," McCandless said, but the next budget leaves the system with almost no funding in reserve to meet unanticipated expenses and cuts back on traditional funding for adult education, preschool and other programs outside the legal requirement to provide kindergarten through 12th grade education.

The remaining staff members also will have to fill roles now covered by curriculum specialists and other employees.

The committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Pittsfield High School on its fiscal 2016 budget plan, and a vote to adopt a budget to send to the mayor and City Council is set for April 29.

Nearly half the reductions outlined Monday would be derived from covering the cost for some staff positions now funded by the city with grant allocations the system receives, such as for specialized educational services, and by reducing other expenses paid for through the grants.

In addition, the administrators recommended cuts in technology equipment and vocational equipment and supplies; student testing costs, and the homebound tutoring and public relations line items.

And the projected revenues and reimbursments administrators anticipate receiving now contain little or no cushion should special education, energy or other costs soar.

In answer to a question, McCandless said the schools would "have to go back to the City Council" if spending emergencies arise, because those rollover budget accounts that do not have to be depleted each year — traditionally used to provide funds in reserve — have been spent "down to zero."

In the reductions McCandless announced at the prior meeting, the equivalent of 28 staff positions would be eliminated. Asked by committee member Daniel Elias Monday how many of those people might be rehired because of the vacancies that arise at the end of the school year, the superintendent said he expects at least 20 would be retained, although likely in new positions.

The proposed job cuts include four teacher positions from Taconic High School, three from Reid Middle School, along with two special education teacher jobs; two teacher and two special education teacher jobs at Herberg Middle School; a paraprofessional job from Conte Community School; two vocational and one health technician teaching posts; a paraprofessional post from Pittsfield High School; $106,281 from the adult education program; $224,327 from the teen parent tutoring program, which will be restructured; a teacher post and three paraprofessional jobs from the Parent Child Home Program; early childhood coordinator, STEM coordinator and humanities coordinator positions; two technology instructional staff positions, and Central Office staff reductions.

McCandless said the budget shortfall is caused by a $4 million hike in salary and other anticipated cost increases next year, plus the loss of some grant funding, requiring major budget reductions — despite a recommended $2 million increase in funding from the city.

He said he and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi are in agreement on recommending a $1.9 million hike in the city's allocation to the schools, or 3.5 percent more than this year, for a total of $58.5 million.

Committee member Pamela Farron asked Monday whether a higher increase could be asked of the city since Pittsfield is taxing at more than $8 million below the amount allowed under Proposition 2 1/2 spending limits.

McCandless said that would require more than a 5 percent hike, which he said he believes city government officials believe might be beyond the city's ability to pay.

He added that many districts statewide annually face a 5 to 8 percent increase in costs. At past meetings, McCandless said state aid to schools has been inadequate for several years to assist with the rising costs school districts are facing.

Chairwoman Katherine Yon said she is hopeful the Legislature will restore some or all of the previous funding for kindergarten programs that otherwise would result in a $370,000 reduction for Pittsfield.

McCandless said that is one area of the budget — along with steep anticipated increases for heating and electricity — that officials hope prove inaccurate, providing additional funds for next year.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@ berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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“Four more Pittsfield incumbents take out nomination papers”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, April 11, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Four incumbent city officials have joined the lengthening list of those taking out nomination papers for the 2015 Pittsfield elections.

Council President Melissa Mazzeo took out papers this week, as did Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli.

In the race for six School Committee seats, incumbents, Chairwoman Katherine Yon and Cynthia Taylor also picked up nomination papers from the city clerk's office.

Mazzeo, who was first elected to the council in 2009, is competing for one of four at large seats. Also seeking at large posts are incumbent Kathleen Amuso and former councilors Peter Marchetti, Peter White and Joseph Nichols.

Simonelli, first elected in 2011, faces a potential challenge from Katherine Lloyd,

Political newcomer Salvatore Frieri also is seeking one of the six at large seats on the School Committee. Others thus far include incumbents Daniel Elias and Josh Cutler.

On Tuesday, former City Clerk Jody L. Phillips took out nomination papers to run again for the post, which she left in 2008 to take a job in the private sector.

Current Clerk Linda M. Tyer is not seeking re-election, as she is mounting a campaign for mayor.

Also taking out papers for mayor were Craig C. Gaetani, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, and Eric N. Bassett.

Taking out papers in the Ward 2 race are incumbent Councilor Kevin Morandi and a potential challenger, Michael Merriam.

In the Ward 5 council race, former council President Richard Scapin has taken out papers, as has newcomer Devon Grierson. The seat is being vacated by Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, who is not seeking re-election after six terms.

Others who have taken out papers are Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo, Ward 4 Councilor and council Vice President Christopher Connell.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413- 496- 6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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“A new Taconic for students and Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 11, 2015

The new Taconic High school project that the Pittsfield City Council will vote on Tuesday night is one of the most ambitious proposals the city has seen in many years. It is also a project whose ramifications will extend well beyond the impact it will have on the students who will go there.

The current Taconic was built on the cheap and has been springing leaks, literally and figuratively, for at least a decade, when a state accreditation report officially drew attention to its decline. Costly repairs to a bad building will not make it a good building, nor will those repairs address the reality that its construction did not anticipate the rapid changes that have come in the vocational/technical field in recent years.

In contrast, a new Taconic, carefully designed under the oversight of the city's School Building Needs Commission, will not only be a good building, it will be a state-of-the-art vocational/technical education building. City councilors and residents have asked if a new school would be too much of a burden for taxpayers but it is actually a patched up, pasted together old Taconic High School that would be a burden.

It would cost an estimated $36 million to repair the current Taconic, which must be done if the school is to be made safe and remain accredited. There is no prospect of any state financing for repairs. A new school would cost city taxpayers an estimated $44 million with the Massachusetts School Building Authority financing the remainder of the $120 million cost. That $8 million differential is modest given what the city would be getting, but that number would come down.

The amount of state revenue provided for Career Vocational/Technical Education (CVTE) students coming into schools is rising from $12,000 to $17,000 per student. A new Taconic will be a draw for Berkshire students that the current Taconic is not and will not be, even if repaired. This additional revenue will quickly begin whittling away at that $8 million differential.

The new Taconic will not be within a regional district but it will be a regional attraction, one that will enable Pittsfield to address stagnant enrollment by bringing in students rather than losing them to other districts. School choice money will come in rather than flow out. The school will be integrated with Berkshire Community College and the planned Berkshire Innovation Center in producing qualified employees for a market that would be expected to grow in the Berkshires. It will pair with Pittsfield High School to give parents and students two good high schools with different academic strategies.

The new school will have better security, which must be a consideration in a violence-prone, gun-riddled nation where schools have become targets. Its classrooms are designed to meet contemporary standards and for a near future when schools will be open and busy year-round.

Naysayers would have it that Pittsfield is too poor to afford a new school, which is a defeatist, self-fulfilling argument. The way to keep families and businesses in the city and to attract more is to give them a good reason to stay here and come here. The city cannot afford NOT to build a new high school that will become that good reason.

If the state is told to take its money elsewhere it will do so — to the benefit of another community and its students. Pittsfield can move to the back of the line for financing for school projects or it can claim a share of the money its citizens pay through the state sales tax that finances the school building fund.

This project has been put together efficiently and transparently by all involved, resulting in a new Taconic that will benefit students and the city for many decades. We urge the City Council to not only vote in favor of bonding the project Tuesday but to do so unanimously, making a bold statement about the city's future.

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"Mayoral Candidate Calls On Pittsfield To Provide Police Body Cameras"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Radio, April 14, 2015

A candidate for mayor of Pittsfield is calling on the city to place body cameras on all of its police officers. The topic is in the national conversation again after video taken on a cell phone recorded a South Carolina police officer fatally shooting a man who was running away.

Craig Gaetani, a frequent local political critic, released an audio message saying he urged the city to provide body cameras for its police officers more than a year ago.

“It’s critically, critically important that the city council go into a special immediately, appropriate the funds for those cameras and get the policemen mounted,” Gaetani said. “Before we end up here with what other communities are facing.”

None of Pittsfield’s roughly 85 police officers are equipped with body worn cameras, according to Chief Michael Wynn. Wynn says the city has discussed the possibility of providing the cameras, but questions around retention and storage have been problematic. Gaetani is facing two-term Mayor Dan Bianchi and City Clerk Linda Tyer. Political newcomer Eric Bassett has also taken out nominating papers.

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The Pittsfield City Council voted unanimously 11-0 on Tuesday to support the construction of the new 120.8 million Taconic High School project, an early design of which is seen here. (Courtesy photo)

“Pittsfield City Council unanimously backs new Taconic High School: Votes unanimously 11-0 to build $120.8M high school; MSBA vote next”
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, April 14, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The City Council has unanimously backed the $120.8 million new Taconic High School, the single largest taxpayer funded project in Pittsfield's history.

By an 11-0 vote before a standing-room only crowd, the council supported building a state-of-the-art comprehensive secondary school to prepare students for college, the workplace, or both.

"To me this has been the easiest vote I have ever taken — and the most important," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

Pittsfield is expected to fund about $45 million of the project; the balance paid for through a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which could issue final project approvals at its June 3 board meeting. Preparation of construction designs would follow, leading to an anticipated groundbreaking in March 2016.

After the vote, Pittsfield's state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier spoke the message the council has sent to the state with its unanimous vote.

"It tells the MSBA Pittsfield is fully behind this project and it sends a message to the business community we are willing to invest in our education," she said to an Eagle reporter.

The council's 100 percent approval received thunderous applause from the teachers, business leaders and general advocates for a new Taconic who packed the City Council chambers.

Taconic junior Matthew Barry cited the leaky roof, falling ceiling tiles and inefficient heating system as some of the reasons to replace the 46-year-old "Home of the Braves" on Valentine Road.

"In the long run, it's better to build a new high school," he said.

Barry was one of 17 people to speak to the project during the public comment portion of the council meeting.

All but one were in favor of the new high school with mayor Daniel L. Bianchi noting the socio-economic importance of Taconic's upgraded and expanded vocational education programs.

"It will be the best pathway to the middle class for many children coming from economically challenged families," Bianchi said.

Should the MSBA validate the council vote, it would culminate nearly a decade of debate, studies and planning for a secondary school that will integrate core academic courses with all the city's vocation/technical programs.

If built, the new Taconic would be 245,550 square feet, slightly larger than the existing facility, which was completed in 1969. The grade 9 through 12 comprehensive high school would house all the city's vocational/technical programs, which would mesh with English, math, science and other core academic course.

As of today, the MSBA will pay for 63 percent of the $120.8 million price tag, the remaining 37 percent falls on the shoulders of Pittsfield home and business owners. The city would have to borrow about $45 million, but for how long has yet to be determined, as city officials and the council will eventually weigh the pros and cons of at least three bonding scenarios.

The shorter the borrowing period, the higher the immediate tax impact, but the tradeoff is paying far less in principal and interest over the life of the loan, according to FirstSouthwest, the city's financial consultant.

The average single-family homeowner with a house assessed at $175,000 would annually pay $142 more annually in property taxes under a 20-year bond; about $123 if the loan lasts 28 years.

However, based on current rates, a 20-year loan would cost taxpayers a total of $66.2 million in principal and interest, compared to $80 million for the 28-year bond.

"I'm a senior citizen on a fixed income, but I am willing to make the sacrifice [of higher taxes]," said Councilor at large Churchill Cotton.

The council also views a modern-day version of Taconic as a way to attract new students and keep the ones fleeing to neighboring school systems under school choice.

"We have to reverse the trend of students opting out of the district," said Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter.


A preliminary design for the new Taconic High School. The city of Pittsfield is expected to fund about 45 million of the project, with the remainder paid for through a grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which could issue final project approvals at its June 3 board meeting. (Courtesy photo)

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"Pittsfield Council Approves Funding For Taconic High School, Championed As Economic Generator"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, April 15, 2015

The Pittsfield City Council unanimously approved borrowing nearly $121 million for the construction of a new high school Tuesday night. Those in the standing-room only crowd cheered, applauded and released balloons when the 11 yes votes came in.

The council’s vote marks a major milestone in Pittsfield’s decade-long discussion over a new Taconic High School. Jason McCandless is superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools.

“I think the message it sends is that we really believe that Pittsfield’s best days are still ahead of it,” McCandless said after the vote. “That are best days did not leave town when General Electric left town.”

The state is expected to reimburse about 65 percent of the project’s cost, meaning Pittsfield would pay $40 to $45 million. The building will replace the roughly 50-year-old Taconic High School building, which has been prone to leaky roofs and poor heating. The new three story, roughly 245,500-square foot school will be built across the driveway from the current structure on Valentine Road. It will feature air conditioning, LED lighting, classroom clusters, flex space and vocational shops. Mayor Dan Bianchi says the training in those shops will be an economic generator.

“It will be the best pathway to the middle class for many of the children who come from our economically-challenged families,” Bianchi said before the vote. “It will also be one of the best economic initiatives that a community to ever engage in. It will allow Pittsfield to create a true and strong partnership with the small and medium-sized companies that are the backbone of this community.”

Some 175 vocational students from the city’s other high school, Pittsfield High, are expected to join Taconic’s ranks once the new school opens. Mayor Bianchi has said a new Taconic could also stem the tide of Pittsfield students choicing out to other schools at an annual cost of $2.4 million to the city. School leaders also expect 100 students from other districts to choice in, bringing with them $1.7 million in tuition. Councilor Jonathan Lothrop called his approval the easiest but most important vote in his nearly 12 years on the council.

“So we’ve got to do this as a future offering to our children and grandchildren,” Lothrop said. “This is the intergenerational commitment that we make today. It’s not about whether my children will benefit. It’s about will my children’s children benefit. Will all of our children benefit.”

Many in the business community, including the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, have endorsed the project while some residents have raised concerns about the impending impact on taxpayers, especially seniors on fixed incomes. The council will later decide how to bond the funding that determines the tax impact. School leaders estimate renovating Taconic would cost $36 million with little to no state funding. Councilor Lisa Tully says when she took office in 2014 she questioned how she could pass the increased taxes of a new high school onto the city’s residents.

“This isn’t an all or nothing project,” Tully said. “It doesn’t mean that if we say ‘no’ to this project that the taxpayers aren’t going to have to pay more to fix Taconic. If you take a $100,000 home we’re talking $20 more a year to have a brand new high school – that is so worth it.”

The Massachusetts School Building Authority is set to vote on the project June 3rd. If approved, construction work is expected to start next spring with the school opening for the 2018-2019 school year.

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"School budget cuts will cause pain in Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 1, 2015

Just as approval of the new Taconic High School was a step forward for Pittsfield educationally, the $2 million in budget cuts for fiscal 2016 represents a setback. Those cuts will surely be felt.

The School Department is facing $4 million in increased costs, and while a $1.9 million increase in the city's allocation to the schools cut the damage in half, the $59.2 million budget will result in the loss of teaching jobs at three city schools, along with a variety of other positions and $100,000 in funding for adult education (Eagle, April 30).

Pittsfield is below the Proposition 21/2 limit but there is no sentiment among city officials for more tax hikes, especially after the Taconic approval. State tax hikes aren't coming either. You get what pay for, but the state could help communities by providing resources for core educational programs and de-emphasizing its burdensome standardized testing programs.

Cuts like these are common in the private sector, but cuts to schools get at the essence of a community's fabric by affecting children who will ideally stay and build that community. What is no longer as common in the private sector are pay increases, especially those seen as automatic for time served. Teachers and administrators cannot expect the School Committee to routinely sign off on pay hikes in this economic climate.

School Committee member Cynthia Taylor cast the lone negative vote on the budget Wednesday night, saying that she wanted to make a statement "for our 6,000 students who have no vote," but it is fair to assume that none of her colleagues on the committee were any happier with the budget. Chairwoman Katherine Yon said the community must help, and that begins with parents taking a strong interest in their kids' education. Money is tight and poverty is high in Pittsfield, and maintaining educational high standards will have to be a community effort.

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"Bianchi To Submit 2016 Pittsfield Budget By End of Month"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, May 11, 2015

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Daniel Bianchi is expecting to submit his $150 million fiscal 2016 spending plan by the end the month.

The mayor is suggesting a 1.9 percent increase in city operating expenses and a 3.5 percent increase to the schools. In total, the budget raises the city side by $1.4 million and the school by some $1.9 million for about a $3.4 million increase in total spending.

"It is the continuation of debt service and contractual obligations," Bianchi said on Friday.

The biggest drivers, the mayor said, was an increase in debt service from previous years' capital projects, utility costs increasing and new contracts with public employee unions. The departmental budgets will be mostly unchanged, Bianchi said.

"It is pretty much holding the line," he said.

He added that the Police Department budget will see an increase in overtime allocation to help bring foot patrols back to North Street. Previously, the downtown merchants advocated for more patrols and last summer those were offered to officers. Instead of hiring more officers, the mayor allocated additional overtime. Bianchi, however, wants to continue those downtown foot patrols and is boosting the department's overtime budget to do so.

Police Chief Michael Wynn has been advocating for additional staffing in recent years, though not necessarily for downtown patrols. He said at a recently Police Advisory Committee that the budget will pay for the officers currently in the academy but that only brings the department up to the "minimum" staffing level.

The school budget is $59.2 million ($58.5 million coming from the city and was approved by the School Committee on April 30. Despite a $1.9 million increase, school officials proposed a series of cuts.

Between utilities, contractual increases, new buses, and lose of federal revenue, the School Department had a need of $4 million to stay with level-services. So with only a $1.9 million increase, the difference came in a number of ways including the reduction of 28 full-time jobs.

Last June, the City Council reviewed the operating budget in one marathon session, which lasted nearly nine hours. But the council later voted not to do that again. In June, the City Council is expected to hold a series of meetings at night to review the budget.

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"Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi to submit $145.27 million budget; up 2.9 percent"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, May 24, 2015

PITTSFIELD — Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi will submit to the City Council on Tuesday a fiscal 2016 budget totaling $145.27 million, up about 2.9 percent from the $141.23 million spending plan for the current fiscal year.

The budget proposal, which is included in petitions going to the council for its next meeting, calls for a School Department budget of $86,768,074 and a city government budget of $58,502,753 for the next July-to-June fiscal year.

The fiscal 2016 plan would require an appropriation increase of just over $4 million, reflecting a 3.5 percent hike in the school appropriation and a 1.76 increase in the city government budget, the mayor said.

The council is expected to review the budget over four evenings, beginning on June 2, and to take final votes on the plan later in the month.

Bianchi said Friday that, despite what he believes is an inadequate level of state aid for school districts and municipalities in the face of rising costs, his budget plan "will provide a good level of services" next year, and proposes borrowing for a variety of needed capital projects.

The proposed $10.2 million in borrowing for capital projects "allows us to continue to plan for the future," he said.

The separate capital request seeks approval to borrow for a range of city projects, including $500,000 for a new fire engine and $200,000 to refurbish another fire department vehicle; $3.5 million for reconstruction of the main runway at the Pittsfield airport, for which the city expects federal reimbursement funding; $250,000 in funding for phases 4 and 5 of the multi-year streetcape improvement project in the downtown; $200,000 for streetscape design work for Tyler Street, and $500,000 toward the repair and restoration of the Springside House.

Bianchi said the goal is to seek to leverage grant or other funding to rehabilitate the historic Springside House in Springside Park and to develop a long-range plan for use of the park.

The mayor seeks $1.5 million for street work next year, which he said will be combined with state Chapter 90 funding to bring the total to about $2.5 million.

Also on the list of projects are a range of proposals, including $100,000 for foundation and stair repairs for City Hall; $850,000 for stormwater system improvements; $160,000 for telecommunications upgrades at City Hall; several school building repair, renovation, heating system or other upgrade projects; funds for city parks refurbishing work, and $151,000 for a dump truck with plow.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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May 24, 2015

Re: Pittsfield politics hikes its municipal budget plan once again

What a surprise! Pittsfield politics is increasing its yearly budget once again this fiscal year, which begins on July 1st, 2015. It must be due to all of the economic growth in Pittsfield. (Yeah, right…and Pigs have wings and fly!) Senior Citizens will pay more in their local property taxes and fees, while living on a fixed income. They can handle it! They will just have to “sacrifice” food or heat to feed the voracious municipal system. How many more home foreclosures will there be in Pittsfield next year? How many more businesses will cut their workforce numbers or move away from Pittsfield to a more tax friendly community? Pittsfield is known as the welfare capital of the northeast. The more Pittsfield politics hikes its taxes and fees, the more welfare caseloads. Maybe that is the whole point? It is called “perverse incentives”. The more teen pregnancies, welfare caseloads, and low skilled workers, the more money Pittsfield receives in federal dollars. It is sort of like the state lottery or the new casino gambling law. The more social problems from gambling addicts, the more money the state government receives in revenues. Politicians are not watching out for the people, the community, or you. Politicians only care about money and power. That is why so many people don’t vote, don’t hold their political delegates accountable, and are apathetic to the political system. The people have to look out for themselves and their families against the inequitable ruling class!

- Jonathan Melle

$$$$$

May 26, 2015

Let’s do the math on Pittsfield politics Mayor Dan Bianchi’s budget proposal

* $145,270,000.00 municipal operating budget
* $10,200,000.00 municipal capital budget
* Total municipal spending for Fiscal Year 2016: $155,470,000.00

* One year increase in the municipal operating budget is $4,040,000.00
* One year increase in spending (operating + capital municipal budgets) = $14,240,000.00

* These financial numbers do NOT include the new Taconic High School project costs
* These financial numbers do NOT include Pittsfield’s hundreds of millions of dollars in OPEB debts

Pittsfield has high taxes and fees, spending, and debts. Pittsfield’s finances are unsustainable over the long-term. Pittsfield will become financially insolvent in a matter of years. On top of all of this, thousands of people have moved away from Pittsfield over the past decades. Pittsfield’s most valuable resource: its local residents, are decreasing in population. While Pittsfield’s tax base is shrinking, Pittsfield’s taxes, fees, spending, and debts are all increasing!

- Jonathan Melle

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“Pittsfield mayor submits FY 16 budget, office move expense list”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, May 28, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The Pittsfield City Council has scheduled a series of four budget review sessions next month on Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's $145.27 million spending plan for fiscal 2016.

The council sessions, which will begin Tuesday, June 2, at 6 p.m. at City Hall, will continue on June 4, 8 and 11, all beginning at 6 p.m. The mayor and Director of Finance and Treasurer Susan Carmel will give an overview of the spending plan at the first meeting, and several department budgets will be reviewed each evening.

The school department budget will be reviewed June 11, along with two city departments.

Bianchi on Tuesday also responded to a request for cost information related to a move of city inspection offices last year from City Hall into nearby private office space at 100 North St. He produced a list of just over $80,000 in expenses, not counting the cost of the lease.

The mayor submitted to the council his detailed city and school budget plan, which reflects an overall 2.9 percent appropriation increase over the current July-to-June fiscal year budget of $141.23 million.

Included for fiscal 2016 are an $86.77 million school budget, up 3.5 percent, and a $58.5 million municipal budget, up 1.76 percent.

Bianchi also submitted a list of city and school capital expenditures, for which he proposes borrowing a total of $10.2 million.

He said budget areas showing increases include police and fire department employee costs, reflecting negotiated raises; debt service costs and estimated higher energy costs in the city portion of the budget; and negotiated teacher and other employee raises, expected higher energy costs and the cost of new buses purchased last year on the school side of the budget.

Responding to a formal request from the council earlier this month, the mayor also submitted a list of expenditures related to the transfer of city inspection offices from City Hall to private office space at the historic First Agricultural Bank building at 100 North St.

The council earlier this month voted unanimously to send the request after it was proposed by Councilor at large Barry Clairmont. He has been a leading critic of the process that led to the mayor's decision to transfer and consolidate those offices in the new location.

The list of expenses totaled $80,879, which were broken down by department in a submission from city Director of Administrative Services Julia Sabourin. Bianchi has said the amounts were taken from existing administration department line items, not requiring new appropriation requests.

The costs included $33,441 for communications systems and installations related to Internet and phone services; $18,482 for moving services and acquisition of a handicapped accessible counter; and $20,658 for a variety of office supply, fixture or equipment installations.

Inspection and related personnel involved in the move included employees in the Fire Department, Health Department, Community Development Department, Building Services Department and the conservation agent's office.

In response to a question from Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop on Tuesday, Sabourin said the cost of leasing the office space on the mezzanine level at 100 North St. was not included. However, she and Bianchi confirmed the first year cost was approximately $100,000.

The lease agreement with building owner Scarafoni Associates for the space originally called for the city to pay $126,000, or $14 per square foot, in the first year of a three-year agreement, officials said, but the amount was lower because the city did not move in until after the start of the lease year.

The agreement calls for a lease at $13 per square foot and $12 per square foot in the second and third years, respectively. The city holds an option to lease the approximately 9,000 square feet of space for the second and third years.

Clairmont did not raise any further objections on Tuesday. However, he said Wednesday he is concerned that the amount placed in a municipal government contingency account last year — from which the lease funding was taken — might have been too high for normal city contingency expenses.

He said he is looking for a close review of the account in the fiscal 2016 budget, believing it should not be large enough for the mayor to cover significant expenses without specific council review.

Bianchi has said the reasons he decided to move the offices included that some were in the basement level of City Hall, which has persistent dampness and air quality issues, and because he wants to consolidate the inspection services in more attractive space to facilitate permitting for contractors, developers and the public.

Councilors did not raise objections over the reasons for the move but were highly critical of the unilateral decision by the mayor, and because they only learned of the pending move through media reports. Council approval was not required, the mayor said, because the funding came from existing funds in administration accounts, and the agreement with 100 North St. owner was not a long-term lease, which would have required a vote of the council.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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"New Pittsfield Program Feeds Elementary Pupils For Free"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, May 28, 2015

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Every elementary school student will receive free breakfast and lunch next year.

The School Department has joined the federal Community Eligibility Provision program designated for districts with high levels of poverty. The program ups the U.S. Department of Agriculture's reimbursement for meals provided at participating schools.

Participating districts must have more than 40 percent enrollment from low-income households to be eligible and the higher percentage of low-income students in a school or district, the higher the reimbursements.

"Our eight elementary schools qualify for 100 percent reimbursement for all meals," said Sylvana Bryan, director of cafeteria services. "We'll be providing meals at no charge for elementary school students."

The entire School Department consists of 55.8 percent of students from low-income households. When Bryan crunched the numbers, doing the program districtwide wouldn't have been feasible because the federal government would only provide 89 percent reimbursement on the meals. The loss of revenue from the paid and reduced meals would have left the city short $7,000 a month.

But as a whole of the elementary schools, 63 percent of the students are deemed low income so the multiplier factor used in the program will give the city 100 percent reimbursement for all meals. The city's percentage is now locked in for four years before the eligibility is looked at again.

"It is a benefit to the whole community and not just one group," Bryan said, adding that it costs families $475 per child each year to eat school lunches.

In September, families who usually fill out the meal application won't need to for their elementary school students and any student attending school can eat free. At the middle and high school level, Bryan stresses that the meal applications still need to be filled out because the free and reduced lunch program there is operating as it has.

The poverty levels are based on information gleaned from other programs like food stamps and other temporary assistance programs. Previously, the numbers of free and reduced lunch defined the levels of poverty in a community. Boston was among the first in the state to adopt the program in 2013. North Adams looked into the program but the number of students made it unfeasible.

"We're really going to have to change the yardstick of who qualifies as low income," said Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance.

The changes coming from the federal level are replacing the free and reduced lunch determination with an entirely new type of program. Some families may not qualify as low income currently but with the addition of other programs that take in to account expenses, others may. Behnke said the two ways to measure income are not comparable.

The new factor will ultimately have an impact on the state's Chapter 70 disbursements, individual school's Title 1 programs, and the e-rate system. The Community Eligibility Provision was a pilot program coupled with the National School Lunch Program and had expanded over the last two years.

Those who support the program say often students were treated differently in lunch lines, schools would serve bare minimum lunches to those who had unpaid balances or sometimes throw the food out altogether, and low-income students were singled out, stigmatized, and teased. That difference in treatment could lead to a number of behavioral and educational troubles. The program aims to ensure that each students receives a healthy meal regardless of income.

Opponents, however, say the program is a waste of tax dollars and the government shouldn't be paying for meals for those who can afford it.

Locally, Bryan says it will reduce the amount of paperwork and filings the staff has to do and is expected to expand the use of the programs. It isn't known if any additional staff is going to be needed.

"Every child would get a free breakfast and lunch," Superintendent Jason McCandless said. "We would really like to see an increase in our breakfast program."

McCandless said lunch is the last meal of the day for some students. He said the breakfast program will help get the students energized for the day after going hours without eating.

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"Elementary meals will be free"
By Jonathan Levine, Publisher and Editor of the Pittsfield Gazette, May 28, 2015

Breakfast and lunch will be free for all students at elementary schools in Pittsfield next year.

Food service director Sylvana Bryan announced the shift Wednesday during a school committee discussion of new “community eligibility provisions“ regulating a variety of government-funded social programs.

Under the initiative, the Pittsfield elementary schools qualify through a “direct certification“ formula based on the number of “economically disadvantaged“ families determined through a range of entitlement programs.

“It‘s a great benefit to communities as well as the students themselves,“ said Bryan.

Families will no longer need to complete income-based applications to qualify for subsidized meals at the elementary schools.

Lunch will still have a cost at middle and high schools and income-eligible families may still need to complete applications or be linked to another government social program.

Bryan said that the universal free breakfasts and lunches can‘t be extended at this time to the older grades due to formula provisions that would under fund the city cafeterias. The city would lose $7,000 per month at the middle and high schools, she said.

At the elementary schools, she noted, “we do not have to subsidize.“

Superintendent Jason “Jake“ McCandless is excited about the program because it “pretty much set the net over the entire school.“

He is particularly pleased by the opportunity to serve more breakfasts. “We would like to see more students kick off the morning with a breakfast,“ he stated.

McCandless said hunger is real and that “in some case, lunch is [students‘] last meal of the day.“ Getting food into them in the morning increases academic success.

Assistant superintendent Kristen Behnke said that in future years, the city may alter bus schedules and staffing seeking to boost access to free breakfasts.

Bryan said that the new system will also reduce administrative work. “It‘s a win-win for everyone,“ she decreed.

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“All Pittsfield elementary students to get free meals starting this fall”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, May 31, 2015

PITTSFIELD — Students in all city elementary schools will get free breakfast and lunch starting this fall.

Under a revised eligibility provision concerning federal school meals funding, Pittsfield's eight elementary schools "qualify for 100 percent reimbursement for all meals," according to Sylvana Bryan, food service director in the Pittsfield schools.

Under the "economically disadvantaged" certification provision, if 40 percent or more of students in any of a district's schools are certified as being from low-income households, the entire district could qualify for additional federal funding for the free meals. As the percentage of students certified increases, Bryan said, so does the federal reimbursement for the meals.

In Pittsfield, all the elementary schools meet the threshold figure for 100 percent federal reimbursement, she told the School Committee this week.

"It is a benefit to the whole community," she said, noting that families of children who previously purchased meals could see savings of $475 per year per child.

She added that the numbers of students eating lunch and breakfast daily could increase at the elementary level. In answer to a question, Bryan said she is unsure whether additional staff members might be required for the food service program.

The district still will need to individually determine whether middle and high school students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.

Across all 12 city schools, 3,800 students currently take the lunches and 1,306 take the breakfasts.

Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said increasing the number of students who have two meals a day at school — particularly a nutritious breakfast — could have a important positive impact on children from impoverished households.

Statewide, there are now 294 schools in 22 districts using the community eligibility provision, which was aimed at assisting districts with a significant percentage of students in low-income households. Nationwide, there are now 14,000 schools participating.

Previously, all city schools had to send out and process a significant amount of paperwork to determine which students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, Bryan said, but that task will be eliminated at the elementary level — as well as any potential stigma associated with those who qualified for free lunches.

If the two middle schools and two high schools were included for the free meals, however, she said her calculations show the reimbursement level under the same provision would be 89 percent, which would leave the system to cover an unacceptable $7,000 cost each month.

In the entire school system, the percentage of students from low-income households was determined at 55.89 percent, but in the eight elementary schools, the level was set at 63 percent, triggering the higher level of federal reimbursement through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The new certification for levels of poverty, which is set for a four-year period and can cover some or all schools in a district, is based on a household's eligibility for participation in other assistance programs, such as SNAP, or food stamps.

The new "economically disadvantaged" designation for schools also is expected to eventually become a factor in determining state Chapter 70 aid, as well as Title 1 and E-Rate funding to schools.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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"State OK's $72.4M for new Taconic High School"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 3, 2015

PITTSFIELD — The Massachusetts School Building Authority on Wednesday approved a $72.4 million grant for a new Taconic High School.

The grant represents the state's share of the $125 million project.

State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, chairwoman of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and the panel's executive director, Jack McCarthy, announced the news in a statement around noon on Wednesday. The approval marks a years-long effort to replace the deteriorating school facility on the Valentine Road campus.

"Upon completion, the new school in Pittsfield will provide a modern learning environment for the city's students," Goldberg said in the statement. "Our goal is create the best space to deliver the district's educational commitments and goals."

The new 246,520-square-foot school will be built based on a design enrollment of 920 students in grades 9 through 12. The MSBA will contribute 80 percent of eligible costs toward the project, for a total grant of up to $74,202,483. The remaining 20 percent will be funded by Pittsfield taxpayers.

The current school was built in 1969 and suffers from deficiencies in major building systems including mechanical, electrical, plumbing and roof.

"The new Taconic High School will replace an aging building with an up-to-date, 21st century learning facility," McCarthy said. "Students will soon have a beautiful new space which will undoubtedly enhance and improve their ability to excel in the classroom."

One of the next steps is for the Pittsfield school system and the MSBA to enter into a project funding agreement, which will detail the project's scope and budget, along with the conditions under which the city will receive its MSBA grant.

This story will be updated.

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“Pittsfield officials reflect after Taconic High School wins state funding OK”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, June 3, 2015

PITTSFIELD - City officials got expected good news Wednesday morning when the new Taconic High School project design and funding won final state approvals, but that didn't make anyone blase about it.

"We just got out of the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority) meeting," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, via phone from Boston. "We just got the OK, and we're moving forward. I'm ready to get out the confetti."

The local officials commented after the MSBA's board of directors had approved the $120.8 million Pittsfield project — including $72.4 million in state funding.

The City Council in April had unanimously approved bonding for up to $45 million for the city's share of the new school, to be constructed adjacent the current Taconic High off Valentine Road.

"It has been a long time coming," said Kathleen Amuso, co-chair of the city's 21-member School Building Needs Commission. "We have a ways to go, but we're on our way. This is just a positive project for Pittsfield."

Working with consultants, the commission developed over several years the scope of the Taconic project and made design and funding decisions that were submitted this spring to the City Council for bonding approval. The MSBA, which has approved key aspects of the project and design throughout the process, issued its final OK Wednesday.

The next steps, according to Carl Franceschi, president of the project design firm Drummey Rosane Anderson of Waltham, will be to further develop the building design over the summer prior to another meeting with the MSBA board in September.

The city Building Needs Commission also will select a construction management firm for the project, which will be onboard while detailed construction plans are prepared.

Selection of construction firms for the work and a formal ground-breaking at the building site are expected during the first three months of 2016, said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who also attended the meeting in Boston.

The process before the MSBA was a long and detailed one, the mayor said, but "one that shows how the Commonwealth of Massachusetts invests wisely in school projects."

The MSBA board also has a facilities assessment subcommittee that includes contractors, architects, school officials and elected officials who scrutinized aspects of the design and cost for each public school project proposed for state reimbursement funding.

"We had a really enthusiastic response," Bianchi said of the Taconic plan. "Not just when it went before the council. I think the community is enthusiastic too."

In all, city officials and volunteers on the SBNC studied and debated for nearly a decade before making a firm decision to replace the 46-year-old Taconic High School with a new building. Earlier debates touched on whether to combine Taconic and Pittsfield High School in a new school, whether to repair one or the other, and finally whether to renovate, partially replace and renovate the existing Taconic, or build an entirely new school.

The latter choice was deemed the most cost-effective and likely to trigger a higher percentage of reimbursement funding.

State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who acts as chairwoman of the MSBA board, and Executive Director Jack McCarthy announced in a release Wednesday that a grant of up to $72.4 million was approved for the Taconic project.

"Upon completion, the new school in Pittsfield will provide a modern learning environment for the city's students," Goldberg said. "Our goal is to create the best space to deliver the district's educational commitments and goals."

McCarthy said the MSBA partners with Massachusetts communities to "support the design and construction of educationally appropriate, flexible, sustainable and cost-effective public school facilities."

Since its inception in 2004, he said, the authority "has made over 1,500 site visits to more than 250 school districts as part of its due diligence process and has made more than $11.3 billion in reimbursements for school projects."

The new 246,520-square-foot Taconic is expected to open in the fall of 2018, after which the old school will be razed.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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“Pittsfield made Taconic funding a given”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, June 3, 2015

The approval of a $72.4 million grant for construction of a new Taconic High School by the state Wednesday [June 3, 2015] was not a surprise. That doesn't make it any less significant.

The announcement that the state's share of the $125 million project had been approved was made by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, the chairwoman of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and the MSBA's executive director, Jack McCarthy. "Students will soon have a beautiful new space which will undoubtedly enhance and improve their ability to excel in the classroom," said Mr. McCarthy in a statement Wednesday.

The current Taconic served its purpose but no amount of renovation was going to fully correct its inherent structural problems or make it the school it must be for the 21st century. A Taconic centered around contemporary vocational education, which encompasses a wide range of skills, will not only serve Pittsfield students but will attract others from around the Berkshires.

The pool of money used by the MSBA to help finance schools comes from around the state, and Berkshire communities should not be reluctant to claim "Mass. Approves $72M For New Taconic High School In Pittsfield"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, June 3, 2015

The Massachusetts School Building Authority approved $72.4 million for a new Taconic High School in Pittsfield during its monthly meeting in Boston Wednesday [June 3, 2015].

In April the Pittsfield City Council approved borrowing $121 million to build a three-story, vocational-focused school on Valentine Road. It would replace the nearly 50-year-old Taconic High School. The state’s portion announced Wednesday represents roughly 60 percent of the total project cost. Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi says the school will prepare students for college and immediate career paths.

“It will be the best pathway to the middle class for many of the children who come from our economically-challenged families,” said Bianchi prior to the city council’s vote in April.

The new 246,520 square-foot school is based on a design enrollment of 920 students in grades 9 through 12. One of the next steps is for Pittsfield Public Schools and the MSBA to enter into a Project Funding Agreement, which will detail the project’s scope and budget, along with the conditions under which the city will receive its MSBA grant.

“Upon completion, the new school in Pittsfield will provide a modern learning environment for the city’s students,” said Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who also chairs the MSBA, in a statement Wednesday. “Our goal is create the best space to deliver the district’s educational commitments and goals.”

Construction is expected to start next spring with the school opening slated for the 2018-2019 school year.their share. Over the decade that the new Taconic has been in one planning stage or another, a long line of educators, elected and appointed city officials, Berkshire legislators, and concerned residents methodically built the case for a new school and for the funding of the city's share of the cost. By working closely with the state, all parties made Wednesday's approval a given.

With Pittsfield High School, the new Taconic will give the city two public high schools that will not only prepare students for a complex world and workplace but will show families and businesses considering a new locale or fresh start that Pittsfield is a place that takes it responsibilities to its young people seriously.

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"Mass. Approves $72M For New Taconic High School In Pittsfield"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, June 3, 2015

The Massachusetts School Building Authority approved $72.4 million for a new Taconic High School in Pittsfield during its monthly meeting in Boston Wednesday [June 3, 2015].

In April the Pittsfield City Council approved borrowing $121 million to build a three-story, vocational-focused school on Valentine Road. It would replace the nearly 50-year-old Taconic High School. The state’s portion announced Wednesday represents roughly 60 percent of the total project cost. Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi says the school will prepare students for college and immediate career paths.

“It will be the best pathway to the middle class for many of the children who come from our economically-challenged families,” said Bianchi prior to the city council’s vote in April.

The new 246,520 square-foot school is based on a design enrollment of 920 students in grades 9 through 12. One of the next steps is for Pittsfield Public Schools and the MSBA to enter into a Project Funding Agreement, which will detail the project’s scope and budget, along with the conditions under which the city will receive its MSBA grant.

“Upon completion, the new school in Pittsfield will provide a modern learning environment for the city’s students,” said Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who also chairs the MSBA, in a statement Wednesday. “Our goal is create the best space to deliver the district’s educational commitments and goals.”

Construction is expected to start next spring with the school opening slated for the 2018-2019 school year.

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“Pittsfield road budget can't withstand cut”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, June 7, 2015

Pittsfield's street repairs budget can't take a cut. If anything, it needs an increase.

The City Council voted eight to three Thursday night to table the $3.49 million public services budget and recommended that Mayor Daniel Bianchi at least level fund the street repairs line item at $288,500. The mayor had sought to cut that item by $73,500 in his fiscal 2016 spending plan.

While there is significant street work ongoing in Pittsfield, it is obvious to anyone who travels the city's roads, particularly those off the beaten track, that far more needs to be done, and quickly. Potholes left over from the brutal winter and spring have taken too long to address, and the only remedy is to give the highway department the resources it needs to do so in a timely fashion.

Road repairs, both minor and major, are the most tangible evidence of the tax dollars paid by residents. Beyond that, as several councilors observed Thursday, a city's infrastructure sends a message, good or bad, to families and businesses considering coming to that city. In that sense, money spent on road repairs is an investment that will pay dividends if it brings jobs and people into the community.

Some councilors also recommended adding several hundred thousand dollars to the public services winter maintenance budget of $550,000 to reflect the roughly $950,000 that it requires to deal with the roads in winter. In the era of global warming, brutal winters like this past one can't be written off as flukes. If Pittsfield residents want plowing, sanding and salting comparable to neighboring communities, and complaints indicate that they do, they must be willing to pay for it.

The mayor indicated a willingness Thursday to increase funding for the street repair budget and it should at minimum be level-funded at $288,500. It is obvious, however, that the sum is inadequate and residents should support efforts by the City Council to increase it. They will benefit tangibly from a better highway infrastructure.

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"Taconic project construction management firm selection expected by late July"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, June 15, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The city's School Building Needs Commission expects to have a construction management firm onboard by late July for the new Taconic High School project.

Dale Caldwell of Skanska USA, the city's consultant for the $120.8 million state and city-funded project, updated the commission on Monday. He said the process of identifying qualified firms has begun with the posting of advertisements and will include a site visit at the school site on June 18.

Submissions with qualification information are due by June 25, he said, and prequalification determinations will be made over the next four days — based on management experience, references, state certifications and bonding capacity.

Caldwell said requests for proposals to manage the project, including working with project architects and overseeing subcontractors, will then be distributed to the prequalified firms on June 30.

A subcommittee of the commission will interview and rank the firms, he said, and then present a first choice to the full commission on July 20. Preconstruction work by the selected firm would begin on July 27, according to the project schedule.

Carl Franceschi, president of the project design firm Drummey Rosane Anderson of Waltham, presented updated plans to the commission on Monday, which reflect refinements to the schematic building design approved this spring by the commission and the Massachusetts School Building Commission.

He said interior and exterior materials and design details are being worked out, along with further refinement of cost figures, in advance of a mid-September progress review before the MSBA board. Completion of the construction design is expected to continue afterward toward hiring of construction firms and a planned groundbreaking within the first three months of 2016.

The commission chose to hire a construction management firm in part to have that team in place during the design phase to work with architects to help avoid costly work changes during construction. The management option — as opposed to fully completing the design and then hiring a general contractor — is one that has been increasingly used in similar projects, officials said.

The planning process for a new 246,520-square-foot Taconic High represents nearly a decade of work by the commissioners, former commissioners and others in the city. The effort led to a decision that a new Taconic High was the best building option, and then on to agreement — along with the MSBA — on the design features and overall cost.

The MSBA earlier this month gave final approval for $74.2 million in state funding toward the Taconic project, and the City Council earlier approved bonding for up to $45 million for the Pittsfield's share of the cost.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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"Downward trend continues for Berkshire jobless rate"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, June 23, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A slight drop in the local jobless rate last month wasn't as dramatic as April's decline, but it was good enough to keep the index under 5 percent for the second straight month.

After falling by more than a full percentage point to 4.9 percent in April, Berkshire unemployment ticked down slightly to 4.8 percent in May, according to figures released by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development on Tuesday.

Although last month's decrease was minimal, Berkshire County unemployment hasn't been this low since it reached 4.7 percent in August 2008, according to the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. April's local rate had been the lowest since October 2008.

The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent in May, the lowest it's been since December 2007. The seasonally unadjusted rate is 4.4 percent. State unemployment was 5.6 percent in May 2014.

But, Berkshire unemployment is 1.6 points lower than it was a year ago, when the rate was 6.4 percent. Berkshire's unemployment was 6.5 percent in January.

"That's pretty significant," said Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, referring to the drop over the last 12 months. "It's showing the economy should be going in the right direction."

Boulger described May's slight dip in Berkshire unemployment "as pretty even keeled", adding that "nothing significant" caused the minor drop.

However, Boulger said local employers are beginning to gear up for the summer employment season when seasonal jobs are more prevalent. According to Boulger, there were 1,860 Berkshire jobs listed on Job Quest on Tuesday.

"A couple of months ago it was 1,100," she said. "It's showing that employers have a need to hire people. Now, it's finding the qualified workers to fill those openings."

Tuesday's numbers are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account seasonal construction jobs and positions in the travel and tourism industry.

The county's total labor force increased by 804 workers in May to 65,810, while the number of employed grew by 846 to 62,474. The number of county residents collecting unemployment compensation dropped by 42 workers to 3,140.

Statewide, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates dropped in eight labor market areas in May, but rose in 16 others.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

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“City budget vote again gets political”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, June 24, 2015

The Pittsfield City Council debate on the capital projects budget Tuesday night found councilors acting more for show than substance. Must be an election year.

After approving Mayor Daniel Bianchi's $145.2 million school and educational budget by a vote of 8-to-3, the council got hung up on a tiny fraction of the $11.12 million capital projects budget, continuing a tradition begun last year. An expenditure to enhance broadband service to the planned Berkshire Innovation Center in the William Stanley Business Park somehow became the unlucky victim of a belated get-tough-on-taxes forum conducted for the TV cameras.

Following objections expressed by councilors at a budget hearing, Mayor Daniel Bianchi had reduced the expenditure for the BIC broadband from $60,000 to $30,000. Worried that this would not be enough to assure a two-thirds majority for passage of the capital projects budget, Councilor John Krol suggested removing it entirely, which led to a discussion of whether this action would require sending the capital budget back to the mayor for a revision.

This recalled last year's mess when a standoff over the capital budget led to its defeat and a disruption to the bidding and repair process for various city projects. In this case, it could mean delaying runway work at the city airport. After the Krol amendment failed 7 to 4, Councilor Anthony Simonelli, saying he wanted to avoid a repetition of last year's confusion, moved for reconsideration and provided the necessary eighth vote for two-thirds approval.

No one had a bad word for the enhanced broadband service at the Berkshire Innovation Center, and given the value of this service and the importance of BIC to Pittsfield, it seemed pointless to nickel-and-dime it. In expressing concern about the expenditure, Councilors Simonelli, Churchill Cotton and Kevin Morandi appeared to be making statements about the budget in general and the necessity to generate revenue from taxes to pay for it.

However, if city councilors want to cut the budget they should make and defend specific proposals for cutting. The broadband money for BIC was nothing more than a scapegoat. Similarly, if councilors want to cut taxes they should then specify what programs they think should be cut as a result. Making speeches and taking votes that are no more than symbolic may draw a few votes on Election Day. However, this amounts to taking the easy way out of tough votes that the majority of councilors were left to make to assure that necessary funding was provided for important city services.

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"Pittsfield school employees ask board for 'fair, living wage'"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, June 25, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Union members representing about 300 nonprofessional employees in the Pittsfield school system have issued a plea to the School Committee for a "fair, living wage."

Two members of clerical workers unit of Local 1315 of the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees, which represents five groups of workers in city schools, want pay increases and step-raise changes they contend are overdue.

Deb Cebula, a 21-year clerical employee in city schools, told committee members Wednesday that a survey of neighboring and comparable school districts "found a significant disparity in pay."

A Central Berkshire School District first-year secretary, Cebula said, earns "$1.98 more per hour than her counterpart in Pittsfield. By year 10, she earns $3.10 more per hour."

Compounding the problem, she said, is that the six pay raise steps allowed in Pittsfield are capped after the 10th year of service, while the average years of service in the clerical unit is 17.5 years.

"The School Department is not alone in facing economic challenges associated with inflation and the increased costs of energy and goods," Cebula said. "From 2004 to 2014, inflation has driven the cost of living up an average of 2.38 percent per year. Over this 10-year period, the members of the clerical unit received an average increase of 1.09 percent per year."

Another member of the clerical unit, Lori Reuss, said in part that, "While responsibilities between a principal secretary and main office main office secretary may vary, all school secretaries are essential. We are the 'hub' of the building and the 'go-to' people, managing a wide range of responsibilities, a list too long to review at this time. I can assure you that anyone I have worked beside during my 27 years can attest to the fact that school secretaries from 'A to Z' manage the building."

Both women are members of the executive board of Local 1315.

Cebula said after the committee meeting that the contracts expired on July 1, 2014, and thus far only the school bus drivers unit has settled with the district on a new contract. The other units are cafeteria workers, custodians and paraprofessionals.

She is the secretary of the Local 1315 executive board and Reuss is the treasurer.

Asked to comment after the meeting, school Superintendent Jason "Jake"McCandless said he couldn't because of the ongoing contract negotiations.

Information on the current employee contracts can be found on the Pittsfield schools website at www.pittsfield.net/district_info/human_resources/contracts.

Walter Armstrong, a field organizer with the union, also spoke before the committee on Wednesday. He said nonprofessional staff members across the state are being squeezed by higher costs while a higher percentage of wealth has flowed to the those at the highest income levels nationally.

The greatest positive impact on the local economy, he said, is in fact derived when average workers are paid at least a living wage, which he said has been determined to be $15 an hour or more.

"Not only are we employees, we are Pittsfield residents, taxpayers and voters, as well as the parents and grandparents of former and current students," Cebula said. "We are invested in our communities."

She added, "I ask that you support us in this endeavor by sending the message that we are indeed valued and deserve a fair, living wage."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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"Pittsfield Councilors Scrutinize City Spending"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, June 25, 2015

The Pittsfield City Council this week approved a $145 million budget for fiscal 2016, but for the second year in a row argued over capital expenditures with councilors warning of poor fiscal management and unnecessary spending.

Having reviewed the budget over a series of hearings earlier this month, the council approved the spending plan 8 to 3 without debate on Tuesday. Voting in opposition, Councilor Anthony Simonelli says areas in the school and overtime budgets could have been trimmed.

“You know, times are tough and things just keep going up and up and up,” said Simonelli.

The only person to speak during the public hearing was Craig Gaetani, who has announced a bid for mayor. He said he would cut the budget seven percent across the board.

In a repeat of last year, the councilors scrutinized certain items in an $11.1 million capital projects budget. Because of a request from the city council for more street improvements, the plan increased about $1 million over what Mayor Dan Bianchi proposed. Among other councilors, Churchill Cotton opposed $30,000 for a fiber optic Internet connection to the planned Berkshire Innovation Center meant to help nearby businesses. Bianchi proposed spending $60,000. Cotton acknowledged the mayor’s compromise.

“He [Bianchi] cut it in half, but I just don’t believe it belongs there,” Cotton said. “All the projects I’m fully in support of. I just can’t support the total budget because of that one item. My conscience just won’t let me do that. So I won’t be supporting the capital budget.”

Repairs to a mobile performance stage and upgrades to Pittsfield High School’s auditorium totaling $180,000 also drew skepticism. Mayor Bianchi told the councilors politics is the art of compromise.

“When we can’t find common ground over little items, something else is happening,” Bianchi said. “I’m sure that we don’t want to wade into that if we don’t have to. I think this is a responsible capital budget.”

After an attempt to remove the $30,000 failed, the council rejected the capital projects budget, which requires two-thirds support, with a 7 to 4 vote. Not wanting a repeat of last year, when Mayor Bianchi did not resubmit a capital budget after the council rejected it because it didn’t include funding a new fire engine, Councilor Simonelli said he would reconsider his opposition. The budget passed on the second try, 8 to 3. Roughly $3.5 million of the $11 million plan is expected to be reimbursed by the federal government for upgrades to the city’s airport runway.

Outgoing six-term Councilor Jonathan Lothrop was critical of requests to transfer money from free cash to cover fire and police budgets for the 2015 budget in the final month of the fiscal year. He blamed Bianchi’s administration for using money from the contingency account for decisions like moving some departments from city hall to North Street.

“That’s the cost of depleting your contingency account before the end of the year,” Lothrop said. “Now we’re basically hitting the piggy bank, which is supposed to be our emergency rainy day fund, to pay for operations for the end of the year. It’s not good fiscal management. I was tempted frankly to vote against the budget because of the fact that I believe these accounts are grossly underfunded going ahead next year.”

The council approved the transfer. Councilor Barry Clairmont was also critical of using $2.25 million from free cash to balance the municipal budget.

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Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is seeking election to a first-ever four-year term under the revised city charter. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi launches bid for re-election”
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, June 29, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Looking to double his stay in City Hall, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi officially declared his re-election campaign on Monday.

Bianchi has won back-to-back two-year terms — the last on uncontested in 2013 — but now he is seeking Pittsfield's first-ever four-year term under the revised city charter voters approved two years ago.

The incumbent faces three potential challengers in September's preliminary, with the top two finishers squaring off in the Nov. 3 general election. City Clerk Linda Tyer, Craig C. Gaetani and Eric N. Bassett, along with Bianchi, have all taken out nomination papers.

In an Eagle interview Monday afternoon, Bianchi vowed to run an open, honest campaign focusing on the issues such as providing tax incentives to encourage redevelopment of downtown properties for new apartment dwellers.

"The challenge for the incumbent is to let people know what you're doing such as attracting market rate housing [to the downtown] and making Pittsfield a destination," he said.

The mayor's priorities include the building of a new Taconic High School, the Berkshire Innovative Center and continued neighborhood improvements throughout the city as key campaign issues.

He said he realizes Taconic's $120.8 million price tag is sticker shock to some taxpayers, but the project is necessary to Pittsfield's educational and economic future. Once built, Taconic will be a state-of-the-art comprehensive high school combining academics with vocational and technology-based programs toward training the city's future workforce.

"We were going to have to replace Taconic at some point and the state wasn't going to let us repair it," he said.

Bianchi had hoped the Berkshire Innovative Center would be built by now, but he said once it is up and running, it will be a catalyst to draw other companies to the William Stanley Business Park.

The center is designed to facilitate product innovation and research and training for small firms in the region.

"As a businessman, I understand things take time," he said, "but I would have liked it done yesterday."

Once in operation, the center would be funded through membership dues from member companies and other revenue, such as from use of product development and testing equipment that could be available for small firms that would not be able to purchase their own equipment.

The mayor is proud that in his first three-plus years in office, more residents are getting involved in community issues through neighborhood watch groups and localized community centers.

"I am proud the community is able to talk about issues," he said. "We are getting people engaged and that's important."

Bianchi's pride extends to his handling of the tens of millions of dollars in road work yet to be done. The city's chief executive said it's a matter of having an infrastructure game plan.

"That's why I insisted we have a pavement system, now we understand the current structure of the roads so we know what we're up against," he said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter.

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"Pittsfield's Mayor Bianchi Officially Launches Reelection Bid"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, June 29, 2015

Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi officially launched his reelection campaign Monday. The Democrat is seeking a third term, which according to a new city charter will be four years instead of two.

Bianchi says he wants strengthen the city’s businesses and schools, where 60 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

“I want to do everything I can to help those kids find a pathway to the middle class,” Bianchi said. “I think we can do it with a collaboration between the new high school, curriculum coordination with Berkshire Community College and a coordination and partnership with many of the small businesses.”

City Clerk Linda Tyer announced her bid for mayor in March. Craig Gaetani and Eric Bassett also took out nominating papers. If needed a primary is scheduled for September 22nd. The general election is November 3rd.

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“My initiatives to prevent crime in Pittsfield”
By Linda M. Tyer, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, July 14, 2015

On July 10, I attended the Stop the Violence rally held in the West Side by a neighborhood of desperately worried citizens. I was there to listen and to stand in quiet solidarity with our friends who are grieving for their lost children and young adults. Many of the organizers spoke passionately about their sorrow, their hopes, and their dreams. The West Side neighborhood is in our city. What happens there, or in any other neighborhood, must concern all of us.

New strategies for fighting crime are essential to any plan that advances safety and security. Understanding and addressing the underlying issues of crime and violence must complement these strategies. Building solutions must be an inclusive process that is responsive to the expressed needs of every neighborhood.

I'd like to offer some ideas that we can explore together.

First, Pittsfield has many responsible landlords who respect their neighbors and provide good housing for their tenants. Unfortunately, a few bad actors are disturbing the quality of life in some areas of Pittsfield. Boston has a comprehensive method for confronting landlords who neglect both their property and their tenants. This is a program that could be replicated in Pittsfield.

A Problem Properties Task Force will be created to hold landlords accountable for the less-than-neighborly activities of their tenants and for their own misdeeds. Task Force members will sift through citation data from various city agencies and review incident reports from the police. The data culled from the city agencies create a rap sheet for the property. Pittsfield will generate a registry of problem properties that are chronically plagued by crime and other violations.

Once identified, property owners will have the opportunity to work with the task force before any consequences are imposed. These unwelcome properties disrupt the neighborhood. It is imperative to take action.

Second, Cure Violence has active programs in 25 cities in eight countries and is endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Cure Violence begins with the premise that violence is like a disease. It spreads from one person to another. To cure it, you need to interrupt it. Violence in all its forms is a public health problem as much as it is a public safety concern.

There are three essential elements of the Cure Violence health model: to detect and interrupt potentially violent conflicts, to identify and treat the highest risk, and to mobilize the community to change norms. Trained violence interrupters and culturally appropriate outreach workers who have credibility on the streets because of their own personal histories intervene in conflicts before they explode into violence. I will bring the Cure Violence model to Pittsfield for implementation.

Third, for many years, the activists on the West Side have asked for a community center in their neighborhood. The community center would be a place where residents could build connections with one another through social interactions and where their children would gather for special activities in a safe harbor. I will lead a collaborative effort to find funding and development opportunities through a variety of public and private resources to make the community center a reality. All of us must value the desires of these families. Otherwise, we act in isolation to the detriment of our future.

You cannot expect Mayor Bianchi to help find creative solutions to these challenges. He argued fiercely against and voted against property maintenance regulations and a property registration program. He was a member of the West Side Neighborhood Initiative. For years, he heard pleas for help. Yet, when in a position to take action, he has failed to do so.

During the last three years, very little money has been spent on improving streets, sidewalks and parks in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods. A fair-share investment in public works projects is just one way to make a disenfranchised neighborhood feel like it belongs.

You can expect a collaborative, compassionate, creative approach to problem-solving followed by specific, measurable action. Will you stand with me?

Linda M. Tyer is Pittsfield city clerk and a candidate for mayor.

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Mayor Dan Bianchi: "Measures in place to combat crime"
By Daniel Bianchi, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/19/2015

PITTSFIELD - I'd like an opportunity to respond to the op-ed column in the July 15 Berkshire Eagle from Linda Tyer regarding her crime prevention initiatives.

While it is completely appropriate for a candidate to campaign vigorously for office, it is not helpful to distort existing initiatives or provide new alternatives that leave out essential details. Of most concern is her plan to secure a "Cure Violence" program to combat or "interrupt violence" in Pittsfield.

There is a reason why there are only 25 Cure Violence Programs operating in eight countries, including the U.S. This program is 100 percent funded at the community level. A Cure Violence program requires a municipality to pay between $350,000 to $500,000 annually, not to mention an initial installment of $25,000 to determine the city's "hot spot."

PROHIBITIVE COST

Typically, the geographic area for a Cure Violence Program only covers two square miles. Additionally, these programs require approximately 18-36 months of highly skilled training and technical assistance from well-paid facilitators in the Cure Violence Program. It is utilized in New York City, Chicago and Baltimore, not in communities the size of Pittsfield.

In all three of these cities, the program is funded through their Departments of Public Health. Pittsfield is not in a position, regardless of who the next mayor is, to appropriate $350,000 a year or more to train community members to combat crime.

I believe a better program for Pittsfield is now in place through a Shannon Grant from the Department of Justice, which is designed to address youth and gang violence. We were successful in receiving the grant my first year in office, and increasing it every year since.

In addition, the Community Connection program was established. We now have paid mentors and councilors working with at-risk youth. Hundreds of other citizens from various walks of life have stepped up to be volunteer mentors. To date, 40 have been trained. In addition, we have received enough support from wonderful corporate citizens to expand a summer youth employment program, where young adults will have the opportunity to be tutored by successful professionals in a variety of settings while earning wages for their efforts.

Two years ago I added a crime analyst to the Police Department to study the crime statistics, patterns and "hot spots" to better understand the best utilization of police personnel and assets throughout the city. Last year, I instituted downtown walking patrols as well as an ambassador program where college students work in cooperation with Pittsfield Downtown Inc. and the Pittsfield Police Department. The initiatives were well received by the merchants and the general public.

In last year's budget I added two additional patrol officer positions to increase the ranks of the department. The challenge has been in filling positions because of an ineffective civil service process, but the process is moving forward nonetheless.

I meet regularly, as a group with the chief of police, the sheriff, the district attorney and the head of the Housing Authority. We have discussed public safety issues and best practices. From those discussions came the community center concept that is now established at three key locations in Pittsfield — Francis Plaza, Dower Square and the Wilson Street Housing complex. The goal is to give people, who may feel disenfranchised, a community space for meetings and programming so that they can feel more connected to their community. Recently, a "Mom's Group" was developed at one of the centers.

NATIONAL GUN PROBLEM

Unfortunately, what brings a city to its knees is senseless shootings that take lives and shake all of us to the core, such as what happened here on July 4. Law enforcement professionals call this a crime of opportunity. An individual wanted to injure or kill someone, that individual managed to get a gun and took the opportunity to use it. While we all want more police, no amount of officers on the street can predict or prevent the actions of an opportunistic shooter.

Blaming the mayor or law enforcement for this tragedy is not helpful and distracts from what is actually a much bigger issue. Unfortunately, we live in a society where it is all too easy for the wrong people to get a gun and use it when the opportunity arises. Until this national problem is resolved, these kinds of tragedies will continue to happen on the streets of every city in the country.

Daniel Bianchi is the mayor of Pittsfield.

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"Only so much mayor can do"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, July 16, 2015

To the editor:

In response to Linda Tyer's recent unfair insinuation against Mayor Bianchi's concern for the city of Pittsfield, I wish to say, no one has control over the devil with a gun in his hand.

Judith Chenail, Pittsfield

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"Tyer outlines good plan to address blight"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, July 17, 2015

To the editor:

I am writing to support the wonderful column by Linda Tyer, candidate for mayor of Pittsfield, on the July 15 Eagle opinion page.

She is spot-on with her comments on absentee landlords allowing their properties to blight our community. Not only are they detriments to the beauty of our city, but they are a haven for those who are addicted and use these properties to spread their addictions to others. To allow these properties to become run down and in many cases abandoned only puts more burden on taxpayers to make up for others who do not pay their fair share. This city needs many improvements and taxpayer funding is essential. The creation of a problem properties task force to hold landlords accountable makes sense and is long overdue.

While I am sensitive to the needs of those who have fallen into the despair that this lifestyle brings, to hear someone actually lay out a plan on what they would do as mayor to eradicate these problems is refreshing.

Linda has laid out a three-part program to address the issues of blight, violence, and the creation of a community center for the city's west side. Each person needs to read the article and take it into consideration when they enter the voting booth. I know I will.

Isabel (Belle) M. O'Brien, Pittsfield

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Pittsfield mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani promises to shake things up at City Hall, the police and school departments, if elected this fall. (Jim Therrien — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani vows major shakeup at City Hall, in schools”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, July 19, 2015

PITTSFIELD — Craig Gaetani, who in the past year has become a fierce critic of Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, the City Council and several city department heads, will have his opportunity to overturn Pittsfield's government via the ballot box.

Gaetani, of West Street, this past week became the third mayoral candidate to return the required 300 voter signatures to secure a spot on the city ballot. He will face Bianchi, current City Clerk Linda M. Tyer and possibly others in the Sept. 22 primary.

Two other potential candidates, Donna M. Walto and Eric N. Bassett, have taken out nomination papers for mayor but have yet to return the required number of signatures. The primary contest will determine the two finalists for the Nov. 3 election ballot.

True to the tenor of his often harsh comments during City Council meetings, Gaetani pledged during an interview Friday to fire key city officials and quickly shake up both municipal government and the Pittsfield public school system.

"I would definitely replace Mr. [Bruce] Collingwood," Gaetani said, repeating a statement he has made several times at meetings concerning the city's commissioner of public utilities.

He said Friday that Police Chief Michael Wynn also is on his list for replacement, based on the response of police following a fatal shooting on July 4 and because the chief does not respond to his phone calls as a citizen.

The response of the police department after the shootings "was totally unacceptable," Gaetani said. He advocated having officers "walking the beat 24/7" in the West Side neighborhood, where the shooting occurred.

"We don't need more policemen," he asserted, "we need them walking on the beat."

In response, Wynn said Friday that he has directed his staff to stop putting through calls from Gaetani, "because he is rude and abusive."

Concerning the police response to the shootings, Wynn said Gaetani lacks accurate information about the situation, adding that residents police spoke to did not agree with Gaetani's assessment. "I'd put more stock in their opinion than his," Wynn said.

Gaetani contends that Collingwood and Bianchi have refused to consider him as a consultant on needed sewer plant upgrades, despite his affiliation with Krofta Engineering, which installed a water filtration system for the city during the 1980s that was credited with considerable cost savings over other possible system designs.

City officials "won't let me into my own water plant," he said about being denied permission to tour the facility.

Promising to establish policies that would reduce the tax burden, Gaetani said a consulting firm he and Lawrence K. Wang, Ph.D., another former Krofta principal, have established to advise municipalities could recommend sewer plant upgrades that would cost millions less than those the city has considered.

As mayor, Gaetani said he would "be more like a city manager," and, because of his background with Krofta Engineering and with his consulting company today, he would be able to determine whether proposals from firms bidding for work for the city were sound.

Concerning the school system, he advocates for sweeping changes there as well. Gaetani said he would encourage the School Committee to make significant reductions in the level of district spending, including pushing for a single administrative staff for both city high schools and for similar consolidations of staff for the other 10 schools.

He also proposes having students help with cleaning and other tasks at the schools and is charging for the City Council to place a referendum on the September ballot on the new Taconic High School project, which has been approved for funding.

While he said a new school appears to be needed, the timing is bad for city taxpayers and he would have opposed it.

"If I were mayor, we would not be building a new high school," he said.

During the coming campaign, Gaetani said he hopes for "a lot of debates." He characterized both Bianchi and Tyer as mirror images of one another on most issues and as part of a longstanding "good old boy network in Pittsfield" that he wants to displace.

Gaetani, 67, grew up in Pittsfield's West Side neighborhood, living on Robbins Avenue. He served in the Army from 1967-69, including in an Army Intelligence unit as a repair specialist servicing communications equipment.

He was stationed both at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and in Vietnam. He says during that period he met President Lyndon Johnson, Gens. Creighton Abrams and William Westmoreland, and future General and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Gaetani later attended both Berkshire Community College and the former North Adams State College (now Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), and became a teacher. He said he taught science courses in Pittsfield and Lenox schools and for a time in New Hampshire, and also studied at other colleges, including Westfield State College, Southern Vermont College and Williams College.

He joined the Lenox-based Krofta Engineering and the related Lenox Institute of Water Technology in the early 1980s, and worked closely with the company's founder, Milos Krofta, who died in 2002, and Wang, his current consulting firm partner, while the company developed its sand flotation filtering systems for water plants and began installing systems in Pittsfield and elsewhere.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

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"West Side needs a stronger advocate"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, July 19, 2015

To the editor:

I live on Dewey Avenue on Pittsfield's West Side, a few houses down from the recent shootings. I was interested in Ward 6 Councilor John Krol's comments in the July 6 Eagle which were quite glib and apparently not wholly informed.

I'm glad he believes this is "unacceptable." He is also correct in that this is "disheartening," especially if you live right near it. He also correctly stated that "the West Side will band together and work toward making sure this doesn't happen again."

Despite my work schedule, which is often uneven, I have attempted to be at the monthly West Side Initiative meetings at Conte School on the fourth Monday of every month from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Many solid representatives of the community are present as well as Habitat For Humanity and members of city government. However, I have not seen Mr. Krol this year and don't remember when I saw him last year.

The West Side needs all the support it can get and I sincerely hope that our next Ward 6 representative will want to come down here where the "rubber meets the road" and attend these meetings and any others in the West Side where residents are informed and encouraged.

Caroline R. Stone, Pittsfield

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"Pittsfield Primary Election Date Becomes Political Football"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC, July 31, 2015

The date of Pittsfield's mayoral primary has turned into a political back and forth.

Pittsfield's preliminary election is set for September 22nd, the start of Yom Kippur. In a statement released Thursday afternoon Mayor Dan Bianchi asked City Clerk Linda Tyer, his opponent in the race, to change the date. Bianchi called it an unfortunate oversight.

In response, Rabbi David Weiner at Knesset Israel said Tyer had reached out to him and another city rabbi about the date earlier this year. Weiner said together they agreed to keep the date since many Jewish holidays fall on Tuesdays this fall.

Later on Thursday, Tyer sent out documents detailing the conversations, which she submitted to the city council in January. The council and Mayor Bianchi approved the date.

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About Me

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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

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