Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I turned 39

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mayor Jim Ruberto - A Pittsfield Regime of Perverse Societal Outcomes! Volume 3. Also see Andrea Nuciforo & Carmen Massimiano.

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Pittsfield High School
"4 candidates for principal"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- After some winter weather delayed its interview schedule, the city's school department is closing in on choosing a new principal for Pittsfield High School.

Jennifer Boulais, director of human resources for Pittsfield Public Schools, said Wednesday that a candidate pool of four solid candidates has been developed as interviews and meetings continue. No candidates have been declared as finalists and therefore have not been publicly named, Boulais said.

JoAnne Soules came out of retirement for the current school year to serve as an interim principal.

Boulais noted that the candidates for the position have been meeting with small groups of teachers, staff members, students and parents. Over the next two weeks, the candidates will meet and interview with members of the district's administrative cabinet.

"The superintendent will be updating the School Committee in the next few weeks," said Boulais.

Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III has the ultimate hiring say for a new principal. Boulais said in the next few weeks it is expected that he will either announce finalists or select a candidate to offer the position to.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TN5MTLVDOTP1E5J4K
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Brad Spear, local census office manager of the U.S. Census Bureau, said every person who sends in a census form saves taxpayers $75 in follow-up costs. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Counting on your response: Officials stress importance of participating in the U.S. Census"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Like spring, the 2010 federal census is just around the corner.

Two days after the federal government sent letters to 120 million households across the country announcing that census forms will begin arriving in the mail next week, local officials gathered at City Hall on Wednesday to reinforce community awareness and participation in the U.S. census.

"We want to make sure that people are aware of it," said Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., the Middle Berkshire register of deeds.

By law, the federal census takes place once every 10 years. Participation determines each state's annual share of $400 billion in federal funding over the next decade, and the apportionment of its federal Congressional districts. A lower head count means less funding, and in Massachusetts, the possibility of nine U.S. Congressional seats instead of 10. All U.S. residents, citizens and non-citizens are required to be counted.

"This is the most important census of our lifetime. Period," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox. "If we miss it this time, it's 10 years, 20 years, 30 years until we see a recovery."

Berkshire County's participation rate in the 2000 census was about 78 percent, according to census officials, which was higher than the national rate of 67 percent and the state rate of 69 percent.

But ["Shitty"] Pignatelli said a low head count in Lee 10 years ago cost that town hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding that had to be made up through local
and state aid.

Every person that turns up in the Berkshires by the census represents $2,000 per person in federal aid for this area, according to Nathaniel Karns, the executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

"Money is the lifeblood of what we do as a municipality and a government," said Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, whose city receives $1.5 million annually in federal Community Development Block Grant funding through a formula that is derived from census data.

"We need the formula dollars to take care of people, particularly when we look at all the safety net programs that are so critical to making this a better community," he said. "Everyone in every room in Berkshire County needs to participate in the census."

Census forms are expected to arrive in Berkshire households that have direct mail delivery between March 15 and March 19. They are already being distributed by hand in county towns where direct mail service is unavailable. People who live in places that the U.S. Census Bureau classifies as group living quarters -- such as college campuses, hospitals, and nursing homes -- won't receive their forms until April.

The forms, which contain 10 questions, are required to be filled out and returned by next month, although there is no set return date. The new, 10-question form replaced the longer forms that were distributed in previous census takings.

"I remember 10 years ago , I had trouble filling it out," Pignatelli said, referring to the old form. "This is really very simple."

After the forms have been returned, local Census Bureau officials will make follow-up visits at residences where forms were not returned. The follow-up work begins in May.

"If you don't fill it out, we will come and knock on your door," said Brad Spear, the office manager of the U.S. Census Bureau's Pittsfield office.

Spear said every person who sends in a census form saves taxpayers $75 in follow-up costs.

Under federal law, census information is protected for 72 years. Violators face a maximum five-year federal prison term, and a $250,000 fine.

Earlier Wednesday, Spear told a gathering at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's Good News Breakfast that private companies can also benefit from an accurate head count on the census.

"If you've prepared a business plan, the odds are that you have used site-market data," Spear said. "If you drill down deep enough, that data is predicated on information that is derived from the census."
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TSSD1LICCAKFA8B9O
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Local officials rallied at Pittsfield City Hall on Wednesday to raise awareness of the importance of the Census.
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"Local Leaders: Power, Money at Risk in Census"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, March 10, 2010

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Brad Spear of the U.S. Census office in Pittsfield explains how the count of the nation's citizens works.
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PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Local leaders are urging residents to stand up and be counted for the 23rd U.S. Census to ensure the state gets a piece of the next decade's $400 billion federal pie.

Massachusetts, which has been declining in population, is also at risk of losing one of its 10 congressional seats. That makes it even more imperative to count every single man, woman and child.

"This is the most important Census of our lifetime," said state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, at a gathering of officials at Pittsfield City Hall on Wednesday. "Let me say that again: This is the most important Census of our lifetime. Period."

In part, he said, it is "because of the lack of political clout because of the death of Senator Kennedy and the serious threat of losing yet another congressman, down five or six from just when I was a boy."

The constitutionally mandated count will define not only congressional representation, but could affect the district lines for representation in the Legislature as well.

The rally at City Hall was designed to bring awareness to the importance of making out Census forms currently being mailed to addresses across the nation.

"What we are hoping to do is provide further public focus on this effort and to make sure people are aware of it," said Central Berkshire Register of Deed Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr.

The decennial count of the nation's 300 million citizens will be the basis for apportioning millions in funding for education and infrastructure, an influx sorely needed by the county and state still emerging from the economic downtown.

"It plays a very important role in our communities," said North Adams City Council President Ronald Boucher. "I urge every one of you to fill [Census forms] out and, most importantly, fill them out correctly because the information that's sent will have an immediate impact not only locally but throughout the state."

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Register of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr., left, and Dalton Selectmen Chairman John Boyle, who said his 96-year-old mother had already returned her form.
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Pignatelli said Lee's schoolchildren weren't counted accurately 10 years ago because people didn't make out the forms, costing the town hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.

The form has been streamlined this Census to 10 questions focusing on basics of who you are, where you live, and what you do, said Brad Spear, manager for the U.S. Census office in Pittsfield. It will come in the mail and should be filled out and sent back.

"If you don't fill it out, we will knock on your door," said Spear. "That's not a threat. We'd like to meet you; we'd like to have the opportunity to speak with you to ask you those 10 questions but it's much simpler to fill out that simple form you receive and mail it back."

It's cheaper to mail it back, too, in the postage-paid envelope. If someone has to knock on your door, the cost is $75 in taxpayer money per form. And the Census will "knock three times" in an effort to catch those who fail to mail.

The bureau is also working with organizations throughout the region to track down those populations historically undercounted. An accurate count committee has been preparing for the Census for nearly two years.

And everyone has to be counted; there's no margin of error, no estimation. Just 100 percent accuracy.

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North Adams Councilor Ronald Boucher said the Census will have immediate impact on the region.
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Earlier in the morning, Spear addressed the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce to let the business community know the importance of the count. It's a lot about money and power, he said, but it's also about market data that businesses large and small depend on.

"Who here has prepared and delivered a business plan? Odds are you had to cite market data," he told the crowd. "If you drill down far enough, you're going to find that data from private analysts comes from the Census.

"It's been an important part of our prosperity for 200 years."

We deserve our fair share of funding, said Mayor James M. Ruberto, and need to show that Berkshire County is "fully occupied" and a political force.

"We want our [House] seat and we don't want to see Massachusetts give up its seat to some other godforsaken state."

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Link (with video):
www.iberkshires.com/new/story.php?story_id=34255
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A Reader's COMMENT:

These inept Berkshire County's Liberal Democrats are plainly in a state of panic.
Note how many hacks in the County's Democrat machine actually showed up for this silly press conference ostensibly about the 2010 census.
Did this sleazy overpaid bunch really come together just to talk about people filling out a census form?
With population falling in recession-plagued Berkshire County, with a Congressional seat in jeopardy, with the amount of federal dollars flowing into the county threatened, and with the power of this group plainly in jeopardy, is the census really the only subject bringing this group together?
With Congress set to pass the massively unpopular ObamaCare bill, with Barack Obama turning out to be the most inept president in decades, with an angry electorate expected to make its will felt in the next election, these Democrats are worried.
Many in this lot may not survive their next election.
No doubt this group privately had a lot more to talk about than just the census.

from: GMHeller
on: 03-12-2010

Editor: No, I'm pretty sure it was about the Census.

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"Officials tout census participation"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher & Editor, 11.MARCH.2010

A phalanx of elected officials and government-affiliated administrators gathered Wednesday at City Hall to urge local residents to participate in this year’s United States census.

The once-per-decade mailing of forms to households is scheduled to occur during the upcoming week.

“Public participation is very important,” said Andrea Nuciforo, Jr., who helped organize this week’s awareness event through his office at the register of deeds.

“Everyone in every room in Berkshire County needs to respond to the census,” said Mayor James Ruberto.

A full count through the census is vital to the region to ensure the flow of federal funds and to maintain political power, stated Ruberto.

“Money is the lifeblood of all we do, we deserve our fair share,” said the mayor. “In addition to money is political power as it relates to maintaining the representation we have.”

Ron Boucher, president of the North Adams city council, echoed the importance of census data as a factor in the redistribution of tax dollars. “It really does play a very important role in our communities,” he said.

State representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli noted that this year’s census utilizes a streamlined form compared to the detailed questionnaires of some past years. “This is a very simple form,” he stated.

Pignatelli said that the town of Lee suffered direct financial consequences ten years ago when an under count cut funding. With money and political districts on the line, said the representative, “this is the most important census of our lifetime, period.”

It’s expected that Massachusetts will lose a Congressional seat when the final census numbers are compiled nationwide.

John Boyle, chairman of the Dalton select board, said the population counts can be very important. “We’re right on the bubble,” he stated. “It determines whether we’re classified as a small town or a really small town.”

Brad Spear, manager of the local US census office, commended leaders of local groups who have worked through the “complete count committee” to promote participation by groups such as senior citizens and immigrants.

In addition to the common reasons to encourage participation, he said filling out census forms saves taxpayers money. When completed forms aren’t mailed back, he said, the census agency sends out people to homes, which is costly.

“For every form we receive, we save taxpayers $75,” he said.

Spear led the group gathered in front of City Hall in a chant. He yelled, “fill it out,” encouraging the small crowd to follow with “mail it back.”

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Dutchess, a boxer/shepherd mix owned by Walter Kopychak, seen here at Springside Park, just had her license renewed Friday in Pittsfield. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Grrr! Dog, city fees may rise"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 20, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Dog owners and tax delinquents will pay more in city fees if Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan to hike a total of eight fees is approved by the City Council.

Dog licenses for spayed or neutered pets would increase from $8 to $10, generating nearly $6,400 in added revenue to offset the cost of Pittsfield providing the licenses, according to City Clerk Linda M. Tyer.

"The cost of supplies, such as the dog tags, is going up," said Tyer.

Tyer noted, the dog license increase is the first in 10 years, but doesn't affect regular dog licenses -- non-spayed, non-neutered -- which will remain at $20.

"We felt the fee for a dog not spayed or neutered is still a fair one," she added.

Tyer said the $10 fee will likely take effect after April 1, the deadline for city dog owners to purchase the 2010 licenses.

The City Council at its Tuesday night meeting is expected to refer all eight proposed fee increases to the council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules for review and public debate. The committee will report back to the full council with a recommendation, and councilors could vote on the fee hikes in late April or early May.

Meanwhile, residents who are past-due on excise, real estate and personal property taxes face a $15 "demand charge," up from the current $5 fee, under the fee hike proposal. City Tax Collector Marilyn Sheehan said a "demand charge" is issued as part of a written notice mailed to tax delinquents stating their payments are overdue.

Sheehan noted the fee hike will help offset the cost of mailing thousands of such notices each year. For example, 7,000 second notices regarding excise tax bills, originally issued in February, will be mailed soon.

"We're going to generate some revenue, but we won't see it all at once as notices go out at different times of the year," Sheehan said.

Besides dog licenses, the City Clerk's office is also seeking fee hikes in six other categories including raffle permits, going from $10 to $20, and the late recording of birth, marriage and death certificates, increasing from $10 to $25.

"There's a significant amount of work necessary to process delayed records," said Tyer.

Tyer couldn't estimate how much revenue the city clerk fee hikes will generate, but she said it would pale in comparison to increasing the cost for three biggest moneymakers: Certified copies of birth, marriage and death certificates.

Despite Pittsfield needing to boost its cash flow, Tyer and Ruberto decided against increasing the current $10 fee per copy.

"People should have access to vital records and they shouldn't be cost prohibitive," Tyer said.
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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/TR4ET8RMA3KS7FKAR
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"Longer teacher contract sought: Pittsfield educators also hope for better pay in a future agreement."
Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 22, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- City school teachers want a return to a multiyear contract with broader pay raises, after recently settling for an one-year deal absent an across-the-board salary hike.

The 600-member United Educators of Pittsfield (UEP) -- the city's largest union -- and the School Committee approved a collective bargaining agreement earlier this month devoid of a sweeping pay raise due to Pittsfield's budget crunch. The settlement followed 10 months of negotiations and required a state mediator when both sides requested third-party intervention after talks -- which had been amicable -- broke off on Dec. 7.

"We always make a try at pay raises," said UEP President Scott Eldridge, "but we didn't press it this time as we were sensitive to the city's financial situation."

Step pay increase awarded

Nevertheless, the union did negotiate a 1 percent increase for the last step of the teachers 17-step pay scale which ranges from $35, 415 to nearly $72,000. Similar 1-percent hikes were tacked onto the final step of the 10-step contract for school nurses, occupational and physical therapists. A flat 1 percent pay raise was also awarded to teachers in the Teen Parent and Adult Basic Education programs.

Eldridge said the $125,000 total in pay raises added to the school budget "was the best we were going to do in this economy."

"We did significant step raises as [the committee] tried to give the teachers something," added School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso.

Deal expires in late August

The one-year pact -- retroactive to Aug. 25, 2009 -- expires Aug. 24 and replaces a previous one-year deal that had a modest 1.5 percent salary increase and was shortened from the traditional three years to one because of the city's volatile budget situation last year.

However when new contract talks resume later this spring, Eldridge said he's "confident" a more traditional three-year deal can be crafted that will benefit both the teachers and taxpayers. He added the union will "try and get salary increases that will help teachers toward their retirement."

Amuso agrees a three-year contract is preferred, but it's still an uncertainty when collective bargaining resumes -- likely in late April.

"We would all like a multiyear contract, as you're not accomplishing much in a one-year agreement," she said. "But the [economic] times are dictating shorter contracts."

Amuso added the long-range goal during negotiations has been arriving at a compromise that will avoid large teacher layoffs.

"We have good, hard-working teachers and we want to keep them whole," she said.
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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/T1JCSUF9KRV36RICU
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"New teacher contract approved"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher & Editor, 11.MARCH.10

The school committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a one-year contract with the United Educators of Pittsfield.

Union members had approved the pact — retroactive to August 25 — by a 172-38 vote this past week.

“I anticipate we’ll be back [negotiating] in five or six weeks,” said school committee chairwoman Kathleen Amuso.
The pact retains all existing “step” or longevity raises, but does not include an across-the-board wage hike for all teachers.

Instead it offers one-percent salary adjustments for only a few targeted groups including those at top scales, who can’t achieve another “step.” One percent salary hikes are incorporated, for example, for those working as teen parent program tutors. A separate $598 increase is for top-step school nurses.

The pact also increases from three to six the number of family illness days a teacher can claim.

Not easy times

Mayor James Ruberto commended the union members for understanding that “these aren’t easy times.” The mayor stated “the people of Pittsfield are indeed appreciative for the fact that it’s being recognized by the UEP and other collective bargaining organizations.”

Amuso said that the talks “hit a bump” and required two mediation sessions — and a teacher “work to rule” labor action — but she praised UEP negotiations for being “respectful and professional.”

The contract allows the transfer of three positions from the UEP to the administrators’ union: English language learners coordinator, school nurse leader and early childhood coordinator.

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"Visions vary for future of city park"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 23, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- From place of relaxation to an open air ice skating rink, city residents envision both simple and elaborate uses for a refurbished First Street Common.

The suggestions for the 127-year-old public park came from the more than 40 people who attended Monday night's public input meeting regarding the city's plan to give the common a facelift. The Community Development Department will have two other public input meetings on April 26 and May 24 at City Hall before final recommendations are made to the Park Commission in June.

The city expects to select a contractor for the project by late fall.

Richard Hiam said he regularly walks his dog at the common, but can't find a comfortable place to rest.

"I'd like a nice shady spot to relax, but the couple of benches there are in the hot sun and vandalized," Hiam noted.

Several residents called for the return of ice skating to the common by constructing an open air rink. John Sottile went a step further advocating the open lawn be converted into an artificial playing field for high school sports as the park was once the home to local high school football games.

"It would be far superior to Wahconah Park, which is always under water," Sottile said.

City planners and the landscape architect firm of Vanasse Haugen & Brustlin (VHB) are spending a $120,000 grant from state's Gateway Cities Program to study and redesign the Common, which includes public input. Once Phase 1 is complete, Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer said Pittsfield has "priority placement" to receive up to $1 million to reconstruct and update the park.

While VHB officials see city residents shaping the redesign, project manager Kathleen Ogden noted certain improvements are a must: repairing the walkways, bringing up to code the playground equipment and bathroom facilities and fixing the skate board park.

"A much nicer skateboard park is needed," said Marietta Cawse.

However, others suggested the skateboard area be relocated to an open area of the Common or elsewhere in the city altogether as it tends to attract mischievous youths and criminal activity.

"The [Common] also needs more lights and more [police] protection as kids do what they want there," said Charles Buda, who's lived next to the Common for 15 years.

Gail Krumpholz, a member of the Morningside Initiative who lives nearby on Third Street, wants more public input from city youth since the park should be for all ages.

"My greatest fear is we'll have a beautiful, beautiful park and the youth will get bored with it and destroy it," Krumpholz said.

Local businesswoman Crispina ffrench suggested a community garden would help bridge the generation gap as it "engages all different age groups."

The most intriguing suggestion came from the board of directors overseeing the Berkshire Carousel project, who want to install the carousel at the Common, rather than use the vacant lot at the corner of South Church and Center streets. The board said the hand-carved wooden horse carousel is a better fit for the renewed park.

"We're not looking to displace and current or future uses at the Common," said board member and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward said whatever changes to the common are made, he doesn't want it to lose its flexibility.

"The open lawn is the defining feature of the Common," Ward noted. "The Common by definition means anything can happen there."
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/TC0OEPHHF5VV5JSFL
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"Mayor proposes adopting new 40U law"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, Publisher & Editor, 11.MARCH.2010

The ordinances & rules subcommittee will review a proposal that the city adopt a new state law allowing for more aggressive code violation enforcement.

Mayor James Ruberto wants the city to adopt Chapter 40U, which state legislators approved in February.

In a letter to councilors, Ruberto cites two advantages to adopting the law which he believes “provides broader, stronger and more efficient powers.”

According to the mayor, the law allows the city to add any unpaid fines to property tax bills. “As you are aware, to date, we have had not [sic] feasible mechanism of enforcing our fine system,” he wrote.

The new law would be a deterrent and “it will also [sic] will provide a reliable stream of revenue.”

Second, Ruberto likes that the law “will allow the city to establish a municipal hearings officer to deal with all appeals of such violations.” According to the mayor, “the use [sic] or a municipal hearings officer will be more accommodating and less intimidating to our citizens than the court process.” This would also spare city enforcement officials and private attorneys from “needless hours spent in court litigating frivolous appeals.”

Councilors referred the matter to the subcommittee without discussion.

During the public microphone session, however, Terry Kinnas raised concerns that the new law “looks to put another layer of bureaucracy into government.”

He questioned the cost and value of creating a new municipal position and asked why the city couldn’t achieve Ruberto’s goals through existing resources. “What’s not happening that should be happening?” he asked.

Given the modest amount of many fines, he likened the new law to “going after an ant with a shotgun.”

He said that Ruberto failed to provide any “details at all of the costs, the benefits or what we’ll get back in return.”

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"Barrett to stay around awhile: The former North Adams mayor says he will remain as a consultant on a month-to-month basis for now."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 3, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- John Barrett III plans to remain as a consultant to Mayor James M. Ruberto for possibly three more months.

Ruberto hired Barrett in January as a consultant to help improve services to the city's neighborhoods. He was originally expected to serve between three and four months, but Ruberto said on Friday that Barrett, a former North Adams mayor, has made several recommendations that require follow-up work.

"I think the mayor has uncovered a number of things that need close attention," Ruberto said.

Ruberto said Barrett will remain as a consultant on a monthly basis for now, but that his tenure could last as long as June 30, which is the end of the current fiscal year.

"Now, it's month to month," Ruberto said. "But I do anticipate that it's going to be two months and maybe three months. The longest that he will stay on is until the end of the fiscal year."

"I don't plan to stay beyond July 1," Barrett said on Friday.

Barrett, 62, who was defeated in his bid for a 14th consecutive term as mayor of North Adams last November, received a three-month contract worth $15,000 when he was hired in January. His salary came out of the city's contingency fund.

"The monthly fee of $5,000 per month will remain the same," Ruberto said on Friday.

He didn't intend to stay more than three months when Ruberto hired him in January.

"I said I'd be willing to try it for three months," Barrett said. "I didn't know what I was getting into."

But Barrett said he has enjoyed the job, and agreed to stay longer when Ruberto asked him to.

"We sat down last week and he asked me to stay on, and I said I would be glad to," Barrett said. "Not only am I having fun, we're making tremendous progress in a lot of areas, probably more than I thought we would be."

"At some point I do want to retire," he said. "But I'm really enjoying this.

"It took a lot of courage on his part to bring me in," Barrett said, referring to Ruberto. "If I left now, it would not be completed."

In February, Barrett gave the City Council suggestions on how Pittsfield can improve snow removal, repair roads, eliminate blighted property and improve other areas in public works, utilities, and maintenance.

Ruberto said Barrett will be formulating a series of recommendations that will be made public before he leaves. He declined to go into specifics, saying that any of Barrett's recommendations "need to be addressed and reviewed internally before there will be public comment."

Barrett said there are several issues he plans to address, listing everything from the number of unaccepted streets -- roads that the city has not officially accepted for maintenance -- within the city limits, to major investments in Pittsfield's infrastructure, to the consolidation of several city departments.

"It's not about removing snow or snowplowing," he said. "It's a lot of things. There has to be better oversight of policies, and that just hasn't happened over the years."
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/T0VQLQPVHIGHE1SSK
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www.topix.net/forum/source/north-adams-transcript/T2H2VQT7FECESMOJO
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"Barrett has more to offer"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 6, 2010

The decision of former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III to accept Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto's offer to stay on as a consultant on a month-to-month basis, perhaps through June, will pay long-term dividends for the city. Mr. Barrett's fee of $5,000 a month is modest given what his combination of experience and innovation will provide Pittsfield.

It was always simplistic to assume Mr. Barrett's purview would consist of snow removal and potholes, as he demonstrated in February when he went before the City Council to offer specific recommendations in areas ranging from public works to blighted property. More will come forward through the course of his tenure. At the invitation of Ward 3 City Councilor Paul Capitanio, Mr. Barrett offered help on a variety of issues, including the nagging problem of the former Grossman's building in Lakewood. Mr. Capitanio took criticism from some who believe that councilors should have the answer to every question, or at least pretend to, but his reaching out for expertise to benefit his ward is what responsible councilors should do.

Along those same lines, Mayor Ruberto did show courage in hiring Mr. Barrett, as the former mayor said last week. Mr. Barrett is finding ways the city can do things better, and Mr. Ruberto's willingness to initiate that process shows he puts the city before City Hall and is open to new ideas.
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www.topix.net/forum/source/berkshire-eagle/T16OQ0IA6GTLA9NAB
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(related): www.berkshireeagle.com/fastsearch/ci_5897990
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"Mayor Ruberto Welcomes 280 Jobs and $6 Million in Private Investment to Pittsfield"
iBerkshires.com - April 08, 2010

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts - Mayor James M. Ruberto announced his plans for supporting three businesses making $6 Million in private investment in Pittsfield. Crane & Company, Haddad Motor Group, and Hancock Shaker Village have all announced plans to add jobs and make capital investments in the City. In total, the investments being made by these businesses approaches $6M, expands the City’s work force by 280, including providing more than 70 job opportunities for city residents.

“To see this level of investment being made in the City is very encouraging, particularly in these challenging economic times,” Mayor Ruberto said. He went on to say, “These three companies illustrate the diversity of our economy and the resilience of our local businesses.”

Crane & Company, based in Berkshire County for more than 200 years, is consolidating its Stationery Division at an existing warehouse in Pittsfield. More than $4 Million will be invested to convert this facility to a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, bringing 250 jobs to the City, creating an additional 10 new jobs, and opening up as many as 40 new job opportunities for City residents.

Hancock Shaker Village, a non-profit cultural business celebrating its 50th anniversary, has developed a landmark partnership with the University of Massachusetts bringing a dozen or more students and professionals to Pittsfield for 30 weekends a year to pursue master degrees in historic preservation. Hancock Shaker Village will be hiring 8 new staff members and investing $1 Million in the exterior restoration of the historic Trustee’s Office Building.

Haddad Motor Group, which began business on West Street in 1935, has purchased two properties on East Street. They will be relocating their Hyundai dealership from Lenox to East Street as well as continuing the existing Subaru dealership. Haddad is investing close to $1 Million in facility upgrades, including new facades for both buildings, and is adding 12 new employees.

Deanna Ruffer, the City’s Community Development Director, said “For each business, the City has structured a package of assistance to fit the unique needs of the organization. Each package is designed to help the business add employees and continue to grow in Pittsfield.”

Tax Increment Financing agreements are proposed for Crane & Company and Haddad Motor Group. Under these agreements, the companies will continue to pay property taxes on the current assessed value of the properties with the taxes to be paid on the capital improvements being phased in over 10 years. Financial assistance from the City’s Economic Development Fund is being proposed for Crane and Hancock Shaker Village, with specific performance measures established which must be met prior to each receiving this funding.

These proposals have been forwarded to the City Council for their consideration over the next several weeks. All three companies plan to move forward with their investments this summer.

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"Does city need two mayors?"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, April 10, 2010

After reading the April 6 editorial "Barrett has more to offer," a few questions came to mind.

How many mayoral terms does it take to acquire the "combination of experience and innovation"? How has Pittsfield survived without a consultant before? According to what scale is $5,000 a month ($60,000 a year) a "modest fee"? What is so special about the megalopolis called Pittsfield that it takes two mayors to run it?

GREGORY JONES
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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Workers clean up the second floor of the property at 19 Spring St. in Pittsfield. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Pittsfield's goal: Fix it or raze it, but get rid of it"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- People living near 19 Spring St. had to see the residential eyesore for more than three years. The two-story, wood-frame house built in 1906 had broken windows and was rotting from the inside out.

"The roof was caved in and the inside had substantial water damage," said Craig Strassell, who in January rescued the property from death row.

Strassell, an investment adviser from Pittsfield, purchased the blighted home for $14,000 from Boston resident Naomi Calixte, who inherited it from a deceased relative. Because Calixte had trouble maintaining the property while living in Boston, the Pittsfield Health Department condemned the building and ordered it demolished this spring.

However, the Pittsfield Board of Health stayed the health department's demolition order on Feb. 3 after hearing Strassell outline his $120,000 renovation project for the property. The refurbishment began in early March, starting with a new roof.

"My goal is to get two young families [to rent] when the project is completed this fall," Strassell said. "Pittsfield is a great place to raise kids; you've just got to keep it beautiful."

Health Department Director James J. Wilusz said that, once he judges Strassell's renovated house to be livable, the demolition order will be lifted.

Strassell's investment at 19 Spring St. is part of a citywide effort from the public and private sectors to eliminate residential blight.

The effort began nearly 20 years ago, when the city began using a combination of local, state and federal funds to demolish unfit homes. After averaging five demolished homes a year since fiscal 2000, Pittsfield has doubled its demolitions to 10 since last July 1 thanks to a $400,000 federal stimulus grant.

Furthermore, city officials are finding more people like Strassel buying blighted homes in recent months and rehabilitating them, thus increasing the city's housing stock.

In the long run, Wilusz said that saving -- not razing -- is the city's goal for the blighted housing, as four other demolition orders are on hold while owners give their buildings a second chance.

"Every condemned unit is usually worth rehabilitating before reaching the demolition stage," Wilusz said.

Since 1992, Pittsfield has spent $2.3 million to level 100 buildings -- nearly all residential -- that were beyond repair, according to Robert Cornwell, a housing specialist with the city's Department of Community Development.

Wilusz said 11 more homes are scheduled to meet the wrecking ball as funds become available. He said the homes taken down usually are in the urban center and built between the late 1890s and early 1900s. Wilusz said that by placing a lien against the now-vacant parcels, the city can recover the demolition cost, averaging $25,000, when the owner either sells or rebuilds on the land.

Historically, most lots remain privately owned, empty and abandoned after demolition, but Cornwell emphasized the city has removed "an immediate threat to public health and safety."

Nevertheless, city officials encourage re-use of the lots, especially former blighted properties that Pittsfield seized due to unpaid taxes. A pre-school playground was created at Tucker Park on Linden Street by extending the city park to an adjacent empty parcel. The land at 148 and 154 Robbins Ave. became a community garden two years ago that's quickly proved fruitful to the neighborhood.

"Last year, we had a tremendous output of produce and we had kids learning how to grow things," said Churchill Cotton, chairman of the West Side Initiative Steering Committee.

Blight initiative

Cotton said identifying blighted homes for removal by the city was one of the West Side Initiative's goals when the organization was formed in 2002. Nevertheless, the neighborhood improvement group would prefer to see fewer demolitions.

"Ultimately we'd like to see more homes fixed up or, hopefully, see new housing on empty lots," Cotton said.

The steering committee also continues to work with West Side homeowners to prevent future neighborhood blight.

"We have seen instances where properties have been cleaned up after we've sent the owners letters," Cotton said.

City officials want to work with homeowners and landlords citywide to ensure they properly maintain their buildings -- especially the unoccupied ones. The Health Department has 72 vacant residences on a watch list, down from a peak of 120 in 1994. While 32 of the vacancies have been condemned, Wilusz said eight are being renovated for future housing.

"It's a buyer's market, so people are purchasing the properties and rehabilitating them," Wilusz said.

Owners given plenty of time

Although condemnation can lead to demolition, city health officials said they give owners ample opportunity to correct the building and health-code violations so the housing can be used again. Wilusz said he's rescinded six condemnation orders the past two years, and 10 others are in the works.

"The city doesn't want boarded-up properties," he said.

However, city officials said idle homes not properly sealed up can attract illegal occupants or pose a risk to neighborhood children and pets curious enough to enter condemned buildings.

Wilusz cited one such recent hazard involving a two-story, four-unit apartment building that the federal government had foreclosed on and demolished on its own.

"It was so bad, squatters climbed a nearby utility pole to hook up a wire for electricity," Wilusz said.

Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity of Central Berkshire -- known for building new, affordable housing -- has focused on recycling blighted homes since the local chapter of the national organization was formed 17 years ago.

Executive Director Carolyn Valli said 12 of its 21 housing projects in Pittsfield involved renovating blighted homes donated by the owners to the non-profit group.

Habitat for Humanity also soon will break ground on a new single-family home at 94 Lincoln St., where a duplex stood until the city demolished it in 1996.

Valli said her agency's projects seem to spur surrounding homeowners to renovate their properties.

"When Habitat for Humanity comes into a neighborhood, we find surrounding properties are improved," she said. "Nobody wants to be the worst-looking house on the street." Former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III applauded Pittsfield's public-private effort to "aggressively" rid the city of blighted homes.

Saving homes important

Barrett, a city consultant hired by Mayor James M. Ruberto in January to recommend ways Pittsfield can improve its neighborhoods, said saving existing homes is just as important as demolishing ones beyond repair.

"The ones that can be saved, hopefully someone else can take ownership," Barrett said. "If you're going to rebuild neighborhoods, these homes need to be owner-occupied."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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By the numbers in Pittsfield ...

. 100: Buildings that have been demolished since 1992. Nearly all of them have been residential.

. 72: Vacant homes that the city's Health Department is monitoring for blight.

. 12: Blighted homes donated to Habitat for Humanity of Central Berkshire that have been renovated and converted into affordable housing during its 17-year history.

. 8: Condemned homes being renovated by current owners for future occupancy.

. 2: Needy families that will occupy 19 Spring St. in the fall after owner Craig Strassell completes renovation of the residence once slated for demolition. Sources: Pittsfield Department of Community Development, Pittsfield Health Department, Habitat for Humanity of Central Berkshire.

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"Thrilled that Barrett is happy"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, April 12, 2010

I couldn't believe it when I read for the first time that Pittsfield was going to hire the former mayor of North Adams as a "consultant." Yes, for the low price of $15,000, Pittsfield would receive the thoughts of John Barrett for a term of three months.

Now he will stay on as a consultant for a mere $5,000 per month. I read that Barrett is "enjoying this" and "having fun." Well, this makes me happy, because frankly I couldn't think of a better cause for $30,000 of the city's contingency fund.

So thank you former mayor for staying on. We are happy to support your well-being.

JOSEPH BISHOP
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Rough budget choices looming: Officials raise the possibility of cuts to services as a potential way to keep up with rising costs -- and possible cuts in state revenues."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 13, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Even if the state maintains aid for Pittsfield Public Schools at current levels, the funding still won't keep pace with the rising cost of local education, city school officials said Monday.

Gov. Deval L. Patrick has proposed that Pittsfield receive $37.3 million in so-called Chapter 70 money in fiscal 2011, which begins July 1. That $37.3 million represents the same amount of state aid the district recevied to fund the current spending plan of $63.3 million.

School officials said the governor's school aid package is "the best case scenario" compared to the $1.1 million cut proposed by the state Senate, but school budget reductions are still in the works for the next school year.

"I hope there's enough political pressure to level-fund Chapter 70," said School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

"However, I have a list [of cuts] that could get us to $3 million for the worst-case scenario," he said. "But such devastating cuts would hurt the great progress we've made in our schools."

"I don't want people to see that the same level of funding is giving us the same level of [school] services," added School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso.

The discussion of Pittsfield's next round of potential Chapter 70 funds came Monday afternoon during a preliminary budget meeting before the finance subcommittee of the School Committee. While schools officials didn't release a proposed bottom-line budget figure for fiscal 2011 -- that's expected later this month -- they did review how other possible reductions in state funds, grants and increasing expenses will impact the new spending plan.

Administrators cited how a projected 4 percent cut in state aid to city and town governments could reduce the amount of city tax dollars earmarked for education.

Furthermore, the school system's ability to maintain its $9.3 million in state and federal grants is in jeopardy, which includes $1.6 million in federal stimulus money toward math, reading and special education programs.

"We expect a decrease of 3 percent to 5 percent in entitlement grants," said Assistant Superintendent Barbara Malkas.

On the expenditure side, school officials said a $1-million increase in salaries is necessary to meet contractual obligations.

School revenue gloom and doom may be on the horizon, but Katherine L. Yon, chairwoman of the finance subcommittee, urged parents, teachers and taxpayers to stay calm.

"It's still wait-and-see for us on the School Committee," said Yon. "We don't want to panic and start making cuts."

Meanwhile, Eberwein said, "We'll be preparing several budget versions, including one level-funded and one with level services."

"I'll be trying to match up our funding with our priorities to improve student progress," he added.

Eberwein and his staff will present those budget scenarios to the School Committee at its regular meeting April, 28.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Trash fee hikes nixed by council"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 15, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has quickly derailed Mayor James M. Ruberto's latest attempt to create new trash collection fees for Pittsfield's multiple family homes.

The council Tuesday night, without debate, voted 7-4 against referring Ruberto's plan -- similar to one rejected last summer -- to a subcommittee for review, debate and recommendation back to the full council for a vote. Councilors then tabled the matter, leaving the trash fee proposal in limbo.

Ruberto said on Wednesday he was "surprised and disappointed" the City Council refused to consider his proposal to charge two- and three-family dwellings $50 and $75 respectively each month for using the city's municipal hauling service. In addition, the current fee for four-family homes would increase from $70 to $100. In all three cases, the fee is waived if the buildings are owner-occupied.

Last July, the council also took no action -- or filed -- the mayor's plan to implement a $52.50 fee for three-family homes to generate an additional $100,000 revenue for a cash-strapped city.

By adding two- and three-family residences to the mix and increasing the four-family fee, city officials estimate the fees would generate more than $900,000 for Pittsfield's coffers.

"Taking options off the table before we consider them is an approach I disagree with," Ruberto said.

He added the extra funds would mitigate the city's cost of running a residential trash hauling program -- which is already factored into homeowners property tax bills -- freeing up revenue to be spent on education, public safety and elsewhere in the city budget.

However, the majority of the 11 councilors found "no reason to consider" the new trash fee proposal since it essentially was the same one the City Council dismissed nine months ago.

"I'll oppose it -- period -- and I'm usually not that definitive about an item before us," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop prior to Tuesday's meeting.

While Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White wasn't on the council last year, he's always been against the additional trash collection fees because they would be passed onto the tenants.

"You're balancing the budget on the backs of the those who can't afford it," White said after the council meeting. "Almost 50 percent of Morningside and West Side residents in multifamily homes involve low income families."

"It's a tax, no matter how you look at it," added Council President Gerald M. Lee, who still felt the measure deserved a thorough public review. He was one of the four councilors who voted to have the Committee on Ordinance and Rules hold a hearing on the trash fee plan.

If residential trash fees are necessary, several councilors said they should be equitable ones.

"It's a huge disparity, in my mind, when trash pick-up costs more for multifamily homes and remains free for single-family ones," noted Lothrop.

He added, "The real purpose for municipal trash pick up is health reasons, not to raise revenue."
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"Too quick to trash hikes"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 16, 2010

The argument by the Pittsfield City Council that there was no reason to further debate Mayor Ruberto's trash disposal plan because the council debated it last year is every bit as weak as the assertion by House Speaker Robert DeLeo that there was no reason to hold public hearings on the introduction of casinos because they were conducted during a past legislative session. This is a different City Council. This is a different House. Both bodies failed their constituents.

Just as Mr. DeLeo had no interest in hearing dissenting opinions before ramming a casino bill through the House this week, the council majority Tuesday apparently had its mind made up and wasn't interested in hearing the mayor's proposal to charge two-and three-family dwellings $50 and $75 a month for municipal trash pickup and increase the fee from $70 to $100 for four-family homes (unless owner-occupied). The plan would raise $900,000 to be used for the residential trash pickup program, freeing up valuable funds for use elsewhere in the city budget.

A proposal with benefits that tangible deserves a hearing, and if opponents have arguments against it let's at least air them at a public committee hearing, as four councilors (Chairman Gerald Lee and ward councilors Christine Yon, John Krol and Paul Capitanio) voted in favor of doing. There is really no good argument to made against referring the issue to committee, and the fact that the proposal was heard last summer is of no relevance considering that the makeup of the council is dramatically different now than it was then. The council majority was pointlessly disdainful of the mayor and taxpayers in trashing a serious proposal.
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"Panel pushes longer parking: The Traffic Commission has given support to part of Downtown Inc.'s plan to increase time limits."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 19, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The city's Traffic Commission has given partial support to a plan to provide more "consumer friendly" on-street parking in downtown Pittsfield.

The five-member panel has unanimously recommended a plan to increase the weekday parking limit from 90 minutes to three hours on the following streets: Edwin (both sides), Depot (north side) and the small open lot fronting the McKay Street parking garage. If the City Council eventually approves the changes, parking on the east side of McKay Street would also be bumped from 15 and 30 minutes to 90 minutes.

The rest of Downtown Inc.'s plan to create more uniform on-street parking was tabled by the commission on Thursday for further review. The other changes under consideration would allow 90-minute parking on North Street between Park Square and Columbus Avenue and a combination of 60- and 90-minute and three-hour parking on several side streets. In addition, South Street from the Colonial Theatre and Church Street to West Housatonic Street would have a mix of 90-minute and three-hour parking.

All the restrictions would be effective Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with unlimited parking allowed after 4 p.m. and on the weekends.

Downtown Inc. proposed the increased time limits -- especially more three-hour ones -- so consumers have more time to shop, eat or visit the cultural and entertainment venues in the areas of North and South streets.

"I have many people telling me, ‘I can find spaces to park, but 90 minutes doesn't cut it,' " said, Yvonne Pearson, the executive director of Downtown Inc.

Commission member Christopher J. Connell supported the organization's push to have the revised time limits enacted for the upcoming summer tourist season.

"Time is of the essence to make the changes," said Connell. "They are right around from the Beacon Cinema and a block away from the Colonial Theatre -- two areas we're trying to promote."

The revised plan also calls for installing new signs -- especially on North Street -- clearly stating when the parking hours are enforced and the times when parking is free.

"I can change those signs out now, because the city code was already changed regarding the 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. period," said Pittsfield Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

Meanwhile, city officials said they are also considering a revised off-street parking plan that would meet the current needs of both downtown employees and visitors. Deanna L. Ruffer, director of the Department of Community Development, presented "informal recommendations" to the Traffic Commission, which include eliminating the city's parking contracts with six businesses as they expire -- five as of June 30 -- at the McKay Street parking garage and the adjacent Lot 5A. The six agreements involve 313 of the 1,058 spaces -- or nearly half of the Pittsfield's downtown off-street parking.

Instead, only permit parking would be offered in the area, and public parking would be in either all the 112 street-level garage spaces or the 161 spaces in Lot 5A.

"McKay (garage) is underutilized, more so now that we've lost KB Toys from downtown," Ruffer noted to the Traffic Commission. "For example, moving all public parking to the lot and all permits to the garage would make the public spaces more visible."

Ruffer said any discussion of a revamped off-street parking should also include a change in the permit fee structure, which currently ranges from $25 to $50, and resurrecting old parking fees.

"I'm sure this will go over like a lead balloon, but we may want to start dialogue on paying for all public parking," said Ruffer. Pittsfield has had free public parking since 1993.

Ruffer noted the city has yet to officially propose an off-street parking plan for public debate and review by city boards.
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"Improving city parking ..."
The Berkshire Eagle, April 19, 2010

. The Pittsfield Traffic Commission has recommended a 3-hour time limit for weekday parking on Edwin and Depot streets and open lot fronting the McKay Street parking garage. The panel also supports 90-minute parking on the east side of McKay Street.

. The changes require City Council approval once they officially come from Mayor James M. Ruberto.

. The remainder of Downtown Inc.’s revised on-street parking plan from the South and West Housatonic streets to North Street and Columbus Avenue has been tabled for further review.

. All current and future downtown public parking restrictions are effective Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free parking after 4 p.m. and on weekends.
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"Pittsfield changes parking rules"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 2, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The weekday parking limits on both sides of Edwin Street and the north side of Depot Street will soon double to three hours.

The City Council, acting on the Traffic Commission's recommendations, has also given its unanimous consent to increase parking limits on the east side of McKay Street to 90 minutes. The spaces currently call for 15- and 30-minute limits.

The new limits will be effective Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., with unlimited parking allowed after 4 p.m. and on the weekends.

The longer parking hours should take effect within the next two weeks once signs are erected.

The initiative came from Downtown Inc.'s overall plan to create more uniform on-street parking.

The Traffic Commission is still reviewing other proposals, such as allowing 90-minute parking on North Street between Park Square and Columbus Avenue, a combination of 60- and 90-minute and three-hour parking on several side streets, and a mix of 90-minute and three-hour parking on South Street from the Colonial Theatre and Church Street to West Housatonic Street.

Downtown Inc. proposed the increased time limits -- especially more three-hour ones -- so consumers have more time to shop, eat or visit the cultural and entertainment venues in the areas of North and South streets.
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"6 paths to the future: District weighing options floated by education planning group"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 20, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield School Committee has been given several options, including grade reconfigurations and closing one or two elementary buildings, that might improve 21st century education, save money and accommodate a predicted decline in the student population.

The New England School Development Council, or NESDEC, has offered six suggested plans of action. They are all based on moving Grade 8 students to Pittsfield and Taconic high schools, relocating Grade 5 students to the two middle schools, and closing either one or two elementary schools. Allendale, Conte, Crosby, Morningside and Stearns were mentioned in the list of elementary schools during NESDEC's recent presentation to the School Committee.

Officials were quick to point out none of the options are set in stone, and discussions remain in the early stage.

"We're talking about five different schools [that are] not slated for closure," John Kennedy, one of the study's authors, emphasized. "The options are simply put forth for discussion -- not recommendations."

"There is clearly a difference between options and recommendations," said Pittsfield School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III. "Any reconfiguration must be in the best interest of children and their education."

School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso cautioned the public against reacting to the consultant's information that the board saw for the first time last Wednesday.

"There's been no discussion of these options," Amuso said.

Kennedy said the study didn't factor in the city currently seeking state funding toward a high school building project to overhaul its secondary school education.

NESDEC's report was the second commissioned by city school officials to help them with future plans for the school system. The nonprofit organization was formed 60 years ago to help school administrators improve school district management and provide enrollment projects for educational planning.

In February, NESDEC predicted Pittsfield's student population would continue to gradually decline for the next five years and stay below the 6,000 enrollment figure for the next 10 years.

The consultant's latest study determined that shifting fifth and eight graders to the middle and high school buildings, respectively, is a better use of existing classroom space. The study said it would improve the transition of eighth graders to the high school curriculum and reduce operating costs.

Kennedy cited how closing two elementary schools would save between $750,000 and $1 million annually, while closing a single school would average $600,000.

"The five schools discussed were chosen because they haven't had any recent additions or renovations and are among the oldest in the district and have the longest lists of [maintenance] issues," Kennedy said.

The drawbacks to NESDEC's findings, he said, include an estimated $10,000 increase in busing fifth graders to the middle schools. Also, the high schools would be near capacity if the plan were to be implemented in September. Furthermore, the scheduling and integration of Grade 8 students into Pittsfield and Taconic high schools would be a logistical challenge.

"Typically, when districts reconfigure the middle and high schools, they have the biggest issues," Kennedy said.

However, School Committee member Daniel C. Elias said the consultant's report leaves unanswered questions about the elementary schools as well.

"We need to look at the specialized programs at Conte and Morningside," said Elias. "How would they continue?"

Eberwein added, "We have to research to see if any of the models make sense."
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"Exploring school options"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 21, 2010

With good reason, school officials went out of their way Monday to emphasize that the options offered by the New England School Development Council to improve Pittsfield's schools are just that -- options. Conspiracy-minded Pittsfield is quick to see plots where there aren't any, so, if the mayor, for example, expresses enthusiasm for the concept of one high school, that is interpreted by some as meaning the mayor is going to get his one high school regardless of cost or of the city's wants. In fact, it means you have to start the discussion somewhere in terms of the future of Pittsfield's high schools.

Along those lines, we hope city and school officials can be free to express enthusiasm for a school option without it hanging over him or her for the rest of their careers. Without free and open discussions it is impossible to make any improvements to the city's schools -- or to the city in any other area for that matter.

If Pittsfield's school population is to decline in the years ahead as predicted, then the city is obligated to find ways to better use its buildings for that population while saving money for taxpayers. Should Grade 8 students be moved to Pittsfield and Taconic high schools, their impact has to be considered in whatever improvement plans are made for those two high schools when state funding is made available. The leap from eighth grade to ninth, a difficult one for many students, would presumably be eased if students had already spent a year in the high school. This transition can't happen immediately, however, with the high schools near capacity.

With eighth-grade students in the high schools, fifth grade students could be relocated to the middle schools, enabling the city to close one or even two of its elementary schools. Allendale, Conte, Crosby, Morningside and Stearns all have their advocates and strong points, though closing Allendale would once and for all resolve concerns about the proximity of a school to the Hill 78 disposal area. Closing two schools could save as much as $1 million annually, a substantial number given that the city is sure to be struggling to balance its budget in the years and decades ahead.

All of this speculation brings us back to the point that the NESDEC options, while thoughtful, are not recommendations or plans for action. As these options are explored, strengths and weaknesses will emerge. But with NESDEC's prediction of a continued gradual decline in enrollment to be followed by a leveling off, the city is obligated to being exploring these options.

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Dottie’s owner Jessica Rufo envisions a sidewalk cafe. (Berkshire Eagle file)
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"Dottie's aims to go al fresco"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 20, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Dottie's Coffee Lounge is applying for permission to have a sidewalk cafe -- the first time a business has asked for one since the city started allowing them six years ago.

Dottie's owner Jessica Rufo filed the application after she decided not to expand her business to North Adams.

Some downtown establishments already have outdoor dining, but since they have three or fewer tables they don't need to get the city's approval, Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer said.

Rufo has applied for nine tables, which she plans to set up in a cafe-style setting on the Maplewood Avenue side of the Greystone Building, where Dottie's is located.

A sidewalk cafe will help expand Dottie's current 19-patron capacity, and allow the coffee shop to take advantage of its surroundings, Rufo said. She wants to operate the sidewalk cafe between May and November.

"How many other businesses on this street have a double sidewalk where they could actually develop an outdoor space?" said Rufo. "It just seemed like such an obvious growth point. And, there's not really any outdoor seating on North Street."

The Community Development Board has scheduled a special meeting for 9 a.m. today to consider Rufo's application.

The Licensing Board will consider the proposal at its meeting on Monday. Rufo, who has a seasonal beer and wine license, intends to serve alcohol outdoors, which requires the Licensing Board's approval.

The proposal will also need the City Council's approval.

During the winter, Rufo became interested in establishing another Dottie's at 67 Main St. in North Adams in the space that the Cup and Saucer coffee shop vacated last December.

Rufo originally told Scarafoni Associates, which leases the property, that she was interested in the space. But she changed her mind after crunching the numbers. The former Cup and Saucer is now occupied by Petrino's Cafe, which opened on April 5.

"We weren't looking to expand," Rufo said. "But when the Cup and Saucer closed, we were very enticed to sort of explore the options there. They had all the equipment that we could possibly need, so what it did was allow us to open a second location with minimal money.

"But once we put the numbers in and really analyzed it, it was really a 50-50 situation," she added. "And I really needed it to be at least a 60-40 situation. I didn't really want to take away from what was going on here. So what we did was take the $40,000 in working capital that we were going to use in North Adams, and invested it here."

Rufo decided to use the money to purchase several pieces of kitchen equipment that allowed Dottie's to cook and serve food faster.

"Everything we were using was the stuff that you would use in your home," she said. "We upgraded and got professional tools."
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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Bob Demick mans the bottling line Monday at the Ice River Springs plant in Pittsfield, where workers are being hired and production ramped up. (Ben Garver/Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Jobs flow at Ice River"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 20, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A fledgling water bottling plant on West Housatonic Street has boosted its work force and is expanding its operations.

Ice River Springs Co. has doubled its initial payroll from 16 to 32 employees since mid-February, and it plans to add another 10 workers to man a second production line that should be operational next month, according to company officials.

"We'll have two shifts, working five days a week on the second line, and that may expand as well," said plant manager Frank Versaggio.

Versaggio said the first production line grew from two to four shifts operating around-the-clock, seven days a week.

The stepped-up production will allow Ice River to meet the increase in demand for bottled water from CVS Pharmacy, A&P Supermarkets, Walmart and the company's other customers in the Northeast.

"We've went to 25,000 cases a day since January, and we'll produce another 15,000 cases when the second production line starts up," Versaggio said.

Ice River's expansion comes just 14 months after the family-run company, based in Feversham, Ontario, Canada, opened its fourth U.S. facility at the former KB Toy Distribution Center at 1505 W. Housatonic St.

The bottling firm arrived in December 2008, promising to generate 61 jobs during a five-year period as part of the company's tax-increment finance agreement with the city. In exchange for creating jobs, Ice River is getting a tax deferral over a 10-year period on $5.2 million in renovations it made.

The manufacturer also plans to spend $6.9 million on equipment once the plant is fully operational -- an investment in line for state tax incentives as well.

"We are excited to learn about Ice River Spring's expansion plans and pleased that they have found Pittsfield to be a great place to do business," said Deanna L. Ruffer, the city's community development director.

Meanwhile, Ice River officials said they've kept a promise to muffle the sound from an external cooling tower on the north side of the building. When the cooling tower is operating at a high speed, the noise has annoyed and frustrated several homeowners near Lebanon Avenue. Versaggio said a sound curtain installed last week "will deflect the noise away from the neighbors."

"It's a fainter hum," he said. "We've already seen a drop of five to 10 decibels."

Previous sound readings of 30 to 40 decibels were below the maximum threshold allowed by the city, but residents living closest to the cooling tower had said the sound still prevented them from enjoying their backyards.

Versaggio said if neighbors claim the noise remains a nuisance, "we'll figure out something with the city."

"Since opening, Ice River Springs has demonstrated their commitment to the community and to being good, corporate citizens, including working closely with their neighbors," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Crane funds near an OK: Tentative approval is given for a $500,000 grant from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 21, 2010

PITTSFIELD - Crane & Co. could receive a pair of financial incentives toward moving its stationery paper division to Pittsfield to become more profitable and save jobs.

The City Council Tuesday night preliminarily approved a $500,000 grant from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to Crane to help pay for the estimated $4 million to $5 million project. The council also initially gave an OK to a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) agreement worth $280,000 in property tax breaks to the Dalton-based paper manufacturer. While the councilors unanimously supported both measures, they must still give final approval, which could happen next Tuesday.

"My job as a Pittsfield city councilor is to help put city residents to work," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti.

"We wish all the luck in the world and we're pulling for you," added Councilor at large Kevin J. Shermin.

Looking to consolidate

Crane & Co. wants to consolidate its struggling stationery operations into a building it rents in Pittsfield's Downing Industrial Park by September 2011. City officials said $300,000 of the $500,000 economic development grant will help pay for the renovations and expansion of the 12,000-square-foot structure. The remaining $200,000 will be used by Crane to recruit and train Pittsfield residents, if they are hired to fill 7-10 new positions planned in the next five years for the stationery division. The consolidation will also allow Crane to retain 260 jobs by transferring the company's 200 employees from its facility in North Adams and 60 workers from Dalton and a second company facility in the Downing Industrial Park.

In addition, Pittsfield's Community Development Director, Deanna L. Ruffer, said the project will employ 50-60 construction workers and increase business for Crane's local suppliers.

Company officials said the move will ultimately make the division more cost effective, efficient, and profitable.

"We've seen a 33 percent drop in sales in two years and had to cut 100 jobs," said Crane CEO Charles Kittredge. However, he believes the smallest of the company's three divisions is worth keeping; the other two being manufacturing paper for U.S. currency and making non-woven products for the private sector.

"I strongly believe this can be a robust business, we've seen sales stabilize in the last six months," noted Kittredge. "My goal is to double our business by 2015."

Tax agreement

Meanwhile, the city and Crane have negotiated a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) agreement that- if approved - would save the company $280,000 over a 10-year period. The TIF only affects real estate taxes paid on the new construction and renovations and will be assessed in 10-percent increments; reach 100-percent after the 10th year.

"The deal is structured to allow Crane to retain cash in the early years to help the company become more profitable," said Ruffer, who claimed the proposed financial incentives for Crane will create a long term win-win situation for Crane and the city.

"They provide an opportunity to strengthen manufacturing in Pittsfield and strengthen Crane's presence in Berkshire County," she said. "This is also a positive for Downing Industrial Park where we've seen a troubling trend toward warehousing and away from manufacturing."
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"'Green' access unveiled by CET"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 23, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The Center for Ecological Technology marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on Thursday by unveiling a handicap access ramp made with environmentally sustainable materials.

The ramp, which is attached to CET's local headquarters at 112 Elm St., features lightweight aluminum railings and metal posts that are both reusable and recyclable. The posts, manufactured by the Techno Metal Post company, eliminate the need for concrete footing.

The decking is made of rot- and pest-resistant black locust wood, which is non-toxic since it's not treated with chemicals. The wood surface is covered with a non-toxic, non-corrosive substance known as Timbersil, a protective barrier of amorphous glass that thoroughly penetrates and surrounds the wood fibers.

Non-carcinogenic and a Class A fire retardant, Timbersil is expected to last at least 40 years.

"I'm really excited to be able to be a part of this building of a green ramp," said Jamie Cahillane, CET's director of recycling services. "It really becomes part of our mission to ‘green up' the environment to make us more environmentally sustainable."

Cahillane said the environmentally sustainable ramp goes well with CET's headquarters, an architecturally significant former home built in the 1920s.

The black locust wood used in the deck was milled by the Roberts Brothers Lumber Co. in Ashfield. The wood was sourced within a 75-mile radius of Ashfield, which is some 20 miles northeast of Pittsfield, but lumber company owner Leonard Roberts said he wasn't sure the wood came from the Berkshires. He said black locust wood is extremely durable.

"As far as I'm concerned, it will outlast steel or concrete by 10 years," Roberts said.

CET began building the ramp in October. The entire deck cost $40,000, with the ramp portion alone going for $15,000 to $18,000. Additional decking was placed over the porch and front steps of CET's headquarters.

Cahillane said CET received an estimate to construct the ramp in the traditional manner for $13,000, but said the additional expense was worth it given the nonprofit's mission.

"We want to walk the walk," he said.

The city of Pittsfield contributed $10,000 toward the project's total cost through the Community Development Department's handicapped accessible loan program.

"I can't think of a better way to celebrate this day than to celebrate it here," said Mayor James M. Ruberto, who attended the unveiling ceremony with Jay Healy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's state director for rural development.

Hill Engineering of Dalton and Restorations Inc. of Hinsdale were also involved in the project.

Ruberto said building the ramp shows that "you can buy local, and build local, and do it in an environmentally friendly way."

Healy announced that CET had received a $96,916 USDA grant to fund the development of a program that will assist 82 local communities in waste management efforts.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.
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"Common concepts: Public weighs in on picking a park design"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 28, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Three "very initial concepts" -- based on citizen input -- propose several existing and new uses for a refurbished First Street Common.

The preliminary designs for the 127-year-old public park include keeping the playgrounds, open lawn and, in two scenarios, the skateboard park. An ice skating rink and the Berkshire Carousel project are among the additions being considered.

City officials and the firm that developed the plans unveiled them Monday night at the second of three public input meetings regarding Pittsfield's plan to give the Common a facelift. The Community Development Department will have a final public input session on May 24 at City Hall before a final plan is recommended to the Park Commission in June.

Once the design phase is complete, Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer has said Pittsfield has "priority placement" to receive up to $1 million to reconstruct and update the park. The city expects to select a contractor for the project by late fall.

The landscape architect firm of Vanasse Haugen & Brustlin (VHB) developed the three concepts from suggestions made at last month's public input session and meetings with various city youth, civic and neighborhood groups.

"These concepts are just a starting point," said James "Jef" Fasser, VHB's director of landscape architecture. "I'll be very surprised if one of them becomes the preferred plan."

Fasser said public meeting comments and those made online will help develop the final proposed design. Residents wishing to review the three concepts can go to the city's website www.Pittsfield.com, click on Parks and Recreation to see the drawings, and give feedback by taking the accompanying survey.

The nearly 50 people gathered at City Hall Monday night were generally pleased with most if not all aspects of the three renovation plans.

Barbara Arpante preferred "Concept A" because it "has the ambiance of what it's like to walk into a city park."

The commonalties off all three designs include saving existing trees, better lighting, new restrooms, a perimeter fence, open lawn, more walkways, a bandstand and/or multi-purpose pavilion, one or two basketball courts, and two playgrounds.

"Play equipment needs to be divided according to age groups: Some for younger children and some for older children," said Fasser.

Meanwhile, "Concept B" adds an ice skating rink to the Common while "Concept C" includes the privately funded Berkshire Carousel. A large majority of city residents at Monday's meeting supported both additions to the downtown public park.

John Murphy of the Pittsfield Speedskating Club expects the skating area will have plenty of use.

"On a nice winter day, you'll have a large contingent of people coming out to skate," said Murphy.

While two of the three designs retain the skateboard park at the Common, a 2-to-1 majority of those at the meeting -- mostly adults -- want it relocated to another city recreational area. The potential move -- as well as the additions -- didn't sit well with Brandon McNeice, one of three teenagers in attendance.

"You take out the skateboard park and you're taking out the youth," said the 15-year-old. "Adding all this new stuff is making the park smaller and cramped."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Project needs $6M loan"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 29, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The city is seeking a $6 million loan to begin paying for Pittsfield Municipal Airport’s runway expansion project expected to begin this summer.

Mayor James M. Ruberto officially asked the City Council Tuesday night to approve the borrowing toward Phase 1 of the $22.4 million cost. City officials said $5.3 million of the loan would be reimbursed through a combination of state and federal funding.

The council referred the loan request to its Committee on Finance for review, public debate and a recommendation back to the full council for vote. The subcommittee next meets Thursday, May 6, 7:30 p.m., at City Hall.

While formal discussion begins next week, project opponents wasted no time Tuesday night calling for further review of the environmental and economic impact of upgrading the airport before any money is spent at the facility.

"The reason the project has taken 10 years to begin is it can’t satisfy wetland regulations," said city resident Wanda Boeke.

George Wislocki, founder and former director of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, wants an "independent study of wetlands" surrounding the airport.

However, Airport Manager Mark Germanowski cited the project’s extensive state and federal environmental review, which is awaiting a final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The federal permit could be awarded between mid-May and early June, Germanowski said.

The initial phase calls for replacing approximately 5.7 acres of wetlands and one-tenth of an acre of a nearby body of water being filled to make way for a pair of 1,000-by-400 foot safety areas, one at either end of the airport’s main runway.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations require a minimum of 1,000 feet of safety area at each end of the runway. The airport’s main runway currently has less than 200 feet of safety area at each end now.

"The first thing we have to do is mitigation," noted Germanowski. "We can’t do anything else until we replicate wetlands."

Germanowski added the work to actually extend the 5,000-foot main runway by 590 feet would begin in 2011.

City officials view an expanded and upgraded airport crucial to attracting and keeping businesses in Pittsfield, allowing for easier access to and from the city.

Opponents of the expansion claimed that argument held true when planning for the project began 10 years ago when corporate air travel was cheaper. They said the improved airport would only benefit "elite" company executives and have no direct benefit to city taxpayers.

Furthermore, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols questioned the validity of the Airport Commission’s data used to support the need to accommodate existing and future air travelers to Pittsfield. Nichols, who failed to get the council to immediately reject the $6 million loan request, said the commission "grossly overstated" its figure of 45,800 landings and take-offs at the municipal airport.

"A lot of information from the Airport Commission is not being brought forward," added Nichols.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, April 29, 2010

"Seeking Common ground"

Whatever design plan is ultimately chosen for Pittsfield’s refurbished First Street Common, it will constitute a dramatic improvement based on the three preliminary concepts unveiled Monday at the second of three public input sessions concerning the 127-year-old park. The main decision may be which two of three -- a skateboard park, a skating rink and the Berkshire Carousel project -- will be included, as finding space for more than two without cluttering the park may be impossible. A skateboard park would be an attraction for teens, a skating rink would be in keeping with the common’s history, and the carousel would be more centrally located at the common than at South Church and Center streets. The city seeks input and the public is encouraged to go to www.pittsfield.com, click on Parks and Recreation and participate in a survey on the three concepts.

"Still on the ground"

The combination of red tape and endless appeals has already dragged out the Pittsfield Municipal Airport upgrade to absurd lengths, but many in the city remain intent on further delaying a project that will benefit the city and county economically should it ever be completed. The Pittsfield City Council Tuesday night referred a $6 million borrowing request from the mayor for Phase 1 of the airport project to its finance subcommittee, the latest small step toward making it a reality. While the lone City Council dissenter, Joseph Nichols, vaguely asserted Tuesday that insufficient information from the Airport Commission has been brought forward, the project is in fact awash in information after more than 10 years of studies, hearings, fact-finding reports, appeals and more appeals. Regardless of one’s view of the airport project, it has been thoroughly vetted.

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"City panel divided over Shaker grant"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 3, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee has given mixed reviews to Hancock Shaker Village receiving a $250,000 city grant for a major restoration project that proponents said would stimulate the local economy.

The Committee on Community and Economic Development has voted 3-2 to recommend the full council -- at its May 11 meeting -- award the money toward the $800,000 cost of refurbishing the Trustee's Office building at the Shaker village. Mayor James M. Ruberto is requesting the grant come from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund. The museum has set aside $550,000, which was raised as part of its capital campaign.

Hancock Shaker Village officials said a new roof and improved drainage are needed immediately so the 218-year-old structure could house the museum's newly created master's degree program, which is set to start in September and is offered through the University of Massachusetts-Amherst School of Architecture. The rest of the extensive exterior work will be completed in 2011.

Museum President and CEO Ellen Spear said the graduate program will initially enroll 15 to 18 students, employ eight people -- six full time -- and the restoration work will employ 12 to 18 people over an 18-month period.

However, Councilor at Large Kevin J. Sherman felt the number of permanent jobs created didn't warrant city funding.

"I'm struggling with the fact of six new jobs for $250,000," said Sherman during Thursday's subcommittee meeting.

Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols was more concerned about who was hired to fill the positions.

"This money is to create jobs for Pittsfield people and I don't see a guarantee of this," Nichols said.

Spear encouraged city residents to apply, but she said Hancock Shaker Village couldn't legally commit the jobs to a certain group of people. Spear said six of the 13 current museum's full-time employees are from Pittsfield.

Nichols also questioned the museum needing the $250,000 if University of Massachusetts coming to Hancock Shaker Village is "already a done deal."

Spear said the Trustee's Office is the most "appropriate place" for the graduate program.

"If the funding is not approved, we'll have to scramble to find another place for this program," she said.

The three councilors supporting the funding request see an opportunity to lure the University of Massachusetts to the Berkshires.

"I kind of like the idea of a four-year institution having a presence in Pittsfield," said Councilor at Large Peter M. Marchetti.

"As a history major myself, I can see what this project will do for Pittsfield," said Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White.

The two-year graduate program will teach research, preservation and conservation of historic American buildings with Hancock Shaker Village, established more than 225 years ago, and the city serving as the backdrop.

"The graduate students will be out in neighborhoods studying historic buildings and helping owners with their restoration," Spear said.

Furthermore, museum and city officials claim the Trustee's Office project and its expanded use would increase the museum's annual impact on the Pittsfield economy, estimated at $9 million. They cite how the salaries of the eight new jobs would range from $20,000 to $85,000 and the full-time students would spend $90,000 on room and board living in Pittsfield while studying at Hancock Shaker Village.

However, Pittsfield resident Terry Kinnas doesn't support a property tax-exempt organization receiving city economic development funds. Kinnas also said the grant is merely subsidizing a state university that can afford to establish the graduate program on its own.

"UMass ought to be coming here and offering us $250,000," said Kinnas.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Inside the numbers

The Pittsfield Department of Community Development reports $5.6 million is available of the original $10 million GE Economic Development Fund, since renamed the Pittsfield Economic Fund. Listed below are several key awards approved by the City Council since 2004.

. Beacon Cinema $1.1 million of which $600,000 was a loan being repaid.

. Colonial Theatre $1 million

. Workshoplive $500,000, $150,000 disbursed, balance suspended.

. Barrrington Stage Co. $500,000

. Crane & Co. $500,000, funds have yet to be disbursed

. Berkshire Museum $250,000
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"5-year North Street plan: Downtown Inc. proposes a list of goals, including carving out new commercial districts."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 4, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The group that promotes downtown Pittsfield's merchants, events and services will make the creation of commercial "centers of identity up and down North Street" a top priority in the next five years.

The distinctive commercial districts will allow for more effective planning, marketing and business development, according to the authors of a five-year strategic plan commissioned by Downtown Inc. The group, along with its consultant, released the plan Monday.

The "Downtown Pittsfield Strategic Plan" is the follow-up piece to a 1997 downtown development study, and is designed to keep the greater North Street area moving forward.

"This is sort of phase two," said Jackie Gelb, a private consultant from Boston, who helped the 15-member Downtown Pittsfield Strategic Planning Committee formulate the 12-page document.

A main goal of the 1997 study was the establishment of a downtown cinema center, which wasn't achieved until last November when the $23 million, six-screen Beacon Cinema opened on North Street.

"We've accomplished a lot" of the goals from the 1997 study, said Peter Lafayette, who chaired Downtown Inc.'s planning committee. "But there are still gaps. Unless you keep pushing, it all falls apart."

The latest study's top priority recommends distinctive commercial districts along the North Street corridor. The idea came from an economist who suggested that the North Street corridor is so long, it would benefit from having distinct commercial sections, Gelb said. The suggestions include the formation of districts around Park Square, the central and upper North Street regions, and the neighborhood around Berkshire Medical Center.

"The idea is to create centers of identity up and down North Street," Gelb said.

The second priority is to proactively identify and recruit new businesses for the downtown corridor, and work on retaining existing businesses.

Suggestions include finding a tenant for the KB Toys building on West Street, which has been vacant since the company went out of business last year, and helping to retain the Big Y Supermarket on West Street or finding another supermarket to replace it if the Springfield-based food retailer does move to the former Pittsfield Plaza on West Housatonic Street.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," Lafayette said. "We want to get the information out there and make sure that it's available."

The three other priorities include improving downtown's appearance by working with the city on the downtown Streetscape Project; expanding marketing efforts to include second homeowners and visitor markets with year-round residents; and increasing the presence and visibility of arts businesses and cultural organizations along the downtown corridor.

The latest study took the group six months to complete, according to Lafayette. The same group released a downtown retail marketing study in January.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224
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Strategic planning

Here are the top five priorities outlined in the "Downtown Pittsfield Strategic Plan 2010-2015":

. Foster the creation of distinctive commercial districts within downtown.

. Implement a plan to proactively identify and recruit new businesses for downtown and retain existing businesses.

. Improve downtown's appearance, convenience and safety.

. Develop expanded marketing efforts with a new focus that includes the second-home owner and visitor markets.

. Increase the presence and visibility of arts' businesses and cultural organizations.

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"A downtown strategy"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 5, 2010

Pittsfield's North Street is, and always will be to some extent, a work in progress. Adjustments are made in response to economic realities and potentially innovative new ideas. Downtown Inc.'s five-year plan for North Street builds on past accomplishments and explores ways of sustaining the viability of a street that is so vital to the city's economic health.

One of the challenges posed by North Street is its considerable length. The creation of commercial districts downtown, which is the most intriguing part of the plan offered this week, would make downtown manageable by giving each section of North Street its own identity. Park Square could be one of four districts along with upper, central and lower North Street.

The area of North Street near where it intersects with Wahconah Park is in need of a boost, and it could come within the context of a plan that focuses on it specifically. The opening of the Beacon Cinema, a long-time goal for Downtown Inc., has given that section of North Street an identity along with a psychological boost for the city. Its reach is limited, however, and the other sections, in particular the lower end, require something that gives them an identity and a positive image.

The second priority of retaining existing businesses and attracting new ones is essentially an ongoing mission for Pittsfield, one that nearly every Northeastern city is undertaking in the face of serious and probably long-term economic challenges. The KB Toys building on West Street is both attractive and empty, a demoralizing combination, and filling it would be a moral pick-me-up as well as a tangible one in terms of jobs.

The downtown Streetscape project is improving the look of downtown but the responsibility for improving its appearance rests to a degree on business owners. The city could, however, make a modest investment in upgraded, jollier Christmas decorations this year. Boosting downtown arts and cultural organizations is certainly a priority given the importance of the Berkshire Museum, Colonial Theatre and Barrington Stage, among others, to downtown's short- and long-term future.

North Street has rebounded, though not to the extent or at the pace residents and officials want. That process is ongoing, and the Downtown Inc. plan provides a road map for the next five years.
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"Park Square is an ongoing mess"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, May 5, 2010

I made a big mistake this morning by driving through Park Square. What a mess! It seems that every time I drive through there, which isn't too often, it's more of a disaster than before.

Between the two-inch drop heading toward Park Square from East Street onto a "mulled" road and the manhole covers that are raised an inch above the road, I'm very surprised that no one has thrown the front end of their car out of line. There are piles of dirt, stone and old signs everywhere. People are swerving into each other's lanes to avoid the manhole covers and debris in the road.

Trying to bear left onto South Street after that stoplight is also difficult because it suddenly goes into one narrow lane. I have noticed drivers would have to actually make a complete stop in the right or left lane to let the other person forward onto South Street.

How long is this project going to continue? They have to realize that our summer tourist season is approaching. If this isn't finished, what will we have? A game of bumper cars? If this is the case, nobody is going to win!

MIKE CASTEGNARO
Dalton, Massachusetts
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"Airport loan questioned"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 8, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee is carefully examining a $6 million loan for Pittsfield Municipal Airport's $22.5 million runway expansion project.

The Finance Committee's recommendation on the funding request from Mayor James M. Ruberto is expected Monday. The panel's recommendation would then be forwarded to the full City Council for its a final decision.

After a three-hour public hearing Thursday night, a meeting that ended at 11:30, the councilors on the Finance Committee said needed more time to question city officials about the $22.5 million project. That will happen at 7:30 p.m., Monday, at City Hall.

"When we meet on Monday, it will be for the purpose for committee debate as there will be no public comment," said the committee's chairman, Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti.

Airport officials said the city would be be reimbursed through a combination of state and federal funding. But Pittsfield taxpayers would still have pay $1 million toward the $7 million cost of Phase 1.

The initial phase of work calls for replacing approximately 5.7 acres of wetlands and one-tenth of an acre of a nearby body of water being filled to make way for a pair of 1,000-by-400 foot safety areas, one at either end of the airport's main runway.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations require a minimum of 1,000 feet of safety area at each end of the runway. The airport's main runway currently has less than 200 feet of safety area at each end now.

Airport Manager Mark Germanowski said the work to actually extend the 5,000-foot main runway by 590 feet would begin in 2011 and take two years to complete.

The nearly 20 people who spoke before the committee on Thursday debated the safety, environmental and economic impact of airport expansion.

"The project has always been based on safety for airport users and those living near the airport," said Kevin Magner, chairman of the Pittsfield Airport Commission.

City officials also view an expanded and upgraded airport crucial to attracting and keeping businesses in Pittsfield, allowing for easier access to and from the city.

In addition, local business leaders said air travelers spend millions in the Berkshires.

"In 2000, a study found the airport had a $3.3 million direct impact on the local economy," said Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Michael Supranowicz. "We've probably doubled that in 10 years."

However, city resident Theresa Clary said the project hurt the city's tax base causing $7.7 million in property devaluation within a four-mile radius of the airport.

"People will not want to come and live here," Clary said.

She also said the city is no longer a business magnet since General Electric left Pittsfield.

"We've never been able to carve out our niche -- we lost that with GE," Clary said.

Opponents of the expansion also want further review of the project's environmental impact, claiming the wetlands being replicated are actually irreplaceable.

"If Pittsfield wants to be a green community, I don't think this project matches with that aspiration," said George Wislocki, founder of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

However, airport officials cited the project's extensive state and federal environmental review, which is awaiting a final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The federal permit could be awarded between mid-May and early June, Germanowski has said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Panel urges airport loan: A subcommittee recommends that the City Council approve a request for $6 million to help fund the runway expansion project."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee has endorsed a $6 million loan to begin paying for Pittsfield Municipal Airport's $22.5 runway expansion project.

By a 4-1 vote, the Finance Committee Monday night recommended the full council at its May 25 meeting approve the funding request from Mayor James M. Ruberto.

Airport officials said the city would be reimbursed through a combination of state and federal funding. But Pittsfield taxpayers would still have pay $1 million toward the $7 million cost of Phase 1.

Council President Gerald M. Lee echoed the majority's sentiment that after more than 10 years of planning and debate, the runway expansion needs to finally get off the ground.

"When we have an opportunity to put up [$1 million] to get $6 million, it's an opportunity we can't pass up," said Lee.

Councilor at large and committee chairman Peter M. Marchetti said he's backed airport expansion since it was first proposed.

"I will continue to support a project I clearly endorsed during my last campaign," said Marchetti.

The initial phase of work calls for replacing approximately 5.7 acres of wetlands and one-tenth of an acre of a nearby body of water being filled to make way for a pair of 1,000- by 400-foot safety areas -- one at either end of the airport's main runway.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations require a minimum of 1,000 feet of safety area at each end of the runway. The airport's main runway currently has less than 200 feet of safety area at each end.

Airport manager Mark Germanowski said the work to actually extend the 5,000-foot main runway by 590 feet would begin in 2011 and take two years to complete.

Monday's Finance Committee vote followed a more than three-hour public hearing on Thursday that ended at 11:30 p.m.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, who unsuccessfully tried to table the loan request, was concerned that the project's environmental and economic impact hasn't been fully assessed. She sided with city residents who on Thursday called for an independent review of data from federal and state agencies involved and airport officials.

"I have too many questions to say, ‘OK, let's get started,' " Mazzeo said.

However, Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward said, "A motion to table or delay this project is a sentiment to kill it. Either you support it, or you don't."

While Ward said it's "hard to quantify" the project's long-term economic impact, he agreed the ultimate goal -- a safer landing strip.

The Airport Commission has said the project was always based on making the airport safer for its users and nearby homeowners. City officials view an expanded and upgraded airport crucial to attracting and keeping businesses in Pittsfield, allowing for easier access to and from the city.
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"Growing case against airport expansion"
By George Wislocki and Thomas Stokes, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, May 11, 2010
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts

The Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion project will enter its serious construction phase if the City Council authorizes Mayor Ruberto's current request to borrow $6 million for the project. The Berkshire Eagle argues that this should happen without further delay: "Regardless of one's view of the airport project, it has been thoroughly vetted." (April 29 editorial).

However, the following "unvetted" questions still need to be addressed:

* From an economic justice perspective, is it fair for ordinary taxpayers to be footing this enormous bill, for an expanded runway that more that 99 percent of us will never have a use for?

* Is this project consistent with sustainable growth objectives for the region?

* Why is there no independent, credible, and up-to-date cost-benefit analysis for the project?

* Why is there no independent analysis of the area's unique hydrology and of the feasibility of "replicating" the significant wetlands and biological diversity that this project would impact. Unfortunately, the consultants hired by the Airport Commission have not covered these bases. Efforts to replicate unique ecosystems have increasingly been shown to be dubious propositions, at best.

* What is the carbon footprint of the private and corporate jet travel (far and away the most energy intensive, greenhouse gas emitting and noise-polluting mode of transportation) that the project is trying to attract?

* What is the projected carbon footprint for the expansion? Massive amount of fill would be moved and trucked in. Under current state regulations, these carbon footprints questions would need to be part of the Environmental Impact Review. Because the approval process for this project began before these regulations kicked in, they are exempted. But, because the implications of climate change are so serious and since all levels of government need to be part of the solution, and this exemption should not excuse this due diligence.

* How does this project conform to Pittsfield's commitment to initiate all practicable measures lighten its carbon footprint when it officially signed the U.S Conference of Mayors Climate Agreement? This pledge was approved by the City Council and signed by Mayor Ruberto.

It's true that Pittsfield would get most its money back from the state and the feds -- but because the project is so expensive, not only would Pittsfield still have to pay far more than it can afford, but the reimbursements would come from all of us who get taxed more and more by the state when it borrows money for dubious capital expenditures and from the FAA fees we pay every time we fly with commercial airlines. The notion that this project will lead to the resumption of commercial passenger service in Pittsfield has long since been abandoned.

People have argued that the economic benefits, especially in these times, should trump "overly restrictive" environmental regulations. But, even if one chooses overlook significant local environmental concerns and daunting global climate change considerations, the economic stimulus arguments simply do not hold up under scrutiny.

At this juncture it is no longer viable for our community to embark on this type of subsidy for luxury corporate and private jet travel for only the most elite and "entitled" of our ever-more fractured and economically disparate society, on the dubious and unsubstantiated theory that this type of "trickle down economics" is the best way to attract good jobs to the Berkshires. Unless the objective is to provide the obvious jobs for consultants, engineers, and construction workers (many of whom do not live in our county), and those few who service and lease private jets, the jobs-for-the Berkshires argument needs more scrutiny.

These arguments are quickly becoming less and less defensible: economically, environmentally and morally. And they are arguably not conducive to attracting the type of growth and sustainable development that truly can have a positive impact on our community.

People can argue that airport project is a "fait accompli," and that it is now a waste of time to try to stop it. However the bottom line is that construction has not started, it is not done until it is done, and if the political will is there, our community can still come to its senses.

And, regardless of one's view of the airport project, it has not been thoroughly vetted. Before driving us further into the abyss of government debt and a climate crisis, our leaders must address the seven questions we pose.
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George Wislocki of Pittsfield is the former president of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. Thomas Stokes of Stockbridge, a former Berkshire County Commissioner, is the national coordinator for the Price Carbon Campaign and the Climate Crisis Coalition.
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"Grant to fund housing revival: The City Council votes to accept from the state $1 million that will help provide more affordable units in troubled Pittsfield neighborhoods."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 12, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The city is receiving a $1 million state grant to increase its affordable housing in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods.

The funding will be used to develop or rehabilitate new housing units on four properties that Pittsfield has or will acquire due to unpaid city taxes, or through foreclosure proceedings.

In addition, $250,000 of the grant will help pay for a Boston developer's plan to convert the former A.H. Rice silk mill at 55 Spring St. into a 45-unit apartment complex.

The City Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to accept the grant from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Economic Development.

Committed to improvement

According to city officials, new single-family homes are planned for vacant lots at 47-51 Prospect St. and 225 Bradford St.; while vacant homes will be renovated at 61-67 Cherry St. and 56 Circular Ave. The four parcels are among the 100 residential sites in the targeted neighborhoods that city planners have identified as abandoned and/or foreclosed properties.

"This highly competitive grant speaks to the commitment the city has made to the ideas and plans for the improvement in our neighborhoods," said Mayor James M. Ruberto, before the meeting.

"I am thrilled the city has received a grant like this to stabilize our neighborhoods by helping our troubled properties," said Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White, who represents the Morningside area.

Partnership with agencies

Pittsfield will partner with two local housing agencies to redevelop the four residential properties, according to city planners. Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer said Berkshire Housing Development Corp. will take control of the Cherry and Bradford Street sites, while Habitat for Humanity of Central Berkshire will build a new home on the Prospect Street parcel. The city will rehabilitate the Circular Street house.

"We have to use the money very quickly," said Ruffer. "Construction contracts for all sites, but Spring Street, must be in place by Sept. 9."

The $13 million mill project on Spring Street calls for a combination of one, two and three bedroom apartments that will initially cost renters between $575 and $975 per month, according to the developer.

City officials said Jon Rudzinski of Rees-Larkin Development in Boston, will use the $250,000 in grant money towards purchasing the former factory complex, which the city has assessed at $253,000.

"The state encouraged us to help with the financial viability of creating 45 affordable units," said Ruffer.

Rudzinski said the grant is "critical" to show that Pittsfield supports a project that is in line for $10 million worth of state tax credits. Since city planners approved the project a year ago, the developer has secured $600,000 worth of historic tax breaks, with another $1.4 million pending. However, Rudzinski said the $8.1 million in affordable housing tax credits that he's applied for will determine if the project starts in November. The state will issue a decision on his application in June.

"I personally can't purchase the building until all the funding is approved," Rudzinski said. "It's way to risky otherwise."

White views the Rice Silk Mill Apartments, so named by the developer, as a boon to all of Pittsfield -- not just the Morningside area.

"It's a great project for more affordable housing for our workforce," said White. "It will be a great place to bring more people into a great neighborhood and the city as well."
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"Grant to city pays off twice"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 13, 2010

The $1 million state affordable housing grant won by the city will pay dividends on the Ruberto administration's promise to put the focus on neighborhoods this term. By providing the kind of housing businesses look for when they consider moving to a community, the grant will also benefit Pittsfield as a whole.

The awarding of the competitive grant from the state's Department of Housing and Economic Development, which was unanimously accepted Tuesday night by the City Council, testifies to City Hall's diligence in addressing the twin issues of neighborhood improvement and a shortage of affordable housing. Pittsfield's plans to use the grant money to renovate two vacant homes and build homes on two vacant properties will improve streets in the West Side and Morningside neighborhoods that are making strikes economically and in reducing crime.

One quarter of the grant will go to a Boston developer's project converting the former A.H. Rice silk mill into 45 units of affordable housing. This is a wise investment that will not only bring a building in Morningside back to life but provide housing for generations of working families in Pittsfield now and to come.

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"Museum to get $250,000"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 12, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Hancock Shaker Village will receive a $250,000 city grant for a major restoration project museum and city officials said will stimulate the local economy.

By a vote of 9-2, the City Council Tuesday night awarded the money from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund toward the $800,000 cost of refurbishing the Trustee's Office building at the Shaker village. The museum has set aside $550,000, which was raised as part of its capital campaign.

Hancock Shaker Village officials said a new roof and improved drainage are needed immediately so the 218-year-old structure could house the museum's newly created master's degree program, which is set to start in September and is offered through the University of Massachusetts-Amherst School of Architecture. The rest of the extensive exterior work will be completed in 2011.

The council approved the economic development grant with the caveat the graduate program and any expansion by UMass must be Pittsfield-based and promoted as such by the museum and university. If UMass pulls out of the city, Hancock Shaker Village will have to return the $250,000.

"On restoration, I don't believe it's good use of economic development money to fix leaks," said Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon. "However, I support bringing higher education to our city and creating jobs."

"We welcome the opportunity to partner with Pittsfield," said Hancock Shaker Village President and CEO Ellen Spear who didn't object to the condition placed on the grant.

Museum officials have said the graduate program will initially enroll 15 to 18 students, employ eight people -- six full time -- and the restoration work will employ 12 to 18 people over an 18-month period.

The two-year graduate program will teach research, preservation and conservation of historic American buildings with Hancock Shaker Village, established more than 225 years ago, and the city serving as the backdrop.

While, Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman said the stipulation that UMass have a presence in Pittsfield "makes the deal more palatable", he couldn't support the funding request.

"The money is not going to fund the program," Sherman said. "It's going to fund a building,"

Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols voted against the grant, saying the city's economic development money shouldn't be spent on nonprofit organizations.

"For true growth in the city, we need to break down barriers for small businesses that are the backbone of the community," Nichols said.

However, museum and city officials claim the Trustee's Office project and its expanded use would increase the museum's annual impact on the Pittsfield economy, estimated at $9 million. They cite how the salaries of the eight new jobs would range from $20,000 to $85,000 and the full-time students would spend $90,000 on room and board living in Pittsfield while studying at Hancock Shaker Village.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"A worthy city project"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 12, 2010

As Hancock Shaker Village President and CEO Ellen Spear pointed out before the Pittsfield City Council Tuesday night, the village is in part located in Pittsfield, which is easy to overlook. As a Pittsfield business and tourist draw, it is of value to the city, and was appropriately given a $250,000 grant by the City Council Tuesday night for an important restoration project.

The grant from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund will go toward the $800,000 cost of refurbishing the two-century-old Trustee's Office building, which will house the museum's new master's degree program to be offered beginning this fall through the UMass-Amherst School of Architecture. Getting a UMass footprint in the Berkshires is of considerable potential benefit, and the amendment offered by Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon requiring that the UMass program and any expansion of it be Pittsfield-based or the grant money returned was a wise addition that may have won over a vote or two.

Ward 7 City Councilor Joseph Nichols, one of two no votes, objected that the development fund money should go to small businesses, but Hancock Shaker Village -- like Barrington Stage, the Colonial Theatre and other cultural nonprofits in Pittsfield -- is a small business. Not only do they employ people, and the village will add several jobs and employ people in the restoration, they draw visitors and their ancillary benefits to restaurants, hotels and other cultural attractions. This is a smart investment, and will become smarter should UMass expand here.

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"Schools weigh $1.4M hike"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 14, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee is considering a $1.4 million budget increase to prevent cutbacks in educational programs and services for the new fiscal year.

Pittsfield Public School administrators on Wednesday night presented the committee with a proposed $53.1 million spending plan for fiscal 2011, a 2.6 percent increase over the current $51.7 million budget. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Superintendent of Schools Howard J. Eberwein III and his staff only unveiled a bottom line figure on Wednesday night. An itemized budget will likely be released by the committee's June 9 meeting.

The preliminary budget also doesn't include the grant money the school district will spend in fiscal 2011 on specialized programs and support services. City School officials said the proposed grant funding -- currently at $11.6 million -- has yet to be finalized.

Scheduled step raises and other increases for school employees, along with anticipated reductions in state and federal aid are fueling the budget increase, according to city school officials.

"When you look at the combination of Chapter 70 funds and federal stabilization money, it reflects a net reduction of $1.1 million," said Kristen Behnke, the school district's assistant business manager. The revenue projections are based on the proposed state budget from the House Ways and Means Committee, she said.

Behnke also told the School Committee Wednesday night to expect a $600,000 reduction in state and federal funding for the Title I reading program, and the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), which serves at-risk students.

School officials want to make up the losses through the operating budget because the two programs have improved student success in the classroom.

"The JRC and Title I are worthy of support as they have shown their value over time," said School Committee member, Daniel C. Elias.

While a $1.4 million school budget increase is on the table, school officials said spending cuts may be in order, because the city is expecting a 4 percent reduction in its own state aid.

"We continue to look at ways to save money, including possible reductions in staff -- and not just teachers," said Eberwein.

However, Eberwein would like to avoid making spending cuts given the gains the Pittsfield Public Schools have made in recent years through better student test scores, a lower dropout rate that continues to fall, and a high school graduation rate that continues to increase.

"We have made a positive return on our system," said Eberwein. "The investment in education is fundamental to the health and future of our city."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Vincent Marinaro is the new director of the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center in Pittsfield. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"New senior center leader to take reins"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 17, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- For nearly 40 years, Vincent Marinaro has served the city's youth as a teacher, coach and youth program leader.

The 61-year-old Pittsfield native will now focus on helping the elderly.

Mayor James M. Ruberto has appointed Marinaro as the new director of the Ralph C. Froio Senior Center, succeeding Jean Beauchemin who retired from the position. Ruberto today will officially introduce Marinaro to the staff and senior citizens at the North Street facility.

"We're happy to have Vinny's caring leadership at the Senior Center," said Ruberto. "His years working with the youth will transfer well with seniors."

Marinaro was an elementary school teacher in the Pittsfield Catholic Schools from 1973 to 1995 before becoming the executive director of the Catholic Youth Center for 14 years, until 2009. He's served on numerous youth-related committees and organizations, and has been a member of the Pittsfield Youth Commission since its inception in 1991.

Despite a youth-based resume, Marinaro said he's learning the needs and concerns of senior citizens through his volunteer work and having been a caregiver for his parents.

"Seniors, like youth, want you to listen to them," said Marinaro. "At any age, people need to be actively listened to."

He also said, senior citizens want to be integrated -- not isolated -- from the community and he vows the Senior Center will have more interaction and collaboration with other local organizations.

However, Marinaro wants to make sure any changes or improvements at the senior center need to be fair and beneficial to the people it serves.

"I want to talk with professionals about what's being done locally for seniors and how we can enhance what we're doing," Marinaro said.

Hon. Juvenile Justice Paul Perachi (retired), who served with Marinaro on the Pittsfield Youth Commission, said Marinaro's compassion and social skills will serve him well in running the Senior Center.

"He's just a really good person always concerned about doing good for others," said Perachi. "He'll be just as successful with senior citizens as he has been with young people."
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"Meals tax on the plate of Pittsfield City Council"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 19, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council will begin chewing over a local meals tax option that could boost local coffers and offset the drop in state aid to Pittsfield.

Mayor James M. Ruberto is asking the council to OK the 0.75 percent rate, which would amount to a 37-1/2 cent tax on a $50 restaurant tab and 75 cents on a $100 bill.

With the tax, the state Department of Revenue estimates Pittsfield could generate nearly $340,000 annually in revenue.

The City Council’s Committee on Ordinance and Rules will hold a public hearing on the proposal on June 7, at 7:30 p.m., at City Hall. The subcommittee will then make a recommendation to the entire council for a final vote.

If Pittsfield adopts the meals tax, it would join Lee, Dalton and Great Barrington as the only other Berkshire County communities to enact the local fee created by state lawmakers last year. The town of Williamstown was voting on the issue Tuesday night.

In June 2009, the Legislature gave cities and towns the option to add the meals tax as a way to help offset the decrease in state aid.

"My hope is all the councilors look at the meals tax as a way to raise revenue without raising property taxes," said Ruberto. "Exclusively relying on property taxes must end."

While several city councilors agree home and business owners need relief from higher real estate taxes, they have mixed feelings on the meals tax being beneficial to Pittsfield -- including the three councilors with ties to local eateries.

"Nobody wants to raise taxes, but nobody wants to cut services," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, chairman of the Committee on Ordinance & Rules

"Yet we lose $4 million in state aid and the state gives you an option to raise taxes; $300,000 is not a giant amount," he said.

Lothrop was referring to Pittsfield’s $4 million state aid cut in the current fiscal year. The city is expecting an additional 4 percent reduction in fiscal 2011, which starts July 1.

Nevertheless, Council President Gerald M. Lee said the meals tax is worth pursuing, since several surrounding towns have already approved the new local fee.

"It’s not going to hurt us, and it’s an opportunity for [Pittsfield] to pick up a few bucks," Lee said.

Meanwhile, Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio, whose family owns East Side Cafe, said he’s "leaning toward" supporting the meals tax.

"It definitely will help out the city, but I would have to ask our customers how they feel," Capitanio said.

"I expect a slight, slight portion of our population will be affected," said Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, "but the majority of people will still go out to eat."

While Mazzeo, whose husband runs Mazzeo’s Ristorante, supports the meal tax, she, Capitanio and Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols are unsure if they will get to act on the revenue proposal. All three said they’ve contacted the state Ethics Commission to determine if voting on the meals tax is a conflict of interest for them because of their ties to the food service industry.

Nichols, owner of the Cove Bakery, has consistently opposed higher city fees and new taxes since joining the City Council in January. However, he’s reserving judgment on the meals tax until he hears from commission officials.

"I know the city is suffering due to the economy, but the residents of Pittsfield are also suffering," Nichols said. "My tendency is to lean toward the residents."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"For a better, safer airport"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 24, 2010

The Pittsfield City Council Tuesday is to consider Mayor Ruberto's request for a $6 million loan for the Pittsfield Municipal Airport's $22.5 million runway expansion, bringing the project to yet another in a long series of crossroads. The city has addressed a wide variety of concerns in good faith and the details of the project cannot be a mystery to any resident or elected official who has done his or her homework. It is past time to move forward.

It was way back in Mr. Ruberto's first term that the mayor, along with Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, found ways to address the legitimate worries of many airport neighbors. The purchase of a portion of the Watroba farm compensated for the loss of some of Wild Acres to the runway expansion. The airport will become safer, as demanded by the FAA, and more accessible to business travelers.

A form of reverse elitism is behind the argument that the airport should not be expanded to accommodate the private jets of businessmen. Besides carrying customers for restaurants, hotels and retailers, those private jets represent businesses and the jobs that go with them. The loss of businesses like KB Toys doesn't mean that the city has less need of an expanded airport. It means that it has a greater need than ever to draw new businesses while accommodating those that are here.

If any impact upon the environment is a disqualifier for a Berkshire project, then every project is doomed by definition. Demands at this point for yet more studies and reviews are just stalling tactics. This project has balanced environmental concerns with real economic needs, and while there are certainly many for whom the Berkshire status quo is fine, there are many more who will benefit from the real progress a better airport will bring.

That progress is measured in the long term. This expansion is as much about the Pittsfield and county of 10, 20, 30 and more years from now as it is about the present. A rural region with a limited road network must have a safe airport that says the region is open for business. The mayor's loan proposal will bring that airport closer to reality at a reasonable cost to the city. It should be approved.

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"Skewed priorities for city funding"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, May 25, 2010

It puzzles me that Pittsfield sponsors the "Big Read" to encourage people, especially young people, to read and then cuts back on funding for the library. Without sufficient funding the service in the youth department has to be cut back, plus it will be more difficult for people to get the books they would like to read.

It puzzles me that Pittsfield is eager to shell out half a million dollars to encourage a company in neighboring Dalton to move to Pittsfield, a quarter of a million dollars to Hancock Shaker Village and spend $6 million for an airport expansion that will benefit far fewer people than the library can. Surely the educational benefits of the library for everyone, young and old, are more important than a bigger airport.

Some of our priorities seem to be skewed.

PATRICIA VALIASEK
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Of the airport and the Athenaeum"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, May 25, 2010

I am writing regarding two topics: the Athenaeum and the airport.

First, TD Bank is to be commended for recognizing what a special place our public library is -- one of only 10 in the state to receive a small ($4,000) donation from the bank for new books and materials plus partnering with the library's long-standing summer reading program for children by offering a small monetary incentive for reading 10 books by the end of September. The Athenaeum was recognized for its community programing, recognition that it richly deserves and funding (albeit small) that it absolutely needs. I again encourage our Mayor to not continue to cut the library budget. The cartoon on the editorial page of Saturday's (May 22) Berkshire Eagle says it all.

Next, speaking of budgets, I confess I am confused regarding the airport.

The Pittsfield community is being asked to "loan" $1 million towards the expansion, or is it the repair, of the airport. There are environmental concerns (op-ed column by George Wislocki and Thomas Stokes) and safety issues regarding the design of the project (Robert Allardyce on numerous occasions). Several letters to the editor have supported it in terms of repair and safety but I have always understood it to be an expansion, one that would wipe out a wetlands in the process.

If we are going to spend $1 million (and if we can't fund the library how do we fund this?), I would like to know just how safe the new design is, whether expansion is even necessary and who is it being built for? Can it be made safer without expanding? Wouldn't that be cheaper?

I would be happier spending $1 million for passenger rail service in and out of the county; something that benefits all of us and would provide jobs and attract business as well.

BRENDA LANDES
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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The Beacon Cinema and the Kinnell-Kresge Building in which it is housed have received numerous awards and recognition from committees and state (Photos by Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Beacon Cinema reeling in honors: Historic building, theater receive state recognition"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 25, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Downtown Pittsfield's new cinema center is on a winning streak.

The Beacon Cinema and the Kinnell-Kresge Building it's housed in was recently honored with a 2010 Historic Preservation Award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, along with a citation from the state Senate.

In addition, the project's managing partner and local developer Richard Stanley will be presented with another award for the project on June 2 at a meeting of the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC).

"The project is doing everything we hoped it would to bring more foot traffic and business to downtown Pittsfield," said Ellen Caracciolo, an MHIC asset management officer.

She said Stanley will be receiving the MHIC Excellence in Community Development Award at the organization's annual meeting. The state awarded the Beacon Cinema project $7.5 million in New Markets and federal historic tax credits equity through MHIC.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission and state Senate gave the project an award under the category of adaptive reuse, rehabilitation and restoration. It was one of 12 projects, individuals and organizations honored.

Stanley said the project was the only privately developed project in the group to win the award.

"I was happy to be a part of bringing back to life a historic building," said Stanley. "The only thing New England and the Berkshires has to sell right now is that New England kind of look and feel. What makes us unique is our institutional architecture and the sense that this is a unique place to be."

The Kinnell-Kresge Building was built in 1918 as a joint development by Dr. George Kinnell, a local veterinarian, and the S.S. Kresge chain of five-and-dime stores. It was designed by Pittsfield architect Joseph McArthur Vance.

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The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 26, 2010

"Beacon Cinema's deserved honors"
As frustrating as was the slow development of Pittsfield's Beacon Cinema, the awards it is receiving now that it has opened attest to the value of doing a project the right way even if it is time consuming. The cinema and the Kinnell-Kresge building it is housed in has been honored with a 2010 Historic Preservation Award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and a citation from the state Senate, and Beacon managing partner and developer Richard Stanley will receive an Excellence in Community Development Award next week from the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, which provided the project with $7.5 million in tax credits. The cinema is a state of the art movie house located in a nearly century-old building now restored to life. That's a winning combination that will long grace North Street.

"Newcomer to North Street"
The closing of Bobby Hudpucker's Bar and Grill on North Street shortly before the Beacon opened last year was a surprise given the success of the restaurant at its former East Street locale and the promising presence of a nearby clientele base. So it's encouraging that the empty space will now be filled intriguingly by a French-style bistro with a family atmosphere. The owners and operators of Brulees Restaurant and Catering, Kenneth and Cara Peckham, have local roots and restaurant experience, and Brulees should be a welcome addition to downtown.

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"Council to study public’s ideas"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 25, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Due to an abundance of public input, the city needs another month to finalize plans to refurbish the First Street Common.

The final design -- based on citizen input -- was scheduled to be unveiled Monday night, but city planners postponed the last of three public meetings regarding the project to June 21, 7 p.m., at City Hall.

Once the design phase is complete, Pittsfield has "priority placement" to receive up to $1 million to reconstruct and update the park, according to Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer. The city expects to select a contractor for the project by late fall.

Since nearly 50 residents reviewed three "very initial concepts" for renovating the Common at the April 24 meeting, more than 200 people have commented on the proposals after seeing them on the city’s website, according to city planners.

"We’re very, very pleased with the extent of public interest in this project," said Ruffer. "However, there needs to be more internal discussion of what the input tells us before we present a final design."

While the online public comment period has passed, the three concepts can still be found at www.pittsfield.com and click on Parks and Recreation.

The landscape architect firm of Vanasse Haugen & Brustlin (VHB) developed the three plans from suggestions made at the March public input session and meetings with various city youth, civic and neighborhood groups.

The preliminary designs for the 127-year-old public park include keeping the playgrounds, open lawn and, in two scenarios, the skateboard park. An ice skating rink and the Berkshire Carousel project are among the additions being considered.

City officials and VHB expect the final design will be based on aspects of all three proposals, but "Concept A" seems to be the front-runner among Pittsfield residents.

"Overwhelmingly, people supported a wide plaza along First Street and the circular open space shown in ‘Concept A,’" said Ruffer.

However, Ruffer said the online comments resulted in "diverse responses" to keeping the skateboard park at the Common and whether to include the ice skating rink and/or the privately funded Berkshire Carousel.

During the April public meeting, at least two-thirds of the 50 people in attendance favored ice skating and the carousel at the Common, but a 2-to-1 majority voted to relocate the skateboard park to another city recreational area.

The commonalties of all three designs include saving existing trees, better lighting, new restrooms, a perimeter fence, open lawn, more walkways, a bandstand and/or multi-purpose pavilion, one or two basketball courts, and two playgrounds.
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"Council backs airport loan"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 26, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council approved a $6 million loan to begin paying for Pittsfield Municipal Airport's $22.5 million runway expansion, which could begin this summer.

By a 9-2 vote, the council Tuesday night backed Mayor James M. Ruberto's funding request, subject to the project receiving a final -- but crucial -- permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Airport officials have said they expect a decision by mid-June, with Phase 1 of the expansion getting under way a month or two later.

Airport manager Mark Germanowski said the city would be reimbursed through a combination of state and federal funding. But Pittsfield taxpayers would still have pay $1 million toward the $7 million cost of Phase 1.

Time to act

After more than a decade of planning, review and debate, the majority of councilors felt it was time the project moved forward.

"There's no more time to slow this down -- it's been 12 years," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

"It's an infrastructure issue, as the airport is part of the city of Pittsfield," said Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman. "We own it, so let's get it right."

The initial phase of work calls for replacing approximately 5.7 acres of wetlands and one-tenth of an acre of a nearby body of water being filled to make way for a pair of 1,000- by 400-foot safety areas -- one at either end of the airport's main runway.

FAA rules

Federal Aviation Administration regulations require a minimum of 1,000 feet of safety area at each end of the runway. The airport's main runway currently has less than 200 feet of safety area at each end.

Germanowski said the work to actually extend the 5,000-foot main runway by 590 feet would begin in 2011 and take two years to complete.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, who along with Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols voted against the airport loan, continued to call for further assessment of the project's environmental and economic impact.

Some dissent

Nichols felt airport officials hadn't been forthcoming on all the financial operations of the airport and they hadn't proven worthy of overseeing the project.

"The airport is a failed business of the city of Pittsfield," he said. "It's owned by the citizens and it's not being properly managed."

Nichols also said he had yet to find a resident who would directly benefit from an expanded and safer airport.

Support seen

However, Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon found plenty of her constituents -- based on an e-mail survey -- supporting the project.

"I was absolutely in shock the survey came back 11-1 in favor of it," Yon said.

City officials view an expanded and upgraded airport crucial to attracting and keeping businesses in Pittsfield, allowing for easier access to and from the city. However, the Airport Commission continued to claim the project's top priority has always been making the airport safer.

"It's about protecting the users of the airport, people living near the airport and all the citizens of Pittsfield," said Commission Chairman Kevin Magner.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"City approves Haddad expansion"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 27, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A Lenox-based car dealership will receive tax incentives toward expanding its Pittsfield operations and creating new jobs in the city.

By an 8-3 vote, the City Council on Tuesday night approved a 10-year Tax Increment Finance (TIF) agreement for Haddad Motor Group Inc. Councilors Jonathan N. Lothrop, Joseph C. Nichols and Michael L. Ward were opposed to the deal.

Haddad wants to establish a Hyundai retail operation at the former Pete's Chrysler facility on East Street, across from Haddad Subaru. The Korean-made vehicles are currently sold alongside Toyota models at Haddad's main lot on Pittsfield Road (Routes 7 and 20). The nearly $1 million project also includes upgrades to the building housing the Subaru dealership.

The proposed TIF would affect real estate taxes paid on any new construction or renovations, and would be assessed in 10 percent increments, reaching 100 percent after the 10th year.

While the TIF would forgive $70,000 in taxes, city officials said the Haddad project would generate $12,000 in annual tax revenue when the 10-year agreement expires.

The majority of councilors viewed the TIF as a good way to bolster local business.

"Anybody willing to invest $1 million in the city and hire 12 people, we should support such economic growth," said Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon.

Company President George Haddad had said the project would create at least 12 new jobs with an average annual salary of $50,000 and retain 21 others when it's completed by Dec. 31.

However, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop felt awarding a TIF to a retailer favored one business over another.

"Most TIFs have been for commercial or industrial [projects]," Lothrop said. "I have a tremendous problem with retail."

Several councilors said they didn't hear complaints from other car dealerships in the city, who could also avail themselves of the Pittsfield tax incentive programs.

"Any other business wanting to invest that kind of money could qualify for a TIF," said Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pittsfield Mayor’s budget restores $4.2M"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 27, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto on Thursday unveiled a budget that increases expenditures by $4.2 million -- replacing nearly the same amount of funds slashed from the current spending plan.

Ruberto officially presented his $126.9 million budget during a special meeting of the City Council.

The fiscal 2011 budget proposal, up from the current $122.7 million, represents a return to fiscal 2009 spending levels of $126.8 million.

"This is a very responsible budget as it continues to serve residents of Pittsfield," said Ruberto.

He cited the need to maintain core services such as police and fire protection, education and improved housing conditions.

"Our MCAS scores are rising, our graduation rates are rising, and through code enforcement we have a much higher quality of housing in our neighborhoods," Ruberto said.

While Pittsfield Public Schools account for almost half of the $4.2 million increase, the mayor said "the $2 million hike in school spending specifically reflects the loss of the Safe Schools grant and federal stimulus funding."

The good news is the budget is based on a $140,000 reduction in state aid -- a far cry from the $4 million in cuts the city had to absorb in the current fiscal 2010.

If the City Council approves the preliminary budget as is, the residential tax rate would jump from $14.20 per $1,000 in assessed value to $14.91. That translates to $119.14 more a year for the average single-family home worth $186,000. The commercial and industrial tax rate is projected to increase from $29.41 to $30.88 -- or an average of $826.88 for property valued at $562,000.

"We’re only estimating -- not setting -- the tax rate at this time," said Ruberto. "We typically over-estimate in June what rate we set in December."

To keep the tax increase to a minimum, Ruberto has asked the City Council to use $2.4 million of Pittsfield’s $4.8 million in reserve funds, also called the "free cash" account, to help balance the budget.

The funding measure raised an immediate red flag with veteran Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti.

"My concern is using about 50 percent of our free cash," said Marchetti. "We have a nest egg and using half of it in one budget leaves us nothing for future years."

The City Council will begin its budget hearings Tuesday at 7 p.m. in City Hall, with additional meetings scheduled for June 2, 10, 14 and 16.

After Ruberto’s presentation, several councilors said they plan to scrutinize all aspects of his preliminary budget.

"It’s important to look at what services we provide citizens that they can’t get anywhere else or on their own, like police protection," said Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman.

Sherman and several of his colleagues said Department of Public Works and Utilities will be reviewed closely ensuring it meets taxpayers’ needs.

"I get a lot of complaints about the condition of the streets and sidewalks," said Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon. "I hope there’s enough money to address these issues."

The highway portion of public works calls for level funding of $2.4 million. However, Ruberto is proposing a $4.3 million capital budget for fiscal 2011 mostly devoted to public works projects.

"We do need road construction as that’s the [issue] I get the most calls on," said Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White. "I could cite 10 to 20 streets that need full repair."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Parking rules could change: Spaces at McKay Street and the nearby open lot in Pittsfield might be converted this summer."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 31, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The McKay Street parking garage and neighboring open lot could have new rules and user fees this summer as the city continues to revamp its parking downtown.

City officials propose keeping free and permitted parking at the two municipal facilities while discontinuing contracts with downtown employers that use some of the parking spaces. All 987 garage spaces would be reserved for permit parking from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for the 58 spots at street-level, which would remain three-hour free public spaces.

In addition, the 161 spaces in Lot 5A at the corner of McKay and Depot streets would be converted from permit-parking only to 121 free-public parking spots -- limited to three hours -- and 40 permitted spots.

People who currently have permits for the outdoor lot could transfer to the parking garage, since it has nearly 400 unused permitted spaces on weekdays, city officials said.

The monthly permit fees would range from $20 to $70, compared to the current fees of $20 to $50.

If the City Council approves the new off-street parking plan by July 1, it would coincide with the expiration of parking contracts the city has with downtown businesses. Pittsfield has agreements with five businesses allowing their employees to use 313 of the 1,148 available spaces. Some arrangements have already expired, and the others will expire by July 1.

The city originally relied on parking contracts to help pay the loan for building the McKay Street parking garage, which opened in July 1988.

However, city officials said there is now more need for public parking with the revitalization of North Street. Visitors have been clamoring for more three-hour parking spaces so they can spend more time downtown since the opening of several new restaurants, stores and the Beacon Cinema within the past year.

"Lot 5A is ideal for more three-hour parking as it's more easily accessible and visible than the parking garage," said Bruce I. Collingwood, the Public Works and Utilities commissioner, who oversees the city's off-street parking.

While the majority of the monthly parking permits will cost $35, Collingwood said some parking garage users may want to pay $70 to be guaranteed the same spot on weekdays between 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"I'm not sure what demand there will be for reserved parking," he said. "It depends on who wants to pay the $70."

The revised McKay Street off-street parking plan follows the City Council ‘s approval in April of several changes to lengthen on-street parking in the downtown. Depot and Edwin streets were increased from 90-minute to three-hour parking, as was the small open lot in front of the parking garage. A proposal from Downtown Inc. to increase the weekday time limits on North Street and several side streets between Park Square and Columbus Avenue is still under review by the Pittsfield Traffic Commission.

Critics of increased three-hour parking have feared some downtown employees would abuse the free parking privilege by moving their vehicles every three hours to avoid getting a parking permit and tying up spaces for visitors.

So far, no complaints.

"I have heard nothing and that's good," said Yvonne Pearson, the executive director of Downtown Inc. "Even the small lot still has some spaces available during the weekday."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Changing spaces"

City officials have proposed new monthly parking permit fees for off-street parking on McKay Street, which would take effect July 1 if approved by the City Council. All permits would be in effect weekdays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Lot 5A: $35, up from $25

Parking garage:

* $25 for rooftop (unchanged)

* $35 in a covered area, down from $50

* $70 for a permit in covered, reserved area (new fee)
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Above, children 13 and younger play ‘Catch the Colonial’ Monday at the home opener for the Pittsfield Colonials. The crowd, while not a sellout, filled about 70 percent of the seats at the stadium. (Photos by Ian Grey / Special to The Eagle)
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"A baseball revolution in Pittsfield"
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 1, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- As soon as he began singing the first few lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner," even some fans in the beer line at Wahconah Park rushed back to the stands to hear "the Berkshires' own" James Taylor.

Taylor, a Stockbridge resident, strode onto the ballfield Monday afternoon, wearing a Pittsfield Colonials cap and carrying his guitar. After singing the National Anthem to formally open the baseball team's home season, he hung around, signing autographs and talking with Colonial ballplayers and fans.

"What a great ceremony," said Shawn Considine of Lenox, whose son, Christopher, works at the park. "I'm feeling very grateful that James Taylor came out and opened the season."

Taylor's wife, Kim, and Pittsfield guitarist Billy Keane opened the afternoon with a rendering of "God Bless America." Keane later returned to render "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning.

"You know, this was a very family-oriented afternoon," said Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto. "We had James Taylor singing the national anthem, his lovely wife, Kim, singing ‘God Bless America' and their two sons, Rufus and Henry, were honorary bat boys. That was something [Colonials co-owner] Buddy Lewis planned."

The day was, in fact, a star-studded experience. In addition to the Taylors and Ruberto, Gov. Deval Patrick and his wife, Diane, were also in attendance.

Patrick was one of several luminaries who tossed out the first pitch. He, however, did not stand in the infield and pitch like some of the rest of the dignitaries. He got on the mound, reared back and delivered a high strike.

"I'm a fair-weather [baseball] fan," said Patrick. "But something like this, I like a lot. I'm thrilled to be here. I'm thrilled for the families here; thrilled at the investment by the city of Pittsfield. That's what excites me."

The crowd was not a sellout, with perhaps 70 percent of the seats filled.

"It's very family friendly," said David Esko of Dalton, who was at the park with his young son, Daniel.

Esko has been coming to the ballpark for several years. So far, he said, he was impressed by the park and the team.

"It's great for families because it's pretty inexpensive, and great for fans because the caliber of baseball is pretty good. There are some good ballplayers out there."

Lewis, the team co-owner, later lauded the investment and support from the city. He conceded that some residents "are skeptical about coming out to the ballpark and we understand that. But we know that if we provide a nice facility and an entertaining team, the people will come and they'll bring their friends."

Ruberto estimated that Pittsfield has invested more than $750,000 into the park. Ernest Fortini, director of Buildings and Grounds for the city, said that the park now features a new infield, new fences, new foul nets, a new public address system and renovated bleachers in left field.

"But among the biggest investments we've made are in the restrooms," he said.

Indeed, the restrooms, where drainage was an issue for many years, were clean and pleasant.

In addition, said Fortini, the drainage in the parking lot has been greatly upgraded. Ruberto said that while the parking lot is still a work in progress, the city plans to fundraise for a final upgrade.

"The perception that the park and amenities are rundown is now a myth," Fortini said.
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To reach Derek Gentile: dgentile@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 528-3660.
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Athena, Greek goddess of war, looks out over the Memorial Day crowd Monday after the newly restored Pittsfield Veterans Memorial was rededicated. (Ian Grey / Special to The Eagle)
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"Dedicated to fallen heroes"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 1, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Marie Bidwell Leuchs of Monterey has a special connection to the Pittsfield Veterans Memorial.

Leuchs, 83, the niece of sculptor, Augustus Lukeman, was born two days before her uncle's creation was originally dedicated on July 8, 1926.

"It's kind of hard to forget that date," said Leuchs, following Monday's rededication ceremony of the restored monument.

Lukeman, who also created the statue of President William McKinley in Adams, was commissioned to do the Pittsfield monument as a tribute to the nearly 3,000 Pittsfield-area residents who served in World War I. Since then, the memorial has come to represent all war veterans and is most visible on Veterans Day, when the city hosts services there. Today, it takes center stage in the city's Memorial Day ceremonies.

"It's beautiful to see it back in all its glory," Leuchs said.

She was among hundreds of invited guests, local veterans, city and state dignitaries and Pittsfield residents who gathered for the unveiling of the refurbished memorial -- also known as the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

The 90-minute ceremony under sunny, blue skies on Veterans Way between South Street and Colt Road followed the city's Memorial Day parade. Because of the rededication, the parade ended at the monument rather than the traditional location of Pittsfield Cemetery on Wahconah Street.

The rededication concluded an 18-month privately funded effort to return the bronze statue to its original luster. Lt. Col. Gregor T. Young, vice commander of Pittsfield American Legion Post 68, initially spearheaded the project in November 2008. The city formed the Pittsfield Veterans Memorial Restoration Committee in March 2009.

The group raised $65,000 toward the restoration, which cost nearly $50,000, according to Jeff Thompson, the committee's chairman. Thompson has said the remaining funds, coupled with $8,700 left over from the monument's original dedication ceremony, would pay to maintain the memorial for 20 years. The statues of four soldiers surrounding Athena, the Greek goddess of war, had been battered by weather and vandals for decades.

The restored monument -- and what it stands for -- drew high praise from all generations of Pittsfield residents.

"It looks like victory," said Lt. Margaret Haggerty, 100, a former U.S. Army nurse, who served in Italy and North Africa during World War II. "Those guys look like they could win anything."

"It shows the pride we have in our community," said Michael Burton, a 17-year-old senior at Taconic High School, who spoke during the ceremony.

The Eagle Scout from Pittsfield's Boy Scout Troop 8 recalled how his late grandfather and World War II veteran, Wallace J. Burton, instilled in him the meaning of Memorial Day and what the monument represents.

"Pride, honor, remembrance and thankfulness," the teenager said. "Because of this man, I'm thankful for all veterans."

The restoration committee hired Daedalus Inc. of Watertown to clean the statue and recast in bronze its seven missing pieces, including the strap of a rifle, a sword handle and the top of a laurel branch held by Athena.

While the four soldiers don't represent anyone in particular, retired Pittsfield Judge Rudolph Sacco said they have universal appeal.

"Who of your loved ones and friends do these statues represent," said Sacco, the keynote speaker.

The refurbished Pittsfield Veterans Memorial completes several marked improvements to the monument since Veterans Day 2008.

The most dramatic change was the reinstallation of the memorial's original lights, which were discovered in an old city storage shed in June 2009. The vintage 1926 lamps were restored and relit during a separate ceremony on Oct. 20.
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"Pittsfield In budget talks, council cool to more library cuts"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 1, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- City Council to Mayor James M. Ruberto: Spend more money on Pittsfield’s public library.

The council delivered that message Tuesday night as it began reviewing Ruberto’s proposed city budget of $126.9 million for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1.

While the spending plan reflects a $4.2 million increase over the current budget of $122.7 million, funding to the Berkshire Athenaeum would be cut by $58,000. Director Ronald Latham said the reduction would result in less money to staff the children’s section and buy new books and other materials.

The library already is reeling from the $74,000 reduction the council adopted last June for fiscal 2010. Latham was forced to close the facility for four hours early on Monday, limit the use of staff, and curtail the purchase of books and certain reference publications.

A petition of 414 citizens in November urged the mayor to restore the $74,000, but the request was denied. However, during Tuesday’s budget hearing, the City Council voted 7-4 against any further spending cuts at the athenaeum.

"I supported the citizen petition to increase the [library] budget and I’m staying true to my word," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti.

"I will find it hard to support such a substantial cut, as well," said Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols.

Furthermore, additional cuts to the library would jeopardize its state reimbursement of $49,000.

"One thing we must prove to get our funds is the library wasn’t cut disproportionately to the rest of the city budget," Latham said.

The councilors, preliminarily endorsed spending for the Health and Building departments, the mayor’s office, the city’s volunteer program, RSVP, Council on Aging and Cultural Development.

The City Council will continue its budget hearings at 7 tonight in City Hall, with additional meetings scheduled for June 10, 14 and 16. The public hearing for the budget is scheduled for June 22.

If the City Council approves the preliminary budget as is, the residential tax rate would jump from $14.20 per $1,000 in assessed value to $14.91. That translates to nearly $119 more a year for the average single-family home worth $186,000. The commercial and industrial tax rate is projected to increase from $29.41 to $30.88 -- or an average of almost $827 for property valued at $562,000.

"Keep in mind these are estimates only, and the tax rate won’t be set until after the tax classification hearing in December," said city Finance Director Susan Carmel.

To keep the tax increase to a minimum, Ruberto has asked the City Council to use $2.4 million of Pittsfield’s $4.8 million in reserve funds, also called the "free cash" account, to help balance the budget. He also anticipated a net increase in state aid of $133,000 and the City Council adopting the local meals tax, which would generate another $340,000.

Ruberto said his proposed budget is designed to "build a stronger and better community" compared to other cities across Massachusetts.

"A number of communities have slashed services, closed schools and reduced their police and fire departments," Ruberto said. "It’s times like these we separate ourselves from those communities."
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"Spare library further cuts"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, June 3, 2010

When it comes to cutting an already tight budget there are no good choices, but the Berkshire Athenaeum has suffered mightily in recent years. We agree with the 7-4 majority of the Pittsfield City Council that the library should be spared a further $58,000 in budget cuts.

The library took a $74,000 hit a year ago that had an impact on staff use and hours, as well as the purchase of books and reference material. Another cut would result in more painful reductions, perhaps to the children's section, and put in jeopardy the state's reimbursement of $49,000. Just as the loss of federal financing was a powerful argument in favor of funding the city's share of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport project, the potential loss of state money makes a good case for avoiding further reductions to the Athenaeum's budget.

The library is a valuable resource for the city, one that enables all to have access to information at a time when having good information has never been more important. It encourages reading, which is the surest antidote to the increasing dumbing down of society. The Athenaeum should be spared further budget cuts.
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"No more budget hits for city library"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, June 3, 2010

Once again we head into the end of the fiscal year for our municipalities in Massachusetts. As usual, budget cutbacks are in the offing. My part-time coworkers and I at the Berkshire Athenaeum are waiting to see how many of our hours will be pared down. This is my second round of employment with the city of Pittsfield. In my first stint I worked for the Veterans Service Dept. at City Hall for four years and was then laid off. That was 17 years ago and I am sorry to say that things have not changed much at all.

A city or town’s library is one of the most vital services offered for the public. I would not term it free in the sense that our taxes pay for it, but it is accessible to any and all people who want to utilize the library. The library is a treasure house of information. Our library has many high-quality services. The reference department has excellent librarians who truly strive to help out their patrons. I have observed these librarians on many occasions and they really strive to do their job as well as they can.

The children’s department has excellent books and staff. As a library shelver I see many of the books and they have a good variety. Other departments such as local history and technical services are more "background" but are vital to the infrastructure of the library.

As a Berkshire Athenaeum employee I understand that the public is in general not aware of and does not understand how all of our departments operate, but our library as a whole is a valuable asset to the community. Not just in Pittsfield, but in any community anywhere.

It seems as if our most valuable resources are always hit the hardest in a time of budget cutbacks. Last year the young adults department lost its coverage of library clerks. Help for that department is now diverted to the reference department. Hopefully the children’s department will not be targeted for cutbacks.

DIANE M. DITMAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Panel recommends serving a meals tax"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 7, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Diners are a step closer to paying a municipal meals tax that would boost city coffers and help offset the drop in state aid to Pittsfield.

By a 4-0 vote, the City Council’s Committee on Ordinance and Rules on Monday night recommended the entire council body approve the new local fee in two weeks.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo abstained from voting and left the council chambers during discussion of the meals tax as her husband is co-owner of Mazzeo’s Ristorante on South Street.

Councilor Paul J. Capitanio, whose family owns the East Side Cafe and Cover Bakery, and Councilor Joseph C. Nichols have indicated they may also refrain from voting on the meals tax during the council’s June 22 meeting. They are not members of the ordinance and rules committee.

Mayor James M. Ruberto is asking the council to OK the 0.75 percent rate, which would amount to 75 cents on a $100 tab.

With the tax, the state Department of Revenue estimated Pittsfield could generate nearly $338,000 annually in revenue. Ruberto has said he’s already factored the meals tax money into his proposed $126.9 million city budget. The City Council is reviewing the spending plan, which must be approved by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

The City Council subcommittee felt the added revenue is just another way to help balance the budget during tough economic times.

"We’ve started budget discussions already and we’re trying to maintain services such as those at the Berkshire Athenaeum," Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman said, referring to the city’s public library.

"It’s not a matter of budget cuts or raising taxes -- we need to do both," said Councilor Michael L. Ward.

If Pittsfield adopts the meals tax, it would join Lee, Great Barring-ton, Dalton and Williamstown as the only other Berkshire County communities to enact the local fee created by state lawmakers last year. In June 2009, the Legislature gave cities and towns the option to add the meals tax as a way to help offset the decrease in state aid.

However, the $338,000 in meals tax revenue barely helps Pittsfield recover the millions in state aid lost during the current fiscal year.

"We’re only talking about a 10 percent return on a $4 million cut," Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

While Sherman supported the new local tax, he still worried it would create additional paperwork for restaurant owners and possibly curtail their business as well.

Councilor John M. Krol Jr. doubted the meals tax would greatly impact eating out in Pittsfield.

"The 75 cents on a $100 bill is not going to be a deterrent," Krol said.
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"School jobs in jeopardy"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 10, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Public Schools should avoid cutting 15 jobs from its payroll.

Nearly 40 teachers, parents and students delivered that message to the School Committee Wednesday night during its public hearing and review of the proposed $52.6 million budget for fiscal 2011.

The panel is scheduled to adopt a final budget today during a special meeting at 5 p.m. at the school administration center on First Street. The City Council will hold its budget hearing on the spending plan at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

While the spending plan reflects a nearly $915,000 increase over the current $51.7 million budget, it's $640,000 less than the one original proposed last month of $53.2 million. The revised preliminary budget includes the loss of 15 full- and part-time positions the city's teachers union wants to prevent.

"My challenge to you is a level service budget and bring it back to where we are now," said Scott Eldridge, president of the United Educators of Pittsfield. "If we lose a librarian or a nurse, we put students at risk."

Actually, reducing the two middle school librarians from full-time to half-time positions are among the proposed staff reductions that include secretaries, custodians, paraprofessionals and substitute, vocational and special education teachers.

Superintendent of Schools Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said the School Department cuts would be through retirements, people moving to other positions or outright layoffs.

"We don't have a serious impact in any one area," said School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso. "But there is still an impact, especially if you are one of the teachers being affected."

School officials said the positions being eliminated were primarily based on declining enrollment in certain classes, especially at the middle and high school levels.

That criteria didn't sit well with Valerie Anderson, who has two students in the city school system.

"Enrollment, by itself, should decide which teachers are cut," said Anderson. "Their value to the students should also be a factor."

The $640,000 in staffing cuts and other reductions are necessary to help offset the loss of state and federal aid. Pittsfield will only have $443,000 in stimulus money for fiscal 2011, compared to the $2.3 million used to balance the current fiscal 2010 budget.

Furthermore, school officials have learned direct state aid to Massachusetts public schools -- or Chapter 70 funds -- is now in jeopardy thanks to the federal government. Eberwein said state officials have indicated the Bay state may not receive more than $600 million in federal reimbursement for medical costs that could result in a "20 to 25 percent" statewide cut in Chapter 70 allocations.

"We need to do our best to reach out to state and federal lawmakers to help get that money," he said.

Pittsfield schools are already bracing for a reduction in grant funding in fiscal 2011 for specialized programs and support services. The district currently relies on $11.6 million in federal, state and private grants, but at least $600,000 in state and federal aid is being cut from the Title I reading program and the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC), which serves at-risk students.

The committee and school officials have vowed to directly fund both of them by budgeting $400,000 for the JRC and $200,000 toward Title I.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"School board adopts budget: The $52.6 million plan for 2011 will eliminate 15 jobs through layoffs, retirement and reassignments starting July 1."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee has adopted a $52.6 million budget that eliminates 15 jobs within the School Department in fiscal 2011 starting July 1.

By a vote of 5-0, the board approved a spending plan that reflects a nearly $915,000 increase over the current $51.7 million budget, but its $640,000 less than the original one proposed last month of $53.2 million.

Mayor James M. Ruberto and committee member Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga were absent from the meeting on Thursday afternoon. The mayor is a voting member of the school board.

The City Council will now hold its budget hearing on the school spending plan on Monday 7 p.m., at City Hall. The education budget is part of Ruberto's overall proposed city budget of $126.9 million.

City school officials said the 15 across-the-board staff reductions will be made through retirements, reassigning teachers to other open positions and outright layoffs.

"While we're making cuts that are the least painful," said committee member Daniel C. Elias, "It's tough to look over these things because I can put a face to these [staff reductions]."

The city's teachers union -- as it did at Wednesday's school budget hearing -- urged the School Committee to maintain current staffing levels and provide a level-service budget.

"The children and the citizens of Pittsfield demand that," said Scott Eldridge, president of the United Educators of Pittsfield.

However, resident Terry Kinnas felt the school budget cuts should have been deeper to account for the loss of any state and federal grants.

"Some grants have ended and the program is done," Kinnas said. "Don't continue it."

The Juvenile Resource Center, which serves at-risk students, is one such program losing grant money being directly funded with $400,000 of city taxpayer dollars.

Superintendent of Schools Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said the School Committee may have to make further adjustments to the school budget if additional grants, as well as the state aid, are cut.

"We can expect a lot of movement in the next 30 days in grants and Chapter 70 money as these amounts remain unresolved," Eberwein said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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What's next ...
The City Council will review the proposed $52.6 million school budget, adopted Thursday by the Pittsfield School Committee, on Monday, 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The education spending plan is part of the overall proposed city budget of $126.9 million. If approved by the council, it would take effect July 1.
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"Economic efforts lauded"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Creative economy officials from across the state came together at the Colonial Theatre on Friday to praise Pittsfield's redevelopment efforts and discuss the steps that are needed to further those improvements.

The meeting is one of four that will be held throughout the state by MassINC, a nonprofit think tank that uses non-partisan research, civic journalism and public forums to stimulate debate and shape public policy. These gatherings feature gateway cities like Pittsfield, and their efforts to improve economic opportunities.

In Pittsfield, as well as gateway cites like Lowell and New Bedford, those efforts have been centered on the change from an industrial center to one that focuses on creative and cultural endeavors on a community-wide basis. That effort is succeeding here better than some other areas, said MassINC's executive vice president, John Schneider.

"There's a grassroots element about it that's become more institutionalized than in other places," said Schneider.

Schneider pointed to the Colonial's restoration as one of the city's key revitalization efforts, and cited Mayor James M. Ruberto's efforts in transforming the city's image and economy.

"It's not just a tired old mill town, there's some interesting opportunities here," said Schneider.

He said that enthusiasm needs to be tempered with a realistic approach to the work that remains.

"You're trying to turn around decades-long decline," said Schneider. "That's going to take time, and some risks and some failure."

The major issues that need to be addressed to continue those efforts include increased inter-connectivity between cultural institutions and other business sectors, improved networking with the entire county and beyond, and greater education and workforce development, the attendees said.

Helena Fruscio, the director of Berkshire Creative, said continuing to inform industries outside the creative economy that they need to work together will be a major step in this area's revitalization.

"It's the breaking down of the silos and saying, ‘Yes, you are a part of this,'" said Fruscio.

David M. Rooney, the president of the Berkshire Economic Corp., said other improvements need to be done to draw people to the area and foster more growth.

"The more we improve the quality of life, the more opportunities you're going to create from that," said Rooney.

Rooney also said the region needs to leveraging the strengths that already exist here, and expanding its connections with areas that range from the Hudson Valley in New York to the Connecticut River Valley.
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"Council comfortable with school budget"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 15, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has given the proposed $52.6 million school budget a passing grade.

The 11-member board on Monday night initially endorsed the spending plan as part of the city's overall proposed budget of $126.9 million. The unanimous vote came during the panel's latest budget review meeting before a large crowd of teachers, parents and school administrators who packed the council chambers.

The councilors will hold a final review session of the city budget Wednesday night before taking a final vote June 22 on the fiscal 2011 funding request from Mayor James M. Ruberto.

While the school budget reflects a nearly $915,000 increase over the current $51.7 million budget, it's $640,000 less than the one originally proposed last month of $53.2 million. The revised budget includes the loss of 15 full- and part-time positions through retirements, people moving to other positions or outright layoffs, school officials said.

The two middle school librarians going from full-time to half-time positions are among the staff reductions that include secretaries, custodians, paraprofessionals and substitute, vocational and special education teachers.

Several councilors expressed concern over fewer school employees, but understood the school department's need to live within its means.

"In no way are we turning our back on the school system," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti. ‘We're simply holding our ground."

However, Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward felt the $640,000 in cuts could've been offset by school employees forgoing $584,000 in contractual salary hikes.

"I was disappointed to see layoffs at the same time as keeping the pay raises," Ward said. "This was the year to forgo pay raises."

The $640,000 in staffing cuts and other reductions are necessary to help offset the loss of state and federal aid. Pittsfield will only have $443,000 in stimulus money for fiscal 2011, compared to the $2.3 million used to balance the current fiscal 2010 budget.

In addition, city taxpayers will shell out $2.1 million more in fiscal 2011 than in the current fiscal 2010 to close the funding gap.

"We're solidifying our commitment to education," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

The City Council backed the school budget after hearing Pittsfield School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III explain how taxpayer investment in the city school system is paying off in the classroom. He noted the dropout rate keeps falling, the graduation rate continues to rise and student test scores are still improving.

"For the first time in six years, our special education students out-performed their peers statewide," Eberwein said.

While several councilors congratulated Eberwein for the school systems continued success, he deflected the praise to the teachers in attendance.

"These folks sitting behind me get it done," he said. "Give them the credit."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"A sad chapter in Pittsfield history"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, June 15, 2010

The recent development in Pittsfield regarding the resignation of the CEO of the Greylock Federal Credit Union is a very sad chapter in our community’s history. While making no judgment, I am saddened to know the political influence and misgivings that have been rendered on our city and community and the unknown implications that will have a lasting effect on all of us.

Unfortunately for us our city has had no sincere and truthful leadership for quite some time. It is time the citizens of Pittsfield come together to right the wrongs of our current administration and the influence it receives from outside sources. Only time will tell the residual effects of this tragedy for all of us but for now our city’s heart is breaking.

DONNA M. WALTO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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This architectural rendering, released by Vanasse Haugen & Brustlin (VHB), shows the final design of the First Street Common in Pittsfield. (Courtesy art)
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"City unveils First Street Common park design: The final plans will be reviewed Monday at a public hearing."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 18, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The city has unveiled a final design to refurbish the First Street Common at the same time the state has awarded a $885,000 grant toward the initial phase of the project.

The design, which was based on citizen input, will be reviewed at a public meeting at 7 p.m., Monday, at City Hall.

The landscape architect firm of Vanasse Haugen & Brustlin (VHB) has based the final proposal on three "initial concepts" developed from suggestions made at two previous public input sessions, meetings with various city youth, civic and neighborhood groups, and the city's online survey.

Key changes for the 127-year-old park include the addition of a gazebo and a performance pavilion overlooking the open lawn, upgrading the playground and maintaining a single basketball court. Furthermore, the park improvements include saving existing trees, better lighting, new restrooms, a perimeter fence and more walkways.

City officials expect construction to begin by Oct. 1 and completion by June 30, 2011.

"The final design doesn't include the skateboard park, but we're already committed to relocating it," said Deanna L. Ruffer, director of Pittsfield's Department of Community Development, which is overseeing the project.

Ruffer said city officials are "in discussions with the School Department" of moving the skateboard facility to the former tennis courts at the corner of Appleton and East streets, next to Pittsfield High School.

"I'm excited about the skateboard park being relocated there," said Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White. "We have an opportunity to make it ‘top notch.'"

White said skateboarders used the tennis courts, before the city built the skateboard area at the Common.

Despite some public support for an ice skating rink and the privately funded Berkshire Carousel at the Common, neither made it onto the final design. Carousel organizers still have the fallback location of the parcel they purchased at the corner of West and South Church streets. Meanwhile, Ruffer said the city could establishing the rink at Burbank Park, which has hosted ice skating during the Pittsfield Winter Carnival.

The $885,000 grant comes from the Gateway City Parks program through the Massachusetts executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The state funding, coupled with $300,000 in city money, should cover the cost of Phase 1, according to city planners. The funding is subject to City Council approval at its meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

"My rough estimate is $1 million will get us one-third of the way through," Ruffer said.

"What I saw proposed will cost us more than $1 million and people need to understand that," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

Ruffer expects a cost estimate for the entire project next month and she's confident Pittsfield will receive additional state grants to help pay for refurbishing the Common.

"As the economy improves, we'll be in line for more funding," she said.

Pittsfield is one of 18 communities the state selected for urban park renewal under the Gateway City Parks program. The city is already using a $120,000 grant to pay for the design work.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"$50K in library funds restored"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 18, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto has heeded the City Council's message to spend more money on Pittsfield's public library.

Ruberto has agreed to restore nearly all of the $58,000 reduction for the Berkshire Athenaeum for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1. The mayor recommended -- and the City Council approved this week -- to transfer $50,000 from the city's contingency fund to the library almost erasing the budget cut.

The council restored the library funding during its final budget review session of Ruberto's overall proposed spending plan of $126.9 million -- up from the current $122.7 million. Councilors also gave preliminary approval to the budget on Wednesday and they will cast a final vote at their regular meeting on Tuesday, following the public hearing for the spending plan.

At their initial budget review meeting June 2, councilors voted 7-4 against further reducing the library's budget for a second consecutive fiscal year.

"I can't recall in my seven years on the City Council money being returned to a department's budget," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

"We basically stopped the bleeding of two years in a row," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti.

The library is still reeling from the $74,000 reduction the council adopted last June for fiscal 2010. Athenaeum officials were forced to close the facility for four hours early on Monday, limit the use of staff, and curtail the purchase of books and certain reference publications.

Berkshire Athenaeum Director Ronald Latham said the $50,000 will go back into the books and materials account.

"I feel very good about the funding restoration and support from the City Council as they see the library vital to city residents," he said after Wednesday's meeting.

However, Latham cited the need to still layoff one of the two full-time positions working in the children's section, due to continuing budget constraints.

If the City Council approves the preliminary budget as is, the residential tax rate would jump from $14.20 per $1,000 in assessed value to $14.91. That translates to nearly $119 more a year for the average single-family home worth $186,000.

The commercial and industrial tax rate is projected to increase from $29.41 to $30.88 -- or an average of almost $827 for property valued at $562,000.

City financial officials have said the tax rates are estimates only, until the City Council officially approves them after the tax classification hearing in December.

To keep the tax increase to a minimum, Ruberto has asked the City Council to use $2.4 million of Pittsfield's $4.8 million in reserve funds, also called the "free cash" account, to help balance the budget. He also anticipated a net increase in state aid of $133,000 and the City Council adopting the local meals tax, which would generate another $340,000.

The council will also vote Tuesday on both the free cash request and proposed 0.75 percent fee for dining out.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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If you go ...

What: City Council hearing on Pittsfield's proposed $126.9
million budget

When: Tuesday, 7;30 p.m.

Where: City Hall, 70 Allen Street
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"Pittsfield Council adopts $127M budget: The 2011 plan offsets losses in grants and federal stimulus funding to the schools; a meals tax also receives initial approval."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 23, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council approved a $126.9 million budget for fiscal 2011 Tuesday night that returns Pittsfield to spending levels of two years ago.

The budget, which takes effect July 1, is up from the current $122.7 million and nearly mirrors the fiscal 2009 spending plan of $126.8 million.

Pittsfield Public Schools account for almost half of the $4.2 million increase due to a loss of several grants and federal stimulus money.

"I couldn't be happier to see how accepting the council was toward the School Department budget," Mayor James M. Ruberto said after the meeting. "Our schools and kids have to be our top priority.

The councilors also adopted a $4.3 million capital budget for fiscal 2011 with more than $3.1 million devoted to road improvement projects and the purchase of six new highway vehicles.

The new budget could raise the residential tax rate from $14.20 per $1,000 in assessed value to $14.91. That translates to $119.14 more a year for the average single-family home worth $186,000. The commercial and industrial tax rate is projected to increase from $29.41 to $30.88 -- or an average of $826.88 for property valued at $562,000.

However, city officials have said the property tax rates are estimates only until the City Council officially approves them after the tax classification hearing in December.

To keep the tax increase to a minimum, the City Council also voted to use $2.4 million of Pittsfield's $4.8 million in reserve funds, also called the "free cash" account, to help balance the budget.

The fiscal 2011 budget also has a rosier revenue outlook than what the council dealt with last June in approving the fiscal 2010 spending plan. The city anticipates a net increase in state aid of $133,000 for the new budget -- a far cry from the $4 million in cuts the city had to absorb in the current fiscal year.

In addition, the City Council Tuesday night initially approved a local meals tax of 0.75 percent -- 75 cents on a $100 restaurant tab -- that city financial officials anticipate will generate another $338,000 in local revenue for fiscal 2011. The councilors final vote to enact the local fee is expected at their July meeting.

In June 2009, the Legislature gave cities and towns the option to add the meals tax as way to help offset the decrease in state aid. Pittsfield joins Lee, Dalton, Great Barrington and Williamstown as the only other Berkshire County communities to adopt a local meals tax.

The City Council adopted the fiscal 2011 budget with no debate or questions for Ruberto and his administration, having done all the heavy lifting during separate budget review sessions over a two-week period prior to Tuesday's vote. The council was particularly adamant in those meetings that Ruberto restore -- which he eventually did -- $50,000 of the $58,000 he intended to cut from the Berkshire Athenaeum.

"I'm pleased with the budget process and the help the council gave me in understanding the needs of their constituents," said Ruberto.

Council President Gerald M. Lee praised Ruberto for continuing his policy of keeping councilors in the loop while the preliminary budget is being drafted.

"It helps that the mayor talks to every councilor as the process goes along so there are no surprises when we see it for the first time," Lee said.
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"Crane & Co. division staying in Dalton"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 23, 2010

DALTON -- Crane & Co. is saying no thanks to Pittsfield's $780,000 incentive package to relocate the company's stationery division to Downing Industrial Park.

It turns out the company will save even more money by moving the division into a building it owns in Dalton, just over the border from Pittsfield, said Charles Kittredge, Crane's CEO.

Kittredge said the initial estimate to refit the former E.D. Jones paper machinery manufacturing plant in Crane's Ashuelot Park was significantly cost-prohibitive. Once that site was reconsidered and the lower cost estimate revealed, the plan for Downing Industrial Park became too expensive.

"We feel we can save up to $2 million a year by consolidating in a state-of-the-art facility," Kittredge said of the Dalton location.

"We found it was financially better and made more sense for Crane in the long term. And we'll still be hiring more workers -- just 500 yards over the border from Pittsfield."

Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto said that Crane's decision was a letdown.

"It is disappointing that the work we engaged in did not result in successfully recruiting Crane to Downing Industrial Park," he said. "I can only assume Crane made a decision that was in their best interest. But it is a win because we kept them here in the Berkshires where our workers can compete for those jobs."

In April, the Pittsfield City Council unanimously approved a $500,000 grant from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to help Crane pay for the estimated $4 million project at Downing Industrial Park. The council also finalized a tax increment finance agreement that would have saved the company $280,000 over a 10-year period.

Since the consolidated Crane division will not be in Pittsfield, the city will lose out on thousands of dollars in annual property tax revenue.

The move will still allow Crane to keep 260 jobs -- currently in North Adams, Dalton and Pittsfield -- in the county, Kittredge said.

About 40 of those will open up to new hires after the transition, anticipating some workers will be unwilling or unable to work at the new location. Crane also anticipates 10 or more new positions opening up in the next five years for the stationery division.

"And we hope that many of those will go to Pittsfield folks," Kittredge said.

Crane's consolidation to its Ashuelot Park will bring together two manufacturing operations, marketing and sales offices, and warehousing into the Dalton location.
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"Common design is just that"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, June 23, 2010

Leave it to Pittsfield to once again encourage people to not visit our city. The plan for the "refurbished" First Street Common is pointless. Rather than inviting visitors into our city by having a beautiful carousel or old-fashioned hometown ice rink right downtown, we are pushing them away.

The carousel could be a focal point of the park, but instead we are going hide it away in a business district of the city on the corner of South Church and West Street. The tourists will flock here to take a leisurely stroll down South Church Street for sure.

The plan for the ice rink in the winter has also been pushed out of downtown. The city is going to try to establish a rink at Burbank Park. If I'm not mistaken that is right next to the frozen lake. Yes, I see the need to have an additional ice rink there.

I really hope that whoever is behind this design will rethink it and take advantage of this opportunity to enhance our city, not leave it as is, with an uninviting, boring, open spaced park.

CHRISTINE CASINO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Councilors irked about park funds"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 23, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- While the City Council has unanimously supported $1.1 million toward refurbishing the First Street Common, a pair of councilors claim city officials weren’t up front about the complete funding scenario.

Pittsfield will receive $885,000 from the state’s Gateway City Parks program, while the city put up $300,000 in capital money. The council on Tuesday night voted to accept the grant and spend local taxpayer dollars for Phase 1 of upgrading the 127-year-old park.

City officials said the grant -- officially awarded June 16 -- required matching funds from the city and that construction must begin by Oct. 1 and be completed June 30, 2011.

Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols and Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo said the state stipulating matching funds caught them by surprise.

"It was news to me," said Nichols.

Mazzeo was especially critical of Deanna L. Ruffer, director of Pittsfield’s Department of Community Development, which is overseeing the project.

"We weren’t told enough this was a matching grant," Mazzeo said.

Ruffer said the matching fund requirement was known in March and publicized, but the specifics weren’t revealed until a week ago.

"We did not know what the amount of the match would be until we received the letter of commitment from the state," she said.

Several councilors defended the city’s handling of the planning process, which relied heavily on citizen input for the final design.

"I see this as one of the most open projects I have ever seen," said Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White.

The scope of Phase 1 and the total cost of the entire project are unknown at this point, according to Ruffer. Those answers ought to be determined by the July 20 meeting of the Parks Commission, which has the final say on the park’s design.

Ruffer has also expressed confidence Pittsfield will receive additional state grants to help pay for the project.

Nichols was uncomfortable with the remaining uncertainties surrounding the refurbishing of the Common.

"It’s an injustice to get people excited about a project we haven’t secured all the funding for," he said. "It’s difficult to back it without seeing the end numbers."

Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti said city officials could’ve have better informed the public about certain details, "but, from Day 1, we knew it was a costly project."

And that cost, Marchetti said, is being driven by Pittsfield residents who gave input into the design.

The landscape architect firm Vanasse Haugen & Brustlin based the final proposal on three "initial concepts" developed from suggestions made at two previous public input sessions, meetings with various city youth, civic and neighborhood groups and the city’s online survey.

Key changes to the Common include a performance pavilion facing the open lawn, a gazebo with new restrooms, better lighting, more walkways and a perimeter fence. Furthermore, the refurbished park will save existing trees and maintain a single basketball court.

The new-look downtown park won’t include two publicly supported activities: skateboarding and ice skating. City officials said they are "committed" to relocating the existing skateboard park at the Common, possibly to the unused tennis courts at the corner of Appleton and East streets next to Pittsfield High School.

Meanwhile, Ruffer said the city will attempt to establish an ice skating rink this coming winter at Burbank Park.

The Berkshire Carousel was also omitted from the final design -- for now. City officials said the privately funded project could be added in the future, if the financial, legal and logistical aspects of locating it at the Common can be worked out. Carousel organizers still have the fallback location of the parcel they purchased at the corner of West and South Church streets.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"More detail needed on city taxes"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, June 24, 2010

When I was in first grade, I had to memorize a little poem for a Christmas pageant. I never forgot the words: "Every year about this time, I write my Christmas letter. Every year about this time, I wish I had been better." Actually, I am reminded of those words every year about this time because the Eagle publishes an article (June 18) pertaining to the establishment by the Mayor and the City Council of the "preliminary" budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The words used in this article do not vary much from year to year, only the numbers change. Lacking analysis or commentary, the article resembles a press release issued by the mayor and City Council. In general, it contains four items of information: How much the overall city budget has increased from the prior year (from $122. 7 million to $126. 9 million). How much the residential tax rate will increase (from $14.20 per $1,000 of assessed value to $14.91). How much the commercial and industrial tax rate will increase (from $29.41 to $30.88). A statement describing the mayor's effort to keep the tax increase to a minimum.

Rather than stating that residential real estate taxes will be increased by 5 percent, the article describes the impact on the owner of an "average" single family home having an assessed value of $186,000 -- nearly $119 per year (although I compute the increase to be $132.06 assuming no changes in December). The article could be improved by providing more information useful to the taxpayer.

For example, the article could inform the taxpayer that the first two tax payments (August and November) will be 2.5 percent larger than is suggested by the new tax rates. The owner of that $186,000 home will not make two payments of $693.32 each (186 times 14.91 divided by 4) Rather, the first two payments will be $710.65 ($693.32 times 1.025) because the law allows the city to collect payments in advance. Or, the article could attempt to explain why a 3.42 percent increase in the overall budget requires a 5 percent increase in taxes.

The article does stress that the new tax rates are "preliminary" estimates that may be changed in December when the City Council makes its final determinations; but, it could have included some historical facts pertaining to what taxpayers can expect. For example, the final two tax payments for a fiscal year have exceeded the first two payments for at least the last five years, despite the fact that the first two payments were increased by 2.5 percent.

Am I blaming The Eagle for these tax increases? Certainly not. I am merely making a plea that The Eagle provide more information when reporting on the tax rate increases that will apply to the final two payments (February and May 2011) to be announced in December; and, when about this time next June it becomes necessary to report the "preliminary" tax increases which will apply for fiscal year 2012.

WILLIAM GODDEAU
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"District works to keep its kids: Pittsfield schools will soon start an advertising campaign to stem the tide of student loss."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 28, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- City school officials are embarking on a summer media blitz to hopefully stem the tide of students leaving for neighboring districts and the million-plus dollars they take with them.

"Choose Pittsfield Public Schools" will be the slogan on billboards and in local newspaper advertisements urging parents to keep their children in city schools.

Pittsfield students who have enrolled in other school districts under school choice has increased from 265 in 2008 to 337 in 2010, while the number of choice students entering city schools has dropped from 67 to 61 in the same period, according to school officials.

"We got a problem and we have to start tackling it," said School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

The School Committee last week approved spending $15,000 for the ad campaign to help close the school choice gap, which resulted in Pittsfield losing $1.5 million in state aid for the 2009-10 school year. The funding is the net amount the city paid to other public school systems for accepting Pittsfield students.

"We've seen ads from other school districts and we need to be aggressive," said Kathleen A. Amuso, Pittsfield School Committee chairwoman.

Lenox Public Schools benefited most from Pittsfield's exodus receiving 110 of the city's 337 choice students, which city officials said indicates the parents prefer a rural school district over an urban one.

"There are those who believe a smaller school district is best," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "That's a misunderstanding of our school system."

School officials said they are seeking specific reasons for Pittsfield students bolting to other communities.

"Some parents send their children to other districts never setting foot in our schools," Eberwein said. "We need better information on why they are opting out. ... When kids leave our system, we take it personally."

School officials said the summer ad campaign is a stop-gap measure until a long range plan can be developed to stem the tide of students leaving.

The School Committee suggested direct mailings to parents, getting graduates of Pittsfield and Taconic high schools to give testimonials and targeting influential city residents.

"There are a number of community leaders choicing out their children," said School Committee member Daniel C. Elias. "They carry a lot of weight and we need to talk with them."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Where did they go?

The chart below shows where Pittsfield lost students through school choice and the Berkshire Arts & Technology charter school and gained students through choice and tuition in the 2009-2010 school year.

School district Students "out" Students "in" net change +/-

Adams/Cheshire 5 7 +2

Athol 0 1 +1

Berkshire Hills 35 1 -34

Central Berkshire 68 53 -15

Farmington River 1 0 -1

Hancock 2 7 +5

Lanesborough 15 0 -15

Lee 36 4 -32

Lenox 110 13 -97

Mt. Greylock 16 25 +9

North Adams 1 0 -1

Richmond 44 18 -26

Southern Berkshire 4 0 -4

Springfield 0 2 +2

Berkshire Arts & Technology 54 -- -54

TOTAL 391 131 -260
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"Closing the choice gap"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, June 29, 2010

School choice is a far better concept in theory than it is in reality. Shouldn't students and parents be allowed to choose whatever school they believe is best? Of course, except that doing so in Massachusetts drains funds from schools that can least afford to lose them. Because desired schools cannot accommodate everyone who wants to attend them, the system is not as democratic as it pretends to be. It's a system that works better in an academic think tank than in the real world.

Pittsfield is on the wrong end of the school choice equation, having lost 337 students to other schools in 2010, as opposed to 265 in 2008, while gaining 61 in 2010, a loss of six in the same time period. That Lenox is the prime beneficiary, gaining about one-third of those 337 students, is no surprise. Lenox's schools have a good reputation, which is well-earned.

Parents generally prefer rural school districts to urban ones, and seek out schools with small class sizes. School choice provides a potential route to these schools, many of them in wealthier communities that can spend more on their schools and pay higher salaries to teachers. The better students are more likely to take advantage of choice programs, costing schools the high-performers that boost the all-important MCAS scores that mean so much to state education officials. With the schools that lose students also losing state aid, choice -- however well-intentioned -- is a vehicle for increasing the disparity among schools, including those in the county.

The Pittsfield School Committee last week approved spending $15,000 for an ad campaign to narrow the choice gap, and it will be money well-spent if it makes even a small dent in the $1.5 million in state funds lost for the 2009-10 school year. Besides emphasizing the strong points of the school system, such as its arts programs, the School Department must find out specifically why parents send their children to school elsewhere, in particular the community leaders whose decisions influence others. School officials bristle when disciplinary issues are brought up, but they may find that parents feel there are too many fights in Pittsfield schools, in particular the middle schools. Even if that is a perception that is not based on fact, it is a perception that must be addressed.

The Berkshire Arts & Technology charter school draws a significant number of Pittsfield students, and learning why is of considerable importance. Beyond the welcome ad campaign, closing the choice gap may require long-term changes at a fundamental level requiring the cooperation of teachers and administrators.

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Former North Adams mayor John Barrett III says he has concluded his consulting work. (Berkshire Eagle file)

"Barrett wraps up department review"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 4, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- John Barrett III has concluded a five-month review of several city departments resulting in an "action plan" he claims will improve the delivery of municipal services to Pittsfield residents.

Mayor James M. Ruberto hired Barrett in mid-January as a consultant to help improve services to the city's neighborhoods. Barrett was originally expected to serve three months, but Ruberto eventually extended his contract another two months.

"I've really completed my task as of May 30, but I'm still tinkering with the report," Barrett said on Thursday.

The former mayor of North Adams will submit a written report to Ruberto within a couple of weeks and present his recommendations to the City Council at its July 13 meeting.

"The report isn't lengthy, but it has several recommendations that will save the city a lot of money and improve efficiency of services," Barrett said. "I'll be saying, ‘Here's an action plan you must implement.'"

In February, Barrett gave the City Council preliminary suggestions on how Pittsfield can improve snow removal, repair roads, and improve other areas in public works, utilities, and maintenance.

Ruberto wouldn't comment on Barrett's potential final recommendations, but the mayor expects them to have a citywide impact.

"Organizationally, we need to bring more flexibility to our water and public works so when services are urgently needed, they can be delivered efficiently throughout the city," Ruberto said.

Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood said Barrett's input led to some immediate changes, especially when it came to snow removal.

"We began doing more with our own employees, paying overtime rather than using contractors which could prove to be more cost effective and improve our response time to plowing," Collingwood said.

While some changes have already taken place, Barrett said others will require more time to implement them using existing personnel.

"There are good people working in Pittsfield," he said, "they just need to be in the right position to be efficient."

Barrett, 62, who was defeated in his bid for a 14th consecutive term as mayor of North Adams last November, was hired by Ruberto at a cost of $5,000 per month. Barrett's consulting fee totaled $25,000 and came out of the city's contingency fund. He didn't intend to stay more than three months when Ruberto hired him in January, but agreed to remain on the job no later than July 1.

While Barrett's consulting work is officially over, Ruberto may bring him back to help implement his "action plan."

"Depending on the council's reaction to [Barrett's] findings, I'll be in a much better position to determine whether he will see through those recommendations," said Ruberto.

Ruberto's hiring of Barrett two weeks after he left office in North Adams initially raised eyebrows among several city councilors and residents. They were surprised Ruberto announced at a press conference Jan. 6 he was relying on Barrett to help him "double the effort" of improving city neighborhoods.

The councilors claimed they didn't have prior knowledge of the hiring, which also irked some of their constituents -- one of whom referred to Barrett as a "carpet-bagger."

However, once Barrett began patroling Pittsfield -- as he did during his 26-year administration in North Adams -- assessing street conditions and other infrastructure needs, many residents saw him as a conduit to City Hall.

"The flood gates opened up with Mr. Barrett, as people saw an opportunity to get information to us," said Collingwood. "He was kind of a facilitator for people to navigate the system."

Meanwhile, Ruberto and Barrett both said their unique and unexpected working relationship has been a learning experience.

"Barrett has taught me the mayor has to play a hands-on role in services efficiently being delivered throughout the city," said Ruberto.

"I found the mayor has a tough job -- whether it's in Pittsfield or North Adams," Barrett said.
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"Barrett urges Pittsfield to change system: Ex-mayor advises Pittsfield to reorganize a department as his parting advice"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 14, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- John Barrett III urged Pittsfield to reorganize the Public Works and Utilities departments as one way to improve city neighborhoods.

In a 7-page report Barrett submitted Tuesday night to Mayor James M. Ruberto and the City Council, the former North Adams mayor also recommended Pittsfield better respond to its residents' needs regarding snow removal, road repair, drainage problems and other infrastructure issues.

"[The city's mission] is a call to action and it defines the way city employees are expected to do their jobs," Barrett said. "Every recommendation I've made won't cost taxpayers a dime and, in fact, there may be some cost savings."

Ruberto hired Barrett in mid-January as a consultant to help improve city services. Barrett, 62, who was defeated in his bid for a 14th consecutive term as mayor of North Adams last November, was paid a consulting fee of $25,000 for a contract that ended May 30.

Barrett's recommendations came in his final report as part of his consulting work.

After a five month review of Public Works and Utilities, Barrett determined the current commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood doesn't have enough time to efficiently run both departments.

He called for Collingwood to continue overseeing city utilities and road related capital projects, while a director of public services would manage the daily operation of the road and water systems. Barrett said the new position could combine the municipal jobs of highway and water superintendents.

"This isn't a criticism by any stretch of the imagination of Commissioner Collingwood," Barrett said. "I believe him to be a most talented profession and a real asset to the city. He is simply being asked to wear too many hats."

Barrett's scrutiny of public works and maintenance involved his driving throughout Pittsfield and finding that many residents were complaining the city wasn't responding to their requests for better maintained roads.

Since Barrett has completed his consulting work, he said he has found city workers more responsive to citizens' needs.

"The changes in expectation from ‘It's not my job' to ‘satisfying residents concerns' have begun to create a positive feeling in the community," Barrett said.

Several city councilors also noticed a the change in attitude, which they said was long overdue.

"The promises we make to our constituents about a project and nothing happens, it's frustrating," said Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio.

Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. cited how several streets in his ward were recently paved after years of neglect.

"The people were shocked that this was actually getting done," Krol said.

While Barrett realized Pittsfield has limited funds and it'll take years to upgrade all city streets, he said continued neighborhood improvement will help keep residents and businesses and attract new ones.

"I believe in selling a community in many ways to create a positive image," he said.
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"Barrett’s ideas to get attention from Pittsfield mayor"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle via The North Adams Transcript (online), July 15, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto plans to give "immediate attention" to revamping the Public Works and Utilities departments, one of several recommendations John Barrett III has made to improve city services.

Barrett envisions Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood continuing to oversee city utilities and road-related capital projects, but hand off his daily supervision of road and water system maintenance to a public services director.

The new administrative position would combine the jobs of highway and water superintendent and make Collingwood a more efficient commissioner, according to the former North Adams mayor.

"That recommendation deserves immediate attention," Ruberto said on Wednesday. "I will fully develop a plan that would implement that change."

Barrett’s recommendations came in his final report he submitted to the City Council and Ruberto on Tuesday night, following his five-month review of how to improve city services, mainly public works, utilities and maintenance. He said implementing all the report’s recommendations "wouldn’t cost the taxpayers a dime" and may actually save them some money in the long run.

Ruberto hired Barrett in mid-January as a consultant to determine how city government could enhance Pittsfield neighborhoods.

Barrett, 62, who was defeated in his bid for a 14th consecutive term as mayor of North Adams last November, was paid a consulting fee of $25,000 for a contract that ended May 30.

Meanwhile, Collingwood said he’s still "digesting" Barrett’s proposed overhaul of Public Works and Utilities, but he’s willing to seriously review the idea with Ruberto.

Collingwood currently manages a $6.5 million budget for public works, utilities and city engineering that includes 30 laborers, foremen, superintendents and engineers.

"I’m in favor of fine-tuning the department, something which can be done throughout City Hall," Collingwood said. "I look forward to making the department work better and deliver core services to residents.

"But the concept is like a big piece of clay that needs molding as it will take time to shape," he said.

Barrett’s proposed overhaul of Public Works and Utilities gained support from several city councilors on Tuesday, especially Council President Gerald M. Lee.

"Just running a wastewater plant and providing water while worrying about plowing and fixing roads is way, way too much for one person," Lee said.

"In principle, I agree with the concept as I know how busy [Collingwood] is," said Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward, who’s chairman of the council’s public works subcommittee. "If it means getting more projects done, I’m all for it."

Barrett’s report also called for Pittsfield to better address citizen concerns regarding snow removal, road repair, drainage and other infrastructure issues. He said putting a proper procedure in place would improve response time to phone calls from city residents.

"I agree with that wholeheartedly," said Ward. "I’m all about the city providing better customer service."

Furthermore, Barrett urged city crews be used to plow neighborhood streets and leave the major roads to the private contractors. He said relying on employees from water, maintenance and parks departments, as well as the highway department, proved effective during the series of snowstorms the last week in February.

"Years ago, everyone was utilized to plow snow and we kind of got away from that," Lee said.

In addition, Barrett strongly suggested in his report that Pittsfield "get out of the street construction business," by contracting out all street paving and road work and bring contracted services, such as street sweeping, back into the fold of Public Works and Utilities.

Finally, Barrett felt even Ruberto could use some help running Pittsfield by replacing the unfilled job of personnel director with a new position of administrative officer who would carry out the mayor’s policies and directives.

"I believe this would bring better control and oversight to the administration of government in Pittsfield," Barrett stated in his report.

While Ruberto said he’ll consider Barrett’s suggestion of hiring an administrative officer, the City Council president seemed to endorse the idea.

"As we go through the year, I hope all the recommendations are implemented," Lee said.
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"The Barrett report"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, July 17, 2010

Pittsfield City Councilors Paul Capitanio of Ward 3 and John Krol of Ward 6 have attested to improvements in the responsiveness of the public works department in the few months since former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III signed on temporarily as a consultant to the city, and we expect Mr. Barrett's tenure will have long-term benefits as well. Mr. Barrett offered several recommendations to the Council Tuesday night that should be pursued in the months ahead.

Mr. Barrett wrapped up his five-month review of city services and procedures with a report to the City Council that focused primarily on public works, utilities and maintenance, an area of expertise developed during his 14 terms as mayor of North Adams. Most significantly, Mr. Barrett recommended a revamping of the Public Works and Utilities Department itself, with a public services director handling day to day duties while Commissioner Bruce Collingwood remained responsible for planning and oversight -- essentially the big picture.

Mr. Barrett said his recommendation was not a criticism of Mr. Collingwood but an acknowledgment of the complexity of his job, which as Council President Gerald Lee observed, involves everything from running a wastewater plant to overseeing the upkeep of roads. On the latter subject, Mr. Barrett urged more emphasis on the sweeping of streets and the cleaning of culverts, small things that have a major impact on people's perceptions. Making sure the city has the best equipment for these jobs will save money on repair work in the long run and reduce dependence on, for example, the private sector for snow plowing. Workers not answerable to the city are less reliable than those who are.

Replacing the unfilled job of city personnel director with a new position of administrative officer to carry out the mayor's policies is an intriguing idea worth exploring. The 62-year-old Mr. Barrett was quick to ease the fears of conspiracy-minded Barrett-bashers by pointing out that he doesn't want that job and is looking forward to retirement.

We also like Mr. Barrett's proposal to bring city slumlords before the Council and the cameras for a grilling, something along the lines of hauling BP and Goldman Sachs executives before Congress. When he took the job, the former mayor said he was never fond of consultants, but for a modest $25,000 he has helped redeem the profession with his productive five months in Pittsfield.
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"Pittsfield: $200K sought to plan school"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 14, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Taking the first step toward building a new Taconic High School on the Valentine Road campus, Mayor James M. Ruberto is asking the City Council to back a $200,000 loan to launch the planning process.

The capital funds would pay to hire a project manager to oversee the planning of a new school.

"Basically, the company we choose will be looking for the best footprint for another school on the Taconic site," said the mayor's aide, Tricia Farley-Bouvier.

The state's School Building Authority, or SBA, would reimburse Pittsfield 78.3 percent of the $200,000 capital expense loan. The reimbursement rate would be the same for new construction at Taconic, along with any future renovation of Pittsfield High School, SBA officials have said.

City and state officials said hiring a project manager is the crucial next step in a state feasibility study that is being conducted to determine the amount of state funding for the project. State officials estimate a new Taconic could cost $70 million if construction began in 2012 on available space. The state agency has yet to determine the potential cost of renovating Pittsfield High.

While the SBA process forced the city to put forth just one high school for consideration, the state agency expects work at Taconic and Pittsfield high schools would be considered together. The SBA has viewed both secondary schools as part of any overall building project proposal, which most city and school officials have been advocating from the beginning.

"The SBA committing funds to hire a manager is a great step forward in the process," said School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

Ruberto formally presented his request to the City Council on Tuesday night. The measure was referred to the finance subcommittee, which will hold a public hearing and make a recommendation back to the entire council for a vote. The Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission will also discuss the hiring of a project manager at 5:15 p.m., Monday, at Pittsfield High School.

Ruberto's funding request stems from a recent meeting between the mayor, Eberwein, Farley-Bouvier, who is also a School Building Needs Commission staff member, and Katherine Craven, the School Building Authority executive director, and her staff.

SBA officials not only encouraged Pittsfield to hire a manager to start the high school project, but to seek addition planning funds from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE.

"The purpose of [the funds] is to support planning efforts to establish or expand a regional school district," said SBA spokeswoman Carrie Sullivan.

Eberwein said the city has already applied for a $25,000 grant from DESE aimed at developing "a regional" school approach likely centered around vocational education.

SBA officials want Pittsfield to consider a new Taconic, one that would include technical-vocational programs and attract students from surrounding communities in Central and South Berkshire. City officials, business leaders and school officials have said a regional approach is needed to create a highly skilled local work force.

"The [SBA] is eager to continue discussion with Pittsfield on the possible creation of a regional school for students throughout the Berkshires," Sullivan said.

City school officials expect plenty of debate over whether Taconic, which draws dozens of vocational students from around the county, should formally regionalize.

"The possibility of looking at a regional vocation school I'm not sure is the way to go," said Kathleen A. Amuso, chairwoman of the Pittsfield School Committee. "But the idea is worth investigating if it's in the city's best interest."

The two city high schools were built 39 years apart, but school officials have said Pittsfield High (1930) and Taconic (1969) share many of the same needs, such as new heating and ventilation systems. In addition, they've said the current layout at each building prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can chose a career course of study.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Wrong course on Common project"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, July 14, 2010

On Tuesday, June 5, I turned on the Park Commission meeting on PCTV to see City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo talking to the commission about the lack of ice skating in the proposed format for the "improved" Common. She was told by commission member Simon Muil that the reason there would be no ice skating at the Common was that the melting ice would be bad for the grass in spring, which he had been told by Ernie Fortini, director of grounds maintenence for Pittsfield.

Water is bad for grass in the spring? I guess Mr.'s Fortini and Muil know something that God doesn't since it is usually very rainy here in spring.

Muil then went on to say that the time for questions was over, and it was time to move forward. After Councilor Mazzeo tried to ask more questions and was continually cut off by Muil, the commission voted to authorize the city to move forward with the "improvements" to the Common. I put improvements in quotation marks because I don't think what is being proposed for the Common are improvements at all.

In the new version of the Common, there will not be ice skating in winter, something that until recently there always was and which people at the organizational meetings voted for to the tune of over 80 percent of the participants.

There will not be a skateboard park for the kids to use in the new Common, something that's there now but will be taken out in the new plan.

There will not be room for Pop Warner football practices in the fall for the kids participating in that program, something that has been there for decades. I will always remember seeing kids riding their bikes to the Common dressed in full football gear. No more.

There will not be room for the Gillette Shows carnival at the Common in spring to benefit Babe Ruth baseball, where Babe Ruth gets a large amount of their operating budget.

Again, no more. There will be a postage stamp-sized, single basket basketball court instead of the full court, two basket court we now have.

There will also be a "splash pad" where kids can run under sprinklers in summer. Will the city ban that from being used when it gets hot like it is now to save water? Probably, the way this city is being run at present.

It would seem to me that the "improvements" are taking away from the uses of the Common, not adding to it as a potential $6 million project should.

It seems that going backward instead of forward is the norm here now. After the next election, I hope that will change.

JIM GLEASON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Frustrated by unequal payments"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, July 16, 2010

As of the first and second quarters, starting July 2010 and October 2010, the city mailed me the preliminary real estate bill for the 2011 fiscal year. I will be charged $531.26 each quarter for a total of $1,062.52 for the first two quarters ending December 2010.

So with this amount, if it remained the same for the last two quarters, would be $2,125.04 for a full year ending on June 30, 2011.

At least with this, I would have these equal payments of $531.26 for four quarters. But in December 2010, if the tax rate is set at $14.91 as anticipated on a $1,000 valuation, my total bill for the year will be $2,196.24. So with payments for the first two quarters amounting to $1,062.52, I will have to pay the remaining balance of $1,133.72 for the last two quarters, or $566.86 for each quarter.

This is my reason for despising fiscal years which will never have four equal payments.

RICHARD BARZOTTINI
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Pittsfield State throws school a curve"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 20, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A new Taconic High School must go regional to ensure state funding for the future renovation of Pittsfield High School.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority delivered that message to city and school officials who were stunned by the authority's approach to a high school building project on Taconic's campus along Valentine Road.

"We were a little taken aback by their strong feeling we pursue a regional vocational school district," said Tricia Farley-Bouvier, staff member for the city's School Building Needs Commission.

City and school officials agreed Taconic should include technical-vocational programs that could attract students from surrounding communities in Central and South Berkshire. They, along with local business leaders, have said a regional approach is needed to create a highly skilled local work force.

However, the arrangement should be tuition-based -- as it is now at Taconic -- rather than through a formal regional entity with neighboring towns, said Pittsfield School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

"As I talk with other local superintendents, it comes down to dollars and cents, and does [regionalization] make sense for Pittsfield," Eberwein said.

He and Farley-Bouvier on Monday briefed the School Building Needs Commission on the recent meeting that they and Mayor James M. Ruberto had with Katherine Craven, the School Building Authority's executive director, regarding the high school project.

The local officials assured the state agency that Pittsfield would apply for a $25,000 state grant to explore regionalization. SBA spokeswoman Carrie Sullivan had said that the SBA was eager to continue regionalization talks with the city.

Meanwhile, the City Council is considering the mayor's request to borrow as much as $200,000 to hire a project management firm to oversee the initial planning for a new Taconic. The SBA has agreed to reimburse Pittsfield 78.3 percent of the capital expense loan, which is also the reimbursement rate for new construction at Taconic, along with any renovation at Pittsfield High.

Local and state officials consider hiring a project manager the crucial next step in a state feasibility study being conducted to determine the amount of state funding for the project. State officials estimate a new Taconic could cost $70 million if construction begins in 2012 on available space. The state agency has yet to determine the potential cost of renovating Pittsfield High.

While the SBA process forced the city to put forth just one high school for consideration, the state agency has viewed both schools as part of any overall building project proposal, which most city and school officials have been advocating from the beginning.

Even though Pittsfield High (1931) is nearly twice as old as Taconic (1969), SBA officials prefer to renovate Pittsfield High because architecturally and physically it's in better condition than Taconic.

The two city high schools share many needs, such as new heating and ventilation systems. In addition, local school officials have said the current layout at each building prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can choose a career course of study.

The SBA's apparent ultimatum regarding a regional vocational school district drew mixed reaction from commission members.

"I'm willing to work with the SBA in hiring a project manager, but in no way can I say right now I support a regional school district," said Kathleen A. Amuso, who also chairs the Pittsfield School Committee.

"While the [SBA] has dictated to us what to do, let's take this step by step with the state and see where [the process] goes," Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. said.

Farley-Bouvier pointed out advantages and disadvantages of Pittsfield forming a regional vocational school district, which she said could be with just one other community to meet SBA approval.

"The city will pay less for capital cost of a new school if other school districts are involved," she said.

However, Farley-Bouvier said she is concerned a regional vocational school within Pittsfield might drain state aid from the rest of the city's public school system, which would remain separate from the new district.

Eberwein said he's optimistic the SBA can be convinced that vocational students from surrounding communities paying tuition to attend Taconic makes more sense than the high school becoming part of a formal district.

"I'm not sure it's a cost-effective way for surrounding towns to educate their children," he said. "I don't think the SBA understands the geography of Berkshire County and the amount of travel time for students."
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"SBA must be flexible"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, July 21, 2010

There is a general consensus among Pittsfield city and school officials that a renovated Taconic High School should have a strong vocational element that will appeal to students from nearby communities. The state School Building Authority, however, will be acting unreasonably if it makes state funding contingent upon the establishment of a formal regional approach at Taconic.

We understand where the SBA is coming from in trying to assure that state taxpayer money is spent wisely on school renovation projects. For years, the SBA rubber-stamped construction and renovation requests until funding dried up paying for projects that were not properly vetted. In Pittsfield's case, however, the SBA may be erring in the other direction, as complex and far-reaching decisions like regionalization should be made locally .

Berkshire superintendents are content with the current tuition-based system at Taconic and would like it to continue. It works now and should continue to do so. As Pittsfield Superintendent Howard Eberwein III suggested in Tuesday's Eagle, the travel times dictated by Berkshire geography must be considered by the SBA in advocating regionalization. Certainly if there are advantages to regionalization, such as the potential of receiving funding from other county communities, they should be factored into the equation.

Taconic plays a key role in building a skilled local work force and after it is renovated it should play an even larger role. It can do this with or without a formal regional approach. Regionalization should not be a funding deal-breaker.

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"Pittsfield not ‘at odds' with SBA"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 29, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The city and the Massachusetts School Building Authority are working together on the proposal to build a new Taconic High School, which may involve regionalization, city officials said Wednesday.

"We aren't at odds with the School Building Authority," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "We weren't surprised the SBA talked about a regional school solution."

The SBA is the agency that provides substantial state funding for local school building projects.

Ruberto was referring to a recent meeting city officials had with SBA Executive Director Katherine Craven and her staff. The state agency supposedly issued an ultimatum: A new Taconic must be a regional district to ensure state funding for the future renovation of Pittsfield High School.

City officials initially relayed that message, which Craven has since denied, to a Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission meeting last week. In a letter to The Eagle, Craven said the SBA is interested in both Pittsfield and Taconic high schools and that regionalization at Taconic could "potentially be the beneficiary of additional state funds for renovating Pittsfield High."

As envisioned, once a new Taconic High School is built, Pittsfield High would be
renovated.

Ruberto believes the SBA is committed to a two-high school system in Pittsfield.

"Craven is trying to help us in one sense to get two schools done," he said.

Pittsfield has applied for a $25,000 state grant to explore regionalization at Taconic.

The SBA has "talked about regionalization from the very beginning," said Tricia Farley-Bouvier, staff member for the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission.

"They believe there's more benefit for us to go regional," said Ruberto.

City and school officials agreed Taconic should include technical-vocational programs that could attract students from surrounding communities in Central and South Berkshire. They, along with local business leaders, have said a regional approach is needed to create a highly skilled local work force.

Meanwhile, the City Council next month will act on the mayor's request to borrow as much as $200,000 to hire a project management firm to oversee the initial planning for a new Taconic. The SBA has agreed to reimburse Pittsfield 78.3 percent of the capital expense loan, which is also the reimbursement rate for new construction at Taconic, along with any renovation at Pittsfield High.

Pittsfield hosting a regional vocational-technical high school will hinge on the cost and educational benefits of forming a new school district with neighboring towns, city officials said.

For example, Richmond currently has a tuition arrangement with the Pittsfield Public Schools to send its high school students to either Pittsfield High or Taconic. If the town agreed to regionalization, it would assume some of the construction costs of the new high school.

"There may be financial incentives for a town to come in on the ground floor of the new school, rather than pay through tuition," said Pittsfield School Superintendent, Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

Furthermore, Eberwein believes the educational programs proposed at the new high school will drive the size and type of new high school that is eventually built.

The two city high schools currently have 13 vocational-technical programs, with another six or seven being proposed, pending the completion of a new Taconic.

"You've got to figure out what to put in the new school," Eberwein said. "We have to have state-of-the-art programs that reflect the emerging technologies. This is also going to be a college prep school."

In addition, he cited how the new school must have flexible space so it can adapt to future changes in the way high school education is delivered.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"First Street Common $4.6M, 4-step project at park"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 21, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- City officials have finally determined that refurbishing the entire First Street Common will take three to five years and cost more than $4.6 million.

The project will take shape in four major phases. The first is expected to begin in early October and end by June 30, 2011, according to Deanna L. Ruffer, the director of Pittsfield's Department of Community Development, which is overseeing the renovations.

A combination of a state grant and city funds will cover the $1.1 million price tag of the first phase, which includes regrading portions of the 7-acre park and installing new fences, lighting and retaining walls.

The first phase also includes a new and more visible playground that will "breathe new life into the park," said James McGrath, the city's parks and open space manager.

"That area has been consistently identified as a problem area within the Common," McGrath said.

Ruffer said the first phase is the catalyst in completely renovating the 127-year-old park.

"There's a lot of site preparation in Phase 1 that does set the stage for the other phases," she said.

Phase two calls for an entry plaza and promenade along First Street, followed by configuring the open lawn. The third phase includes the construction of a gazebo with public restrooms, a new basketball court, and a splash pool next to the new playground. Phase four completes the renovations with an internal plaza and performance pavilion.

The process is ex-pected to take three to five years, depending on the availability of money.

The Pittsfield Parks Commission recently approved the project's final design and how the city plans to phase a project "that's headed in the right direction," according to commission member Simon Muil.

"If at any point the funding dries up, we'll still have a park we can use," Muil said.

While phases two, three and four could cost more than $3.5 million, Ruffer is confident Pittsfield can tap into future funding sources. The city has already received $885,000 through the state's Gateway City Parks program toward the first phase of work.

"One advantage of being accepted as a ‘Gateway City' is it creates a collaborative partnership with the state for large projects being phased in," Ruffer said. "We're as ready as funding is available to do the entire project."

Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. developed the final design to refurbish the Common based on plenty of citizen input at public meetings and online over a three-month period.

However, the new-look downtown park won't include the existing skateboard park. City officials plan to relocate the recreational facility to the tennis courts at the corner of Appleton and East streets next to Pittsfield High School. The new skateboard park would double in size and cost an estimated $150,000.

The Berkshire Carousel was also omitted from the final design -- for now. City officials said the privately funded project could be added in the future, if the financial, legal and logistical aspects of locating it at the Common can be worked out.
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"Reluctant to visit downtown at night"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, July 21, 2010

I was glad to see the letter to the editor regarding the presence of police on the streets of Pittsfield at night ("Theater district needs police presence," July 18.) I have refrained from going to the movies or the theater for this very reason.

I am a new resident in Pittsfield and have enjoyed discovering its many opportunities and services as well as admired the beautification efforts downtown. But as a single elderly yet active woman alarmed by the recent reports of violence in Pittsfield, I do not feel safe to travel the streets of Pittsfield alone at night. The presence of police would make access to the businesses, restaurants and theaters of downtown much more accessible and user friendly for many of the residents and tourists of the area.

I do hope that the chief of police will take note of this request. I would also urge the Chamber of Commerce which cares about the economy of downtown to chime in with those of us requesting this service since it can only enhance the use of downtown businesses in Pittsfield.

ISABELLE KAPLAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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Pittsfield is tapping into the arts and culture to find new ways to revive its economic engine.
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"The art of saving a city: When its biggest employer bolted, the proud old city of Pittsfield slumped and shrank"
By David Filipov, Boston Globe Staff, July 24, 2010

PITTSFIELD — City of art, city of funk. The SoHo of the Berkshires, the Brooklyn of the Berkshires.

The sobriquets urban planners bestow upon this bygone manufacturing hub speak of their confidence that Pittsfield can become a center of culture and entertainment on par with Lenox and Stockbridge and Williamstown.

Once-vacant buildings in downtown Pittsfield are filling with galleries, theaters, residences, and restaurants. North Street, the city’s long-depressed main drag, now hosts regular street festivals, open houses, and art shows that draw thousands of residents and visitors. People are starting to believe that Pittsfield is an attraction, rather than a moribund pit stop on the way from Tanglewood to Mass MoCA.

“We’re seeing the buzz,’’ said Mayor James M. Ruberto, who since taking office in 2004 has spent millions of dollars under the conviction that the arts will help revive a city devastated by the loss of more than 10,000 General Electric jobs. “We are going to make Pittsfield the best darn small city in the Northeast.’’

Not everyone shares his certitude. Ruberto narrowly won reelection last November over an opponent who decried the strategy of spending lavishly on the arts as a way to bring in jobs. And analysts familiar with the postindustrial odyssey of other small Massachusetts cities caution that the efforts to bring in tourists and entertainment dollars, while a positive step, are only the beginning of an economic reversal.

“To the city’s credit, it realized that it needed to embrace the arts and culture of the creative economy that the Berkshires has been known for,’’ said John R. Schneider, executive vice president of MassINC, a public policy research organization. “Things have bottomed out, and they’re beginning the turnaround, and the rebranding of the city has taken root. The jury’s still out on what the employment prospects will be down the road.’’

Unemployment in Pittsfield in June was 9.3 percent, slightly higher than the statewide rate of 8.8 percent, according to data provided by the city. For the city’s boosters, the more disturbing statistic is the decadelong population slide, from nearly 46,000 in 2000 to around 42,500 in 2009, according to US Census Bureau data.

“We were always told that if GE shut down, Pittsfield would become a ghost town, and it almost did,’’ said Cathy Soules, 65, a lifelong resident who remembers cruising North Street in her boyfriend’s convertible on Thursday nights in the late 1950s, when workers got their paychecks and went out on the town. She also remembers the hard times that began two decades ago, after GE had shuttered most of its plants in Pittsfield.

“Kids started moving out; there was nothing to keep them here,’’ she said. Her son, “a computer geek,’’ got a job closer to Boston. “He would never come back here,’’ she said. “Now it’s dead.’’

Jim Benson, owner of Mission Bar and Tapas on North Street, is used to hearing such things. He used to believe it himself. Now he finds proof that Pittsfield is alive in the spillover crowd of singers, musicians, diners, and those willing to spend $6 on a glass of tempranillo on a Tuesday evening open mike night.

“Ten years ago, I never would have known this crowd existed,’’ Benson shouted over a performer’s rendition of “All Along the Watchtower.’’ “Pittsfield is really starting to pull in customers from surrounding towns.’’

In August, Benson will host Word x Word, a weeklong festival of theater, readings, poetry slams, and songs in a number of venues along North Street. That is in addition to a street festival the city puts on every third Thursday of the month, which attracts 10,000 people, Ruberto said, and attempts to recreate the atmosphere of those old payday nights.

Megan Whilden, who heads the city office of cultural development, compares what is happening in Pittsfield with the transformation of Brooklyn, where the historic but beaten-down New York borough found new life when artists and other creative entrepreneurs moved in.

“We’re the Brooklyn of the Berkshires,’’ she said.

Part of the inspiration for Pittsfield’s renaissance came from Maggie Mailer, a painter who arrived from Brooklyn in 2002, and noticed two dozen empty storefronts on North Street. Mailer, who grew up in the Berkshires, had the idea to persuade landlords to let artists use the empty spaces as studios.

“Every artist I knew was desperate for space,’’ said Mailer, the daughter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer. “I suspected that it would be really good for the city.’’

The Storefront Artist Project was an early step in connecting creative people with the city. And Mailer will open a show next weekend at the Ferrin Gallery, which moved to Pittsfield from Lenox in 2007. The owner, Leslie Ferrin, was attracted by the excitement of the new Pittsfield, and by the low cost of real estate.

“We were able to translate what we were already paying to rent in tony Lenox into a space that we own,’’ she said.

The cost, and the buzz, and the city’s offer of partnership were the lures that helped bag perhaps the biggest prize of Pittsfield’s cultural revolution: the innovative and award-winning Barrington Stage Company.

“Basically, culture leads the economy here,’’ said Julianne Boyd, artistic director of the company, which moved from Sheffield to Pittsfield after paying $785,000 to purchase an old theater on Union Street. The city helped with the $7 million cost to renovate the building, which opened its doors in 2007.

Boyd says Barrington Stage brings 45,000 people to Pittsfield during the theater season. The company also rents 20 houses for actors and employs 60 to 70 people during its May to December season.

Ruberto sees numbers like those as part of the payoff for the city’s investment in the arts and entertainment, including using $3.5 million drawn from a $10 million payment GE gave the town after it moved out.

But Dan Bianchi, who won nearly half the vote in his failed bid to unseat Ruberto, said the city’s priorities are misplaced.

“It’s great that we attract the arts and support it,’’ he said. “But you can’t point to one significant business that relocated as a result of arts.’’

Bianchi said he did not expect a giant like GE to come back, but that “I’d like to see more mid-sized companies that could employ 75 to 100 people.’’

Civic planners say that the changes are an important step in making the city attractive to prospective employers. Downtown Pittsfield has seen about 20 new businesses open in recent years, said Yvonne Pearson of Downtown Inc., which promotes the revitalization of central Pittsfield.

“Every big company that comes in to look at an area, one of the first places they look is downtown,’’ she said. “If there is a lack of community, they are not interested. When you start bringing the arts and culture, that’s when you bring in the restaurants and niche businesses, and that’s what’s happening now.’’

Richard Stanley, who opened the Beacon Cinema on North Street last November in a building of the former Kresge department store, agrees.

“I want to see life; this is life,’’ said Stanley. “This is what SoHo looks like. Lots of funky buildings, people walking around.’’

He pointed out blocks dotted with new condominiums, restaurants, and stores. One of them, a convenience and souvenir and ice cream store called The New Berry Place, now occupies the former space of a five-and-dime where Joe Mele, who opened the store with his wife, Marie, once ordered ice cream floats and grilled cheese sandwiches.

“Hopefully people will see that, yeah, there is a reason to come here,’’ he said. “I hope this is the real change.’’
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David Filipov can be reached at filipov@globe.com.
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www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/07/24/the_art_of_saving_a_city/?comments=all#readerComm
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"Taconic plan advances"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 29, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee is backing the first step toward building a new Taconic High School on the Valentine Road campus.

The Finance Committee Wednesday night unanimously endorsed Mayor James M. Ruberto's request to borrow up to $200,000 to launch the planning process. The capital funds would pay to hire a project manager -- likely a project management firm -- to determine where best to locate the structure on the 50-acre site.

Furthermore, the project manager will facilitate community outreach meetings seeking citizen input on what type of new high school Pittsfield needs. Currently, the city and Massachusetts School Building Authority are discussing the possible creation of a regional vocational-technical school.

The entire City Council on Aug. 10 will vote on the loan request, 78 percent of which would be reimbursed to Pittsfield by the state. The reimbursement rate would be the same for constructing a new Taconic, along with an future renovating of Pittsfield High School.

"We're finally at the point the SBA is providing us money, not just holding conversations, toward a new school," Ruberto said.

Local and state officials consider hiring a project manager the crucial next step in a state feasibility study being conducted to determine the amount of state funding for the project. State officials estimate a new Taconic could cost $70 million if construction begins in 2012 on available space. The state agency has yet to determine the potential cost of renovating Pittsfield High.

"Pittsfield High School will remain in the mix, however the priority for the SBA is a [new] Taconic," Ruberto said.

While the SBA process forced the city to put forth just one high school for consideration, the state agency has viewed both schools as part of any overall building project proposal, which most city and school officials have been advocating from the beginning.

Even though Pittsfield High (1931) is nearly twice as old as Taconic (1969), SBA officials prefer to renovate Pittsfield High because architecturally and physically it's in better condition than Taconic.

The two city high schools share many needs, such as new heating and ventilation systems. In addition, local school officials have said the current layout at each building prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can choose a career course of study.

City officials expect hiring a project management firm -- if the City Council approves the funding -- will take two months and another six months for it to complete the initial planning process for a new Taconic.

While the SBA has the final say over whom the city hires, Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward hopes it's a local company.

"It's my opinion we have qualified firms that can do the job," said Ward.

Councilors also look forward to the project manager stepping up citizen involvement in the planning of the new high school.

"The more public input we have, the better off we'll be so people can't say they were kept in the dark," said Council President Gerald M. Lee.

City officials want to see similar public response to planning a new high school as occurred for the citizen-based final design for refurbishing the First Street Common.

Nearly 400 people this spring either commented at three public meetings or suggested to the city online how best to renovate the public park. The first phase of the estimated $4.6 million project is expected to begin in early October.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Toward a new Taconic"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, July 30, 2010

After years of discussion, rumor and speculation, Pittsfield and state officials are finally talking money when it comes to building a new Taconic High School. The stars may be aligning on a project that will affect other communities besides Pittsfield and involve a renovation of Pittsfield High School as well.

Wednesday night, the City Council's Finance Committee began the process from the council's end by unanimously approving a request by Mayor Ruberto to borrow $200,000 to hire a project manager. The manager, almost certainly a firm rather than an individual, will among other duties explore the 50-acre site to determine where a new school will be best located. The full council must approve the funding request, 78 percent of which will be reimbursed by the state, and a positive vote will not only engage the process but signal the body's enthusiasm for the project to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

Whether the school should be regionalized or adopt a regional approach without formal regionalization is to be determined, with the city applying for a $25,000 state grant to explore options. If other communities join Pittsfield in the project they will bear some of the costs and their students will be assured seats in a new, state-of-the-art building. Transportation challenges may arise, but regional schools qualify for state funding that the city doesn't receive for transportation costs.

The SBA process requires the city to focus on one school, but city officials are confident that the state is including Pittsfield High in its plans. Although PHS is 38 years younger than Taconic, it is in better shape than Taconic, which says something about construction standards and funding philosophies of the early ‘30s as opposed to the late ‘60s. Nonetheless, it is in need of significant renovation, with the state to reimburse the city for at least 78 percent of the cost.

The estimated cost of a new Taconic is $70 million, with the state also reimbursing 78 percent, and perhaps as much as 80. Interest rates are currently extremely low, providing an incentive for quick action, and the construction industry is looking for work, helping keep costs down.

One of the responsibilities of the project manager will be to encourage public input into what the new school should look like and focus upon. It is difficult to predict the long-term educational needs of a community, but attempting to do so is part of the process in building the new high school, and community involvement is important. With Wednesday's vote, that process is now officially under way in Pittsfield.
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"'A great year': Pittsfield readies to mark its 250th year since its founding as a township."
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 4, 2010

PITTSFIELD - Mayor James M. Ruberto is known for his signature quote: "Today is a great day for the city of Pittsfield." On Tuesday morning, the mayor tweaked it, declaring, " Today, I believe that 2011 will be a great year for Pittsfield."

At a press conference outside City Hall, the mayor outlined preparations for what is likely to be a big year in Pittsfield: Its 250th anniversary year.

Ruberto said the city will officially kick off the year-long celebration on April 29 and 30, 2011. Planning for next year is already under way through the auspices of the Pittsfield 250 Committee.

Tuesday's announcement came months ahead of time in anticipation of the time, work, volunteers and underwriting the celebration would require.

The Pittsfield 250 Committee is co-chaired by city residents Mary Rentz and Edith "Kit" Dobelle. Rentz is president of the Berkshire Art Association and has previously chaired city cultural programs such as Sheeptacular and Art of the Game. Dobelle, wife of former city Mayor Evan S. Dobelle, cochaired Pittsfield's celebration of the nation's bicentennial in 1976.

"The goal is not for this to be a downtown event, but a citywide celebration for everyone," said Rentz. "It is our hope that we will highlight the continuing creative transformation of our innovative, resourceful, beautiful city and its people."

The Pittsfield Parade Committee has already committed to giving next year's Fourth of July Parade a 250th anniversary theme. Other major annual events such as the Ethnic Fair, Third Thursdays and Pittsfield Art Show are also expected to take an anniversary theme.

" We want everyone to get involved," Ruberto said. The mayor invited groups and individuals to contact the anniversary planning committee with ideas. The website is pittsfield250.com.

A small group of the Pittsfield 250 Committee will contact local businesses and individuals for underwriting support of the programs. Berkshire Bank, for example, underwrote the design of a logo, website and a preliminary video heralding the anniversary.

Designers Joseph Wilk and Jay Elling aided in designing the logo and website, and will continue to work on marketing activities.

"Hopefully it will bring around people who want to make new things happen and change," Elling said.

Barrington Stage Company, Berkshire Museum, Greylock Federal Credit Union, Flavours Restaurant, Hancock Shaker Village and Berkshire Health Systems were just a few among the many organizations represented at Tuesday's announcement. Their representatives expressed interest in supporting anniversary events.

The staff of the Berkshire Athenaeum have already composed a brief timeline of the history of Pittsfield, from the first recorded settlers in 1752 to the founding of the Township of Pittsfield in 1761 with 200 residents. Friends of the library are also going to work on an educational curriculum about the city's history.

"We plan to explore, document and teach the rich, resilient heritage of Pittsfield's past successes and challenges as well as celebrate the city's present diversity, industry and creativity," Dobelle said.

Said Ruberto, " We hope this allows us to proudly transfer those sentiments to our future generations."

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"Pittsfield is ready to 'Serv' you online"
By Lindsey Hollenbaugh, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD - City residents can now request city services such as repairing potholes, snow removal and street maintenance and track the progress through a new online system called "CityServ."

The system, a catchall for resident complaints, questions and service requests, is located on the city's website at www.pittsfield- ma.org.

CityServ offers a detailed menu for residents to choose from, ranging from complaints about junk vehicles to beaver control. Residents can click on the link that matches their request and fill out the required contact information and a short description of the problem. The program then sends the request to the appropriate department, taking the guesswork out of the process for the resident.

Mike Ward, one of the city council members who pushed for the project, said CityServ simplifies contacting the correct department.

"The resident doesn't care what department a request is in," Ward said. "They just want it fixed. This structure smoothes out directing the request to the right person."

Ward said the Web-based service is also more effective because requests can be made after-hours, and residents will have the ability to track the progress of their requests using a tracking number assigned to their case.

"It's not unlike tracking a parcel," Ward said.

The new program will not change how the city will prioritize requests. This will still be done on the department level, Ward said.

It will also neither speed up nor slow down the process of completing requests. But Ward said it should free up city workers to work more efficiently by cutting out the time used to follow up with residents or track down e-mailed requests.

Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce Collingwood said he does expect a "ramp up" of residents submitting requests in the beginning, but said that is what the system is for.

" If we can't keep up with [ requests], then maybe we are understaffed," Collingwood said.

He said he hopes the public doesn't see this as an opportunity to put in "false requests."

The program should cut down on phone calls for the Public Works Department, and make it easier and faster to notify residents when there is an emergency or city-closing by using e-mail.

"It's a little impersonal but a more contemporary way of communicating," Collingwood said.

Mayor James Ruberto said a similar program is used in Somerville. Ruberto said Mayor Joseph Curtatone told him Somerville was "provided with the opportunity to measure the performance of departments" using the Web-based system.

"There is more accountability to our residents," Ruberto said. "Accountability is key to establishing this program."

Ruberto said the city will be able to communicate more effectively with residents by using CityServ.

"I believe [CityServ] will make for a more cleaner Pittsfield and a more efficient Public Works Department," he said.

How to use

To log into "CityServ" for Pittsfield, go to www.pittsfield- ma.org. On the left sidebar under the latest news section, click on "CityServ."

To submit a request, click on "Report an issue" at the top of the homepage.

Scroll through the list of options for the description that matches your request or complaint, and click directly on that link.

Fill out the required information (name and contact information) and describe your complaint or request in the "provide additional information" box toward the bottom of the form.

When finished, click "Send request," located at the bottom of the form.

You will be e-mailed a confirmation that your request was submitted and be given a tracking number.

To track the progress of your request at a later time, type in the tracking number at the top of the request menu on the homepage.

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"Pittsfield Common redesign advances $35K grant for next step"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The First Street Common redesign project is progressing into the next phase even before the $4.6 million project breaks ground in the fall.

Pittsfield has received a $35,000 state grant to complete design plans for part of the sidewalk promenade -- referred to as "Phase 2A" -- along the front of the 7-acre city park. The entry plaza and reconfiguring the open lawn comprise the rest of the second phase of the four-phase project.

City officials expect it will take three to five years to complete all four phases of the renovation and as additional state funding becomes available.

The city has already received $885,000 through the state's Gateway City Parks program -- coupled with city funds -- toward the $1.1 million cost of Phase 1, which is scheduled to begin in October. The first phase consists of new fences, lighting, retaining walls and a more visible playground, along with preparing the 127-year-old park for the remaining renovation work.

The $35,000 planning grant for Phase 2A is seen as a stepping stone to secure additional state funding for the remaining renovation work.

"The grant shows the state's commitment to the entire project," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti. "When the next round of [construction] funding comes along, we'll have plans in hand, ready to go."

While the estimated cost of the promenade is another $550,000, city officials want to roll the next step of the project into the first phase, through cost savings and more state funds toward actual construction. The construction bid for the initial phase of work will include the promenade as city officials hope a contractor can do both jobs at once.

"With the Commonwealth's support and our ongoing efforts to find ways to reduce the cost of the initial phases of work, we are now able to accelerate the redevelopment process without incurring any additional local costs," said Deanna L. Ruffer, the director of Pittsfield's Department of Community Development, which is overseeing the renovations.

If addition state grants are forthcoming, city officials said completing the first two phase would be ideal.

"These two phases represent the backbone of the community's vision for the redevelopment of the Common," said James McGrath, the city's parks and open space manager.

Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. developed the final design to refurbish the Common based on plenty of citizen input at public meetings and online over a three-month period.

The Pittsfield Parks Commission last month approved the project's final design that also includes the third phase of construction: A gazebo with public restrooms, a new basketball court, and a splash pool next to the new playground. Phase four completes the renovations with an internal plaza and performance pavilion.

However, the new-look downtown park won't include the existing skateboard park. City officials plan to relocate the recreational facility to the tennis courts at the corner of Appleton and East streets next to Pittsfield High School. The new skateboard park would double in size and cost an estimated $150,000.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Taconic High School
"Council backs $200K study"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council endorsed borrowing up to $200,000 to study building a new Taconic High School on the Valentine Road campus.

The council on Tuesday night unanimously approved Mayor James M. Ruberto's loan request to launch the planning process. The capital funds would pay to hire a project manager -- likely a project management firm -- to determine where best to locate the structure on the 50-acre site.

Furthermore, the project manager would facilitate community outreach meetings seeking citizen input on what type of new high school Pittsfield needs. Currently, the city and Massachusetts School Building Authority are discussing the possible creation of a regional vocational-technical program within the new Taconic.

City officials expect that hiring a project management firm will take two months and another six months for the firm to complete the initial planning process for a new Taconic.

The SBA will reimburse Pittsfield 78 percent of the loan, the same reimbursement rate the city would receive for constructing a new Taconic and future renovations of Pittsfield High School.

"This now pushes the ball down the court," Ruberto said. "This begins a partnership with the SBA to hopefully fund [78 percent] of a building project."

Local and state officials consider hiring a project manager the crucial next step in a state feasibility study being conducted to determine the amount of state funding for the project. State officials estimate a new Taconic could cost $70 million if construction begins in 2012 on available space. The state agency has yet to determine the potential cost of renovating Pittsfield High.

While the council unanimously agreed to hire a project manager, it had mixed reaction to immediately backing a new Taconic.

"I will support this initial step, but don't want to rush into a new school," said Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols. "Many people I've talked to don't want to spend money on a new school."

However, Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol, wants a new Taconic.

"I'm in that school almost every morning and it's an embarrassment to the community," Krol said. "When you look at the big picture, we have no choice but to invest in our high schools."

Several councilors expressed concern that Pittsfield High was being overshadowed by Taconic, and strongly encouraged the city to pursue two high school projects.

"There's definitely plans for two high schools, I just can't guarantee the steps to achieve that goal," said Tricia Farley-Bouvier, staff member for the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission.

While the SBA process forced the city to put forth just one high school for consideration, the state agency has also viewed both schools as part of any overall building project proposal, which most city and school officials have been advocating from the beginning.

Even though Pittsfield High (1931) is nearly twice as old as Taconic (1969), SBA officials prefer to renovate Pittsfield High because architecturally and physically it's in better condition than Taconic.

The two city high schools share many needs, such as new heating and ventilation systems. In addition, local school officials have said the current layout at each building prevents vocational and academic core programs from being grouped together so students can choose a career course of study.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Mayor James Ruberto, right, and U.S. Rep. John Olver take a stroll down North Street during Third Thursday in Pittsfield. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Streetscape 2 on tap"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 20, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The federal government has committed $1.25 million that will help pay for the completion of the next phase of the downtown Streetscape Project.

During a ceremony Thursday to mark the completion of phase one of the project, U.S. Rep. John Olver announced that he had secured the commitment for the next step -- upgrading North Street from Park Square to Columbus Avenue.

The event was held on South Street in front of the Berkshire Museum, part of the recently completed phase one of the project. That included repaving, brick paver enhancements, median and sidewalk landscaping and new period-style street lights and traffic lights along South Street from Housatonic Street north to Park Square.

Park Square was redone at a cost of about $2.6 million to eliminate the rotary and make enhance-ments such as brick pavers and period-style lights.

"The completion of the this project is the latest step on the path we are all on of reinforcing Pittsfield's image as a center of innovation," said Stuart Chase, executive director of the Berkshire Museum. He noted that the museum had its best year ever, despite the ongoing construction.

Phase two of the project will include more sidewalk landscaping, brick pavers, period-style lighting and traffic enhancements at a cost of more than $2 million, according to Deanna Ruffer, Pittsfield's director of community development. Construction will begin next spring and is expected to be complete in the fall of 2011.

Discussions on the location and cost of phase three will soon be under discussion.

At the museum, Mayor James M. Ruberto called attention to the crowds gathering across the street, where bands practiced and crowds gathered for the start of Third Thursday festivities.

"This is a great opportunity to show Congressman Olver what Streetscape has enabled us to bring to Pittsfield," he said. "You've done for Streetscape the same thing you've done for this community with the Colonial and the transportation center."

"And you've continued to give this community cause for pride and hope," he continued. "You've helped us make this the downtown of the Berkshires again."

Olver was the final speaker, and in announcing the additional funding, told Ruberto "you can rightly be proud because this is all due to your vision and your tireless work."
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To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6241.
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www.iberkshires.com/story/35893/Pittsfield-Streetscape-Project-Gets-1.25M-Boost.html
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"Barrett returns to tune up city: Pittsfield rehires North Adams' former mayor for three months to improve and streamline services."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 27, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- John Barrett III is back as a city consultant, this time to follow through on recommendations he made last month to improve Pittsfield neighborhoods.

The City of Pittsfield has hired Barrett for a three-month period at a cost of $23,500, with an option of extending the contract up to an additional three months for a monthly fee of $4,000. Barrett officially began his second stint at City Hall on Tuesday and is scheduled to complete his work on Nov. 24 -- the day before Thanksgiving.

The funding will come from the contractual services line item in the Pittsfield's unclassified account, city financial officials said.

Mayor James M. Ruberto first hired Barrett in mid-January to find ways the city could improve city services. Barrett, 62, who lost his bid for a 14th consecutive term as mayor of North Adams last November, was paid a consulting fee of $25,000 for a contract that ended May 30.

While Barrett indicated his initial consulting work for Pittsfield was a one-time arrangement, he felt compelled to make a return engagement.

"If I saw the city was committed to make change -- which is desperately needed -- I wanted to return and help reorganize those departments," Barrett said on Thursday.

Barrett, along with a consulting firm from Chicago, were the only ones to respond to a "request for proposal" to help Pittsfield implement Barrett's suggested changes to reorganize the Public Works and Utilities departments and improve other city services. Ken Murray Associates submitted an offer of $69,900 for three months work and would charge $22,060 for each additional month, if needed.

"We have to fully design the management team for Public Works," Ruberto said. "We must hire a public services director and I'll be disappointed if one isn't in place by [Jan. 1]."

Ruberto said he'll propose the new position to the City Council, once he and other city officials develop a job description based on Barrett's recommendation.

In a seven-page report he submitted July 13 to Ruberto and the City Council, Barrett recommended splitting up the duties of the current Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood because he doesn't have enough time to efficiently run both departments.

Barrett called for Collingwood to continue overseeing city utilities and road-related capital projects, while a director of public services would manage the daily operation of the road and water systems. Barrett said the new position could combine the municipal jobs of highway and water superintendents.

While Collingwood was unavailable to comment on Barrett's rehiring, he told The Eagle last month he was "in favor of fine-tuning" Public Works and Utilities.

"I look forward to making the department work better and deliver core services to residents," he had said.

Ruberto wasn't surprised Barrett decided to finish what he started.

"He has his teeth into this [plan] and he wants to prove the changes he recommended can be instituted," he said.

Pittsfield City Council President Gerald M. Lee welcomed Barrett's return to help implement his plan.

"He's familiar with the city and he'll hit the ground running, which he already has," Lee said. "The bottom line is we'll have better service for less money."

Barrett's report also urged Pittsfield to use more city workers rather than private contractors for snow plowing and to better respond to its residents' needs regarding snow removal, road repair, drainage problems and other infrastructure issues. In addition, he strongly suggested in his report Pittsfield "get out of the street construction business" by contracting out all street paving and road work.

Ruberto said many of those recommendations can be made with Public Works and Utilities and some are already in place.

Barrett's scrutiny of public works and maintenance involved his driving throughout Pittsfield and finding that many residents were complaining the city wasn't responding to their requests for better maintained roads.

"The changes we'll bring won't be easy for some people in city government," he said. "But Pittsfield's future depends a lot on its image and how well it's maintained."

The city has already launched an online service on its website that residents can use to request services.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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www.topix.com/forum/city/pittsfield-ma/TG730E4LGBMQNTSTB
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"Money wasted on ‘assistant mayor'"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, September 5, 2010

I am writing to express my concerns over the reincarnation of John Barrett as a consultant to the mayor of the city of Pittsfield. The hiring of Barrett the first time was an egregious waste of taxpayer money, but to repeat this exercise in futility is, in my mind, an extreme abuse of power by our mayor. Barrett went from making $5,000 per month in his first term as assistant mayor to making almost $8,000 per month in this term. If Mayor Ruberto can't do his job then he shouldn't have run again, plain and simple.

This city never had an assistant mayor in all of its almost 250 years and doesn't need one now, especially at taxpayer expense. Barrett, if he came up with any new ideas, might be worth the money but all he did in his report to the City Council a couple months ago was recycle ideas put forth by Jeff Ferrin long before Barrett came on the scene in Pittsfield. This mayor wasted $25,000 in taxpayer funds to hear what an opponent of his in the last mayoral election had told him months before. Is that responsible government or just paying a buddy to rehash someone else's ideas? I think it's the latter.

All people hear in the media is what a great job Barrett is doing for Pittsfield. Is it a coincidence or is this the same media that backed Ruberto in his bid for re-election and Barrett for his? I have one question for those who voted for Ruberto in the last election. If he had told you he was going to hire an assistant mayor (Barrett) to do his and his department heads jobs would you have voted for him? If the answer is "Yes" then there is something wrong in our town. If the answer is "No" then I guess we'd be richer by a bunch.

I call on this City Council, although there's not much it can do lawfully, to condemn this ridiculous waste of taxpayer money. I can almost guarantee we all know who will and who won't and I guess we'll also tell who deserves to be re-elected and who doesn't.

JIM GLEASON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Pittsfield Mayor wages blight flight"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 8, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council is considering a series of fines, fees and regulations to battle blight in Pittsfield neighborhoods.

MayorJamesM. Ruberto has proposed the council approve three new ordinances dealing with proper lawn care and trash disposal, an appeals process for violators, and a requirement that some landlords and owners of vacantorforeclosed properties register with the city.

Ruberto said the ordinances give the city more weaponsinitsfight against rundown homes and apartment buildings.

"The purpose is to ensure effective and efficient code enforcement and bring a higher standard of accountability for the maintenance of properties in our neighborhoods," Ruberto stated in a brief letter presented to councilors on Tuesday night.

Ruberto didn't attend the council meeting and was unavailable for further comment. He was away on city business.

The City Council voted to refer the proposals to its Committee on Ordinance and Rules which meets on Sept. 20. However, the subcommittee's review and debate of the proposals will likely extend into the panel's Oct. 4 meeting, according to its chairman, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

"It's possible people will have two chances to voice their opinions," Lothrop said.

The proposed new fines include levies against property owners with grass more than 10 inches tall and are overgrown with weeds and brush. The first offense would cost $50, $100 for the second offense, and the third offense $200.

In addition, the new ordinance would establish specific fines for allowing to pile up at curbside electronics, stoves, refrigerators, couches chairs and other white goods and bulky waste items, without the proper disposal stickers available from City Hall. Residents can already be fined for putting out the trash more than 24 hours prior to the scheduled pickup.

Furthermore, Ruberto wants to establish the position of a municipal hearings officer to listen to and rule on all appeals of violation notices issued by the Health, Building and Fire departments.

The third ordinance would require annual registration with the city's Health Department of non-owner occupied residential properties, vacant and foreclosed single and multiple family dwellings. The registration fee would be $25 per property.

Such a list of properties will make it easier for the city to track down the owners in the event of a fire or other problems at the residences, said Council President Gerald M. Lee. However, Lee wants to make sure the registration ordinance doesn't become a burden to landlords in good standing with the city.

"If a guy owns 20 multi-family places and keeps them in great shape, does he have to pay the $25 fee for each property?" he said.
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Fit the bill?

Here are penalties violators could face, if approved by the council.

Grass over 10 inches: First offense, $50; second offense, $100; third offense, $200.

Overgrown weeds and brush: $50, $100 and $200, for first through third offenses.

Improper disposal at curbside of electronics and bulky items: $50, $100, $200.

Improper disposal of white goods (stoves, refrigerators, etc.): $100, $200, $300.

Illegal possession of shopping cart: $25, $25, $50.
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"Welcome attack on blight"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, September 13, 2010

Mayor James Ruberto's ambitious plan to combat blight should appease critics who say his administration hasn't paid enough attention to the neighborhoods, and is a key component of his goal to make Pittsfield "the best darn small city in the commonwealth." The proposal should alarm no one other than the landlords and residents whose abuses have long marred an otherwise attractive city.

The administration's proposal, contained in three ordinances that are now before the City Council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules, attacks the blight problem on several fronts. It institutes an escalating series of fines on those who don't maintain their property or violate trash pickup regulations. It enables the city to apply tax liens, which will draw the attention of those who have grown accustomed to shrugging off fines. This provision, and the creation of the position of municipal hearings officer, will cut down on the costly time the city spends in court chasing down miscreants. By taking advantage of a state law requiring landlords to provide contact information, the plan will make it easier for the city to build a database of property owners who are often no more than a post office box number.

This plan benefits tenants and the city's responsible landlords, will save the city money and will create a more attractive Pittsfield. That's a winning combination.

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"City blight proposal doomed to fail"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, September 13, 2010

Mayor Ruberto's anti-blight program has helped shed some light on a serious problem in the city. As proposed, however, it offers very little that is new. In fact, it will likely only further over-extend city agencies that have been asked to do more with less for years.

Currently, fines can be (and are) levied against property owners who do not maintain their buildings. Property owners have already paid to have their deeds registered. This information can be easily accessed by anyone using Pittsfield's online property viewer or the registry's website -- both of which taxpayers already fund. Additionally, property managers are already required to post their name and contact information on all buildings under their management.

The city's health department has a lot to do. Is this really how we want it spending its time? If so, the proposed fines should be much higher.

Will $25 cover the costs associated with logging a complaint, traveling to the property to investigate, writing and mailing a letter to the property owner, and traveling back to the property to confirm compliance? Twenty-five dollars won't begin to cover this. And what's the health inspector not doing because he's forced to leave his office and go measure the length of someone's lawn? Some of the longest grass in the city can be found on the tree lawns, parking strips and parkways that are owned by the city but not associated with a property owner. While some of these areas are maintained by the city, many are maintained by frustrated neighbors. In some cases the grass is mowed only once or twice a year by the city, if ever. Let's not forget that many of these neglected areas are found in the shadows of abandoned and rusted industrial complexes that the city has not been able to successfully revitalize for decades.

Pittsfield's city agencies have gone to great lengths in recent years to do more with less, but we can't keep asking them to do more. They are simply spread too thin as it is. This proposal, while it makes for great headlines, will not rid the city of blighted properties or irresponsible property owners. It's only likely consequence is costing the city more money and asking more of the city's already strained agencies.

JEREMIAH AMES
Lenox, Massachusetts

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The Pittsfield Municipal Airport has been awarded a $13.4 million grant, the final funding it needs to begin runway expansion, which should begin in the next few weeks. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Airport ready to expand"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 10, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion project is ready to take off.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors on Thursday awarded the airport a $13.4 million grant -- the final funding component needed to begin the long-anticipated project.

City officials said construction could begin in the next couple of weeks on the expansion, which will extend the runway and bring it into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration safety standards.

"We're ready to go to work," said Mayor James M. Ruberto, noting the expansion has faced a number of delays and legal challenges over the past 12 years. "I just couldn't be happier to see the beginning of construction for this project."

The $22.5 million expansion, which is expected to take three years to complete, involves extending the 5,000-foot runway by 790 feet, and installing another 1,000 feet of safety area on each end of the runway. It has also received $6 million from the FAA and $3.1 million in bond revenue from Pittsfield.

Ruberto noted that a local contractor will be doing the work.

"We have a Pittsfield company on this and we'll be putting about 40 Pittsfield people to work on this project, and I can't think of a better time for it to happen," he said. "The expansion will serve the entire Berkshire community and it's also going to serve notice that we have done it in the most environmentally sensitive way."

Permits from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Heritage Foundation have all been secured, Ruberto said.

In August, an appeal by seven Berkshire county residents of a DEP-granted variance for a water quality certificate was denied, clearing the last permitting hurdle for the project.

DEP wetlands permits have required the replacement of 5.7 acres of wetlands and a body of water encompassing one-tenth of an acre. FAA regulations also require the removal of a total of 100 acres of trees at either end of the safety zones that constitute air traffic obstructions.

City and business officials have pushed for the project to enhance the airport's role in accommodating business growth in the Berkshire County region.

According to Mark Germanowski, airport manager, the additional runway and safety area would allow fewer planes to divert to other airports during inclement weather.

The result, his estimates have shown, will be an increase in airport jet traffic by 20 to 25 percent, or 250 to 350 more aircraft each year.

"We will see much more all-season arrivals and departures, which will help attract more business to the city," Germanowski said.

He added that his personal goal is to get the work begun by the end of the month.

"My hope is that in less than four weeks we are going to see earth moving equipment out there," Ruberto said.

"It's just been a long, challenging road," Germanowski said. "A lot of people have lost a lot of sleep over this and now we're finally at the beginning of the end."
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To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireagle.com or (413) 496-6241.
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http://disqus.com/forums/theberkshireeagle/airport_ready_to_expand_berkshire_eagle_online/trackback/
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(related)
www.iberkshires.com/new/story.php?story_id=36073
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"Sludge becomes power"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 10, 2010

DALTON -- Crane & Co. plans to clean up its 50-year old waste pits by converting them into a decade's worth of sustainable energy.

The paper manufacturer is relying on Covanta Pittsfield LLC, which operates the Pittsfield Resource Recovery Facility on Hubbard Avenue, to remove the paper fibers that are deposited in three watery storage beds on Crane's property. The non-hazardous byproduct of paper making will then be piped 700 feet to the waste-to-energy facility, and incinerated to create additional steam power for Crane.

Crane and Covanta officials on Thursday unveiled the pilot project which, if approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection, will become fully operational next spring. The two companies expect the project will process five million gallons of waste a year. It will take between 10 and 13 years for the remediation to be completed.

Crane used the storage beds extensively between 1961 and 1971, then used them occasionally until 1986, before it stopped filling them with paper-making waste. The company's environmental manager, Jim Noel, said Crane has been working with state environmental officials to come up with a final solution to remove the open-air storage beds.

"The main goal is to clean up the pits and we'll get a little energy use out of [this project]," Noel said.

"What energy they don't take from this, we'll use to run our turbine," said Covanta's business manager, Ken Ryan.

Ryan said it's unknown how much energy the $750,000 project will generate for Crane's four paper mills and corporate offices.

Covanta Pittsfield LLC is a subsidiary of the New Jersey-based Covanta Holding Company, which owns and operates 45 energy-from-waste and renewable energy projects. Since 1981, Covanta has sold steam power to Crane that provides 70 percent of the paper manufacturer's energy needs, according to Crane officials. Covanta burns 240 tons each day of residential and commercial garbage from throughout Berkshire County, annually producing 400 million pounds of steam. The renewable energy source has enabled Crane to avoid burning 16,000 gallons of oil each day, an annual savings of $1 million.

Covanta also generates 50-percent of its own electricity through the trash burning process at the Hubbard Avenue facility.

How it works.

During a demonstration at Crane's waste pits, Covanta officials showed how a gray-colored dredging machine churns up the sludge, pumping the mixture to the surface. The paper fibers are then removed from the water before sent through an existing pipeline to the trash-burning plant.

Pittsfield and Dalton officials were impressed by the project and Covanta's continued working relationship with Crane.

"The more of what Covanta does in Pittsfield should be done elsewhere in the state and across the country," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.

Dalton Selectman John F. Boyle said the project is "indicative of the success" Crane has had with Covanta.

Covanta, which operates 45 facilities around the world, plans to further enhance its waste-to-energy operations.

"We will always look for other renewable disposal resources," said the company's regional vice president, Steven Diaz.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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http://disqus.com/forums/theberkshireeagle/city_blight_proposal_doomed_to_fail_berkshire_eagle_online_22/trackback/
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An unoccupied home on Dorchester Avenue in Pittsfield was held up as an example of the type of property that would be targeted by the proposed anti-blight program now under consideration. (Photos by Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
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"Blight plan moves forward: City panel backs parts of a proposal targeting local eyesores"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 22, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee has endorsed a series of fines as part of Pittsfield's proposed anti-blight program, but it has delayed action on two other measures that are aimed at improving residential neighborhoods.

The subcommittee on ordinances and rules Monday night recommended that the full council adopt an ordinance introduced by Mayor James M. Ruberto that would allow city officials to ticket property owners for poor lawn care and improper trash disposal. The five-member panel's unanimous vote came after a three-hour public hearing.

The committee adjourned before acting on Ruberto's proposed ordinances to establish an appeals process for violators and a requirement that some landlords and owners of vacant or foreclosed properties register with the city. Ordinance and rules will continue its review and debate of the anti-blight rules at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 4.

A proposal that would establish specific fines for either tall grass over 10 inches, overgrown weeds and brush, or allowing furniture, appliances, and electronics to pile up at curbside received mixed reviews during the public hearing.

Andrew Newton, of Dorchester Avenue, supported the fines because he wants to see financial companies take responsibility for seizing foreclosed homes in his neighborhood.

"At one house, the grass is over my waist," Newton said.

In all cases, a warning would be issued for the first offense before fines are assessed for the second through fourth offenses, which would give homeowners a brief grace period to clean up their property.

"The goal is to get compliance and be proactive by educating the public about code enforcement," said the city's health director, James J. Wilusz.

However, several residents felt the city needs to clean up its own act by properly maintaining residential real estate that it has taken control of before it assesses fines to private individuals.

"[Pittsfield] has become a landlord to abandoned properties that surround my property and I have the pictures to prove it," said Abby Ketchum, who owns an apartment building on Lincoln Street.

Councilors did begin debate of a second proposal that would required owners of non-owner occupied residential properties, or vacant and foreclosed single- and multiple-family dwellings to register with the Pittsfield Health Department. Such a list of properties will make it easier for the city to track down the owners in the event of a fire or other problems at the residences.

While residents agreed such a database was necessary, opinions varied on the accompanying registration fee of $25 per property.

Several landlords called for either a one-time fee that would be assessed per person rather than per property, or establishing no fee at all.

"Why should I pay a fee? I never did anything wrong," said Jon Macht, a Lanesborough resident who owns six rental properties in Pittsfield. "I've never had blighted property."

Since Pittsfield has 3,800 residences that would have to be registered, Wilusz said the $25 would help defray the cost of establishing and updating the housing information.

City officials view the registration program as a way to improve communication between them and property owners.

"We want to work with all the landlords to be user friendly," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, who chairs the subcommittee.

Further discussion was tabled until the Oct. 4 meeting. The subcommittee also intends to debate the city's plan to establish the position of a municipal hearing officer at next month's meeting. If the position is approved, the hearing officer would listen to and rule on the appeals of all violation notices that are issued by the city's Health, Building and Fire departments.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Blight rules meet dissent"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 6, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Several city councilors and landlords question whether Mayor James M. Ruberto's proposed anti-blight program will be effective -- or even necessary -- to improve Pittsfield neighborhoods.

The City Council next week is expected to vote on three proposals to help ensure all residences are kept neat and free of housing code violations. The meeting at City Hall is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Tuesday.

The Committee on Ordinance and Rules has recommended the full council approve three new ordinances dealing with lawn care and trash disposal, an appeals process for violators, and a requirement that some landlords and owners of vacant or foreclosed properties register them with the city.

The registration proposal would require owners of non-owner occupied residential properties, or vacant and foreclosed single- and multiple-family dwellings, to register with the Pittsfield Health Department. Such a list of properties would make it easier for the city to track down the owners in the event of a fire or other problems at the residences.

"We had a fire at 3 a.m. last week on First Street with no phone numbers and the owner was contacted 12 hours later through a friend of the owner," said Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski during the committee's public hearing on Monday.

However, several landlords cited a state law that would make property registration unnecessary.

"If the current law of posting information on buildings was enforced by the city, we wouldn't need this," said Wendy Goodwin, whose company, Leading Edge Management, cares for 38 dwellings.

The registration ordinance would also require a one-time fee of $25 per owner of one or more residential buildings with the information updated free of charge each year, if ownership hasn't changed. City officials said the initial $65,000 collected would help implement and maintain the database.

While Ruberto has said registering properties is one way the anti-blight program can weed out "irresponsible" landlords, the responsible ones doubt that will happen.

"Once you collect money from the good landlords, you still won't have the bad landlords signing up," said Sharon Schaffer of Apartments R Us, which manages seven city residences.

"I'm sick of paying for the bad landlords," she said.

City officials view the annual registration process crucial to having current information on each residence.

"Information gets old over time, and it reminds owners of their obligation to their properties," said James J. Wilusz, director of the city's Health Department.

The proposed appeals process involves establishing a municipal hearings officer who would rule on all violation notices issued by the city's Health and Building departments. This includes homeowners challenging the proposed fines for unkempt properties, which Ordinance and Rules has also recommended for approval.

City inspectors could issue tickets for grass higher than 10 inches, overgrown weeds and brush, and allowing furniture, appliances and electronics to pile up at curbside. In all cases, a warning would be issued before fines ranging from $50 to $300 were levied for the second through fourth offenses.

The mayor would nominate someone for hearings officer and send the nomination to the City Council for final approval.

The Pittsfield Fire Department already has its own hearings officer, who's proved effective in dealing with appeals of fire prevention violations, according to Czerwinski.

"No more than one in 25 tickets goes before our hearings officer and most [violators] abide by his decision," said the fire chief.

The 30 to 50 cases each year involving residential property owners violating city and state health and building codes are resolved in the more cumbersome and time-consuming court system, city officials said.

"The hearings officer will dramatically decrease our need to go to the courts," said the city's attorney, Richard M. Dohoney.

Dohoney said violators can still appeal rulings. However Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols said the local appeals process will "bypass the people's constitutional right" to initially go to court.

Nichols claims going to a hearings officer will drag out the appeals process for homeowners.

"We're turning into punitive Pittsfield," he said.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo wants further study of the hearings officer position given the caseload he or she will face.

"This is looking like a full-time job that needs to be funded," Mazzeo said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Enact anti-blight initiative"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 7, 2010

Mayor Ruberto's proposed anti-blight initiative raised a few objections as it worked its way through the Pittsfield City Council committee process, some more legitimate than others and none insurmountable. We urge the full council to approve all three ordinances comprising the program Tuesday.

The program toughens lawn care and trash disposal regulations, provides an appeals process for violators, and requires landlords and owners of foreclosed properties to register with the city. The latter provision will enable the city to more easily contact owners when necessary, which is to the benefit of tenants as well as the city, and a registration fee of $25 per owner is not unreasonable, especially given that the proceeds will help implement the owner database. This regulation will give the city a better fix on its irresponsible landlords and does not constitute a burden on responsible landlords.

The appeals process calls for establishment of the position of hearings officer, and by enabling the city to stop chasing violators through the courts, it will expedite the appeals process and save the city considerable time and money. While Ward 7 City Councilor Joseph Nichols worries that this provision will violate residents' constitutional right to go to court, the reality is that violators don't want to go to court -- they want to avoid it, forcing the city to chase them. If the hearings officer rules unfavorably, the violator can still appeal the decision to the courts anyway.

If the city is becoming "punitive Pittsfield" as Mr. Nichols frets, then it is about time. For too long, some landlords have let their properties become run down to the detriment of neighborhoods. For too long, some residents have been lax in mowing laws and shoveling walks and have abused a ridiculously forgiving trash collection policy. Tougher rules and their enforcement will make the city a better place for the vast majority who obey the rules, which will in turn make the city more welcoming for new residents and new businesses. For those reasons, the mayor's anti-blight program should be enacted.

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Donald Clark hangs paintings by artist Jaysin Eli on Wednesday at the Lichtenstein Center for the opening of ‘Out in the Berkshires.’ (Ben Garver)
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"Coming ‘out’ in Berkshires"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 6, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A little less than a year ago, a Berkshire hilltown native told The Eagle that she and her wife weren’t comfortable sharing simple signs of affection for one another on the streets of Pittsfield.

"As a lesbian couple, my wife and I can’t walk down North Street holding hands without getting some stares, double-takes or comments," she said. "You still have to go to Northampton for that level of freedom and comfort."

That’s precisely the sort of uneasy feeling city leaders hope to vanquish, according to Megan Whilden, director of Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Development and the coordinator of this weekend’s second annual Out in the Berkshires.

Although the three-day Pittsfield event, which starts Friday and runs through Columbus Day weekend, is geared toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GLBTQ) community, plenty of straight people are expected to come out for the music, dancing, food and fun, according to Whilden.

"This administration and this mayor, we’re dedicated to having a community that’s diverse, tolerant and welcoming to everybody," she said.

Last year’s inaugural event was rather organic -- and coincidental -- as several gay-themed events were scheduled to take place simultaneously over Columbus Day weekend. Whilden said it was sheer serendipity that the Office of Cultural Development was able to "package together" those events.

The success of that initiative, however, set the stage for this year’s Out in the Berkshires, which is a more deliberate and strategic marketing initiative aimed at promoting Pittsfield as an GLBTQ-friendly community, Whilden said.

And there are real economic benefits to this embrace: Same-sex couples have higher-than-average incomes and tend to have more formal education and hold more professional positions, making them a desirable market to tap, according to national data.

Richard Florida, the author, professor and urban theorist, has written extensively about the emergence of urban America’s "creative class," a group that includes gay men, lesbians, artists, musicians, writers, bohemians and others. Simply put, wherever this "class" of people flourishes, others also flourish -- including businesses and cities that attract gays and "others outside the norm," according to Florida.

Prior to Out in the Berkshires, Pittsfield hadn’t really deliberately reached out to the broader GLBTQ demographic group.

"We’re kind of providing the marketing umbrella," Whilden said of the Office of Cultural Development, which used an economic grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to organize the event.

"[GLBTQ] is a market that needs to feel specifically welcomed, [and] in the Berkshires, we’re traditionally a very progressive part of the country," Whilden said.

While communities such as Great Barrington, Lenox, Stockbridge and Williamstown have traditionally been the main cultural strongholds of the Berkshires, Pittsfield continues to build a reputation as an art-and-culture destination.

"I’m just so impressed that Pittsfield has really taken the baton and is having events that are really out there and inclusive for all parts of the population," said Nicki Wilson, the artistic director of Pittsfield’s New Stage Performing Arts Center, which will host several gay-themed events this weekend.

For Wilson, getting involved with Out in the Berkshires was a no-brainer -- not to mention a chance to show off her new black-box theater space, which will host a Karaoke party Friday night and dance party Saturday night.

New Stage is located directly above the Beacon Cinema, which will host a Sunday evening viewing of the cult classic, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," the queen of all transvestite movies. Other events will take place at the Lichtenstein Performing Arts Center and Jae’s Spice.

"Our goal is for Pittsfield to be a welcoming, supportive community for everyone -- gay or straight, black, white, brown or any other color," Mayor James M. Ruberto said.

"We especially want every child growing up here in Pittsfield to know that they are loved and supported for who they truly are. We do not -- and will not -- tolerate any form of discrimination, hate or bullying in our community," the mayor said.

Ruberto is expected to issue a proclamation in support of Out in the Berkshires at Friday’s opening art-show reception at the Liechtenstein Center, located one block east of North Street on Renne Avenue.

Although Out in the Berkshires is currently an October affair, the city is hoping to organize similar events throughout the year, Whilden said. Out in the Berkshires is timed to coincide with National Coming Out Day, which is Monday.

Even if "out" wasn’t in for the weekend, the city is expected to be buzzing anyway, considering it’s the first weekend of the jazz festival and more than 60 city art galleries and studios will be open to the public. A Sunday afternoon hip-hop block party in front of the Lichtenstein Center is expected to draw a crowd to Renne Avenue.

Learn more ...

More information about LGBT-friendly events and organizations is available by visiting:

. www.outintheberkshires.com

. www.berkshirestonewall.org

. www.berkshireg3.org (Berkshire Gay Guerilla Group)

. Rumpy’s Tavern in Lenox, the county’s unofficial gay bar

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"Council approves part of blight plan"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 13, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has initially endorsed one of three new ordinances proposed by Mayor James M. Ruberto designed to fight blight in Pittsfield neighborhoods.

By a vote of 8-2, the council late Tuesday night approved a proposal that would require owners of non-owner occupied residential properties, or vacant and foreclosed single- and multiple-family dwellings, to register with the Pittsfield Health Department. Such a list of properties would make it easier for the city to track down the owners in the event of a fire or other problems at the residences.

Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Joseph C. Nichols opposed the ordinance while Peter T. White abstained, following two hours of debate. The registration proposal still needs final approval at the next council meeting, as city ordinance require two consecutive votes, before being adopted.

"I think this protects good tenants from bad landlords and good landlords from bad tenants," said Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon.

The registration ordinance would also require a fee, which was once again changed from the mayor's original proposal. The council approved Yon's amendment to annually charge landlords $10 per residence, but if they own more than one building the fee for the second and subsequent dwellings would be $1 apiece.

The original annual fee was $25 per residence, which a City Council subcommittee had proposed be a one-time fee per owner of one or more residential buildings with the information updated free of charge each year, if ownership hasn't changed.

The council had yet to vote on the new ordinances dealing with lawn care and trash disposal and an appeals process for violators. Discussion of those proposals continued after press time.

The council's debate of Ruberto's anti-blight program began shortly after 9 p.m., following a one-hour discussion of Nichols' petition that would in effect prevent his colleagues from voting on one of the remaining ordinances. Nichols opposed the proposed appeals process that involves establishing a municipal hearings officer who would rule on all violation notices issued by the city's Health and Building departments.

This includes homeowners challenging the proposed fines for unkempt properties that would be established by the third ordinance before the council.

"I believe [our citizens] are under assault by the ordinance proposed by Mayor Ruberto," he said. "It's a weapon aimed at our residents."

City inspectors could issue tickets for grass higher than 10 inches, overgrown weeds and brush, and allowing furniture, appliances and electronics to pile up at curbside. In all cases, a warning would be issued before fines ranging from $50 to $300 were levied for the second through fourth offenses.

The majority of the council rejected Nichols' petition, believing the ordinances are necessary to cleaning up unsightly and unsafe residences.

"If only one house in the middle of a neighborhood is destroying the quality of life, it's one too many," Yon said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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The 5,000-foot runway at Pittsfield Municipal Airport will be a focus of improvements in a multi-year, $22.5 million project designed to update the airport. (Ben Garver/Berkshire Eagle Staff) (Ben Garver)

"Lift for the economy: Officials see gains from airport project"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 13, 2010

PITTSFIELD - The Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion will open the "front door" to economic development in the region by providing a safer facility, according to a top regional official with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Federal, state and local officials on Tuesday touted the $22.5 million project during a groundbreaking ceremony at the north end of the currently 5,000- foot runway that will be lengthened by 790 feet. In addition, two 1,000-by-400 foot safety areas will be built at both ends of the main runway to bring the facility into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards.

J.H. Maxymillian Inc. of Pittsfield will begin work this week on this expansion that will take three years to complete. Airport officials will host a neighborhood meeting to review the initial phase of construction from 7 to 9 tonight at Crosby Elementary School.

The airport upgrade is expected to increase jet traffic by 250 to 350 planes each year, according to city officials, accommodating business growth in the city and surrounding towns. Airport manager Mark Germowski said currently 2,500 to 3,000 jets annually land and take off from Pittsfield.

"This airport is strategically located in Berkshire County," said LaVerne Reid, regional manager of the FAA's airport division in New England. "This [project] will be a front door to your community and stimulate your community." "[Gov. Deval L. Patrick] considers this as one of his signature projects for economic development," said the state's Secretary of Transportation Jeffrey B. Mullan.

While city-owned, the airport provides a regional service which warrants the improvements, according to U.S. Rep. John W. Olver.

" The expansion will help many more people live and work in the Berkshires. I'm excited, gratified and actually quite relieved it's under way," Olver said.

The project, first proposed in 1998, had to overcome initial neighborhood opposition, several revisions, a lengthy federal and state review process and challenges from individuals and groups claiming it would greatly impact the environment.

City officials believe the final plan addresses all issues surrounding the project.

"It's been a long and bumpy road, but we've honed a good compromise," said Kevin J. Magner, chairman of the Pittsfield Airport Commission. "The expansion will satisfy the greatest safety concerns for users and the citizens of Pittsfield."

Furthermore, the creation of the safety areas at both ends of the main runway will require the replacement of 5.7 acres of wetlands and one-tenth of an acre of an adjacent body of water. FAA regulations also require the removal of appoximately 120 acres of trees as most of the woodlands are considered air traffic obstructions, according to airport officials.

"We've done it correctly and the project is as environmentally sensitive as could possibly be," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "The city of Pittsfield will be proud when the project is completed."

The $22.5 million project is being funded by a combination of federal, state and local money. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation last month awarded the city a $13.4 million grant, while the FAA has kicked in $6 million. In May, the City Council approved a $3.1 million loan toward the construction cost.

"This project represents the ideal partnership of state, federal and local governments," Reid said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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Katherine Gundelfinger seeks gender-neutral nudity laws. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe)
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"A twist on equality laws: Pittsfield initiative focuses on right to doff shirts"
By Brian MacQuarrie, Boston Globe Staff, October 15, 2010

PITTSFIELD — In Katherine Gundelfinger’s view, women should have “equal access to sunshine.’’ That means being able to walk or bike shirtless through downtown, or bathe at Onota Lake wearing only a pair of bikini bottoms.

“Here I am, a grown woman, who can’t go for a swim and feel the sun on my chest and feel comfortable,’’ said Gundelfinger, 39.

Prompted by this “major resentment,’’ Gundelfinger said, she has collected the 200 signatures needed to pose what might be the state’s most unusual ballot question in the Nov. 2 election.

The nonbinding question will be considered only by voters in the Third Berkshire District, which has about 40,000 residents. It seeks to rewrite the legal definition of nudity, so that the same rules apply to both genders. Gundelfinger, an amateur artist, launched the ballot effort after failing at Pittsfield City Hall in 2007 to win a woman’s right to swim topless.

Public nudity has caused controversy elsewhere in New England. While the state of Vermont permits the practice so long as it does not include lewdness, such as flashing, town officials in Brattleboro voted to ban public nudity in 2007. The decision was reached after a small group of young people began to gather downtown in the buff in 2006 because no local or state ordinance prohibited nudity. After out-of-state visitors began arriving to glimpse the scene, and at least one tourist strolled through downtown without clothing, town officials put a stop to it.

Gundelfinger said she would like to see other states pass laws to allow women to go shirtless wherever men can do the same. In Pittsfield, police Captain John Mullin said, that latitude apparently extends to everywhere outdoors.

Under Massachusetts law, running afoul of the state’s definition of nudity is considered indecent exposure, Mullin said. The infraction, a misdemeanor, would carry a maximum penalty of up to six months in a house of correction and a $200 fine, he said.

The ballot question, if approved, would ask the district’s state representative to support legislation — not yet introduced — to amend the nudity definition, “so that no part of the female breast is included.’’

The issue has become an electoral sideshow in an economically challenged city that Mayor James Ruberto calls the “downtown of the Berkshires’’ and where unemployment is slightly outpacing the state rate. When asked about the ballot question, Ruberto answered with barely concealed annoyance.

“When we have people out of work, when we are struggling with balanced budgets, when we have two wars overseas, I don’t think the voters are particularly interested in the question,’’ Ruberto said. “I just don’t think that the issue is worthy of discussion.’’

The mayor’s sensibilities were echoed inside Greystone Gardens, an antique clothing store, where an attendant responded quickly and firmly when asked about the issue.

“I know how I’d vote — no, they cannot!’’ said Gloria, who declined to give her last name. “I don’t believe in it. Go in your own yard, in your own privacy.’’

Other residents and business owners expressed a more expansive view.

“The human body is the human body, and a woman’s body is a beautiful thing,’’ said Mark Papas, 55, third-generation owner of the Lantern Bar and Grill. “It’s fine with me. I believe in women’s rights.’’

In addition to gender equality, Papas said, “I can see where it would be a real boon to tourism.’’

Debbie Metivier, 41, who handles the Lantern’s counter, offered a qualified endorsement.

“I personally wouldn’t do it, but I’m for it if your body’s presentable,’’ Metivier said. “If people don’t like it, don’t look.’’

Gundelfinger wonders what all the fuss is about. So, too, do the 230 registered voters who signed her petition at two tables set up on Pittsfield sidewalks.

“People have been raised to believe that it shouldn’t be this way,’’ Gundelfinger said. “There’s a lot of fear.’’

She drew a stark distinction between her goal and what she considers the immorality of exploitive sexual imagery. As an example, she said, she filed a complaint with municipal officials about suggestive illustrations of barely clothed women that had been posted in the windows of an adult-video store.

“Why is it OK for children to see smokers, to see alcoholism, and to see beer trucks going by?’’ Gundelfinger asked. “I think it’s messed up. I’ve seen women more provocative fully clothed than I would be in just a pair of swim trunks.’’

Gundelfinger even bristled at the use of the word “topless’’ to describe her initiative. “The word ‘topless’ always brings to mind the image of women in seedy clubs,’’ she said with a snarl.

While acknowledging that her opponents have public safety concerns, Gundelfinger argued that the novelty would wear off with time.

“If children are raised to be exposed to that,’’ she said, “it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.’’
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Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe.com.
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"Pittsfield votes no on nudity"
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 3, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- It was among the more unusual questions on a ballot in Massachusetts: The right for women to go without a shirt the same way men can.

And on an election day when the temperature hovered in the low- to mid-40s, a good number of Pittsfield voters exiting their polling places were not in a mood to approve the measure.

"I think it was a complete waste of time for most people," said Jim Watroba of Pittsfield. "They're not doing this anywhere in public."

The non-binding question, which was only on the ballot in the 3rd Berkshire District in Pittsfield, was to push the district's state representative to introduce legislation amending the state's definition of nudity.

Under the proposed redefinition, "females of any age may be unclothed from the waist up in public anywhere males may be, including in print and on film."

The proposal was soundly defeated in the 3rd Berkshire District, with 2,934 votes in favor of the question, versus 6,855 votes against.

Katherine Gundelfinger of Pittsfield, who spearheaded the signatures to get the nudity question on the ballot, declined to comment on Election Day.

Gundelfinger had previously issued a petition to designate a portion of Burbank Park at Onota Lake for topless sunbathing in 2007, which was defeated by a 9-2 City Council vote.

Two years later, many other voters expressed their vehement lack of support for idea.

"Absolutely not, I voted no," said Denise Yon of Pittsfield. "I have a 12-year-old daughter. Clearly, the vote is no. And I asked everyone around me, and they said no, too."

Mark Jester of Pittsfield said "to be honest, I haven't taken a lot of stock in the question, because it's a non-binding referendum."

Jester's wife, Michelle, shared her thoughts about the question. "All I can think of is your daughters," she told her husband. "Would you want them to be walking down the street topless?"

Linda Rost of Pittsfield said that the question was so broadly worded that it was destined to fail.

"I think the intent was to have areas, to have beaches, where people could do it if they wished," Rost said. "But that's not the way [the question] was worded."

Her husband, Darrel, agreed.

"As provincial as Massachusetts is, and as provincial as Pittsfield is, it would never pass," he said.

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"Pittsfield mayor backs Gov. Patrick"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, October 31, 2010

When Gov. Deval Patrick announced his candidacy five years ago, he promised to be governor of the whole commonwealth, not just the 495 beltway. The governor has kept his promise and has been a particular friend to the Berkshires. He promised to take on the difficult issues in government, not just the popular ones, and has fulfilled that pledge, too.

We have been dealt a global economic crisis, but Massachusetts is weathering the storm better than almost any other state in the country, because Gov. Patrick stood up and made the tough decisions necessary for our long-term stability, investing in infrastructure, public education, and health care. A recent study by the University of Massachusetts reported that the Massachusetts economy is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the nation. That is no accident.

Gov. Patrick has led the way on badly needed reforms. He saved Massachusetts taxpayers over a quarter of a billion dollars with transportation reform that eliminated the Turnpike Authority. He championed education reform, ethics and lobbying reform, and pension reform. Auto insurance rates have been lowered, and civilian flaggers are working construction sites. Previous administrations talked about these reforms; Gov. Patrick put ideas into action.

This governor has advocated for the interests of Berkshire County where other governors might have trouble finding it on the map. Under the Patrick-Murray administration, Pittsfield has received millions in funding for projects like the Beacon Cinema façade, Streetscape, the Common and Skatepark projects, Park Square improvements, Pittsfield Municipal Airport, Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and improvements on North and South streets, and Valentine and Barker roads.

We embrace the Governor's Green Communities Initiative, among others, and have received multiple grants and technical assistance to support our efforts to improve municipal energy efficiency and minimize costs. The governor makes it easy for cities and towns to be part of renewable energy projects. He makes it possible for us to continue to fund education at appropriate levels. He makes it easy to keep investing in job creation. He makes it easy because he leads through his values. He values education, the environment and job creation, and invests accordingly.

We are so fortunate to have Gov. Patrick as the Berkshires' governor. It is imperative that we turn out in record numbers and vote to keep him in office, so he can continue advocating for us.

JAMES M. RUBERTO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is the mayor of Pittsfield.

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"$875K facility for highway operations?"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 9, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto wants to relocate the city's highway crew to a more spacious, modern facility as part of his reorganization plan for the departments of Public Works and Utilities.

The City Council is considering Ruberto's proposal to spend $875,000 for a nearly vacant commercial building at 1644 East Street to house the highway operations' 17 employees along with its dump trucks, plows, pick-ups and other road maintenance vehicles. The council will officially take up the mayor's request during its meeting at 7:30 tonight at City Hall. The councilors are expected to refer the proposal to the finance subcommittee for debate and a recommendation back to the entire council.

If the purchase is approved, the money would come from the $1.5 million the council authorized two years ago toward finding a new home for the highway employees and equipment. The remaining funds would be used to make the building ready for city use and allow for additional storage structures to be erected on the site, city officials said.

The building, owned by the realty trust Sixteen Forty-Four East Street, LLC, sits on nearly 11 acres next to Pittsfield Sand & Gravel.

Built in 1989, the 18,000-square-foot metal and masonry block structure would replace the deteriorating century-old 13,000-square-foot brick building city highway currently occupies on West Housatonic Street across from Clapp Park.

"The building on West Housatonic is too old and too dangerous," said Council President Gerald M. Lee. "We do need to do something for the highway department."

The new location would be a "perfect fit" for the highway operations, according to Pittsfield Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

"The building was designed for a trucking company and basically a highway department is a trucking company," Collingwood said.

City officials view the East Street parcel as part of a long-term plan for Public Works and Utilities.

"This purchase would be consistent with our plan to reorganize Public Works," Ruberto said.

"I see it becoming the central hub for all our highway and water operations," said Collingwood.

The city is considering a consultant's recommendation that a director of public services be hired to manage the daily operations of the road and water systems. In a seven-page report issued in July, John Barrett III said the new position would combine the municipal jobs of highway and water superintendents. The former mayor of North Adams called for Collingwood to continue overseeing city utilities and road-related capital projects.

Barrett was hired by Ruberto in January to develop a plan for improving the delivery of city services to Pittsfield neighborhoods. He was hired again in late August to help the city follow through on the recommendations. Barrett is expected to wrap up his second stint at City Hall on Nov. 24.
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"City Council will review garage plan"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 10, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- While several city councilors see the need for a new city highway garage, they want a thorough review of Mayor James M. Ruberto's proposal to relocate the highway crew to an existing private facility as part of his reorganization plan for the departments of Public Works and Utilities.

Ruberto formally asked the City Council on Tuesday night to spend $875,000 for a nearly vacant commercial building at 1644 East St. to house the highway operations' 17 employees along with its vehicles and equipment.

The council, without debate, referred the proposal to its finance subcommittee for debate and a recommendation back to the entire council. The five-member panel meets Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m., at City Hall.

If the purchase is approved, the money would come from the $1.5 million the council authorized in June 2008 toward finding a new home for the highway division. The remaining funds would be used to make the building ready for city use and allow for additional storage structures to be erected on the site, city officials said.

The new location would be a "perfect fit" for the highway operations, according to Pittsfield Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. However prior to the meeting, several councilors said they want to ensure the site is a viable one.

"I want a review of the thought process behind and cost analysis of the project," said Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward.

"I'd like to see plans from the city if the property is suitable and what's being done to make it suitable," Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti. "We all realize the poor condition of the existing building and the life left in it is minimal."

Built in 1989, the 18,000-square-foot metal and masonry block structure on East Street would replace the deteriorating century-old 13,000-square-foot brick building that the city's highway currently occupies across from Clapp Park on West Housatonic Street.

The proposed building, owned by the realty trust Sixteen Forty-Four East Street, LLC, sits on nearly 11 acres next to Pittsfield Sand & Gravel. The owners paid $14,369.73 in property taxes in fiscal 2010 on real estate assessed at $488,600, according to the Pittsfield Board of Assessors.

While removing commercial property from the city tax rolls is "always a concern," Ruberto said buying an existing building once used by a trucking company will benefit taxpayers down the road.

"Our offer to buy is well below what we would spend on a new building," said Ruberto.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo wants more information before passing judgment on the mayor's proposal, but realizes the highway crew needs a new home.

"Obviously the condition of the current building [isn't good] and the highway department needs to move," Mazzeo said. "I would rather use something on the market rather than build a new building."

City officials view the East Street parcel as part of a long-term plan for restructuring Public Works and Utilities. Collingwood has said the new location would eventually house all of Pittsfield's highway and water services.

In July, John Barrett III, hired by Ruberto as a consultant, recommended the city hire a director of public services to manage the daily operations of the road and water systems.

The former mayor of North Adams in a seven-page report said the new position would combine the municipal jobs of highway and water superintendents.

Barrett called for Collingwood to continue overseeing city utilities and road-related capital projects.

Barrett is currently helping the city follow through on the recommendations and he's expected to wrap up his consulting duties at City Hall on Nov. 24.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Teachers to halt extra efforts"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 11, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield Public School teachers have "stopped doing things for free" until they get closer to settling a new contract with the School Committee, union leaders said on Wednesday.

The 600-member United Teachers of Pittsfield (UEP) voted on and are now under a "work to rule" provision in an effort the union hopes will jump-start negotiations, according to union president Scott Eldridge. Teachers who work to rule strictly follow the terms of the previous contract and don't volunteer to provide extra help for students or work on school activities beyond what is required of them in that contract.

The UEP, the city's largest union, and School Committee negotiators have held several bargaining sessions since the current one-year pact expired on Aug. 24, but they have been unable to reach a tentative agreement.

The teachers continue to work under the terms of the previous agreement until the UEP and School Committee craft a new one.

Both sides have exchanged proposals during negotiations in recent weeks, but a settlement has been slow in coming.

"We have suspended pro bono services," Eldridge said. "Basically we stopped doing things for free until substantial progress is made in the negotiations."

Parents and city school officials were surprised to learn through the grapevine the union exercised the work to rule provision, less than three months after the contract expired. Work to rule began on Nov. 1.

"I'm frustrated the union played that card so soon as it only hurts the kids," said Nicole Pierce, the mother of a kindergarten student at Stearns Elementary School.

"The School Committee is disappointed with the union's decision and doesn't believe it's in the best interest of the students," said School Committee Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso.

"However, the School Committee still supports the fine work teachers do and we'll continue to negotiate with the UEP," she said.

Eldridge said the union wasn't going to publicize the labor action until after the next negotiating session on Monday, a far cry from when the teachers invoked work to rule during the last contract negotiations earlier this year.

The UEP announced its intention to work to rule in mid-January, which lasted for 10 days, but only after talks broke down in December requiring a state mediator to help settle the stalled negotiations. The UEP and School Committee finally ratified a new contract in March that included a total of $125,000 in step raises, but devoid of across-the-board salary increases. It was the second consecutive one-year deal with minimal pay hikes due to the city's budget woes.

While Pittsfield's spending plan stabilized for the current fiscal 2011, negotiators on both sides haven't guaranteed a return to a traditional multiple-year contract when a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

"Teachers deserve the type of contracts given to NFL players, but you can't get blood from a stone," said Pierce.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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PITTSFIELD
"Pittsfield, mayor take top spot in cultural contest"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 19, 2010

Mayor James M. Ruberto can often be found speaking at events around town, beaming about "the best small city in New England." And soon that message will be going out to a much larger audience.

Ruberto won the Massachusetts Cultural Council's first Mayor's Arts Challenge, a competition in which 16 mayors from across the state entered videos that highlighted their communities arts and cultural sectors.

The video will now be shown by the national advocacy group Americans for the Arts during its presentation at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as at the Statehouse in February as part of the Commonwealth Awards, the state's highest honors in arts and culture.

"We're really proud of winning that competition," said Ruberto. "We really had a great story to tell."

The video features Ruberto seated by the window of Dottie's Coffee Lounge on North Street, espousing the importance and vibrance of the city's arts and cultural sector. Ruberto's testimonial is overlaid with images from cultural events from around the city.

"It's huge because it shows again that Pittsfield is a very creative community, and Pittsfield is a community that is engaged in the arts," said Ruberto.

Ruberto beat out runners-up from Lowell, Melrose and Haverhill, receiving the most votes in the online contest. You can watch the video on the council's Youtube channel by searching Mayors Arts Challenge.

Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, praised all the mayors' efforts to capture the different artistic and cultural activities in their cities, especially Ruberto.

"He really is the poster child for talking about a community that went from a former manufacturing base and kind of down-and-out, and really targeted and used arts and culture as his number one tool in bringing the city back."

Jennibeth Gomez, an intern in the city's Office of Cultural Development, shot and produced the video. Gomez, who is working for the city through the Americorps VISTA program, said she was excited to receive the recognition.

"It was nice to know they found our video dynamic and compelling," said Gomez..

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"Dropout risk is urgent"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 30, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- More than a third of eighth-graders enrolled in urban school districts at the end of the last academic year were at risk of dropping out of high school, an issue that Pittsfield Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III called "urgent."

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education used a new early warning indicator index to measure the likelihood of the students -- now ninth-graders -- dropping out. The indicators include low MCAS scores, high absenteeism rates, number of suspensions and age of a student at the end of the eighth-grade year.

Among approximately 21,439 eighth-graders enrolled in the state's two dozen urban districts, Pittsfield included, 36 percent or 7,700 students were at risk of not graduating on time or at all, according to a Boston Globe report.

Among the 48,999 suburban and rural school district students, the risk rate was 8 percent.

"This is an incredibly urgent issue. It's never been less than urgent for me," Eberwein said.

In 2004, when Eberwein officially stepped in as principal of Pittsfield High School, the district had a dropout rate hovering around 9 percent.

Since then, the city dropout rate has been cut by more than half. Last year's rate was 3.9 percent.

The superintendent said a community-wide effort has helped reduce the drop-out rate. Summer programs have been developed to help students transition between grade levels, he said.

Also, the city has helped create alternative-learning environments, such as the Juvenile Resource Center and the Positive Options program based at Berkshire Community College.

Two years ago, the district also joined the state Urban Dropout Prevention Network.

"Today we're not just doing a better job helping kids finish school, but we're putting kids who do drop out with programs that can help move them forward. I think we're doing good work, but the work is never done," Eberwein said.

A month ago it was announced that Massachusetts was one of two states selected to receive $15 million during the next five years to support drop-out prevention programs through the federal High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI).

The grant will focus on the 133 high schools in the commonwealth that exceeded the statewide annual dropout rate of 2.9 percent in the 2008-09 school year.

Five Berkshire County public high schools are included in this project: Drury High School, Taconic High School, Hoosac Valley High School, Pittsfield High School and Lee High School.

Drury Principal Amy Meehan said that the new initiative, along with the state's new system for measuring the likelihood of students dropping out, are good ways to identify and support at-risk students.

"Something most high schools are struggling with is how to monitor students and find the best response model to use when there are achievement gaps," Meehan said.

Chris Jacoby, principal of Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield, said preventing students from dropping out starts by making sure they attend class.

"We have pockets of families where some kids are missing 30, 40, 50 days a year. It's a real problem that we struggle with," said Jacoby. "We really need the support of the families to help combat a poor attendance record. Educationally, we also need to make school a place where [students] want to be here on a regular basis."
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Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto is recommending three changes to City Hall’s management to improve the way the city operates and delivers services. (Ben Garver)
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"Mayor proposes staff changes at City Hall"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 3, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto plans to reorganize the way City Hall operates -- including his own office -- to improve the daily management of government and the delivery of city services.

Ruberto is seeking City Council approval to create the position of "commissioner of public services" by combining the jobs of highway and water superintendents to oversee highway and water and sewer maintenance that are currently supervised by Commissioner of Public Works and Utilities Bruce I. Collingwood. The position would also take over the duties of parks maintenance.

Collingwood would still manage city utilities, which include the water and sewage treatment plants, along with the city's engineering division.

In addition, the mayor wants a "director of administration" to assist him in managing several city departments and a "personnel manager" who would handle all labor matters relating to Pittsfield municipal employees.

Ruberto's planned managerial changes stem from a report issued in July by former North Adams mayor, turned consultant, John Barrett III.

The council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules will begin reviewing Ruberto's requests Monday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. The subcommittee will make recommendations to the entire council following a public debate and discussion of all three items.

The reorganization proposals would cost between $40,000 and $45,000 and would be funded using a combination of money set aside for salaries and contigency funds. Ruberto is anxious to implement the managerial changes in order to reap the benefits of improved city services during the current the fiscal year which ends on June 30.

"We should see more accomplished under Public Services, than highway, parks and water and sewer being run separately," he said.

While Barrett recommended splitting up supervision of Public Works and Utilities, the concept had been on Ruberto's radar screen since taking office seven years ago.

"City councilors suggested in the past [that] Public Works and Utilities was too much for one person, but I had hesitated to do it for cost purposes," Ruberto said.

"For me personally, the split is something I've called for a long time," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, who chairs the Committee on Ordinance and Rules.

Public Works and Utilities were combined by the city in 1992, but Collingwood has no qualms about reversing that decision. He currently manages a budget totalling $15 million and oversees nearly 80 employees. Those figures would be almost be split in half between him and the proposed commissioner of public services.

"I've fully supported reorganization from day one, and this is a starting point," he said.

Based in the mayor's office, the proposed director of administration would oversee personnel, the Council on Aging, the city's volunteer program called RSVP, veterans and information services. It would reduce the number of department heads reporting directly to Ruberto from 18 to 13.

"It clears the desk for me to do other things and allows those departments to have more managerial support from the my office," he said.

If approved, Ruberto would make one of his two staff positions director of administration, who would also provide public relations and constituency services.

Meanwhile, Ruberto said Personnel Technician Karen Decker would be elevated to personnel manager by combining her current duties with some of those from the director of personnel job that's been vacant for two years. The new position would oversee Pittsfield's human resources services such as city employee relations, staffing, training, safety and compensation.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"City poised for tax hikes"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, November 7, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- City home and business owners can expect higher annual property tax bills to help Pittsfield fund its $126.9 million budget.

The Board of Assessors proposes raising the residential property tax to $15.19 per $1,000 of valuation for the current fiscal year, up from $14.20 in fiscal 2010. That means the average annual bill for a single-family home assessed at nearly $184,000 would go from $2,663 to $2,795, an increase of $132.

The commercial property tax rate is scheduled to jump from $29.41 to $30.95. Therefore, a business valued at $561,000 would see see its annual tax bill go from $16,543 to $17,363, a total of $820.

The City Council is expected to vote on the proposed tax rates at tonight's special meeting. The council is gathering a week prior to its regular meeting on Dec. 14 so the new tax bills can be mailed out by the city-mandated deadline of Dec. 31, city officials said on Monday.

If the higher tax rate is approved, it won't mean higher property tax bills for everyone.

"Since the tax bill for a single-family home is an average, it's not necessarily going up $132 for all homeowners," said Assessor Paula King. "Some bills may stay the same or even go down."

The tax rate increase is slightly higher than first projected when the City Council adopted the current spending plan on June 23 because the assessors hadn't finalized property values that have decreased in a year's time. The average assessment for a single-family home fell $3,500, and commercial property dropped by nearly $1,500.

To compensate for lower assessments and a city spending plan that increased by $4.2 million, a higher tax rate was necessary to raise $63.7 million in revenue toward the budget, according to city financial officials. Pittsfield relied on $60.2 million in property taxes to fund the fiscal 2010 spending plan of $122.7 million.

The lower assessments are due, in part, to falling housing prices based on 2009 real estate transactions in Pittsfield.

"We don't use what the current asking prices are for homes, but actual sales figures from the previous calendar year," said Assessor William D. Marsele.

Meanwhile, city officials propose shifting more of the tax burden to residential property owners for the third consecutive fiscal year in order to help the business community grow. The City Council is being asked to approve a tax shift for fiscal 2011 at 1.671 percent, down from 1.695 in fiscal 2010. The rate of 1.725 in fiscal 2009 was down from the maximum of 1.75 percent imposed in fiscal 2008.

The council tonight will also vote on using $2.2 million in surplus money, compared to $1.7 million in fiscal 2010, in order to fund the budget and keep the tax rate increase in check.

"We're trying to maintain our savings and still keep the average tax bill increase under 5 percent," said Pittsfield Treasurer and Finance Director, Susan Carmel.

Carmel said the remaining nearly $4.4 million in the so-called "free cash" account would be down from the $5 million left available in the previous fiscal year.

"The more we tighten the budget, the less we'll have in free cash," she said.

Inside the increase ...

The Pittsfield City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on the proposed property tax rate to fund the city budget. Here's a look at the proposed rate for the current fiscal year (2011) compared with last fiscal year's rate.

Fiscal "10 Fiscal"11 Change

Residential

Rate per $1,000 $14.20 $15.19 +$0.99

Avg. annual bill* $2,662.77 $2,795.17 +$132.40

Commercial

Rate per $1,000 $29.41 $30.95 +$1.54

Avg. annual bill** $16,542.83 $17,363.26 +$820.43

* -- Based on single family home valued at $183,972.

** -- Based on commercial property valued at $561,010.

-- Proposed tax rates.

Source: Pittsfield Board of Assessors
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"Pittsfield a defense hub"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 7, 2010

PITTSFIELD - The defense industry is significant in Pittsfield, where 11 contractors received federal contracts totaling $33.9 million in fiscal 2009, according to a report that examines the importance of the defense industry in the state.

The contracts show Pittsfield remains a player in Western Massachusetts-based defense industry work, second only to Northampton with nearly $50 million, according to a report researched by the University of Massachusetts' Donahue Institute and released by Associated Industries of Massachusetts. The report used the most recent data available.

In Pittsfield, most of the federal contracts were awarded to General Dynamics, the heavyweight defense contractor whose advanced information systems division headquarters is located on Merrill Road.

"Massachusetts companies, General Dynamics included, have been particularly successful in attracting federal defense and homeland security dollars," said AIM's President and CEO Richard Lord in a telephone interview. AIM is the state's largest employer organization.

"It reflects a number of things in Massachusetts," Lord said. "We are a center of innovation, we have a top flight workforce, we have top notch colleges and universities that work with defense contractors, and the infrastructure in Massachusetts is conducive to the defense industry, which is reflected in the data."

General Dynamics' Pittsfield facility, which employs more than 1,000 workers, received two U.S. Navy contracts in 2009 to perform electronics work on new combat vessels. Bolstered by three U.S. Navy submarine contracts, General Dynamics in Pittsfield hired 125 employees between January 2009 and March 2010. Current employment information for General Dynamics could not be obtained on Monday.

The next highest amount awarded to a Berkshire County firm was $ 1.3 million to Protective Armored Systems in Lee, which produces customized protective glass systems for military vehicles. With $ 15.6 billion in federal defense contracts in 2009, the report found that Massachusetts ranked fifth in the nation in the value of contracts awarded by the Department of Defense, and seventh in Department of Homeland Security Awards.

In Western Massachusetts, 237 companies received $146.2 million in contracts from both agencies last year. Northampton topped the list of individual communities in Western Massachusetts with $48.9 million awarded to six contractors. "I guess what this says to me is that industry manufacturing and those types of things are still alive in Berkshire County," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.

North Adams is ranked 18th among the top 20 Western Massachusetts municipalities to receive federal defense contracts in 2009, with $ 232,476. The National Patient Safety Foundation, a nonprofit that received the majority of the city's defense contract funding, is no longer located in North Adams.

Lee and Great Barrington are listed among the top 20 municipalities in Western Massachusetts. West Stockbridge, Lanesborough, Stockbridge, Adams, and Williamstown are mentioned in the report.

According to Lord, many of the companies mentioned in the report are smaller companies that are hired as vendors by the state's major defense companies when they subcontract their services.

"One important part of the finding was that we have large companies, but that spinoffs in terms of second and third suppliers are also very great," Lord said. "Add it all together and there's huge value that the defense industry contributes to the state economy."

Among the other Pittsfield contractors, Springboard CIM Inc., an engineering firm on Cheshire Road, received $741,999 in federal defense contracts last year. Lenco Industries Inc., which manufactures armored vehicles, received $157,754.

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"Pittsfield's back and so is resident"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, December 8, 2010

More than 35 years ago, I was drawn to live in Pittsfield, in part, because of its vibrant downtown. With the disappearance of retail stores and movie theaters, and the general deterioration of North Street, I started driving to Lenox and Great Barrington, and even Northampton, for evening entertainment.

Well, downtown Pittsfield is back and so am I. With the great variety of restaurants and stores, the Colonial, Barrington Stage and Beacon Cinema, Pittsfield is a happening place as evidenced by the dearth of parking places and the number of people on the sidewalks, even on week nights. The efforts to make Park Square easier to negotiate and the streetscape beautification, in my opinion, have been great successes.

While walking to Mission Bar and Tapas for dinner recently, I was wondering whether Mayor Jim Ruberto is receiving the credit he deserves for leading the efforts resulting in this remarkable transformation. I don't know Mayor Ruberto nor have I been involved in his campaigns. I did make a contribution in the last election because of his efforts to revitalize downtown. I have no political agenda in writing this letter. I simply want to communicate a heartfelt "Thank You" to a man who has returned to his native city and truly left his mark.

DAVID O. BURBANK
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Ruberto's request Ok'd by subcommittee"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 8, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood is a step closer to splitting his duties with another department head, part of Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan to reorganize City Hall operations to improve the delivery of city services.

The Committee on Ordinance and Rules has unanimously recommended the entire council next week approve Ruberto's plan to create the position of "commissioner of public services," which would combine the jobs of highway and water superintendents to oversee highway and water and sewer maintenance that are currently supervised by Collingwood. The position would also take over the duties of parks maintenance.

Collingwood would still manage city utilities, which include the water and sewage treatment plants, along with the city's engineering division.

The City Council will act on the proposed managerial change at its regular meeting Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Chairman of Ordinance and Rules, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, has long advocated for splitting the duties, claiming it will improve the city's response to citizen needs.

"The majority of calls I get are for public works," said Lothrop. "For this to be successful, residents have to be able to interface with someone for delivery of public services."

Ruberto wants to hire a commissioner of public works so the city can be more aggressive in improve city neighborhoods -- a promise he made during his inaugural speech in January.

"The real job we hope to create is a SWAT-type attempt to deal with our streets," the mayor said.

Public Works and Utilities were combined by the city in 1992, but Collingwood has no qualms about reversing that decision. He currently manages a budget totaling $15 million and oversees nearly 80 employees. Those figures would be almost be split in half between him and the proposed commissioner of public services.

"I do see a split is necessary at this time as my responsibilities have grown," he said.

While Public Works and Utilities is on an apparent fast track for reorganization, two other managerial proposals are on the backburner for now.

Ordinance and Rules on Monday tabled Ruberto's plan to have a "director of administration" to assist him in managing several city departments. The committee wants to further review the measure, claiming the staffing change couldn't negatively impact constituent services in the mayor's office.

As for the ordinance creating a "personnel manage" who would handle all labor matters relating to Pittsfield municipal employees, the five-member panel deferred discussion until its January meeting.

All three planned managerial changes stem from a report issued in July by former North Adams mayor, turned consultant, John Barrett III.

The reorganization proposals would cost between $40,000 and $45,000, with the retooling of Public Works and Utilities accounting for up to $30,000. All three positions would be funded using a combination of money set aside for salaries and contingency funds.

While Ruberto plans to immediately begin searching for a commissioner of public services, if approved by the City Council next Tuesday, he denied rumors that Barrett was applying for the job -- even on a temporary basis.

"[He] is not a candidate for the job, nor is anyone else at this time," Ruberto told the councilors.

Ruberto did say Barrett would continue to consult Public Works and Utilities on street maintenance and snow plowing at least through the end of the month.

"I'm not a public works guy, but as a former mayor I bring managerial experience to this city," Barrett said.

Shortly after Ruberto began his fourth term of office in January, he hired Barrett to make recommendations for improving city service and to help implement any proposed changes approved by the City Council.

"My job was to make Public Works friendly and more responsive to city residents," he said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pittsfield City Council adopts higher taxes"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 8, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has approved higher annual property tax bills to help Pittsfield fund it's $126.9 million budget.

By a vote of 10-1 Tuesday night, with Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols opposed, the council agreed to raise the residential property tax to $15.19 per $1,000 of valuation for the current fiscal year, up from $14.20 in fiscal 2010. That means the average annual bill for a single-family home assessed at nearly $184,000 in fiscal 2011 would go from $2,663 to $2,795, an increase of $132.

The commercial property tax rate will jump from $29.41 to $30.95. Therefore, a business currently valued at $561,000 would see its annual tax bill go from $16,543 to $17,363, a total of $820.

The City Council voted on the Board of Asssesors proposed tax hike at a special meeting, rather than at its regular meeting Dec. 14, so the new tax bills can be mailed out by the city-mandated deadline of Dec. 31.

Some opposition expressed

While Nichols and several residents balked at the higher tax rate, the percentage increase continues to be far less than of surrounding towns, according to Mayor James M. Ruberto.

"In terms of our ability to be fiscally responsible, our tax increases since 2005, in terms of percent, is the lowest among major Berkshire communities," he said.

Tax hike opponents pointed to the need for less spending, not higher taxes, to balance the budget.

"If we don't start making cuts, we're going to tax people out of their homes and businesses," Nichols said.

Higher than projected

The tax rate increase is slightly higher than first projected when the City Council adopted the current spending plan on June 23 because the assessors hadn't finalized property values that have decreased in a year's time. The average assessment for a single-family home fell $3,500, and commercial property dropped by nearly $1,500.

To compensate for lower assessments and a city spending plan that increased by $4.2 million, a higher tax rate was necessary to raise $63.7 million in revenue toward the budget, according to city financial officials. Pittsfield relied on $60.2 million in property taxes to fund the fiscal 2010 spending plan of $122.7 million.

The lower assessments are due, in part, to falling housing prices based on 2009 real estate transactions in Pittsfield.

Meanwhile, the City Council approved Ruberto's request to shift more of the tax burden to residential property owners for the third consecutive fiscal year in order to help the business community grow. The councilors adopted a tax shift for fiscal 2011 at 1.671 percent, down from 1.695 in fiscal 2010. The rate of 1.725 in fiscal 2009 was down from the maximum of 1.75 percent imposed in fiscal 2008.

"I am pleased with the continued shift away from commercial properties," said Michael Supranowicz, president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, which represents nearly 600 Pittsfield businesses. "We continue to find ourselves in fragile economic times, especially small businesses."

The council also vote to use $2.2 million in surplus money, compared to $1.7 million in fiscal 2010, in order to fund the budget and keep the tax rate increase in check.
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"North Street was always a good destination"
By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 9, 2010
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts

The stores on North Street will be open late tonight. There are a lot of new ones now, but to find them you have to get there and start poking your cold, little noses through some doors. This is all a welcome site for the generation that remembers the former grand downtown, and it should be an equally positive sign for newer and younger residents of the city.

I'm not a great shopper, but what skills I learned I crafted on North Street many years ago. Downtown then was an easy destination point -- there weren't many other options.

The downtown business owners of today want North Street to be a destination point again, and they are willing to work hard to make that happen. In all probability they will have to work harder than their predecessors, but that's good news for the customers.

The people on North Street now are energized. They are hungry to succeed, and for that to happen North Street has to move forward collectively. And that's why so many of the shop bosses came together recently with Downtown Pittsfield Inc. to create tonight's and next Thursday's late-night shopping events.

I enjoyed walking to North Street. I especially liked doing it this time of year, because I liked the decorations en route along Tyler Street and certainly enjoyed the main drag being decked out in holiday glory.

I would get extra charged up if a little bit of snow was falling and I could leave footprints behind on the uneven cement slabs of the Tyler Street sidewalks. It didn't hurt either if there was an extra-cold feel to the air. My brisk stride often reflected the weather conditions around me.

I always did the same thing. I would walk on the St. Mary's side of the street until I made it to Myrtle Street. That's when I would cross over. Bouncing across First Street I always looked forward to making the left up North Street.

There was once a Chinese restaurant just a few steps up from the turn. I can't remember the name, but it was the only such place that offered Chinese fare in the city, and it's where I could get some hot Won Ton soup with noodles for a rather reasonable price. The lights were dark and the booth partitions were high. I always felt a sense of foreign intrigue when I was in there, like someone was going to slip me a piece of paper with a secret message or code written upon it.

In truth, the only sheet of paper I was ever handed was the bill.

So much for foreign intrigue.

The former England Brothers department store was a safe enough destination on most North Street trips. It was also decorated to the hilt and offered enough distractions to keep a teenager happy.

Under the watchful eye of store clerks, I meandered around that first floor, always steering clear of the cosmetic and perfume department while making my way to the elevator.

There used to be another elevator in the front -- on the south side of the first floor -- but I rarely used it. The one in the back near the escalator and stairs seemed to be the one most people used.

The wheel and handles inside the elevator were always polished. The brass shone like gold. The operator was always dressed in his uniform. And it moved up and down quietly and smoothly. There was rarely any talking -- something about an elevator does that to people.

I remember one Christmas -- it was actually a few days after Christmas -- when the store was exploding with shoppers who were either returning or exchanging gifts or were there for post-holiday bargains. Either way, the joint was packed.

My good friend was working in the toy department, maybe the fourth or fifth floor. Toys back then were indeed toys. Some worked, many didn't and they were difficult to put together if that's what your toy required.

My friend had that look that told me "when I get older this isn't what I want to do." But he was happy to see a friendly face after hours of unhappy returns.

"Guess what," he called out. "You just missed Arlo Guthrie."

Our county native singer/songwriter had just been in to return a toy he presumably had bought for son Abe. I forget now what the toy was. I'm wondering if it was a toy guitar or a little keyboard, but if memory serves me it was a bicycle that Arlo had issues with.

The holiday season on North Street has given me many memories over the years. Drop by tonight and see the new version and make some memories of your own. Who knows? You might see Abe. Or Arlo.
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Brian Sullivan is an Eagle editor and Pittsfield native.
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"City post given initial nod"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 15, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has initially endorsed Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan to begin reorganizing Public Works and Utilities in order to improve the delivery of the department's services.

By a vote of 10-1, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols opposed, the council Tuesday night approved the creation of a position of "commissioner of public services," which would combine the jobs of highway and water superintendents to oversee highway and water and sewer maintenance, which are currently supervised by current Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. The position would also take over the administrative duties of parks maintenance.

Collingwood would still manage city utilities, which include the water and sewage treatment plants, along with the city's engineering division.

The council is expected to make a required second and final vote on the proposal at its Jan. 11 meeting.

"I definitely agree with having two commissioners," said Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo. "Bruce Collingwood has done a great job, but he's been pushed to the max."

Public Works and Utilities were combined by the city in 1992, but Collingwood welcomes reversing the decision. He currently manages a budget totaling $15 million and oversees nearly 80 people. Those figures would be almost split in half between him and the proposed commissioner of public services.

The new position would cost $30,000 to implement, funded by a combination of money set aside for salaries and contingency funds.

While Mazzeo supports the two commissioner system, she was disappointed the city's consultant, former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, couldn't attend the meeting to explain his rationale for the position and reorganizing Public Works and Utilities.

The managerial change stems from a report Barrett issued in July and elaborated on before the council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules last week, according to the chairman, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

"Councilor Mazzeo you're on Ordinance and Rules and Mr. Barrett was at that meeting answering questions," Lothrop said.

Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman added, "This was a first reading and we'll have time to hear from Mr. Barrett next month."

Shortly after Ruberto began his fourth term of office in January, he hired Barrett to make recommendations for improving city services and to help implement any proposed changes approved by the City Council.

"These aren't recommendations of one person, but a composite of what everyone [at City Hall] involved thought were important," said Ruberto.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Amnesty suggested for property taxes"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 16, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council is considering giving those who are delinquent on their property taxes a break early next year in order to add $3 million to the city's coffers.

Mayor James M. Ruberto wants the council to approve a three-month tax amnesty program that would allow home and business owners with outstanding real estate bills to pay in full the original amount they owe. In return, the city will forgive 75 percent of the penalties and interest that has accrued on those overdue bills.

If approved, the program would run from Feb. 1 through April 30, 2011. The council's finance subcommittee will discuss and debate the proposal next month and make a recommendation to the entire City Council for a final vote.

"As a business person, if we can get something paid instead of zero, [tax amnesty] is worth looking into," said Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman.

Pittsfield is seeking to collect $2.47 million in property taxes and 25 percent of the $2.13 million in interest, or $532,000, from the outstanding bills. Some of these unpaid tax bills date back to the mid-1960s, according to city financial officials

"This is an incentive to get people to pay us what was originally owed and improve our cash flow," said city Treasurer and Finance Director Susan Carmel. "In a lot of cases, people owe more in interest than principal."

Carmel cited one property on Wahconah Street with a $350,000 property tax bill that includes $137,000 in principal and $216,000 in interest.

The tax amnesty program will apply to overdue bills prior to July 1, 2009. All water, sewer and other city fees levied against the 260 affected properties must also be paid in full.

The state Legislature earlier this year granted cities and towns permission to conduct tax amnesty programs, which was last done seven years ago, in order for cash-strapped municipalities to boost local revenue collections.

During January and February 2004, Pittsfield reaped $354,000 from 13 of the 198 properties that were in arrears, which was about 20 percent of the $1.7 million in principal and reduced interest that was owed the city.

City Council President Gerald M. Lee found the tax amnesty program worth the effort, describing it as a win-win situation.

"The last thing the city wants to do is own more property through tax takings," Lee said. "We want current owners to pay their bills and keep their properties."
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Tax delinquent? Pardon possible"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Property tax delinquents are a step closer to receiving a partial pardon starting next month in order to add $3.1 million to the city's coffers.

The Finance Committee of the City Council Tuesday night unanimously endorsed Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan for a three-month tax amnesty program that would allow home and business owners with outstanding real estate bills to pay in full the original amount they owe. In return, the city will forgive 75 percent of the penalties and interest that has accrued on those overdue bills.

If the entire City Council accepts the subcommittee's recommendation, the program would run from Feb. 1 through April 30, 2011. The full council's next regular meeting is Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward emphasized tax amnesty doesn't mean a tax break for scofflaws.

"Those participating must pay all the taxes owed and part of the penalty," Ward said.

Pittsfield is seeking to collect $2.6 million in property taxes and 25 percent of the $2.13 million in interest, or $532,000, from the outstanding bills. Some of these unpaid tax bills date back to the mid-1960s, according to city financial officials.

The tax amnesty program will apply to overdue bills prior to July 1, 2009. All water, sewer and other city fees levied against the 270 affected properties must also be paid in full.

While Pittsfield could, theoretically, reap $3.1 million, realistically it's more like $1.8 million as the city deems "uncollectible" the remaining amount owed against 51 of the properties.

"The older the delinquent bill, the more likely it will go unpaid," said city Treasurer and Finance Director Susan Carmel.

Carmel listed 87 properties with overdue tax bills between fiscal 2000 and 2008 and another 92 prior to the new millennium.

The single largest amount still on the books is $350,000 owed against a parcel on Wahconah Street that includes $137,000 in principal and $216,000 in interest. If the owner settles up through the tax amnesty program, the bill would be lowered to $191,000.

The state Legislature last year granted cities and towns permission to conduct tax amnesty programs, which was last done seven years ago, in order for cash-strapped municipalities to boost local revenue collections.

During January and February 2004, Pittsfield reaped $354,000 from 13 of the 198 properties that were in arrears and forgave $60,000 in interest. The amount collected was about 20 percent of the $1.7 million in principal and reduced interest that was owed the city.

"It was beneficial what we collected before and money we might not have collected otherwise," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti, chairman of the Finance Committee.

Pittsfield city officials want to establish a tax amnesty program next year from Feb. 1 to April 30, for property owners with overdue real estate tax bills prior to July 1, 2009.

If approved by the City Council next month, tax delinquents would pay the full amount of the original bill and only 25 percent of the interest and penalties accrued for non-payment.

Currently, owners of 270 residential and commercial properties owe nearly $2.6 million in principal and under the tax amnesty program would only pay $532,000 of the $2.1 million due
in interest.

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The U.S. Navy will commission 20 littoral combat ships like the USS Independence, above. General Dynamics helped design the Independence, and will work on 10 new ships. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Sean Nelson / U.S. Navy)

"Ships deal a go"
By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 23, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems expects to add 500 or more jobs at its Pittsfield plant over the next five years to handle a U.S. Navy contract for 10 specialized combat ships.

"This is a landmark day for the city of Pittsfield. I could not be happier," Mayor James M. Ruberto told The Eagle on Wednesday. "The city is a beneficiary for having General Dynamics in it."

"It's as about as good economic news as we could have wished for, and it's real," said state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield.

The measure, included in a budget bill that keeps the federal government running until March 4, was passed by Congress late Tuesday. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed it.

The bill's passage allows the U.S. Navy to double its request for littoral combat ships and divide the 20-vessel, $5 billion order between two contractors. One is Australia's Austal Ltd.'s U.S. unit which is partnered with General Dynamics AIS. The other, Wisconsin-based Lockheed Martin Corp., is partnered with Marinette Marine Corp.

The Austal-General Dynamics partnership has already built one full ship under a previous contract. For that ship, General Dynamics employed 130 people from the Pittsfield plant to design the ship's infrastructure and systems. While General Dynamics will carry out its engineering work for the ships here in Pittsfield, an Austal shipyard in Mobile, Ala., will actually construct the ships.

A General Dynamics spokesperson has described the 500 or more jobs needed in Pittsfield to fill the U.S. Navy contract as "high-tech, well-paying."

Littoral (pronounced literal) combat ships are relatively smaller than other Navy vessels. Considered the Jet Ski of ships, they are fast, highly maneuverable, and can go from zero to 50 knots in minutes. They're designed for missions like mine detection and elimination, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare against things like seafaring drug transactions and pirates. The ships also navigate coastal waters well because of their unique hull design.

The Navy estimates that each ship will cost $500 million to build. Ultimately, the Navy wants to accrue a fleet of 55 ships.

The next step is a process of formalities. Now with federal approval, the Navy has to formally award the deal to the contractors who can then present work awards to subcontractors.

Mike Tweed-Kent, vice president and general manager of the Mission Integration Systems Division at General Dynamics AIS, called Wednesday a "a crucial step in the process."

In a statement, Tweed-Kent thanked U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and U.S. Rep. Olver in ensuring that the littoral combat ships, or LCS, program language made its way into the temporary budget bill and on to the president's desk.

"Throughout this process, Gov. [Deval] Patrick, Sen. [Benjamin] Downing and Mayor Ruberto have also continually given their unwavering support to see this process from start to finish," he said.

"When jobs come and go, it can hollow out a community and we all worked our tails off to make sure that didn't happen," said U.S. Sen. John Kerry said in a statement. "We've been on pins and needles to see if we were successful and it ended up better than we could have hoped."

Whether the U.S. Navy would get the go-ahead from Congress was a nailbiter. Earlier this month, the LCS program was on the precipice because the contractors' initial fixed-cost bids were set to expire on Dec. 14, and the Senate still had not voted to approve Navy spending for the project. But the contractors moved to extend their bids to Dec. 30 in hopes that Congress would pass the bill before it adjourned for the year.

Critics of the LCS program, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have questioned the Navy's quest to double the ship order to 20, especially since the two existing ships, each of a different design, have not undergone a comprehensive performance evaluation.

But Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said "both designs provide the capabilities our Navy needs, and each offers unique features that will provide fleet commanders with a high level of flexibility in employing these ships. This is good for the Navy, shipbuilders and taxpayers."

Navy officials have told lawmakers it would cost less to build 20 LCSs now than to build 10 now and 10 later, and argued that the proposed contract would create more jobs and help get more ships into the water at a faster rate than if it awarded a single contract. The deal also allows the Navy to order 20 for the cost of 19.

"This is very good news for the city of Pittsfield and not only because of the positions General Dynamics will create but the stability it will provide for employees currently working there," said Pittsfield City Councilor Kevin Sherman, chairman of the council's subcommittee for Community and Economic Development.

"There is opportunity for a big-time ripple effect from housing purchases by transplants to the area, dining sales, retail sales and more," Sherman said. "What's good for Pittsfield is also good to the Berkshires."
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To reach Jenn Smith: jsmith@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6239.
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"200-job influx starts at once"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 5, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- General Dynamics will hire more than 200 employees in Pittsfield this year in conjunction with its new contract to build specialized U.S. Navy combat ships -- a move that will increase its local workforce by about 20 percent, company officials said.

An additional 300 new jobs in Pittsfield will be phased in over the next five years, said Michael Tweed-Kent, the vice president and general manager of General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems in Pittsfield. General Dynamics currently employs nearly 1,100 workers at its AIS facility on Merrill Road.

"We've been preparing for this," Tweed-Kent said in a telephone interview this week. "We expect the new employees to show up early this year."

The majority of the new jobs in Pittsfield will be for systems and software engineers, said Carlo Zaffanella, the vice president of open combat solutions for General Dynamics. Some new manufacturing positions are also coming to Pittsfield, but not for 18 to 24 months.

General Dynamics will transfer some employees from other company facilities to Pittsfield, but the majority of the new positions will be filled by new hires, said Tweed-Kent.

"They will be [hired] wherever we can get the best talent," he said. "We had a job fair in eastern Massachusetts in late November and extended offers to at least 15 to 20 people. We're doing active recruitment through human resource areas. Pittsfield has done a good job of recruiting young people out of college, and we'll continue to do that as well."

At General Dynamics, work on the new initiative has already begun in Pittsfield.

"We started in a small way on Thursday, and really hit the ground running" this week, Tweed-Kent said.

Late last month, Congress authorized General Dynamics to handle a U.S. Navy contract for 10 specialized combat ships that will enable the company to hire up to 500 new employees at its Pittsfield facility on Merrill Road.

The Navy contract for Littoral Combat Ships will divide the 20-vessel, $5 billion order between two lead contractors, Austal Ltd. of Australia's USA division, and Wisconsin-based Lockheed Martin Corp. Each contractor will build 10 ships.

General Dynamics AIS, which is working with Austal Ltd. USA, is responsible for the design, integration, and testing of the new Independence Class Littoral Combat Ships' combat and seaframe control systems, which are based on an open architecture computing infrastructure known as OPEN CI.

"Imagine each ship having inside of it an IT information infrastructure system," said Zaffanella. "It's a series of network computers. That entire set of computers will be assembled in Pittsfield."

"The first couple of years, we will be heavily concentrated in engineering development and design upgrades," Zaffanella said. "The manufacturing will come after the design and development. We'll start to ramp up the manufacturing as the design completes."

The ships themselves will be built at Austal's facility in Mobile, Ala., after the infrastructure is complete.

The initial contract calls for the construction of one ship, with nine additional ships to follow in the next five years. Work on the entire contract is expected to be completed by June 2015.

Meanwhile, Gov. Deval Patrick is optimistic that the General Dynamics contract in Pittsfield will lead to similar lucrative deals to pump up the local economy.

In an interview with The Eagle on Tuesday, Patrick said "every win is a platform for the next one."

"It's very important to me that this is an opportunity for western Massachusetts, specifically Pittsfield," Patrick said. "We want economic recovery to extend to every corner of the Commonwealth."

Eagle staff writer Clarence Fanto contributed to this report.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224
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"Sheriff, Stracuzzi -- and rabbits: The top 10 news stories of 2010"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 26, 2010

The Berkshires were full of change in 2010.

The longest-serving sheriff in county history announced he wouldn't seek re-election, the head of Berkshire County's largest credit union resigned amid a scandal, and a state representative came under fire for apparently seeking another job while running for re-election.

Meanwhile, General Dynamics received a federal government contract that will bring some 500 jobs over the next five years to its Pittsfield facility, a long-delayed economic development project finally got under way, and the county's two biggest banks announced plans to merge. Also, four of the county's economic development agencies formed a single entity for people interested in doing business in the region.

Economic ups and downs were the norm.

Unemployment reached a 17-year high in January, then slowly dropped before it abruptly rose again in November. Three labor strikes were narrowly averted. Downtown Pittsfield experienced an economic resurgence while the Berkshire Mall struggled.

In sports, professional baseball returned to Pittsfield after a seven-year absence.

In the courts, former Stockbridge resident William Demagall was convicted for the second time in three years of murdering George Mancini in Hillsdale, N.Y., and North Adams resident Wayne P. Brackett Jr. received a four-year jail sentence after pleading guilty to killing five rabbits in a case that received national attention.

These are the top Berkshire County stories of 2010. The following list, compiled from recommendations by Eagle reporters and editors, ranks the stories 1 through 10.

We'd like readers to tell us how we fared. To pick the top story, visit www.berkshireeagle.com. The voting deadline is noon Thursday.

1. BERKSHIRE COUNTY SHERIFF: After saying in January that he would seek re-election for another six-year term, longtime Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano Jr. announced four days later that he wouldn't seek re-election because of health concerns. Massimiano, 65, has held the office for 32 years, longer than any of its previous 19 occupants. His departure from the race came shortly after veteran Pittsfield Police Detective Thomas N. Bowler announced his candidacy.

In September, Bowler defeated longtime state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, in the Democratic primary for sheriff to all but capture the position because there was no Republican candidate. The defeat ended Bosley's 24-year career as an elected state official.

2. THE ECONOMY: The Berkshire County economy went on the same roller coaster ride as the rest of the nation in 2010. The local unemployment rate reached a 17-year high of 10.4 percent in January. Except for July, the rate decreased slightly each month, until it jumped almost a full percentage point to 8.1 percent in November. The drop occurred despite the layoff of 124 employees -- 3.7 percent of the total workforce -- at Berkshire Health Systems, the county's largest employer. Those layoffs began in September.

The General Dynamics contract, announced three days before Christmas, will add to the local job market.

Downtown Pittsfield received an economic boost when a variety of restaurants and small retail outlets opened near the six-screen Beacon Cinema, which opened in November 2009 and drew 190,000 visitors during its first year of operation. However, the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough struggled as at least four national chains left the county's largest shopping center, and its parent company came within a month of defaulting on its mortgage in February.

In April, the boards of four countywide economic development agencies formed a new alliance known as "1Berkshire" to provide a single entry point for those interested in doing business in the region. In November, the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation was folded into 1Berkshire.

3. STRACUZZI RESIGNS; PROBATION SCANDAL: Former Pittsfield City Council President Angelo C. Stracuzzi resigned as president and CEO of the Greylock Federal Credit Union in June after the board of directors learned he had been convicted of misdemeanor assault and criminal mischief charges in Maine in 2005.

Stracuzzi had been given a suspended sentence, and his probation was transferred to Berkshire Superior Court, where he was supervised by that court's probation chief, Clifford J. Nilan, a personal friend who also was a member of the credit union's board of directors. Nilan and Stracuzzi resigned from the Greylock board a week before Stracuzzi resigned as the credit union's president and CEO.

In November, the Massachusetts Probation Department admonished Nilan for his handling of Stracuzzi's probation. Officials declined to divulge the details of his punishment, saying it was a confidential personnel matter.

Longtime Greylock employee Marilyn Sperling was named Stracuzzi's permanent replacement in July. She became the first woman to head Berkshire County's largest credit union, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

4. PITTSFIELD MUNICIPAL AIRPORT EXPANSION: Twelve years after the project was first proposed, work on the first phase of the $22.5 million expansion of Pittsfield Municipal Airport began in October.

The work started after the Massachusetts Department of Transportation provided the project with the final $13.4 million funding piece in September. The grant arrived one month after the state Department of Environmental Protection denied the appeal of a variance that would have allowed for the dredging and filling of wetlands by seven Berkshire residents who represent four environmental groups.

The expansion project, expected to take three years to complete, involves extending the airport's 5,000-foot main runway by 790 feet, and installing another 1,000 feet of safety area on each end. The improvements will bring the runway into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards.

The controversial project had been beset by funding problems and other delays since its inception in 1998.

5. BIG MERGERS: In December, Berkshire Bank and Legacy Banks announced that they planned to merge and create a single bank under the Berkshire name that will contain $4 billion in assets and have 66 branches in three states.

In November, representatives of Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre and the Stockbridge-based Berkshire Theatre Festival unveiled plans to merge operations and coordinate programming under a single director, a move expected to save $250,000. Massachusetts Cultural Commission Director Anita Walker said she thought the merger was the first of its kind in the commonwealth.

Kate Maguire, the BTF's artistic director and CEO, was named the head of both venues. The merger combines staffs and will allow both organizations to begin programming their three stages interchangeably beginning in June. Merging with the 82-year-old BTF also will provide the Colonial with services that it previously couldn't afford, such as a development director.

The Colonial's previous executive director, David Fleming, had abruptly retired in August, but said his decision wasn't related to any merger plans.

6. STRIKES NARROWLY AVOIDED: Three potential strikes by organizations representing unionized workers in the Berkshires were narrowly averted in 2010.

In October, registered nurses at North Adams Regional Hospital voted in favor of a two-year contract to end nine months of contentious negotiations that ended in September within hours of a strike. Negotiations began in January, three months before the previous contract between the hospital and the Massachusetts Nurses Association expired on March 31. The nurses originally had planned to strike on Sept. 3. The MNA represents 106 nurses at the hospital.

In June, members of Service Employees International Local 509 who represent workers at the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse ratified a new contract by more than a 2-to-1 margin three days before a strike was to begin.

In March, the union that represents clerks and cashiers at Berkshire County's three Stop & Shop supermarkets voted in favor of a new three-year contract, two weeks after the regional chain began hiring temporary workers following the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement.

7. RABBIT KILLER: Wayne P. Brackett Jr., 23, was sentenced to jail in September after pleading guilty to killing five pet rabbits on June 9. A surveillance camera captured Brackett killing the animals in their cages after he failed to break into a vehicle at Berkshire County Construction in North Adams.

The gruesome case gained national media attention and prompted strong censure by animal welfare groups.

"In all my years I've never seen anything like this," said veteran North Adams Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco. "It was horrible."

8. SPERANZO HEAT: Controversy surrounded state Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo, D-Pittsfield, when The Eagle reported in October that he was seeking to become clerk-magistrate of Central Berkshire District Court at the same time he was running for re-election in the 3rd Berkshire District. The clerk's job is a lifetime appointment.

Critics compared the former Pittsfield City Solicitor to his predecessor in the 3rd Berkshire District, Peter J. Larkin, who resigned to accept a private-sector position with a lobbying firm in January 2005 shortly after being re-elected. Speranzo won the special election to fill Larkin's seat.

Two weeks before Election Day, Speranzo failed to appear at the lone scheduled debate with his only opponent, Green-Rainbow Party candidate Mark C. Miller. The election was closer than expected, with Speranzo defeating Miller by a little less than 10 percentage points.

9. PRO BASEBALL RETURNS: Professional baseball came back to Berkshire County in the form of the Canadian-American League's Pittsfield Colonials, who are owned by the same group that ran the city's New England Collegiate Baseball League franchise. The NECBL club was sold to make way for the Colonials, who had run into financial problems in their previous home in New Hampshire.

The Colonials succeeded on the field, riding a second-half surge to the Can-Am League's championship series, where they lost to defending champion Quebec. But they struggled at the gate, averaging 702 fans at 3,500-seat Wahconah Park.

Despite the low attendance -- the worst in the six-team league -- the Colonials' principal owner, Leslie "Buddy" Lewis, said the Colonials in 2011 would remain in Pittsfield, where the team has one year left on a three-year lease that originally was signed by Lewis' NECBL team. The owner also said he plans to bring local investors into the ownership group to keep the team in Pittsfield past next year.

10. DEMAGALL CONVICTED: In November, William Demagall was convicted of murdering former school teacher George Mancini after a jury trial in Columbia County, N.Y. Demagall, 27, will be sentenced in January.

Demagall originally was convicted in 2007 of murdering Mancini and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. But the verdict was overturned in 2009 by a New York appellate court, which found the judge and prosecutor at fault for failing to allow testimony from a forensic scientist who believed Demagall was not responsible for Mancini's death by reason of insanity.

Demagall had escaped from a locked psychiatric ward at Berkshire Medical Center two days before he killed Mancini in Hillsdale, N.Y., on Feb. 11, 2006.
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To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6224.
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Supermarket chains Big Y Foods and Price Chopper are expected to open new stores in Lee and Lenox, respectively. The new Price Chopper is part of a major renovation of The Center at Lenox shopping complex, which also is scheduled to be completed this year. (Eagle file)
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"Look ahead 2011: Economy, mergers and a big birthday"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 1, 2011
PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts

Two events that occurred at the end of December make the local economy the top story worth watching in 2011.

The county's two largest banks -- Berkshire and Legacy -- announced plans to merge, a process that should be finalized by the middle of this year. Meanwhile, the federal government awarded General Dynamics a combat-ship contract that is expected to bring some 500 jobs to the company's advanced information systems facility in Pittsfield over the next five years.

Several building projects that began in 2010 are expected to be completed this year, which could bring more jobs to the area.

Also in 2011, the city of Pittsfield will celebrate its 250th anniversary with a variety of events, including kickoff festivities in April. Other events are scheduled in the local environmental, education and political fields, and local numbers from the 2010 federal census will be released next month.

The following are the top 10 Berkshire County stories to look for in 2011.

1. ECONOMY & DEVELOPMENT: Local officials already have touted the General Dynamics contract as a major economic boost for Berkshire County, where the unemployment rate fluctuated between 7.2 percent and 10.4 percent last year.

Supermarket chains Big Y Foods and Price Chopper are expected to open new stores in Lee and Lenox, respectively. The new Price Chopper is part of a major renovation of The Center at Lenox shopping complex, which also is scheduled to be completed this year.

Construction of a BJ's Wholesale Club on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield is targeted to be finished this fall in a project expected to bring 120 jobs to the city.

In Great Barrington, the $3.7 million reconstruction of Main Street is expected to proceed, along with the development of the Searles/Bryant complex on Bridge Street, which finally was sold in September. Jane Iredale Cosmetics purchased the Bryant Building from RiverSchool Development LLC of New Jersey, which owns the Searles complex.

The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority will have a new executive director this year after interim director William M. Hines Sr. steps down in April.

The Housatonic Railroad will continue to explore the possibility of re-establishing passenger service between Pittsfield and New York City.

2. MERGERS: In addition to the bank merger, plans to merge the operations of Pittsfield's Colonial Theatre and Stockbridge's Berkshire Theatre Festival under a single director will take shape. A nonbinding agreement between the two organizations for that purpose was announced in November.

The two venues are expected to begin programming their three stages interchangeably beginning in June. The formation of a holding company composed of board members from both venues also is likely to take place this year.

The bank merger will create a combined institution under the Berkshire Bank name, with $4 billion in assets and 66 branches in three states. Berkshire Bank will become the state's largest regional bank that is headquartered in Western Massachusetts.

3. PITTSFIELD'S 250th ANNIVERSARY: The city of Pittsfield celebrates the 250th anniversary of its founding this year with several events intended to highlight the city's past, present and future. Festivities will start April 29 and will last until Thanksgiving weekend.

A steering committee has been formed, and all major city events, such as the 4th of July parade, the Ethnic Fair, Third Thursdays and the Pittsfield Art Show will feature the anniversary theme.

Berkshire County's largest municipality, Pittsfield was founded as a town in 1761 and incorporated as a city in 1891. Pittsfield is named after 18th-century British Prime Minister William Pitt, who championed the colonists' cause before the American Revolution.

4. U.S. CENSUS: Although national and state numbers from the 2010 federal census were released shortly before Christmas, the statistics for Berkshire County municipalities won't be available until February.

The federal government uses census data to determine the aid packages to local cities and towns. Massachusetts will lose one of its 10 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013 based on state population figures. Area legislators have said it's possible that Berkshire County will lose one of its four seats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

The 2010 census is the federally mandated headcount of every U.S. resident that takes place every 10 years. It determines each state's share of $400 billion in federal funding over the next decade.

5. THE ENVIRONMENT: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year will release its comments on General Electric's corrective measures study to clean PCB contamination from the Housatonic River south of Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield.

GE's study, released in October, calls for the establishment of PCB waste storage facilities in Lee, Lenox and Great Barrington, a proposal that has generated strong public opposition in South County.

GE used polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at its former power transformer plant in Pittsfield until the chemical was banned by the federal government in 1977.

Elsewhere in the environment, Gov. Deval L. Patrick last month appointed former seven-term Westfield Mayor Richard K. Sullivan as state secretary for energy and the environment. Because of his familiarity with the Berkshires, specifically Onota Lake -- which he has toured -- Sullivan is expected to advocate for measures to prevent the infestation of zebra mussels in county waterways.

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, has filed a bill that would both increase the enforcement powers of Sullivan's department and the budget for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

6. POLITICS: Will state Rep. Christopher N. Speranzo, D-Pittsfield, be appointed clerk magistrate for Central Berkshire District Court, prompting a special election for the House seat in the 3rd Berkshire District for the second time in six years?

Will current Central Berkshire Register of Deeds Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr. still decide to challenge incumbent U.S. congressman John W. Olver next year?

Nuciforo, a former state senator, originally announced in July 2009 that he would support Olver in 2010 but would run for his seat in 2012. Nuciforo said then that he had spoken with Olver but would not say what they discussed.

When Olver, 74, announced in December that he had decided to run again, local politicians, including Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, announced they would support him over Nuciforo.

As for Ruberto's political life, will he become only the second mayor in Pittsfield history to be elected to a fifth consecutive two-year term this fall if he runs for re-election? Municipal elections will be held in November in Pittsfield and North Adams, and North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright also will be a candidate for re-election.

7. EDUCATION: Due to a new anti-bullying law, local school districts are expected to take a harder line on that practice this year. The legislation requires every school district in the state -- public, private or parochial -- to have filed bullying prevention and intervention plans with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by yesterday.

Those plans are expected to be implemented sometime in 2011. All school districts will be required to have an anti-bullying plan in place by the end of this year.

Also, several local school districts have school building plans in various phases of development that will continue to be looked at, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts will break ground on its 65,000-square-foot Center for Science and Innovation building this summer in North Adams.

8. MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT: In the final year of Ruberto's fourth term, the city of Pittsfield will explore a reorganization of the Department of Public Works and Utilities that is expected to improve the delivery of services.

The proposal would create a "commissioner of public services" position that would combine the jobs of highway and water superintendent along with water and sewer maintenance. Current Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood would continue to manage city utilities.

Discussion on plans for a new city highway garage are expected to continue. The city has proposed purchasing property at 1644 East St. for $875,000 and converting it into a new highway department facility.

Contract negotiations between the School Committee and the United Educators of Pittsfield, which represents 585 city teachers, also will continue this year. A state mediator came on board in December at the UEP's request after the city's largest union on Nov. 1 exercised its right to strictly follow the services contained in its previous contract, a process known as "work-to-rule."

9: PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL: The Pittsfield Colonials of the Canadian-American League enter the final year of their license agreement with the city of Pittsfield this summer.

Will the Colonials draw well enough in 2011 to make it economically feasible for the city's first professional baseball franchise in seven years to remain at Wahconah Park on a long-term basis? Or will Pittsfield be searching for another tenant in 2012? Negotiations on a new license agreement between the city and the Colonials have yet to take place.

The Colonials reached the Can-Am League championship series in 2010 -- losing to Quebec -- but had the lowest home attendance among the league's six teams.

10. IN THE COURTS: Former Stockbridge resident William Demagall will be sentenced Jan. 25 for murdering former school teacher George Mancini in 2006 in Hillsdale, N.Y. Demagall faces a sentence of 25 years to life.

After an eight-day trial in November, a jury in Columbia County, N.Y., for the second time in three years found Demagall, 27, guilty of killing Mancini.

Demagall was convicted of murder in 2007 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. But the verdict was overturned in 2009 by a New York appellate court, which faulted the judge and prosecutor for failing to allow testimony from a forensic scientist who believed Demagall wasn't responsible for Mancini's death by reason of insanity.

Demagall had escaped from a locked psychiatric ward at Berkshire Medical Center a few days before he killed Mancini.
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"Residents need more for taxes"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, December 27, 2010

Ten out of 11 members of the Pittsfield City Council voted to increase real estate taxes on private homes this month. What will we receive in added residential services for the extra money being charged.

For example, other communities pick up bags of leaves. They also do not charge extra for items that are deemed too big.

And why was former North Adams Mayor John Barrett hired at such an exorbitant salary? Each ward has a member on the City Council. They could ride around to recommend things that need improvement.

RUBY M. HANSON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"City's wasteful snowplowing policy"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, January 3, 2011

As a former resident of Pittsfield now residing in Alberta, Canada, I was utterly stunned to hear about and see firsthand the wasteful usage of expensive winter resources in the removal of snow from city streets, upon returning to Pittsfield for a Christmas visit.

It appears that calling out the plows to remove what amounts to little more than a dusting of snow cover is being done with little consideration for the overall cost. This cost comes in the damage it does to the asphalt, as steel plow blades brutally scrape the road surfaces. It also comes at a cost to the city's snow removal budget that will be found to be prematurely in the red this winter. And, in the end, it comes at a cost to city taxpayers, as they are the ones who ultimately foot the bill in the form of increased property taxes.

However, much more alarming to me was the indiscriminate use of salt on city streets. I cannot remember ever seeing so much salt spread about this city and, in this day and age of environmental conscientiousness, not only was this decision harmful to the environment and exceedingly costly, but it was absolutely unconscionable.

Living in western Canada, I have become accustomed to the snow on neighborhood streets being left to become hard packed by vehicular traffic, after a snowfall of 12 inches or less, with salt never being applied. Where a snowfall exceeds 12 inches, a city truck will clear a neighborhood street once, within two to five days of the snowfall, and salt is still never applied. Some Canadians complain, but the rest of us learn to drive through our neighborhoods with a little more caution and care, not to mention, a little more slowly.

The few routes that do receive a mixture of salt and sand are those routes considered to be the main thoroughfares that were designed to allow passage through and around a community quickly. Where it is deemed necessary, such as at intersections or on hills, that environmentally safe standby known simply as sand is used in whatever quantity is required.

If I still lived here, I would be on the phone to the mayor's office and I would be asking just who made the foolish decision to plow streets dusted with a snow covering and who made the insane decision to heavily salt all the city streets, rather than opting for simple snow removal, after a major snowfall. I direct my commentary to the offices of Mayor James M. Ruberto and his overly compensated "friend" former North Adams Mayor John Barrett who is acting as a consultant to the mayor and who was as I understand it the person who was primarily responsible for these exceptionally foolish decisions.

PAUL EBERTH
Ponoka, Alberta, Canada

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County Ambulance President Brian Andrews said the move surprised him. (Ben Garver)

"Pittsfield adds second ambulance service"
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 4, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- After three years with a single ambulance provider, Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto confirmed Monday that the city will utilize two companies beginning next month.

"It has always been my intention to have two ambulance suppliers," Ruberto said. "Two companies always provide you with immediate backup in the event some catastrophe would occur to your sole supplier."

The city has previously utilized Pittsfield-based County Ambulance, Inc., which was the city's lone ambulance provider following the departure of AMR in late 2007.

Beginning Feb. 14, County Ambulance will be joined by the Wilmington-based Action Ambulance Services, with Ruberto saying that they would split incoming emergency calls.

"Pittsfield is the economic hub of the Berkshires, so it's an imporant location in the county," said Michael Woronka, CEO of Action Ambulance Service. "That allows us to make it economically viable."

For City Council President Gerald Lee, the addition of Action Ambulance means greater security for the county. Lee added that if one company left suddenly, as AMR did in 2007, the city would still be covered.

"If that ever happened to the other provider, where would we be? we'd be in serious trouble," Lee said.

Because the ambulances are funded through the patients and insurance companies, he said, "the bids are zero for the citizens of Pittsfield, so to have a second ambulance service which doesn't cost the city a dime or the public a dime just makes sense."

Woronka said that Action will be located on Seymour Street, the former home of the now-defunct Central Berkshire Ambulance Service, and a second location is currently under negotiations.

Looking to hire local applicants as well as move existing employees to the Berkshires, Woronka said "we expect eventually to have 30 to 35 [employees] in the area."

The company will have two hiring events at the Crowne Plaza on Jan. 9 and 17, with more information available at (978) 253-2625.

Ruberto's decision has proven to be a shock for County Ambulance, which expanded its operations to cope with AMR's departure in 2007, and will now lose half of its prospective customer stream to the new competition.

"I was kind of taken aback when I was notified that this was happening," said County Ambulance's president, Brian Andrews.

Andrews said that in his meetings with the Ambulance Review Committee of Pittsfield, he had been under the impression that the city would extend their exclusive contract with County Ambulance for at least another two years.

"It was not a call that I was expecting to get," he said

This, however, runs counter to how Woronka described the proceedings.

"The [request] that the city issued at the beginning of 2010 especially talked about the willingness of the provider to share services with an additional provider," Woronka said. "It was something that the city was always up front with us about that they were seriously evaluating."

County Ambulance, which employs more than 100 people, is not losing its entire funding stream, as it will still cover half the city's calls, in addition to working with private clients such as nursing homes.

Ruberto said he felt County Ambulance's investments had been returned with the increased business since AMR's departure.

"We need to get back to a competitive environment," Ruberto said, "and we need to prepare for any emergency that may occur in the future."

While Andrews said the company likely will not be engaging in any layoffs, he said he will carefully scrutinizing his finances moving ahead.

"We're looking at every single thing in our budget," he said.
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"CA gets run over"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 5, 2011

We share County Ambulance President Brian Andrews' shock at Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto's decision to choose two ambulance providers for the city beginning in February. The downside appears to be more tangible than any potential benefits of the decision.

The city's ambulance review committee had apparently set the stage for a continuation of the policy of the past three years, in which County Ambulance was the sole provider following the departure from Pittsfield in 2007 of AMR. If County Ambulance had been unreliable, adding a second backup service would make sense, but the city appears to have no complaints with its current provider, which stepped up for Pittsfield in 2007. This is not to disparage the newly chosen second service, Action Ambulance Services of Wilmington, which has an impressive track record, but there is no strong argument for splitting the contract in two.

The loss of half of the city's calls will almost assuredly result in layoffs of some of County Ambulance's more than 100 employees. ACS, which will open a Pittsfield office, plans to hire some employees locally and we hope the company will make hiring County Ambulance employees a top priority should they find themselves unemployed as a result of this decision.

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"Ambulance math adds up to layoffs"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, January 6, 2011

I just read Tuesday's article about city of Pittsfield hiring an additional ambulance company to compete for the city contract. In the article, it said that half of the calls would go to Action Ambulance, which plans on bringing in 30-35 "new jobs." The article also mentions that County Ambulance employs 100 people. County said that it is not planning on laying anyone off, but the city just cut half of its revenue.

I'm no economist, but if half of the revenue is gone, it stands to reason that there could be layoffs. If there are and the layoffs reflect the loss of revenue, that would be 50 employees. Action Ambulance said it is going to create 30-35 jobs, leaving a net loss of 15-20 jobs.

I understand that the mayor is trying to create competition in the market, but does he really want to affect up to 20 families of voters that way? I guess the elections are over and he's not thinking that far ahead.

BEN BOEHM
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"City too dark on New Year's Eve"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, January 5, 2011

I was surprised to see Patrick's Pub, Brules Restaurant and The Marketplace Cafe all closed on New Year's Eve. A warm 35 degrees, easy walking, (the Beacon Cinema was packed), and not a place to have coffee and desert, a beer or an appetizer.

Aside from the restaurants that were open -- Brix, Mission Bar and Tapas, Jae's Spice, to name a few -- Park Square's restaurants were dark. People were commenting "too bad" when they went by Marketplace Cafe before a movie, anticipating a favorite beverage or after-movie treat. Amore Cafe across the street from the Beacon Cinema closed by 8:30 p.m.

I can see New Year's Day, but restaurants closing New Year's Eve? The many people who came to the Beacon Cinema lost a chance to stay in town a little longer for a brew or a coffee, have dinner near a bustling Park Square or try a new restaurant.

All of us want to see Pittsfield thriving again. The slogan "It's Happening'' didn't resound New Year's Eve. Even without "First Nite" celebrations, Pittsfield has a duty to ring in a new year with energy and not close its lights to a new year.

BARBARA ARPANTE
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Ruberto mulls re-election decision; Bianchi considers run"
By Clarence Fanto and Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 6, 2011

PITTSFIELD - Mayor James M. Ruberto is wrestling with his impending decision on whether to seek a fifth two-year term this November, and he expects to make an announcement by the end of this month.

"I have serious, mixed emotions and I'm considering it," Ruberto told The Eagle on Wednesday. "There's a series of elements I'm addressing." Ruberto emphasized that his decision will be based on personal considerations, rather than which way the political winds may be blowing.

Asked about speculation that his challenger in 2008, Daniel L. Bianchi, may be keen for a rematch, Ruberto declared that "my process is completely independent of who my opponent might be." Meanwhile, Bianchi is contemplating another mayoral campaign. The former Ward 6 Councilor said on Thursday that he, his family and supporters will spend the next few weeks focusing on a possible mayoral campaign this fall.

"We're giving it very serious consideration," Bianchi said in a phone interview with The Eagle. And if he has another showdown with Ruberto, "I definitely have a good shot to win," said the local businessman. In the last mayoral contest, Bianchi lost by a very narrow 209-vote margin, asked for a recount and ended up 207 votes behind the incumbent mayor out of 13,215 ballots cast. It was one of the closest mayoral contests in the city's history. The recount didn't change the outcome.

If both Ruberto and Bianchi decide to run, it will be at least a three-person race.

Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols is the first declared mayoral candidate. The freshman councilor is unfazed by whomever next enters the political contest and having just one year's experience on the council.

"I'm not running against anyone, rather I'm running for the office of mayor," Nichols said. "By the time the election comes. I'll have two more years of city government experience than when Mayor Ruberto first ran." Ruberto first ran in 200[1], losing that election to Sara Hathaway. He cited his campaign platform as one of easing the tax burden on Pittsfield property owners, increasing the city's tax base and being more responsive to the residents' needs.

"I've learned there's been a lack of respect for people when they call the city with concerns," said Nichols, who's been the mayor's biggest critic on the council the past year.

"This administration is led by fear tactics and intimidation," he added.

If Ruberto decides to run and wins re-election, he would become the city's first five-term mayor. His narrow victory in November 2009 made him the fourth mayor to win four consecutive terms, joining the ranks of Charles L. Smith (1980-88), Robert Capeless (1948-55) and James Fallon (1938-47).

Whether or not he seeks re-election, Ruberto is upbeat about his legacy.

"We've been showing that progressive government can and does a make a difference in the lives of the residents of Pittsfield," he said. He cited ordinances raising the standards for acceptable housing in the city, and he praised the efforts of former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, who continues to serve on a month-by-month basis. Citing an influx of grants for housing and infrastructure improvements as well as green energy projects, Ruberto asserted that "the recognition we continue to receive from Boston is evidence that the people are being served very well by this administration."
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January 6, 2011

Re: Pittsfield Politics under Jim Ruberto

In 2003, as a resident of Becket and then Pittsfield, I supported Jim Ruberto for Mayor because he had a lot of good ideas for Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Ruberto challenged Mayor Sara Hathaway's 2 year term full of tax hikes, poor & immature relationships with her colleagues on the city council, a number of murders and related violent crimes, poorly performing public schools, and the struggling local economy. Ruberto had written hand-outs detailing his plans for Pittsfield. When Ruberto spoke, he talked about grassroots democracy, neighborhood meetings, and ending insider politics. I was excited to see a candidate of such promise and ideals running as Mayor of my native hometown.

8 years later in 2011, I realize I was totally misled by a slick salesman who seemed to mock the critical issues facing Pittsfield. Mayor Ruberto's leadership saw many tax hikes, a top-down city council, crime, poorly performing public schools, and a struggling local economy with thousands of lost jobs, businesses and residents, as well as PEDA failures. Per insider politics, Mayor Ruberto had Good Old Boys like Andrea Nuciforo swear him in to his 3rd term in early-2008, and Carmen Massimiano chair the Licensing Committee. Mayor Ruberto smacks of heavy-handed management that intimidates his dissenters.

Pittsfield has many critical issues facing residents, businesses and its city government. I hope Mayor Ruberto realizes he has failed to lead Pittsfield out of its problems and he won't run again. Ruberto's property is somewhere in Florida anyways. Ruberto should retire there. Pittsfield deserves another chance to have new leadership that will bring positive changes like jobs, growth, safe neighborhoods, good public schools, and the like. I hope Pittsfield will elect a new Mayor in 2011.

- Jonathan Melle

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Bruce Collingwood, director of Public Works in Pittsfield, is examining new sites for the city garage. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"City garage debate to resume"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 7, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee will resume debate next week on Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan for a new city highway garage, which councilors have balked at due to a lack of detailed information for the $1.4 million project.

The Public Works and Utilities Committee last month tabled the proposal to spend $875,000 to buy property at 1644 East St., and convert the building into the highway facility. Another $551,000 will be used to initially upgrade the structure and prepare the 11-acre site to handle Pittsfield's snow removal operations.

The money would come from a $1.5 million appropriation authorized in June 2008, with $300,000 in water- and sewer-user fees set aside if the price tag increases.

While the council's Finance Committee in November recommended the entire City Council approve the $875,000 asking price, councilors referred it back to the subcommittee level for further review regarding the cost and environmental impact of the project.

The public works panel felt it couldn't make its own recommendation to the entire council as Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood provided -- at the last minute -- incomplete and outdated data regarding the use of the East Street site. In addition, all 11 city councilors wanted a tour of the East Street building and an assessment of its current condition, before rendering a decision.

Since the subcommittee is expected to have updated information and city highway officials have conducted a pair of site visits, the board will reconvene Monday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. has been hesitant to support the new highway garage, but was more receptive to the concept after Thursday's tour of the East Street location.

"It's pretty impressive and it has potential as we move forward," said Krol.

Initially, only seasonal equipment and highway vehicles would be stored on East Street once some renovation and repairs are done to the 22-year-old building, according to Collingwood.

"We do know there are leaks in the roof as we have seen water drip through the skylights," he said.

The city plans to hire a private firm that specializes in commercial buildings to inspect the East Street structure.

Collingwood said an estimated $3.3 million will be needed eventually to expand use of the building and erect a secondary structure to house a newly create public services department consisting of highway, water, sewer and parks maintenance employees and administrative staff.

However, Pittsfield's public works consultant, John Barrett III believes the city has enough money set aside to completely convert the commercial structure into a much-needed modern municipal highway garage.

"It's a must for the city's future," Barrett said. "The original authorization of funding is more than enough to get the building fully operational."

City officials had hoped the entire City Council would act on the new highway garage proposal by the city's Jan. 15 deadline to commit to a purchase and sale agreement with the owners, the realty trust Sixteen Forty-four East Street LLC. While the Public Works and Utilities Committee is meeting Monday, one night before Tuesday's regular council meeting, the subcommittee's recommendation won't be placed on the council agenda until Jan. 25.

If the real estate transaction is approved and completed, Pittsfield would obtain the vacant commercial property, the 11 acres it sits on and 75 acres of environmentally sensitive land directly south of the location. City officials have said the 75 acres bordered by the Housatonic River and Brattle Brook will remain undeveloped.

Built in 1989, the 18,000-square-foot metal and masonry block structure on East Street would replace some functions of the century-old, 13,000-square-foot brick building the city's highway department occupies across from Clapp Park on West Housatonic Street. The second floor of the current facility was condemned two years ago.

"We had chunks of concrete fall on some equipment and the debris came close to falling on one of our employees," Collingwood said.
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To reach Dick Lindsay: rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6233.
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"Pittsfield mayor wants 'results' from new leader"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 13, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto wants to hire someone with a "history of getting results" to help implement his reorganization plan of Public Works and Utilities in order to improve the delivery of the departments' services.

Ruberto is undertaking a regional search to fill the newly created position of "public services commissioner," that combines the jobs of highway and water superintendents to oversee highway and water and sewer maintenance, which are currently supervised by Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. The position would also take over the administrative duties of parks maintenance.

Collingwood will still manage city utilities, which include the water and sewage treatment plants, along with the city's engineering division.

The managerial change got the green light Tuesday night when, by a vote of 10-0, Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon abstained, the City Council gave final approval to the ordinance creating the new department head position at City Hall. Yon declined to vote saying a member of her immediate family, who she didn't identify, has expressed interest in the job and she wanted to avoid anyappearance of conflict of interest.

Ruberto is anxious to fill the position which will be advertised in Albany, Springfield, Boston, as well as locally.

"I'm looking for someone with a tremendous sense of urgency," Ruberto said. "I want someone with a history of getting results and has the management skills to motivate the workforce."

In anticipation of council approval, Ruberto had already put out feelers in a pair of municipal publications to gauge interest for the job.

"I have received 2-3 responses so far," he said.

Public Works and Utilities were combined by the city in 1992, but Collingwood welcomes the council reversing that decision. He currently manages a budget totaling $15 million and oversees nearly 80 people. Those figures would be almost split in half between him and the new commissioner of public services.

The position will cost $30,000 to implement, funded by a combination of money set aside for salaries and contingency funds.

The managerial change stems from a report issued in July by former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III. Shortly after Ruberto began his fourth term in office a year ago January, he hired Barrett as a consultant to make recommendations for improving city services and to help implement any proposed changes approved by the City Council.

Barrett will continue to be a consultant on street maintenance and snow plowing until the public services commissioner is hired -- and it won't be him as he has no interest in applying for the job.

"I'm not a public works guy, I am a manager and a former mayor," Barrett said.

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

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"Barrett position needless, costly"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, January 16, 2011

In Thursday's Eagle I read about John Barrett "supervising" Pittsfield's snow cleanup. That is ridiculous, is it not? Our city already has a supervisor for that, I would assume.

Mayor Ruberto is giving his friend former North Adams Mayor John Barrett a job that is not needed as a political favor. The money that is being used to pay him would be better used for equipment that we need at the Berkshire Athenaeum, where I am an employee. We have needed new book carts for the circulation department for quite a long time.

This position should have been posted in The Eagle's Help Wanted section. That are plenty of unemployed people who would have responded to that advertisement if this position was truly essential to city services.

DIANE DITMAN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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"Ruberto won't seek fifth term"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 19, 2011

PITTSFIELD - Mayor James M. Ruberto has told The Eagle he will not seek election to a fifth term in November.

"My time has come to step aside," Ruberto said in a meeting with Eagle editors and reporters today.

Ruberto highlighted a number of recent accomplishments, including the city's airport expansion project and improvements to the school system.

"We find Pittsfield to be a more open, dynamic and attractive community to all kinds of people."

The mayor said he was stepping down for two reasons: The need to heal after the death of his wife Ellen in 2009 during his last campaign, and the fact he can step aside when people can see government still works for them in a progressive fashion.

"The progressive philosophy we have brought to this city is what matters most. The longer you stay in office the more it becomes about you, and that has has never been my interest."

Meanwhile, Daniel L. Bianchi is said to be contemplating another mayoral campaign. The former Ward 6 councilor said earlier this month that he'll be focusing on a possible mayoral campaign this fall.

"We're giving it very serious consideration," Bianchi said at the time.

In 2008, Bianchi lost to Ruberto in one of the closest mayoral contests in the city's history.

Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols has already declared his intentions to run for mayor in November.

Ruberto first ran in 2001, but lost that election to Sara Hathaway. Ruberto was elected to his first term two years later when he defeated Hathaway in a rematch.

Mayor James Ruberto provided the following letter about his decision not to seek election in November.

January 19, 2011

Dear Friends,

It has been a great honor to serve as Mayor of this wonderful city. I have been blessed to work with many progressive School Committee members and City Councilors, and I have been particularly blessed to have the leadership of Council President Gerry Lee. After a lot of soul-searching, I have decided that this will be my last term as your mayor.

I will be stepping aside for two main reasons. First, I have a lot of healing still to accomplish in my personal life. And second, I want to step aside at a time when we continue to be highly productive and effective in our city government, while people can clearly see that government works for them.

The progressive philosophy we have brought to this city is what matters most, not the candidacy of one person. The longer you stay in office, the more it becomes about you, and that has never been my interest. I want to complete my tenure knowing that the work of the city is still focused on what is best for the greatest number of our citizens.

So for my own personal reasons, and for the good of the city, I have decided this is the best time to step aside and let others continue to shape the rebirth of this city.

I am confident that at this time in the history of Pittsfield, our 250th year, we have achieved so much positive momentum that future leaders will be able to carry it forward effectively.

I am also so proud of the work we have accomplished together:

We have rebuilt the relationship between the city council and the office of the mayor, and between city hall and the school department. Those relationships are strong and highly productive today.

We have weathered the painful transition from heavy manufacturing to a knowledge-based creative economy. Pittsfield now has a solid base of economic activity focused on the arts, tourism and creativity, and we have also grown our share of high technology jobs like the hundreds now being created at General Dynamics.

We have also weathered this terrible recession. While other cities cut back severely, we have balanced our budgets, earned an A1 bond rating, fully staffed our police and fire departments, and kept our teachers on the job.

We have a renewed sense of pride in our city, and have gained regional attention by being named "A Green Community" by the DEP and winning the "Creative Community" award by the Mass. Cultural Council.

We revitalized our downtown, and have now become a model for others to follow. The Colonial Theatre, the Barrington Stage, our modernized Museum, the Beacon Cinema, market rate condos and apartments, and the many restaurants and retail stores make Pittsfield the "Heart of the Berkshires" once again.

We have improved our city's infrastructure, improving roads, converting the wastewater treatment plant to green energy, and -- at long last -- beginning construction on safety improvements at the Pittsfield airport.

We have also demonstrated a strong commitment to the students in our city and the vision for our high schools is clear. I expect to have a groundbreaking within the next 18 months.

Most importantly for me, we have begun to address the social and racial wounds that stretch back over decades. It has always been a priority for me and for Ellen to reach out and include people from diverse backgrounds, people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, no matter their sexual orientation or their social standing. Make no mistake, we have a long way to go, but I am proud of how far we have come.

As I complete my last term in office, I will continue to lead this city toward the same vision I set out when I was first elected: to make Pittsfield the best darn small city in the Northeast! Thanks to a lot of hard work by a great number of people, we are well on our way.

In closing, I want to thank everyone who has supported me and stood by me and Ellen over this past decade. You have meant the world to us, and I am forever grateful.

Sincerely,

James M. Ruberto

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(Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Ruberto says he will not run again"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 20 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto is calling it a career in the corner office at City Hall.

After four, two-year terms, Ruberto announced Wednesday that he won't campaign for a fifth term this November, saying "My time has come to step aside."

"I honestly have a lot of healing to do," he said during an interview with The Eagle.

Ruberto was referring to dealing with the death of his wife, Ellen, in July 2009, just four months before winning a very close race for what would become his final term.

The mayor also said in a letter announcing his decision that he wanted to leave "at a time when we continue to be highly productive and effective in our city government, while people can clearly see that government works for them."

Ruberto said he began thinking seriously about this decision last fall, which he all but reached after some "soul-searching" during his Christmas vacation in Florida.

While Ruberto said there is more he can accomplish during a fifth term, it is time for someone new to keep the city moving forward.

"The longer you are in office, it becomes more about you. And that's not why I first ran for mayor," he said in the interview.

Ruberto, 64, was first elected in 2003 by unseating incumbent Sara Hathaway in a rematch of their 2001 battle she won. He easily won his second and third terms.

In 2009, he narrowly defeated Daniel L. Bianchi, a former city councilor. Ruberto's 209-vote victory -- upheld by a recount -- was one of the closest mayoral contests in Pittsfield's history.

Among his supporters, the reaction to Ruberto forgoing a chance at a fifth term ranged from surprise to disappointment.

"He got a lot done for the city and he had a lot more on is plate, which is why I figured he'd run again," said City Council President Gerald M. Lee.

"It's bittersweet news as I had hoped he would be able to achieve more," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr., who was an aide to the mayor from 2005-07. "His leadership will be missed. He is a man of great vision and he was a mentor of mine."

John Barrett III, the former mayor of North Adams and now a consultant for Pittsfield, tried to convince his counterpart to seek another term. Barrett appealed to Ruberto saying he still has the energy to follow through on his vision for Pittsfield, which includes a revamped public works department and the construction of a new Taconic High School.

"He lives the job every day and he's passionate about it -- more than I realized," said Barrett.

Ruberto will leave the mayor's office with a list of accomplishments that includes the downtown revitalization, starting a long-awaited expansion and upgrade of the city's airport, and hiring more teachers and supporting an improved city school system.

"[Ruberto] has been the education mayor," said school Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III. "He made sure we provided the best services for our students."

Ruberto's critics acknowledge the good he has done for the city, but they feel he has either been too aggressive with spending taxpayers'' money or not being aggressive enough to lure new businesses to Pittsfield.

Joseph C. Nichols has been the mayor's most vocal opposition since the freshman Ward 7 councilor was sworn into office last January.

"I've noticed not enough due diligence on projects brought to use that are funded by the taxpayers," said Nichols, the only declared mayoral candidate to date.

Meanwhile, Bianchi, who's contemplating another mayoral campaign, felt Ruberto failed to begin filling the William Stanley Business Park with tenants.

"We could have one or two businesses in there by now had we started marketing it ahead of time," he said.

Ruberto admits he dropped the ball on jump-starting the commercial venture the city began planning more than a decade ago on the former General Electric site along East Street.

"It took me too many years to realize how much more infrastructure and development work was needed on the site," he said.

Ruberto has yet to plan his future after he leaves office. He's focused on completing his reorganization plan for the public works department and eager for a state commitment to fund the new high school before Jan. 1, 2012.

As for his legacy, Ruberto has but one request, for now, of his constituents

"I want to be remembered as Ellen's husband," he said. "As a team, we cared about the city."

Ruberto's tenure had its ups, downs

Some highlights and disappointments during James M. Ruberto's four terms as mayor of Pittsfield.

Highlights

-- Work began on expansion of Pittsfield Municipal Airport, 12 years after the idea was first proposed.

-- Relations improved between the city and administration of Pittsfield public schools and the City Council.

-- The process began to build a new Taconic High School.

-- Saw to completion the complex financial formula that led to the construction of the $23 million six-screen Beacon Cinema on North Street.

-- Switched the city's health insurance plan to the state-run Group Insurance Commission, which is expected to save Pittsfield $5.6 million.

-- Oversaw revitalization of downtown Pittsfield and transition to a creative economy.

-- Kept the city on track despite the recession.

Disappointments

-- Failed to close the achievement gap for minority students on standardized testing, and Pittsfield's inability to hire more minority teachers.

-- The lack of development at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

-- Failed to win the City Council's backing for the controversial Resort Development bylaw in 2006, which would have changed the definition of time shares in the city's zoning code.

-- Tony Dobrowolski
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"The Ruberto era"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 20, 2011

Every mayor's career has its ups and downs, successes and disappointments, but fundamentally, a mayor is judged on whether or not the city is better off at tenure's end than it was when the administration began. In the case of Mayor James Ruberto, Pittsfield has without doubt become a better city during the past seven years. A year from now, the mayor will leave office with the city prepared to thrive in the years to come.

In changing Pittsfield, Mayor Ruberto, who announced yesterday that he would not seek a fifth term, was instrumental in changing its attitude, which set the stage for the accomplishments he shared with the Gerald Lee-led City Council, the school department, the business community and the many residents who believe in the city even in hard times. Defeatism and parochialism have long been Pittsfield's enemies, but for seven years those forces have been kept at bay and the city progressed at a time when many cities across the region were faltering.

The city under Mayor Ruberto held its own through a recession that caused many other Massachusetts cities to make major cutbacks in services and in education. When ground was broken on an airport expansion 12 years in the making, a project the mayor believed would have been in jeopardy had he not won a fourth term, finally moved forward. Downtown has made a comeback in large part through cultural tourism, and public-private partnerships have been integral to the realization of projects boosting the city. Getting government and the business community on the same page was one of the mayor's goals when he took office and that success is a product of Mr. Ruberto's progressive approach to government.

There have been disappointments, such as the failure of the William Stanley Business Park to generate new businesses and jobs. Mr. Ruberto also told The Eagle he has been disappointed that the city's minority students have been unable to close the achievement gap on MCAS tests. In emphasizing that he will continue to be an activist mayor in the year ahead, Mr. Ruberto still will have an opportunity to see progress made on these and other fronts.

Any mayor of long standing becomes a lightning rod for criticism, much of it unfair. The discussion in the city, said the mayor Wednesday, "becomes about you" rather than issues, and the mayor's motives are automatically impugned without foundation. There is indeed a nasty tone in Pittsfield today that recalls that of about 10 years ago surrounding the ballpark debacle, and the city cannot afford to return those days of negativity and paralysis.

Underlying Mayor Ruberto's philosophy is his fundamental belief that government is a friend, not an enemy, and that belief runs counter to the views of some in the city. The belief, however, that government can work for people fuels the progressivism that inspired the mayor and his many allies in the public and private sectors to confront the city's problems rather than use them as an excuse to concede defeat. Whether or not the city continues to follow that progressive model will be determined to a large extent by November's elections. Mayor Ruberto has proven, however, that the model works.

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"Who will be the next mayor?"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 20, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Potential mayoral candidates remain cautious about their intentions to succeed Mayor James M. Ruberto, who isn't seeking re-election this fall.

Ruberto said Wednesday he was out of the running for a fifth consecutive term, an announcement former City Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi found "very interesting."

"That's too bad, I would have loved a rematch," Bianchi said upon hearing the news from an Eagle reporter.

Since Ruberto defeated Bianchi by only 200 votes in the 2009 mayoral race, the local businessman and one-time city finance director and treasurer said earlier this month he's been seriously considering another campaign.

However, the mayor's announcement won't immediately influence Bianchi's decision on whether to take another crack at becoming the 36th mayor since Pittsfield began electing mayors 118 years ago.

"It's something I'm still evaluating and will give thoughtful consideration," he said.

Bianchi indicated he plans to announce his intentions within the next couple of months.

The Pittsfield election season officially begins May 2 when nomination papers become available for mayor, City Council, School Committee and City Clerk. The documents must be returned to the board of Registrar of Voters for certification by Aug. 9 and then be submitted to the City Clerk by Aug. 23 in order for the candidates' names to appear on the ballot. The primary is scheduled for Sept. 27 with the general election set for Nov. 8.

Another possible mayor candidate, Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti, hasn't decided if he'll seek re-election to the City Council or risk his political and personal career for the corner office at City Hall.

"I think I have a great employer (Pittsfield Co-operative Bank) and do I want to give up my 22-year career there," Marchetti said. "In light of the mayor's announcement, I'll take the next couple of weeks to determine which direction to go."

Last month, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols became the first declared candidate for mayor, saying it didn't matter to him whether Ruberto was seeking re-election. Nichols said Wednesday the lack of an incumbent won't change his campaign platform of creating new jobs in Pittsfield.

"I have a plan to create an environment for business to invest in Pittsfield," he said. "Whomever is the next mayor must have a plan to move Pittsfield forward and I'll be [unveiling] mine as the campaign moves along."

Councilors John M. Krol Jr. and Kevin J. Sherman have been rumored as other potential mayoral hopefuls, but both men told The Eagle the rumors are unfounded.

Even former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III had to deny speculation he'd move to Pittsfield and run, which some city residents have asked him to do.

"Yes they have, but I told them I'm out of the mayor business," said Barrett, who lost his re-election bid in November 2009.

Two months later, Ruberto hired Barrett as a consultant to suggest and help implement recommendations to improve the delivery of city services, focusing on the reorganization of the public works and utilities departments.

While Ruberto has a couple of successors in mind, he wouldn't publicly name names, only to say he'd support a candidate who shares his philosophy of being progressive and willing to work closely with the business community.

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

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"Ruberto confirms retirement"
The Pittsfield Gazette, By Jonathan Levine, January 19, 2011

Mayor James Ruberto confirmed on Wednesday that he won't seek reelection in November.

Ruberto outlined his plans during a meeting with The Berkshire Eagle. He also released a letter to supporters in which he states "After a lot of soul-searching, I have decided that this will be my last term as your mayor."

Ruberto was first elected in 2003, reversing the outcome from his inaugural run in 2001 when he lost to Sara Hathaway. He narrowly won reelection in 2009 when he set a record for campaign spending.

Ruberto's tenure has earned praise in many circles for his full-fledged support of funding for the Pittsfield Public Schools. He has also championed a plan for a new high school. He has also been credited for seeing projects such as the Colonial Theatre and Beacon Cinema open. His tenure has also been marked by numerous ethics violations and controversies over projects such as the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

Ward 7 councilor Joe Nichols has already announced his intention to seek the mayoral position and others are expected to follow.

The Pittsfield Gazette, Pittsfield Community Television and Berkshire Community College have scheduled a mayoral debate for Monday, September 12 in the Boland Theatre at BCC.

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"Council leader's term his last"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 21, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- City Council President Gerald M. Lee said he won't seek re-election in November after serving as a councilor at large for 12 years, eight of which he led the 11-member panel.

Lee told The Eagle that he arrived at his decision a month ago, but hadn't gone public with the news until he confirmed it with a reporter on Thursday. The news came a day after Mayor James M. Ruberto said he wouldn't run for a fifth term this fall.

Lee said he arrived at his decision independently, but that he had informed Ruberto just before Christmas about ending his career on the council.

"I never expected to do this for 12 years," said Lee. "But Jim Ruberto and my wife [Michelle] encouraged me to stay in this long."

The former Pittsfield police chief has enjoyed his time on the council and made some new friends along the way.

"I've met a lot people, including some councilors, I might not otherwise have known," he said.

Lee, 70, served 30 years with the Pittsfield Police Department, the last four as its chief, before retiring in 1997. Two years later, he ran for and was elected to the City Council. He was elevated to the presidency in January 2004 after winning re-election; meanwhile, Ruberto started the first of four consecutive terms as mayor.

The two men began working together to improve relations between the council and mayor's office in order to move forward on the city's downtown revitalization, its school system, boosting employment, and making municipal government more efficient.

"I've been lucky to have Gerry Lee, as he's one of the best City Council presidents we've had," Ruberto said. "He moves meetings along and doesn't let them deteriorate into negative debate."

"He has been an effective leader with a wealth of knowledge that will be missed," said Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti.

As the current council vice president, Marchetti is the likely heir-apparent to Lee, if he's re-elected in November and chosen by his fellow councilors. However, Marchetti is also contemplating a run for mayor, a political path that would leave wide open the competition for council president.

Lee said retirement gave him the luxury most current councilors don't have, allowing him to be in City Hall on a daily basis. He wishes his successor well in balancing a political life with a personal one.

"I marvel at the councilors who work full time and are raising a family," he said.

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

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"Lee's strong leadership"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 21, 2011

City Council President Gerald Lee's decision not to seek another term this November was not unexpected and was not triggered by Mayor James Ruberto's announcement Wednesday that he will not run for re-election -- in fact, Mr. Lee made a typically sly joke at last week's City Council meeting about Vice President Peter Marchetti possibly succeeding him. The decision will, however, deprive the city of another progressive leader in 2012.

After chafing for four years on a City Council containing too many entertainers and not enough leaders, Mr. Lee took over the presidency and steered the council in a progressive direction just as Mayor Ruberto took the city in the same direction. Mr. Lee told The Eagle that his wife Michelle and the mayor encouraged him to run for his final two-year term, and for seven years going on eight, he and Mr. Ruberto have combined their skills and passion to push the city's revival.

Council meetings have been a model of fairness and efficiency under the guidance of Pittsfield's former police chief, who knows the rules of government as well as he knows the city. By reining in the windbags, he turned the nightmare that was the council's open microphone session into something useful. He did all this with a dry wit that enlivened occasional dull sessions. Whoever succeeds him as president will have a tough act to follow.

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"Pittsfield gun crimes went up in 2010"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 21, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The number of illegal gunfire incidents in Pittsfield rose slightly last year to 11, one more than in 2009.

However, only a handful of people were injured in the incidents, most of which involved the discharge of firearms in residential neighborhoods.

"It is what it is, and obviously our goal is to reduce gun crime and get it down to nothing," Pittsfield Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said Thursday.

"Our focus is on clearing and investigating the ones that have occurred, and I'm confident of the Police Department's work to clear those crimes," he said.

From 2006 to 2008, Pittsfield had five or fewer shootings each year. But that number spiked to 10 in 2009, prompting the police chief and Mayor James M. Ruberto to make public statements about the rising gun violence -- including a daytime shoot-out on the city's West Side that forced residents to take cover, but caused no injuries.

"We recognize we have a serious problem. I'm appalled by the behavior of the thugs that are invading -- and who have invaded -- the city of Pittsfield," Ruberto said at the time.

Added Wynn, "We recognize the circumstances that are occurring in the city."

Even though the overall violent crime rate continues to decline, the upswing in shootings can give the impression that Pittsfield is "gun city." In reality, however, most of last year's gunfire incidents didn't lead to injuries.

Of the three incidents that did involve injuries, two were accidental discharges -- albeit in public places -- and one involved a person targeted in an apparent drug robbery.

The Police Department defines shootings as the illegal discharge of firearms in residential areas in which there's clear evidence of a shooting, including recovered projectiles or shell casings. Over the past decade, these incidents typically occurred in densely populated neighborhoods and didn't necessarily involve people who were injured by gunfire. Some incidents involved drive-by shootings or shots fired from a stationary position at a passing vehicle, or instances in which a home was hit by gunfire.

For more than a decade now, the bulk of Pittsfield gun crimes have occurred in the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods.

The highest single-year total in recent years was in 2003, when Pittsfield recorded 12 shootings. Since then, the numbers have not followed any discernible pattern, with shootings rising one year and falling the next.

The number of shootings fell to eight in 2004, but that number was back up to 11 by 2005. There were five gunfire incidents in 2006, three in 2007 and five in 2008.

Prior to the dozen shootings in 2003, there were eight in 2002 and nine apiece in 2001 and 2000.

There have been more than 100 shootings in Pittsfield since 1999, according to Eagle and Police Department records, including 21 in the past two years alone. Of those shootings, more than two dozen involved people who were struck by bullets.

To reach Conor Berry: cberry@berkshireeagle.com; (413) 496-6249

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"City Hall wrong to target landlords"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, January 25, 2011

Many of us landlords are upset about the new anti-blight ordinance. Here are some of the reasons.

The ordinance singles out landlords as the cause of the blight problem, and this is absolutely absurd on the face of it. The city expects innocent parties to pay for the wrongful acts of others.

The city orders private interests to disclose information which is really none of the city's business. There has been a state statute in place relating to posting of owner information which would have accomplished the same goal.

City officials should be able to figure out that a "blighted" neighborhood hurts landlords perhaps more than other citizens. No reasonable business person would want his product to be unattractive to his prospects. For the city to not understand this is a colossal insult to the character and intelligence of landlords. This ordinance is a huge mistake.

If we are stuck with this form-filling thing, the Board of Health should make an effort to fit everything on one sheet of paper, rather than two. It won't waste less of my time, but it will waste a lot less paper.

JON MACHT
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto would like this East Street facility to be the new city garage, (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Council sends garage plan back to mayor"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 26, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council wants Mayor James M. Ruberto to re-think his plan for converting a vacant commercial building into a new city highway garage.

Ruberto had proposed Pittsfield spend $875,000 to buy property at 1644 East St., which is owned by a realty trust. Since the pending purchase-and-sale agreement expired Dec. 31, the council Tuesday night requested the mayor negotiate a lower price or look at leasing the site or some other location.

By a vote of 8-3, Councilors Jonathan N. Lothrop, John M. Krol Jr. and Peter T. White opposed, the majority in essence scrapped Ruberto's plan that had languished before the council for two months.

"Yeah, we are starting over as the document is dead," said Ward 4 Councilor Michael Ward.

In addition, the council wants Ruberto to explore other ideas for a new highway garage.

"Can we have one or two other options rather than narrowing the focus on that one building," said Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols.

The money to buy the East Street site was to come from a $1.5 million appropriation authorized in June 2008. The remaining funds, subject to City Council approval, would have paid to initially upgrade the structure and prepare the 11-acre site to handle the storage of city highway vehicles and potential future uses by public works officials.

The 18,000-square-foot metal and masonry block building erected in 1989 was targeted to replace some functions of the century-old, 13,000-square-foot brick building the city's highway department occupies across from Clapp Park on West Housatonic Street. The second floor of the current facility was condemned two years ago, limiting storage of heavy machinery to the ground floor.

Two weeks ago, the council's public works subcommittee recommended buying the East Street property provided the city has the building thoroughly inspected for deficiencies and environmental testing done to determine what -- if any -- contamination exists on the property.

Lothrop had proposed those conditions and thought they were enough to move the project forward.

"We had this tied up in a nice neat package and now the cat is out of the bag," he said. "Maybe we should file this plan and start all over."

If the real estate transaction is ever approved and completed, Pittsfield would obtain the vacant commercial property, the 11 acres it sits on and 75 acres of environmentally sensitive land directly south of the location. City officials have said the 75 acres bordered by the Housatonic River and Brattle Brook will remain undeveloped.

However, Collingwood has said an estimated $3.3 million will be needed eventually to expand use of the building and erect a secondary structure to house a newly created public services department consisting of highway, water, sewer and parks maintenance employees and administrative staff.

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"Ruberto leaves for right reasons"
By Joseph A. Grande, Special to The Eagle, Op-Ed, January 26, 2011
DALTON, Massachusetts

There are many on the public stage who could learn a lot from Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto and his decision this past Wednesday not to seek a fifth term in the corner office. In an unselfish move, in part impacted by his wife Ellen's death in 2009, the four-term chief executive decided it was time to end his political career and move on. Part of his explanation for this decision was revealing: "The longer you are in office it becomes more about you. And that's not why I first ran for mayor."

There's something refreshing about the mayor's decision. In a time when professional athletes struggle with calling it quits and politicians, both locally and nationally, make office-holding a career and spend most of their time getting re-elected, Ruberto's decision speaks volumes about what it truly means to be a public servant. Most office holders in his shoes would have a hard time walking away.

With the city on the rise and the mayor able to extract much of the credit, there's a good chance he could have won a fifth term. But instead Ruberto, at the top of his game, decided it was best for him and the city to step aside to make room for a new mayor with new ideas.

I don't personally know the mayor but I have watched Pittsfield make major progress on many fronts under his leadership -- you see, what's good for Pittsfield can be very good for the rest of Berkshire County. It's clear he's a guy focused on results and that's an uncommon commodity among elected officials today considering the political paralysis that confounds us. He comes from business where problem solving is king. And now entering his eighth year, he understands that solutions will be harder to come by because entrenched political power brings with it a growing list of critics and enemies.

One thing is for sure, his motivation apparently transcends ego, ambition, and political power. He seems secure and proud of his accomplishments yet aware and forthcoming of his missteps and failures. If pure politics were his game, he'd be on that November election ballet. But it's pretty clear now that the mayor's office itself wasn't the ultimate prize for Ruberto, rather it was just the opportunity the office brought to bring change and progress to a community.

He's a shining example of what voters should expect from its public servants. Let's hope Pittsfield voters can find a replacement with the same sense of purpose and the willingness to put the city first.

Joseph A. Grande, a North Adams native, does media relations work for plastics companies throughout the U.S. and is an occasional Eagle contributor.

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Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto and City Council President Gerald Lee meet Thursday (1/27/2011) in the mayor’s office. Both have announced they are not seeking re-election. (Ben Garver)

"Council open to change at top"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 28, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Local political and community leaders are embracing -- rather than dreading -- a change in city government leadership next year, provided the new mayor and City Council president are as progressive as their predecessors.

Mayor James M. Ruberto and Council President Gerald M. Lee both announced last week they won't seek re-election later this fall, and that means a wholesale change at the top of Pittsfield politic not seen in eight years. In 2003, Ruberto was elected, while Lee, first elected in 1999, ascended to the president's chair.

The Ruberto-Lee tandem resulted in improved relations between the mayor's office and City Council that contributed to the city moving forward on its downtown revitalization, improving the school system, boosting employment and making municipal government more efficient.

Several councilors want to maintain that momentum when the new mayor and next council president, chosen from within the 11-member panel, are sworn into office next January following the Nov. 8 general election.

"I think we'll be in good hands as long as we continue to have progressive leaders," said Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White. "Pittsfield is now a destination place, something we couldn't say several years ago."

Councilor at large Kevin Sherman also wants city leadership that's passionate about Pittsfield with a "can-do attitude" keeping the city on a progressive path to success.

"Hopefully, if I am re-elected, I can be a part of that," Sherman said. "I want to avoid the return of the days when the council and mayor locked horns and both sides had an agenda."

The local campaign season is more than three months away. Nomination papers for mayor, City Council, city clerk and school committee are available May 2.

However, the mayoral race could heat up much sooner.

Freshman Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols has already declared he's running for mayor and two potential council veterans are waiting in the wings. Peter M. Marchetti, a four-term councilor at large, and former 10-year council member and one-time mayoral candidate Daniel L. Bianchi are contemplating mayoral campaigns. Bianchi's bid to unseat Ruberto in 2009 failed by just 209 votes.

Experienced or not in city government, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michael Supranowicz foresees the new mayor being handicapped by the current economic climate.

"There are qualified people to fill [Ruberto's] shoes, but it's not easy being a freshman mayor," said Supranowicz. "The William Stanley Business Park -- trying to fill that in challenging economic times won't be easy.

"Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity to work with new people," he said.

Ruberto cited his inability to lure new jobs to the former site of General Electric as one of his biggest disappointments to date. He has urged whomever succeeds him must have good relations with the business community.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo also wants the new mayor and council president advocating for a better Pittsfield, yet frugal with taxpayers' money.

"We need people who have the city's best interest's at heart, but who will work with the means of the city budget and listen to what the people say?" said Mazzeo.

Mazzeo was one of five new councilors elected in 2009, matching the turnover of 2003. Already, three incumbents are forgoing re-election: Lee, Nichols (by running for mayor), and Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward, leaving for personal reasons after three, two-year terms.

"It's disappointing we're losing so much experience on the council," said Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, one of the five freshman councilors. "I'm very grateful those not running for office have given their notice now in order to give serious candidates plenty of time to consider running."

Whether seeking a council seat or the corner office at City Hall, candidates must sacrifice time, money and personal life to win, according to Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop. First elected in 2003, the family man is finishing up his fourth term.

"I worry we won't have a strong field, what with the stress of having a family can do to candidates, along with the need to take time off from work and the commitment to campaign for six months," Lothrop said.

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

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"City of Pittsfield Hires Firm to Collect Overdue Personal Property Taxes"
iBerkshires.com - January 28, 2011

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts - The City of Pittsfield has hired F.H. Cann and Associates of North Andover, MA to assist in the collection of long overdue personal property taxes. According to Tax Collector Marilyn Sheehan, 513 businesses and second home owners owe approximately $191,000 to the city from tax bills between the years 2005 through 2009.

“These are long overdue accounts,” says Sheehan, “and it is time we collected these funds. These delinquent tax payers have received many notices and have still not paid.”

“Fair collection of tax bills benefits all tax payers,” says Mayor James M. Ruberto. “It is simply unfair to the citizens who pay on time that they have to carry the ball for those that don’t.”

Through the arrangement with the collection agency, the city will receive 100% of the tax, interest and demand fee. F.H. Cann will be paid through an additional fee added to the overdue bill.

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Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto said he is hoping to ‘re-define the purpose of the building and a cost we can all agree upon.’ (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"City garage plan on blocks"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 31, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto has temporarily shelved his plan for a new city highway garage following the City Council's advice to re-evaluate the project.

Ruberto had proposed Pittsfield spend $875,000 to buy property at 1644 East St., which is owned by a realty trust. Since the pending purchase-and-sale agreement expired Dec. 31, the council last week requested the mayor negotiate a lower price or look at leasing the site or some other location.

By a vote of 8-3, Councilors Jonathan N. Lothrop, John M. Krol Jr. and Peter T. White opposed, the majority in essence scrapped Ruberto's proposal that had languished before the council for two months.

In addition, the council wanted the mayor to explore other ideas for a new highway garage.

However, Ruberto is tabling the project until further notice.

"I want to take pause as there's been too much emotion in conversation among the councilors and City Hall staff regarding this project," Ruberto said. "I'm not advancing anything until we re-define the purpose of the building and a cost we can all agree upon."

The money to buy the East Street site was to come from a $1.5 million appropriation authorized in June 2008. The remaining funds, subject to City Council approval, would have paid to initially upgrade the structure and prepare the 11-acre site to handle the storage of city highway vehicles and potential future uses by public works officials.

The 18,000-square-foot metal and masonry block building erected in 1989 was targeted to replace some functions of the century-old, 13,000-square-foot brick building the city's highway department occupies across from Clapp Park on West Housatonic Street. The second floor of the current facility was condemned two years ago, limiting storage of heavy machinery to the ground floor.

The council appears divided on whether the mayor's East Street plan is dead or just on life support.

"[The council] gave the mayor no direction whatsoever," said Lothrop. "The true message was we don't care."

Nevertheless he added, "The need to do something is there as the old garage is done."

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward believes the East Street location still has "potential, if the price is right. Ward said leasing the 11-acre parcel is a viable option worth exploring, as the owner, not the city, would be responsible for any potential on-site contamination.

"[Leasing] might be a good idea for the short term before we decide if we're buying an environmental money pit," said Ward.

In early January, the council's public works subcommittee recommended buying the East Street property provided the city has the building thoroughly inspected for deficiencies and environmental testing done to determine what -- if any --- contamination exists on the property.

City officials had planned such scrutiny from the beginning, but Ruberto said that message got lost in discussion over possible future uses of the site not yet on the drawing board.

Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood had said an estimated $3.3 million will be needed eventually to expand use of the building and erect a secondary structure to house a newly created public services department consisting of highway, water, sewer and parks maintenance employees and administrative staff.

"I admit we created confusion in the way we presented the project," Ruberto said. "Unfortunately, the project had taken on a life of its own."

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

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"GIC saves money on workers' backs"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, February 9, 2011

The Eagle editorial on Feb. 5 regarding The GIC health insurance option takes the position that it is great that Pittsfield has saved all that money paying for its workers' health care. The editorial goes on to say The Eagle is surprised other communities have not followed Pittsfield's lead. The Eagle fails to mention that many of these savings are on the backs of the struggling workers.

Deductibles and co-payments are higher and many providers are not available on the different plans resulting in less choice and less services. Often workers are choosing to forgo medical care because of the high out-of-pocket expenses. The GIC plan even has different rates for different doctors. This cheaper plan is negatively effecting the health and welfare of our community.

So, yes, Pittsfield saved all this money but at what expense? Parents are giving up their health care so they can support their children. Others are giving up health care so they can pay their heating costs. The GIC option is simply another cutback in critical services which continues throughout the commonwealth. Pittsfield saves money and people suffer.

HAROLD SCHRAGER
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

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"Bordeau nets blight post"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 9, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A retired city official with a "breadth of knowledge" is returning to City Hall to help implement Pittsfield's anti-blight program.

On Tuesday night, the City Council approved Mayor James M. Ruberto's nomination of G. Richard Bordeau to fill the newly created position of hearings officer. Bordeau, at an annual salary of $2,500, is charged with ruling on appeals of violation notices issued by the city's Health and Building departments, which include the new fines for grass higher than 10 inches, overgrown weeds and brush, and allowing furniture, appliances and electronics to pile up at curbside.

In all cases, a warning would be issued for the first offense before fines, ranging from $50 to $300, would be levied for the second through fourth offenses.

If upheld fines aren't paid within 30 days of a hearing officer's decision, they would be added to the violator's property tax bills.

Currently, such cases are resolved in the more cumbersome and time-consuming court system, according to city officials.

Ruberto chose Bordeau based on his more than 30 years in city government. His municipal career began in 1974 as a Health Department inspector, followed by stints as a community development planner, chairman of the Board of Assessors and the city Director of Finance and Treasurer for seven years before retiring in 2008.

"Dick Bordeau has a breadth of knowledge regarding the community and inner workings of the city," Ruberto said. "He's a very independent person who will be able to show the judicial temperament necessary for the job."

Last year, Bordeau joined the all-volunteer Board of Health, a position he's willing to vacate to become the hearings officer.

"It's really important people have a forum for their grievances," he said.

Nevertheless, Bordeau praises the Ruberto administration for earmarking "tremendous" resources toward code enforcement.

Meanwhile, the Pittsfield Health Department is developing an electronic ticketing system using established software to print out and track violations. Director James J. Wilusz expects the new system to be ready within two months; the current ticketing process remains in effect until that time.

"If we're going to dedicate time and resources to code enforcement, we want to make sure the system is efficient," said Wilusz.

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

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"Not all agree with moves at City Hall"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 11, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A City Council subcommittee is divided over Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan to restructure the office of mayor in order to improve government efficiency at City Hall.

By a 3-2 vote, with Councilors at large Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin J. Sherman opposed, the Committee on Ordinance and Rules has endorsed Ruberto reinstating the job of "director of administration" to assist him in managing several city departments.

The panel was more receptive to the mayor establishing a "personnel manager," replacing an existing vacant position, who would handle all labor matters relating to Pittsfield municipal employees. The committee voted 4-1 in favor of the proposal, with Mazzeo against.

Both recommendations will be forwarded to the entire council on Feb. 22 for the first of two necessary votes. If approved, the net annual increase to the city budget would be at most $15,000.

The committee on Monday night revisited the managerial changes after tabling items two months ago, claiming more information was needed to justify approving the new positions before the current fiscal 2011 ends on June 30.

Ruberto expects the mayor's new right-hand person will help improve delivery of city services through the corner office similar to the recent separation of public works from public utilities.

"It has led to a considerably more efficient highway department especially during this year of the ‘Great Snow,' " Ruberto said.

The director of administration, originally created by former mayor Evan Dobelle in the mid-1970s, would oversee personnel, the Council on Aging, the city's volunteer program called RSVP, veterans and information services, and the municipal airport. It would reduce the number of department heads reporting directly to Ruberto from 18 to 13.

"It's the only way all these groups can receive the attention they deserve and attention means respect," he said. "Anyone who thinks they can manage 18 people at once should try it."

However several councilors, including those supporting the position, worry the mayor's office response to daily inquiries will suffer since Ruberto would make one of his two staff positions director of administration, who would also provide public relations and constituency services.

In addition, Mazzeo questions the immediate need for a director of administration, a position Ruberto will have the benefit of for less than a year.

"Now that you're not running [for re-election], someone else could have a different managerial style and not need the help," Mazzeo told Ruberto.

Councilors backing the position view it as giving whomever is the next mayor more time promote the city.

"I want our mayor out selling Pittsfield," said Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward. "I want the mayor selling the William Stanley Business Park to possible tenants."

Meanwhile, Ruberto has said personnel technician Karen Decker would be elevated to personnel manager by combining her current duties with some of those from the director of personnel job that's been vacant for two years. The new position would oversee Pittsfield's human resources services such as city employee relations, staffing, training, safety and compensation.

Ruberto's planned managerial changes stem from a report issued in July by city consultant John Barrett III.

The same report also called for a public services commissioner to assume the oversight of highway, water and sewer maintenance, currently supervised by Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. The city is in the process of filling the public services job, finally approved by the City Council last month.

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

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"City garage funds headed to airport"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 11, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The city won't buy a commercial property on East Street and turn it into a new municipal highway garage.

The City Council officially pulled the plug on Mayor James M. Ruberto's proposal to buy the vacant building and the 11 acres it sits on at 1644 East St., and diverted, at the mayor's request, the $800,000 loan for the garage toward financing the initial phase of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport's expansion project.

By a 10-1 vote, with Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols opposed, the council Tuesday night agreed with city officials' reasoning that the money should be spent on the airport improvements, work that began in mid-October.

"We've been sitting on the loan for nearly two years and if we didn't use it [by June 30], we would pay penalties to the IRS," said Susan Carmel, the city's treasurer and director of finance.

The $800,000 was borrowed 18 months ago in anticipation it would be spent as the city began pursuing the East Street parcel.

However, negotiations with the owners unexpectedly dragged on until the mayor finally put the proposal before councilors in early December.

"I thought we were going to strike a deal for the property much sooner," Ruberto said.

The East Street proposal languished in council meetings for two months before the councilors, in essence, scrapped the plan. On Jan. 25, the council voted 9-2 asking Ruberto to rethink the purchase, exploring a possible lease agreement or other options. Ruberto agreed to step back from the purchase and eventually decided to shelve a project three years in the making by spending the $800,000 on the airport expansion.

The money to buy the East Street site was coming from a $1.5 million appropriation authorized in June 2008. The remaining funds, subject to City Council approval, would have paid to initially upgrade the structure and prepare the site to handle the storage of city highway vehicles and potential future uses by public works officials. Carmel said the rest of the funding measure will be rescinded.

The 18,000-square-foot metal and masonry block building erected in 1989 was targeted to replace some functions of the century-old, 13,000-square-foot brick building the city's highway department occupies across from Clapp Park on West Housatonic Street. The second floor of the current facility was condemned two years ago, limiting storage of heavy machinery to the ground floor.

Since the dire need for a new garage remains, Nichols felt that was a higher priority than the airport.

"I don't think we should drop the ball on this [garage] project," he said.

"Nobody is saying we're giving up on the garage," Carmel said. "We can still come back to the council for another authorization."

Carmel noted the transfer of $800,000 to the airport expansion means the city needs only borrow $1.3 million of the $2.1 million it must spend on the first phase. Overall, Pittsfield has to secure $6 million in loans the council authorized in May, which combined with federal and state funding, will pay for the $22.5 million project.

"There's no change whatsoever in the total funding for the airport," she said.

Completion of the airport expansion and safety upgrade is scheduled for 2013.

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

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"Pittsfield City Council race shifts to candidates"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 14, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council political pre-season has shifted from announcements of who's out to who's in the running when the 2011 campaign truly begins in nearly three months.

Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman is the first incumbent of the 11-member council to declare a re-election bid, several weeks after two colleagues said they wouldn't seek another two-year term and a third opted for a mayoral campaign.

Council President Gerald M. Lee and Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward decided last month 12 and six years respectively in office were enough. Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols began the council exodus when he announced in late December he would run for mayor later this fall.

In addition, Christopher J. Connell announced this weekend he wants to succeed Councilor Ward, who easily defeated Connell by 1,300 votes in 2009.

The Pittsfield election process doesn't formally begin until May 2 when nomination papers become available. However, Sherman, 34, employed at Berkshire Life Insurance Co. in Pittsfield, felt an early announcement would "quell any rumors" about his political intentions.

"I'm serious about coming back for two more years -- if the voters will have me," he said. "I want to keep the city in a progressive mode and be a bridge to a new era in city government."

Sherman was referring to voters choosing a new mayor in November, as Mayor James M. Ruberto announced last month he will forgo a fifth two-year term. Furthermore, the City Council will have three new members and Connell wants to be one of them.

"I was considering a run for [councilor] at large, but decided to run for Ward 4 when Mike Ward said he wouldn't," he said.

Connell, 52, manages eight residential rental properties in Pittsfield and four others in Adams and Lee, 100 units in total. He claims being a landlord will allow him to be a full-time councilor and he wants to continue Ward's legacy of effectively connecting with constituents through the Internet.

"Mike did a super job as a ward councilor," Connell said. "If I'm fortunate enough to get elected, I'll also have a website."

As for the remaining seven councilors The Eagle contacted this weekend, four are expected to mount re-election campaigns. Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White, Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio and Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo are "definitely" running, while Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop "plans to seek re-election."

Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti plans to "make an announcement in the next couple of weeks" regarding his political future. Marchetti, the council vice president and likely heir apparent to the council presidency, is seriously considering a run for mayor.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon and Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. were unavailable for comment, but they have indicated they will each seek a second term.

Currently, Pittsfield city councilors annually earn $8,000, the council president's salary is $10,000.

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

If you are running ...

Nomination papers for potential candidates for Pittsfield City Council, as well as mayor, city clerk and School Committee, are first available on May 2 at City Hall. Deadline to submit the papers to city election officials is Aug. 9.

Those running for the seven ward seats must obtain at least 50 signatures of registered
voters from within the ward they reside. Candidates for the four councilor-at-large positions need a minimum of 300 signatures that can be gathered citywide, as do hopefuls for mayor, city clerk and the six of the seven seats on the School Committee. The seventh spot automatically goes to the mayor.

The preliminary election is Sept. 27, with the general election Nov. 8.

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"Pittsfield human services fund shrinking"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 21, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- City officials expect local organizations will receive reduced funding from the next round of Pittsfield human services grants.

Applicants have until Friday to submit their proposals to the Department of Community Development at City Hall, which will be forwarded to the Human Services Advisory Council. The 11-member volunteer panel will review them in April and make recommendations to Mayor James M. Ruberto.

How much money will be available in fiscal 2012, which begins July 1, is unknown as the city has just begun its budget process. However, city officials anticipate the total allocations to drop below the $400,000 mark.

"We have indications both our funding sources will be less: Community Development Block Grant money from the federal government and funds from our own budget," said Robert Cornwell of the community development office, who oversees the funding program.

Human services funding in Pittsfield has been decreasing due to city budget cuts, while the number of proposals has steadily risen the last three fiscal years.

In 2009, the council honored all 13 requests for a total of $450,000, while spending $413,000 in 2010 to fund 13 of 17 requests. The current fiscal 2011 saw 11 of 19 proposals share $412,000.

"It's a shame we keep getting more agencies asking for money and each year we give out less," said Christopher Meehan, chairman of the Human Services Advisory Council.

While several agencies who have been funded in the past do serve all of Berkshire County, the council requires the money must be spent on Pittsfield residents, since it's their tax dollars at work.

In recent years, the council has encouraged human service agencies to band together to seek city grants, resulting in nearly half of the funded proposals being collaborative efforts, benefiting between 30 and 35 organizations.

Based on city resident surveys, the council has awarded the majority of human services money to family-based programs, homeless prevention and emergency services and enhanced intervention programs for the elderly. Meehan said new surveys show Pittsfield's priorities have changed with youth services near the top, while elder needs ranks lower than in previous years -- even by the seniors.

"A lot of elderly who sent in surveys are saying they are more concerned about the youth and other groups," he said.

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

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"No need for assistant to mayor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, February 22, 2011

This is in regard to the proposal by Mayor Ruberto to re-instate the position of administrative assistant in the mayor's office. Pittsfield is in the process of celebrating 250 years in existence and for only a short period of time in the 1990s was this position deemed necessary. I don't understand why this mayor insists on adding costs to an already overblown bureaucracy when, according to him and other members of his administration, the city is low on funds and will, for the next few years, be even worse off than it is now financially.

The population of Pittsfield is lower than it has been for decades, and this mayor feels he needs help from an assistant to run the city. If he didn't want to do the job he was elected to do then he should have abstained from running in the last election and let someone who is capable do the job. I also think he has appointed enough friends to city positions, both volunteer and paying, and it seems likely that this position will contain one also. He needs to fulfill his term and let the next mayor, if he feels it necessary, institute any changes in personnel.

I heard the mayor in a radio interview last week say there would be no new personnel hired to fill this job and the person would come from his office. If he already has a person in place to help him why does he need to give them a $13,000 raise to perform the same duties they're doing now? In a time that requires fiscal responsibility it seems to me the mayor is acting in just the opposite way.

I urge the City Council to reject this proposal and send a message to this mayor that though he's leaving, the rest of us aren't and don't want to suffer his follies.

JIM GLEASON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Council vote faces legal review"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 23, 2011

PITTSFIELD --The City Council has initially endorsed Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan to restructure the office of mayor in order to improve government efficiency at City Hall.

However, the legality of Tuesday night's vote -- the first of two necessary for approval -- is in question pending a ruling from the city's attorney.

By a 7-3 vote, with councilors Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin J. Sherman and Joseph C. Nichols opposed and Councilor Peter M. Marchetti absent, the 11-member panel supported Ruberto reinstating the job of "director of administration" to assist him in managing several city departments.

Following the vote, Mazzeo cited the city charter claiming at least eight councilors must approve creating a new position. But Lothrop argued that the job already exists and the simple majority rules.

City attorney Richard Dohoney couldn't make an immediate ruling and vowed to have a legal opinion on whether an eight-vote minimum is required before by the council again votes on the proposal March 8.

Fearing the mayor's plan to also establish a "personnel manager" faced a similar quandary, the panel tabled the staffing change pending Dohoney's ruling. Ruberto has said the personnel manager replaces an existing vacant City Hall position and would handle all labor matters relating to Pittsfield municipal employees.

If both measures are approved, the net annual increase to the city budget at most would be $15,000.

Ruberto expects the mayor's new right-hand person will help improve delivery of city services through the corner office similar to the recent separation of public works from public utilities.

The director of administration, originally created by former mayor Evan Dobelle in the mid-1970s, would oversee personnel, the Council on Aging, the city's volunteer program called RSVP, veterans and the municipal airport. It would reduce the number of department heads reporting directly to Ruberto from 18 to 13.

"This is a way to shape City Hall and make it more efficient," said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, a former Ruberto aide.

Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White noted, "By increasing resources and oversight to these departments will improve city services to our constituents."

However the council minority questioned the effectiveness of the mayor's proposal, one Ruberto will benefit from for less than a year since he isn't seeking re-election this fall.

"Let's wait until the new mayor comes in," said Mazzeo. "I don't see a great need for it at this time."

Ruberto's planned managerial changes stem from a report issued in July by city consultant John Barrett III. The same report that spurred the City Council in December to create the position of public services commissioner to assume the oversight of highway, water and sewer maintenance, currently supervised by Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. The city is in the process of filling the public services job.

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

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"City councilors vote to keep meeting time"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 24, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council's meeting times will remain unchanged.

By a 7-3 vote, the council has rejected Councilor Christine Yon's request to move the current 7:30 p.m. start to 7 p.m. The proposal would have affected all council regular and subcommittee gatherings. Supporting the measure, but losing the vote, were councilors Yon, Melissa Mazzeo and Paul J. Capitanio. Peter M. Marchetti was absent.

Yon based her request on concerns from residents and City Hall staff members about several meetings in recent months lasting three to four hours following lengthy debate on crucial issues such as setting the tax rate. Whether in attendance or watching the live broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television, some citizens couldn't stay tuned until adjournment.

"Many of my constituents go to bed early and say the meetings are too long," said Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio during the council's Tuesday night discussion.

However, the councilors against the time change claimed an earlier start wouldn't guarantee an earlier end to the meetings. They also didn't see the need to accommodate city department heads who often must appear before the council.

"My feeling is I represent the taxpayers, who are my bosses, not the city staff members," said Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward.

Furthermore, several councilors have found the 7:30 p.m. schedule allows them to address last-minute constituent phone calls and e-mails regarding agenda items, as well as have brief quality time at home between work and their political duties.

"That time before 7:30 p.m. is more valuable to me than [the time] after the meeting," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

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

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"Pittsfield needs dynamic new leader"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, March 3, 2011

The decision of Mayor James Ruberto to not seek another term as mayor of Pittsfield is sweet news to some and finally an opportunity for voters to elect a person who is committed to the economic development of a city which has been the economic engine of Berkshire County.

While it may be true that Mayor Ruberto’s heart was in the right place his economic head was not. The use of more than $2.5 million from the G.E. Economic Development Fund, which was given by G.E. in lieu of taxes, to help fund nonprofits, and his allowing the Berkshire Visitors Bureau to move to Adams, was the beginning of the exodus of more jobs from our city.

While it is true that the U.S. government is bringing jobs to General Dynamics, during the last eight years we have lost KayBee Toys, Sinicon Plastics, Filkins Transportation, Arrow Press, the headquarters of Allegrone Construction, Talent Fusion and even Workshop Live just to name a few. So while it seems that we as a city have made some strides we are still a black hole in need of sound economic development.

We need, a creative, intelligent leader with the foresight to lead our city. One way of accomplishing this is economic development through historic heritage. This is our 250th anniversary of incorporation as a town and in 1891, our beginnings as a city. Let us not waste any more time in moving our city forward as a leader in economic development not only of our region but as a major economic player of the world in much the same way the entrepreneurs did in the last century. This can be done by electing someone with entrepreneurial spirit and vision, as well as sound economic development knowledge.

It was John Fitzgerald Kennedy who on August 14, 1960 said "We celebrate the past to awaken the future" and so by embracing and promoting our historic heritage we once again can be the engine to sound economic development for Berkshire. It was at Bousquet Ski Area in the 1950s that JFK made a re-election speech so let us begin there and embrace our entrepreneurial spirit as a means to successful economic development.

DONNA WALTO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto and Newton Mayor Setti Warren discuss the potential loss of CDBG funds at the Christian Center in Pittsfield. (Photo courtesy Deanna L. Ruffer)

"Block grant funds in peril"
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 6, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A man who might try to send Sen. Scott Brown and his truck back to the garage came to Pittsfield on Saturday not to discuss his political aspirations, but to listen to those who would be most affected by proposed cuts to federal funding that benefits a wide range of people and programs in Pittsfield.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, a rising star in the state's Democratic party, recently grabbed headlines when he said he would consider challenging Brown, a Republican elected in January 2010 to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Warren was at Pittsfield's Christian Center on Saturday to learn firsthand about the repercussions if Congress slashes funding for Community Development Block Grants.

Warren, a national advocate for so-called CDBG funding, is representing the nation's mayors in their push to get federal lawmakers to maintain financial support for the far-reaching grant program -- the nation's eighth-largest federal domestic funding source for hundreds of communities.

Warren told the crowd at the Christian Center on the city's West Side -- a neighborhood that has benefited directly from federal grants -- that lawmakers want to cut CDBG funding by 66 percent for the current fiscal year alone. It remains to be scene what Congress might allocate for fiscal 2012.

"We can't balance the budget on the backs of working people, and that's what they're proposing," Warren said.

The prospect of deep cuts disturbed many in attendance, including Mayor James M. Ruberto, who made it clear where he stands on the issue.

"These cuts are barbaric, truly barbaric," the mayor said bluntly.

CDBG funding is a critical subsidy for Pittsfield and more than 1,160 other communities across the nation, according to Ruberto, who hosted Saturday's roundtable discussion at the Christian Center. Pittsfield Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer and the mayor's staff organized the forum, which attracted a broad sampling of residents, but only two city councilors and no state lawmakers.

Pittsfield receives roughly $1.6 million annually through the grant program, and has received a total of around $57 million since the program began in 1974.

Over the past five years, Pittsfield CDBG programs have created 132 jobs and assisted more than 91,000 people, 5,400 housing units, 55 households and 31 businesses, according to city officials.

As Warren listened to testimony from locals who have benefited from the grants, he made it clear that he would share their stories with lawmakers in Washington.

"I want to tell the story nationally," said Warren, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' CDBG Subcommittee.

Warren called the proposed cuts a "Draconian measure," and he urged citizens to contact their federal representatives to prod them to do the right thing.

"This would be devastating -- devastating -- to Pittsfield," he said.

Since its creation more than 36 years ago, the CDBG program has helped create and sustain jobs while improving the housing stock and neighborhoods in cities and towns across the nation, according to program backers. Officials said the grants also provide crucial services and facilities to low- and moderate-income families and organizations that help such individuals, including the Christian Center, which currently uses around $40,000 in CDBG money to supplement its community outreach efforts. The Christian Center also receives other sources of funding, including private donations.

Cheryl Nolan-Wallah, the center's executive director, told Warren that the organization does everything from providing food and clothing to the needy to referring people to social service agencies and arranging medical appointments and transportation.

"Whatever the need is, we try to help. There's somebody coming in every day asking for something that we take for granted," Nolan-Wallah said.

"You do everything; this is amazing," Warren said.

Carol O'Grady, a single mother from Pittsfield, said the roof on her Dartmouth Street home was in tough shape when she tapped into CDBG funding. The assistance allowed her to make critical repairs to keep a roof over head, she said.

"Thankfully, [CDBG] came to my aid," O'Grady said.

Tony Arigoni, a contractor for the city's CDBG Housing Rehabilitation Program, performed the repairs on O'Grady's roof. He said his company has been doing CDBG renovations for more than a decade, with jobs ranging from installing new windows to removing lead paint from homes.

"A lot of customers are benefiting from this program. A lot of them are very thankful," Arigoni said.

Warren pointed out what termed the "fantastic ripple effect" of CDBG funding, which, in this instance, simultaneously enabled a homeowner with limited financial resources to stay in her house while keeping a tradesman and his crew working during tough economic times.

The CDBG program also enabled businessman Dan Alden to expand his apparel business, Pittsfield Bra & Girl, to Pittsfield. With one store already in Great Barrington, Alden said that he was considering opening a new branch but didn't necessarily have the money or inclination to roll the dice during one of the worst economies in decades.

After working with Pittsfield officials, however, Alden used CDBG-funded programs to help him open his business in downtown Pittsfield.

"There's just a very fertile field of opportunity out there," he said, praising the program for its breadth.

"Small business is the largest generator of jobs not only in the commonwealth, but in the nation," Warren added.

Dave Christopolis, of the Berkshire Community Action Council, said funding from CDBG helps support the council's work on behalf of the homeless. Without these critical funds, it is very hard to "break the cycle of homelessness," he said.

As Saturday's session was winding down, Nolan-Wallah, the Christian Center's director, took a phone call while the roundtable discussion continued in the background. She announced later that the caller was a landlord seeking emergency housing for some former tenants.

"You name it, we do it," Nolan-Wallah said.

To reach Conor Berry: cberry@berkshireeagle.com; (413) 496-6249.

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"Maffuccio seeks to regain seat"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 9, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A former city councilor attempting a political comeback.

Anthony V. Maffuccio announced Wednesday his campaign for Ward 7 Councilor, a job he held for six years, before losing a re-election bid two years ago.

Maffuccio, who served from January 2004 to January 2010, was ousted in Pittsfield's 2009 preliminary election. Joseph C. Nichols eventually won the Ward 7 seat in the November general election.

In late December, Nichols said he plans a run for mayor this fall, but Maffuccio said he wasn't influenced by that decision. The city election seasons officially begins May 2, when nomination papers become available for mayor, City Council, School Committee and city clerk.

"I wanted to run anyway because I missed serving the city and with my past experience I can help Ward 7 and the city move forward," he said.

Maffuccio, 40 and on disability, cited the Peck's Road project and other infrastructure improvements in Ward 7 during his previous stint on the council. In addition, his past support for the city police, fire, public works and schools as reasons voters should give him another chance.

"Since I've been gone, I haven't seen any progress in Ward 7," he said. "I haven't seen any advocacy for Ward 7."

Maffuccio vowed to help rid the Wahconah Park area of its age-old flooding problem and seek community input for a new marketing plan for the William Stanley Business Park.

"Our city is turning 250 this year and we should keep our community strong and healthy," he added in a written statement.

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Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti formally announced Wednesday that he is running for Pittsfield mayor. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Marchetti announces mayoral run"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 10, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti says he's ready to defend his personal and political life as he embarks on his first mayoral campaign in Pittsfield.

The City Council veteran of more than seven years announced Wednesday that he wants to succeed James M. Ruberto, who said two months ago he wouldn't seek a fifth consecutive two-year term as mayor of the Berkshires' largest city.

Marchetti, 42, joins Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols as the only declared mayoral candidates for the city-wide fall election. Pittsfield's political season officially begins May 2, when nomination papers become available for mayor, City Council, School Committee and city clerk.

Marchetti said he plans a big kick-off campaign event that day and hopes to gather the minimum 300 signatures necessary to get on the ballot.

Former councilor Daniel L. Bianchi has yet to say if he'll mount another mayoral campaign. Bianchi said in January that he was "seriously considering" another attempt to occupy the corner office at City Hall, after losing to Ruberto by only 200 votes in 2009.

Marchetti becomes the first gay married candidate to run for mayor of Pittsfield, a fact he knows will be an issue for some city voters.

"I can deal openly with my personal life," Marchetti said Wednesday in an interview with The Eagle. "But who I love and who I sleep with is not the most important part [of the campaign]."

Nevertheless, Marchetti predicted that "about 10 percent" of the electorate will vote against him because of his homosexuality.

"There may be some senior citizens not happy [that he's gay], while others will say, ‘Fine, let's move on,' " Marchetti said.

He said his focus in the campaign will be on city services such as police, fire and education, expanding neighborhood initiatives, and further restructuring the way City Hall operates.

While the list mirrors Ruberto's agenda, Marchetti said that as mayor, he would use a more simple, straight-forward approach in bringing his proposals before City Council.

"I share his vision and philosophy, but not his process and techniques," Marchetti said.

Marchetti also said he would run the mayor's office differently than Ruberto by having a "chief of staff" to provide "general oversight" of the corner office at City Hall, rather than a "director of administrative services."

The council two nights ago endorsed Ruberto's plan to reinstate the position to assist the mayor in managing several city departments.

Marchetti is a Pittsfield native with an extensive financial background who is heavily involved in his hometown. He currently is a compliance officer for Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, his employer since 1988.

Aside from being a councilor, Marchetti is best known as the coordinator for the Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade, a time-consuming job he will do again this year.

He also heads the Helen Berube Teen Parent Program and is heavily involved in youth bowling through the Berkshire County and state chapters of the United States Bowling Congress.

Marchetti, the current council vice president and chairman of its Finance Committee, vows to keep Pittsfield financially sound while balancing the needs of its residents.

"You can make decisions to save money, but here are consequences that can affect city services," he said.

Marchetti also wants to keep city police well-equipped to reduce the crime rate, and he wants to continue investing in a public school system that has shown improvement through higher test scores, an increase in students graduating from high school, and a decrease in the drop-out rate.

In addition, he wants to broaden the city's neighborhood initiative program.

"There are many benefits that the Morningside and West Side initiatives receive, such as spring clean-up days, and if expanded elsewhere, can invigorate all city neighborhoods," Marchetti said.

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

Peter M. Marchetti

Age: 42.

Birthplace: Pittsfield (5/22/68).

Occupation: Compliance/bank secrecy act officer at Pittsfield Cooperative Bank.

Political experience: Pittsfield City Council, 2002-04 and 2006-present; vice president since 2010.

Education: Associate degree from Berkshire Community College in 1989; bachelor's in mathematics from North Adams State College (now MCLA) in 1991.

Personal: Married to Jeff Hunt.

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"What is evidence for bigotry claim?"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, March 15, 2011

The best thing about the political system in Pittsfield is that it's non-partisan. No candidate for public office needs to declare a party affiliation. In Pittsfield, we're all in it together, pushing no Democrat or Republican agenda.

In the summer of ‘97, I declared my candidacy for the Ward 6 council seat. I'm sure the majority of my neighbors knew my religious affiliation, ancestry and marital status. Those things about me did not define my campaign announcement. I had faith in my soon-to-be constituents, that they were mature voters, wishing to hear nothing more than how I stood on the issues.

When a potential candidate for mayor, especially one who has been in elected office for seven years, makes a statement that he believes 10 percent of Pittsfield's population, including our senior citizens, will discriminate against him for his legal-in-Massachusetts marital status, it makes me wonder, is this person mature enough for a promotion? What evidence is there of discrimination in past elections? When this candidate sees me, is there a 10 percent chance he believes I'm a bigot?

JAMES MASSERY
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Old job returns with new salary, title"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 10, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Amid some legal controversy, Mayor James M. Ruberto has the green light to re-structure the office of mayor in order to improve government efficiency in Pittsfield.

Ruberto will begin his search for a "director of administrative services" after the City Council late Tuesday night endorsed reinstating the position to assist him in managing several city departments.

The council also has the final say on the mayor's choice to fill the job.

By an 8-3 vote, with councilors Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin J. Sherman and Joseph C. Nichols opposed, the 11-member panel approved an amendment to an existing city ordinance. The change renames the established but long-vacant job of "assistant to the mayor for administration" to the director title, according to city attorney, Richard M. Dohoney.

"It's an existing job within the city code," Dohoney said.

Dohoney's assertion, upheld the council's 7-3 vote two weeks ago, the first of two required for passage. After the Feb. 22 vote, Mazzeo challenged the vote's validity citing how the city charter required at least eight votes because no version of director of administrative services existed. If Dohoney had ruled in Mazzeo's favor, the initial vote would have been null and void.

"This is clearly a new job," she said. "We just walked all over one of our rules."

Eight votes were need after all for the second vote. Dohoney said a two-thirds majority approval of councilors present was necessary as Ruberto's ordinance change included a pay hike -- expected to be more than $10,000 -- for the established position. The Feb. 22 vote, Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti absent, also met the two-thirds requirement.

As for mayor's plan to also establish a "personnel manager", Dohoney determined it was a new position and would need the eight-vote minimum for approval. Fearing the measure faced a similar quandary, the council two weeks ago tabled the measure pending a legal review. Dohoney's ruling didn't budge councilors to a vote, as the proposal remains in limbo. Ruberto has said the personnel manager replaces an existing vacant City Hall position and would handle all labor matters relating to Pittsfield municipal employees.

Ruberto expects the mayor's new right-hand person will help improve delivery of city services through the corner office similar to the recent separation of public works from public utilities.

The director of administrative services, originally created by former mayor Evan Dobelle in the mid-1970s, would oversee personnel, the Council on Aging, the city's volunteer program called RSVP, veterans and the municipal airport. It would reduce the number of department heads reporting directly to Ruberto from 18 to 13.

While the majority of councilors supported the City Hall position, several questioned its intended effect.

"This doesn't quite go where we need to be, but it's a step in the right direction," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

Ruberto's managerial change stems from a report issued in July by city consultant John Barrett III. The same report that spurred the City Council in December to create the position of public services commissioner to assume the oversight of highway, water and sewer maintenance, currently supervised by Public Works and Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. The city is in the process of filling the public services job.

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"Building Pittsfield's future together"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, March 11, 2011

Recently I had an occasion to talk to Pittsfield Ward 7 City Councilor Joe Nichols at his business on Peck's Road. I challenged him as to why any reasonable and prudent person would want to further their involvement in city government with the many difficult challenges that lay ahead. Joe's reply was succinct and to the point. He simply stated that he believes in Pittsfield and its citizens. He said, "the people know what is right and what they need, and I know we can rebuild Pittsfield's future together."

He then in a hurried manner, as he was quite busy, detailed his vision and specific plans for positive accomplishments such as broadening the tax base for tax relief, small business incentives, zoning, education and the arts, senior citizen issues and more. He mentioned that his family had been part of Pittsfield's business community for nearly 100 years and that their entrepreneurial spirit had been ingrained in his personality and mindset.

"Rebuilding Pittsfield's future together." The theme stuck in my mind and sounded familiar. Then I remembered a quote from my long departed college days. Senator Robert Kennedy had said: "The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems, and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason, and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprise and ideals of American society."

I was impressed with Joe Nichols' sincerity and enthusiasm for Pittsfield and its citizens. Anyone who can motivate me into recalling long lost college quotations can surely motivate the citizens of Pittsfield into rebuilding the city's future together. He deserves the opportunity to be mayor and have the support of the people in Pittsfield, simply because he believes in them. Don't we want a mayor who has family roots here, good morals, a strong work ethic and a huge desire to change the long-standing problems of our city? When we as citizens of Pittsfield have questions or concerns in the future, wouldn't it be nice to know that there is a man in the office of mayor who will sincerely listen and not be afraid to shake up the status quo.

Joe Nichols appears to me to be the only choice if our city is to make successful changes and return to healthy community cohesiveness.

CYNTHIA HARALSON
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Rules broken for a political purpose"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, March 15, 2011

A March 11 Berkshire Eagle editorial trivialized an attempt at saving the taxpayers of Pittsfield over $10,000 per year by equating it to making a mountain out of a mole hill. It was additionally stated by the writer that the effort would be better spent on issues of far greater magnitude. What issues are of far greater magnitude to the citizens of Pittsfield than reducing the tax burden caused by patronage budget increases?

It's no secret that this position is being created for an existing City Hall employee who's longevity depends upon on the November mayoral election. To trivialize the efforts of Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, the hardest working member of the City Council, is a disservice to an elected official who has taken the time to research an ordinance procedure that was clearly not administered in the correct manner. Even the City Council president finally admitted that the council has not always followed proper procedure with regard to ordinance issues.

The Feb. 22 vote should have been ruled null and void and the matter closed. Admitting procedure was not followed but continuing the process was exactly as Councilor Mazzeo stated when she said "We just walked all over one of our rules."

Its really sad that we don't have more city councilors with enough independence to research an issue and make informed decisions rather that simply display a herd mentality. I only hope the voters of Pittsfield remember which councilors seeking reelection have served in their best interest and eliminate the ones that haven't.

DAVID POTTS
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Decision postponed on name for ballfield"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 16, 2011

PITTSFIELD - The Pittsfield Parks Commission remains undecided on a request to name the baseball diamond at Wahconah Park after a longtime community activist.

The commission Tuesday night again postponed a vote to name the field after Paul Dowd, awaiting a legal ruling from city attorney Richard M. Dohoney. The panel wants to ensure the measure, if approved, doesn't violate Wahconah Park's state and federal historic designation.

The commission initially asked for the review after its February meeting when a pair of former city councilors, James M. Boyle and William D. Barry, formally presented their proposal.

" I'm kind of disappointed," Barry said. " I thought [Dohoney] would have his decision by now."

Commission chairman Clifford J. Nilan said Dohoney has been busy with other city matters.

"He has everything he needs and is working on [a decision]," Nilan said.

Barry and Doyle are eager for approval as they plan to hold a dedication ceremony on opening day for the Pittsfield Colonials at Wahconah Park in late May. Nilan vowed to call a special meeting to vote on the proposal, once Dohoney issues a ruling, so as not to wait until the commission's regular monthly meeting in late April. Dowd was a pitcher for the Pittsfield Red Sox in the mid-1960s, served on the City Council during the 1990s, and has been a staunch supporter and fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund in Berkshire County. The Jimmy Fund supports the Dana- Farber Cancer Institute near Boston.

For the past two years, Dowd has been fighting neurological disorder ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, a fight that has taken him to North Carolina.

The effort to name Wahconah Park's baseball field after Dowd already has City Council support. In January, the 11-member council unanimously endorsed the proposal, assured the stadium name remains unchanged.

"It will always be Wahconah Park," Boyle said.

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

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"Ruberto seeks OK for hires: The mayor wants the City Council to approve Allied Waste Industries executive Kilian Flynn and Tricia Farley- Bouvier to positions."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 21, 2011

PITTSFIELD - Mayor James M. Ruberto wants to hire the regional boss for the city's residential trash hauler to help implement his reorganization plan to improve the delivery of public works and utilities services.

Ruberto has nominated Kilian Flynn of Allied Waste Industries Inc. to fill the newly created position of "public services commissioner." Flynn is the general manager for the company's southern Vermont and Berkshire County operations, which includes a municipal contract to serve 17,000 homes in Pittsfield.

In addition, Ruberto has tapped his public affairs coordinator, Tricia Farley- Bouvier, to become his "director of administrative services", a long-vacant job formerly named "assistant to the mayor for administration." The appointeee for the recently reinstated position will assist the mayor in managing several city departments in order to improve government efficiency.

The City Council will consider both nominations at its meeting Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. The 11-member panel has final approval over the mayoral appointments.

Flynn, of North Adams, was one of 12 applicants and the three finalists interviewed for "public services commissioner." The position combines the jobs of highway and water superintendents to oversee highway and water and sewer maintenance, previously supervised by Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. The appointee wouild also take over the administrative duties of parks maintenance.

Collingwood will still manage city utilities, which include the water and sewage treatment plants, along with the city's engineering division.

While Flynn has no public works experience, Ruberto views his 18 years with Allied Waste an asset for the city.

"He was the most capable, most experienced [ applicant] with management abilities," Ruberto said in a phone interview with The Eagle on Sunday. "He's worked with the city and other communities for years. He knows our streets and understands our needs."

Flynn would receive an annual salary of nearly $84,000, pay based on someone with 10 years service as commissioner.

"It's justified compensation," Ruberto said. "He's taking a substantial pay cut to accept this position."

Public Works and Utilities were combined by the city in 1992 with a current budget totaling $15 million and nearly 80 employees. Those figures would be almost split in half between Collingwood and the new commissioner of public services.

Flynn has received mixed reviews from several city councilors. Ward 2 Councilor Peter White is "open" to the idea of hiring someone without a municipal background.

"[Flynn] is not what I expected, but he could still be a good fit," White said.

However, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop wants to know the rationale behind both of Ruberto's staff selections.

"I look forward to the mayor helping us understand why [ Flynn and Farley- Bouvier] were nominated," Lothrop said.

Farley- Bouvier, a Pittsfield native and current city resident, spent 24 years in public and private education before Ruberto originally hired her a year ago to fill a vacancy in the mayor's office. The former city councilor and present staff member to the Pittsfield School Building Needs Commission was the only person Ruberto considered to assume the role of "director of administrative services."

"When you got the best, you don't have to look any further," he said.

Farley- Bouvier's annual salary is scheduled to increase from $36,000 to $49,000. If the council approves both nominations, the pay for Farley-Bouvier and Flynn would be pro- rated over the final months of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The full salaries would take effect when fiscal 2012 begins July 1.

The managerial changes stem from a report issued in July by former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III. Shortly after Ruberto began his fourth term in office a year ago January, he hired Barrett as a consultant to make recommendations for improving city services and to help implement any proposed changes approved by the City Council.

Barrett will continue to be a consultant on street maintenance, a job that will end April 1 if Flynn is hired.

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

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"Ruberto wants city out of mosquito deal"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 22, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto wants Pittsfield removed from the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project, claiming its officials failed to cooperate with the city before using their mosquito-killing methods.

Ruberto has asked the City Council to endorse his request to withdraw from the program as of July 1, a year after the council approved rejoining the 66-year-old mosquito-control project that the city pulled out of nearly 20 years before to save money.

However, city health officials halted the initial spraying to zap the adult mosquitos on July 26 amid concerns that the program had not been adequately discussed before being implemented.

Ruberto subsequently formed a task force to develop protocols for using adulticides, a formula that kills the adult bugs, and other chemicals to eradicate the local mosquito population. The plan was to include community outreach from mosquito control officials that never materialized.

"Although there have been repeated requests for an educational program, nothing has been forthcoming," Ruberto wrote in a letter to the City Council. "It has now become clear the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project does not live up to its billing."

Ruberto also criticized the program's failure to coordinate with city public works officials the treatment of catch basins with larvacide and survey major breeding sites.

Mosquito control officials were unavailable on Monday to comment on Ruberto's criticism and his withdrawal request.

Clarksburg, Hinsdale, Otis, Sheffield, Stockbridge and Tyringham are the other Berkshire County communities members of the mosquito control project. All but Clarksburg utilize adulticide spraying.

Pittsfield's re-entry into the program was prompted by the mosquito outbreak in 2009 -- the worst in recent memory.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol Jr., a task force member and strong advocate for mosquito control, doesn't want city residents to suffer another neck-slapping, leg-scratching summer.

"I am not content to [withdraw] without a viable alternative," Krol said.

Pittsfield Board of Health Chairman Phillip Adamo said the panel's position is that spraying should be used only during the presences of mosquito-borne diseases -- West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephilitis -- and not just for nuisance control.

"There are ways to enjoy the outdoors without spraying," Adamo said. "We need to consider education first regarding the health risks before we do any spraying."

Mosquito control officials have claimed only mosquitos are harmed when the chemical is sprayed.

Aside from City Council approval, the legality of Pittsfield withdrawing from the mosquito-control project is in question. Pittsfield rejoined the state-sponsored program under the caveat the city must do so for a minimum of five years.

"I don't believe [project officials] executed the terms of the contract and I hope to see it voided," Ruberto said in a phone interview with The Eagle.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward still wants the city to avail itself of the mosquito- control project before year-one ends on June 30.

"Because we will have paid in full, we're still entitled to services until the end of the fiscal year," Ward said.

Pittsfield's first year will cost the city $119,000, the money deducted from its current fiscal 2011 state funding, city officials said. The estimated the overall cost for the five-year commitment was $600,000.

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

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"Vote severs mosquito pact"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 24, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council supports an effort to zap the local mosquito population as long as the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project isn't involved.

The council has narrowly approved Mayor James M. Ruberto's request to withdraw Pittsfield from the program claiming its officials failed to cooperate with the city before using its mosquito-killing methods.

The 11-member panel's 6-5 vote this week comes nearly a year after a 10-1 endorsement to rejoin the 66-year-old mosquito-control project that the city pulled out of nearly 20 years before to save money. The council's decision is the first step toward withdrawal, according to city officials. The local commission overseeing the program and the state's mosquito control board will receive written notification of Pittsfield's request, the legality of which remains in question.

Pittsfield rejoined the state-sponsored program under the caveat the city must do so for a minimum of five years. Pittsfield's first year will cost the city $119,000, the money deducted from its current fiscal 2011 state funding, city officials said. The estimated the overall cost for the five-year commitment was $600,000.

Council President Gerald M. Lee, Kevin J. Sherman, Paul J. Capitanio, Peter M. Marchetti, Christine Yon and Michael L. Ward voted to opt out.

Ward felt misled by the mosquito control project.

"I squawked the most about the program last year. Now, I admit it was a dud," Ward said Tuesday night. "They went ahead and sprayed without telling us and didn't gain our trust."

Yon elaborated saying, "You would think [project officials] would know you must give 48-hour notice before spraying near a school or day care."

The two councilors referring to the initial spraying of adult mosquitos on July 26 halted by city health officials amid concerns that the program had not been adequately discussed before being implemented.

Ruberto subsequently formed a task force that in December recommended protocols for using adulticides, a formula that kills the adult bugs, and other chemicals to eradicate the local mosquito population. The plan was to include community outreach from mosquito control officials who never responded to the task force, according to Pittsfield Health Department Director James J. Wilusz.

The board of commissioners for the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project have yet to comment on the city's criticism of the program and the withdrawal vote. Councilors Jonathan N. Lothrop, Melissa Mazzeo, Peter T. White, John M. Krol Jr., and Joseph C. Nichols opposed the withdrawal from the mosquito control project, in part due its legal uncertainty and the financial penalty for pulling out.

"I find it upsetting [that] key people aren't here to answer our questions," Nichols said, referring to Ruberto, who was out of town and city attorney Richard M. Dohoney who didn't attend the council meeting.

Furthermore, Krol voted to stay with the mosquito control project citing the city's lack of an alternative plan. Pittsfield's re-entry into the program was prompted by the mosquito outbreak in 2009 -- the worst in recent memory.

"Yes, project officials made a misstep, but one thing I know is they can kill mosquitos and they do so effectively," Krol said. "This is a quality of life issue."

Ward agreed the city needs mosquito control and it can exclude spraying.

"Five to 10 percent of what [the mosquito control project] did was spraying," he said. "Most of the work was in the area of using larvacide and draining ditches."

Larvacide are pellets placed in catch basins and other man-made areas of standing water often breeding grounds for mosquitos.

The Pittsfield Board of Health's position is that spraying should be used only when mosquito-borne diseases are present -- West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephilitis -- and not just for nuisance control.

Mosquito control officials have claimed only mosquitos are harmed when the chemical is sprayed.

Clarksburg, Hinsdale, Otis, Sheffield, Stockbridge and Tyringham are the other Berkshire County communities members of the mosquito control project. All but Clarksburg utilize adulticide spraying.

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

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"Council will review mayor's picks"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 24, 2011

Ruberto has nominated Kilian Flynn of Allied Waste Industries Inc. to fill the newly created position of public services commissioner. Flynn is the general manager for the company's southern Vermont and Berkshire County operations, which includes a municipal contract to serve 17,000 homes in Pittsfield.

In addition, Ruberto has tapped his public affairs coordinator, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, to become his director of administrative services, a long-vacant job formerly known as assistant to the mayor for administration. The appointee for the reinstated position will assist the mayor in managing several city departments in order to improve government efficiency.

The City Council has final say over the mayoral appointments, which the councilors officially received Tuesday night. However, the 11-member panel tabled the agenda items at the mayor's request who was out of town.

If Flynn, of North Adams, gets the council's endorsement, he would receive an annual salary of $84,000. The position of public services commissioner combines the jobs of highway and water superintendents to oversee highway and water and sewer maintenance, previously supervised by Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. The appointee would also take over the administrative duties of parks maintenance.

Collingwood will still manage city utilities, which include the water and sewage treatment plants, along with the city's engineering division.

Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield native and current city resident, would see her annual salary increased from $36,000 to $49,000, if her appointment gets council approval. The full salaries would take effect when fiscal 2012 begins July 1.

The managerial changes stem from a report issued in July by former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III. Shortly after Ruberto began his fourth term in office a year ago January, he hired Barrett as a consultant to make recommendations for improving city services and to help implement any proposed changes approved by the City Council.

Ruberto has said Barrett will continue to be a consultant on street maintenance until April 1.

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North Street, seen from Park Square, is next on the list for a streetscape project in downtown Pittsfield. Construction begins April 4. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"The road to a better North Street"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 25, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A stretch of North Street will soon undergo a facelift making the downtown more aesthetically pleasing and pedestrian-friendly.

The $2.8 million project calls for new sidewalks, additional plantings, period lighting, improved crosswalks and a repaved North Street between Park Square and just north of the intersection with Columbus Avenue and Eagle Street. A combination of federal and state funding totaling $2.6 million will cover the construction cost, with Pittsfield paying $200,000 in engineering fees, according to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the streetscape work.

The contractor, J.H. Maxymillian Inc. of Pittsfield, is expected to start the year-long project on April 4. Most of it should be completed in late fall, according to city officials. The final paving and touch-up work is scheduled to be finished in May 2012.

The project is similar to the one completed last year on South Street from West Housatonic Street to Park Square and includes the more visible, brick-like crosswalks with so-called "bump outs" from the curb.

The bump outs "give pedestrians a greater safe haven as they get ready to cross the street," said Deanna L. Ruffer, the city's community development director. "They also help the traffic flow, making drivers more aware of pedestrians."

City officials, through Downtown Inc., also plan to regularly update the affected merchants on the project's progress and work with the contractor to minimize disruption to their businesses.

"People get edgy if they don't know what's going on," said Yvonne Pearson, executive director of Downtown Inc. "As long as [the merchants] are kept in the loop, they will be OK."

The section of North Street under construction will remain open to through traffic and is unlikely to hinder special events such as the city's Third Thursdays celebrations and the annual Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade.

"On the days of Third Thursdays, we've been told the workers will end early to allow us to set up," said Megan Whilden, Pittsfield's cultural development director.

The monthly downtown block parties from May into October are centered on North Street from Park Square to Columbus Avenue, an area, Whilden acknowledged, that will be closed to vehicular traffic for all six events this year. In 2010, the city first implemented the pedestrian-only policy for four of the six Third Thursdays for safety reasons.

Parade coordinator and Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti said the project won't alter the parade route from the South and West Housatonic streets intersection to Wahconah Park, via North Street.

"We will still go north, in the southbound lane of North Street," Marchetti said.

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

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"Mosquito panel challenges Pittsfield decision"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 25, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project vows improved communication with the city if it remains in the program, which Pittsfield is legally obligated to do, project officials said on Thursday.

The City Council this week narrowly approved Mayor James M. Ruberto’s request to withdraw Pittsfield from the state-sponsored program, though it is in the midst of a five-year commitment to the program. Ruberto said Mosquito Control Project officials failed to cooperate with the city before using its mosquito-killing methods.

Ruberto and a council majority cited the initial spraying of adult mosquitos on July 26, 2010, which was later halted by city health officials amid concerns that the use of airborne chemicals hadn’t been adequately discussed before being implemented. The Pittsfield Board of Health’s position is that spraying should be used only when mosquito-borne diseases are present -- West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephilitis -- and not just for nuisance control.

Wally Terrill, chairman of the board of commissioners for the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project, admits "miscommunication" between project officials and the city occurred before last summer’s spraying began.

"We are ready and able to do whatever the city wants," Terrill said in a phone interview with The Eagle. "If they don’t want to use adulticide, there are other things we can do."

The alternatives include draining ditches and placing larvacide pellets in catch basins and other man-made areas of standing water often breeding grounds for mosquitos.

Terrill said the mosquito control project did coordinate with the city’s public works department when it used larvacide last summer, contrary to Ruberto’s assertion such cooperation never happened.

The 11-member council’s 6-5 vote on Tuesday comes nearly a year after a 10-1 endorsement to rejoin the 66-year-old mosquito-control project that the city pulled out of nearly 20 years before to save money. The council decision is the first step toward withdrawal, according to city officials. The local commission overseeing the program and the state’s mosquito control board will receive written notification of Pittsfield’s intentions.

The council minority opposed the city leaving the program, in part, due to the uncertain legal and financial ramifications for early withdrawal. Pittsfield rejoined the state-sponsored program under the caveat the city must do so for a minimum of five years.

"The five-year requirement is a state law passed in 1991," Terrill said. "In order to get out, [Pittsfield] may have to go through a lengthy and costly process."

Pittsfield’s first year in the mosquito control project will cost the city $119,000, the money deducted from its current fiscal 2011 state funding, city officials said. The estimated the overall cost for Pittsfield’s five-year commitment was $600,000.

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

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"Money well spent on mosquito control"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, March 29, 2011

As chairman of the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project I am saddened by the events that have taken place regarding the city of Pittsfield. I would like to state emphatically that the mosquito control project stands ready to serve the residents of Pittsfield for all their mosquito control problems.

Last July the city made a commitment to join the project for a 5-year time limit, the minimum amount of time any city can join a mosquito project by state law (Membership in a County Mosquito District Chapter 105-1990). The reason for the 5-year commitment is for stability for both the mosquito project and the city. When Pittsfield joined last year we purchased materials, equipment (including a new truck), and hired personal specifically for the city.

From the city's perspective last year was a dry year. We received very few mosquito complaints. Where we will earn our stripes is when we have a bad mosquito year and residents of Pittsfield find that they can call us at any time. Residents will find that the Mosquito Control Project will respond to each call with an inspector. We can treat standing water to kill mosquito larvae. We can clean out ditches to remove water, treat abandon swimming pools and properties, spray if the city finds it necessary and improve the quality of life for residents.

Despite the lack of mosquitoes last year we did accomplish much work in the city. After July 1 (the city's starting date) we set up mosquito traps throughout the city to capture live mosquitoes, which were sent to the state lab in Boston to be tested for West Nile Virus and for Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Because of climate change these diseases have been moving to new areas. Eastern Equine Encephalitis has a 50 percent fatality rate. The estimated medical cost for one patient is $2.8 million. This disease was detected last year west of Worcester and is moving to new areas because of climate change. If we can prevent one city resident from contracting any of these diseases our program will more than pay for itself.

We also treated every storm drain in the city with a bacteria that kills the mosquito larvae. These storm drains breeds the mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus. We also did various other larvaciding throughout the city.

Again let me state our willingness to work with Pittsfield residents and encourage them to contact us with any mosquito complaints. I think given the chance we can prove to everyone that mosquito control is money well spent.

WALLY TERRILL
Otis, Massachusetts
The writer is chairman of the Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project.

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"Unpaid taxes remain elusive for city of Pittsfield"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 29, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The city has collected a fraction of the $3.1 million it's seeking to recoup from real estate scofflaws through a tax amnesty program that began nearly two months ago.

Since Feb. 1, owners of 13 properties have paid a total of $69,000 -- 2 percent of the money owed on 270 commercial and residential properties. The remaining tax delinquents have until May 31 to avail themselves of the program which gives a partial break on property tax bills.

They are required to pay in full what is owed on their land and buildings. In return, the city will forgive 75 percent of the penalties and interest that has accrued on those delinquent bills.

City officials had hoped for a better response, but they said it beats no response at all.

"It's $69,000 more than we would have collected," said Pittsfield Treasurer and Finance Director Susan Carmel.

The tax amnesty applies to overdue bills prior to July 1, 2009. All water, sewer and other city fees levied against the 270 affected properties must also be paid in full. Pittsfield is seeking to collect $2.6 million in property taxes and 25 percent of the $2.13 million in interest, or $532,000, from the outstanding bills.

The state Legislature last year granted cities and towns permission to conduct tax amnesty programs, which was last done seven years ago, in order for cash-strapped municipalities to boost local revenue.

During January and February of 2004, Pittsfield raked in $354,000 from 13 of 198 properties in arrears. The amount collected was about 20 percent of the $1.7 million in principal and reduced interest that was owed the city.

While state-supported tax amnesty is short lived, Pittsfield has its own ongoing program to assist property owners pay overdue bills. Those with liens against their homes and businesses can pay 25 percent of what they owe the city, with the remaining amount paid in monthly installments over a three-year period at 16 percent interest.

"Many people who have asked about tax amnesty were unaware of our payment plan," said Carmel. "I had two people sign up for the city program."

Meanwhile, Pittsfield has faired better using a collection agency to recover nearly $43,000 of the $191,000 owed in personal property taxes from fiscal years 2005 through 2009. The city will receive $32,000 with F.H. Cann Associates of North Andover retaining $11,000 as its collection fee, according to city Tax Collector Marilyn Sheehan.

"[F.H. Cann] has managed to get some of the hard-core tax delinquents to make payments," Sheehan said.

In January, the city hired F.H. Cann to track down 513 current and former business owners and second-home owners who were in arrears. Sheehan said the three-year contract will also cover any future overdue personal property tax bills through fiscal 2012.

Personal property taxes are assessed on the merchandise, furnishings, machinery, tools, animals and equipment used to run a business, according to the state Department of Revenue. In addition, homeowners who aren't permanent residents of the city must pay personal property tax on their household furnishings.

Call Carmel's office at (413) 499-9466 regarding the property tax amnesty program, while those with overdue personal property tax bills can contact the tax collector at (413) 499-9432.

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

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"Many city landlords face anti-blight fines"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 1, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Starting today, more than 700 city landlords face fines for failure to register their residential properties under the Pittsfield's new anti-blight regulations.

Officially, 833 of the 1,771 known landlords hadn't complied with the new city regulation by Thursday's deadline. However Pittsfield Health Director James J. Wilusz expected that number to drop about another hundred because his office was still processing last-minute registration forms it had received on time. That means the number of landlords formally on record with city health officials, 938, will likely jump above the 1,000 mark.

Landlords who manage non-owner occupied or vacant and foreclosed single- and multiple-family dwellings have to pay a $10 annual registration fee for the first property and $1 for each additional property they own. Owners who failed to submit the registration to the Health Department by the Thursday deadline face weekly fines of $100, which would be attached to the property tax bill.

"At 4 p.m. when City Hall closes today [Thursday], we'll be assessing the fines," said Wilusz.

City officials credit local media publicity and two separate city mailings to landlords for achieving a 57 percent compliance rate, compared to 26 percent a month ago.

"The city has done everything it can to notify property owners of their responsibility to register and are encouraged by the number of registrations that have come in over the last 10 days," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "However as we have stated previously, the city is prepared to start writing violations immediately after the deadline."

He added, "I strongly encourage people to register."

Since the registration effort began in mid-January, 1,374 dwellings out of 2,413 are registered with the Pittsfield Health Department overseeing the program. Wilusz believes many of the unregistered landlords are either ignoring, forgot or are still unaware of the regulation --especially lenders holding mortgages on foreclosed homes.

"It's hard to track down many mortgage-holders as the loans are often sold and resold to other financial institutions," he said.

The list of registered properties are supposed to make it easier for the city to track down landlords if there are problems, such as blighted conditions, or in the event of a fire. By establishing a database of phone numbers and other current contact information, Pittsfield officials expect improved communication between the city and landlords in order to prevent blighted and unsecured homes and apartments.

Wilusz said the new found information has already paid off in resolving several complaints of illegal disposal of bulky furniture.

"We've had some nuisance cases involving couches left at the curb and they were quickly rectified," he said.

The registration requirement is part of the anti-blight package the City Council approved last fall. The regulations also established a fee structure for fines for unkempt residential properties and a hearings officer to resolve contested fines. G. Richard Bordeau, a longtime city official and former Board of Health member, was hired in February to hear the appeals, including those who claim they were unjustly fined for failure to register their home as non-owner occupied.

Wilusz said enforcement of the new fines for blighted residential properties begins today. Residential property owners can be fined if they have properties with grass higher than 10 inches, overgrown weeds and brush, or if they allow furniture, appliances and electronics to pile up at curbside, or if they are found to be in illegal possession of a shopping cart. A warning would be issued in all cases for a first offense before fines ranging from $25 to $300 are levied for the second through the fourth offenses.

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

By the numbers ...

* Currently 938 of Pittsfield's 2,413 landlords have officially registered non-owner occupied residential properties under the city's new anti-blight regulations.

* Starting today, the 833 unregistered landlords will be fined $100 weekly, until their residences are on record with the Pittsfield Health Department.

* City health officials expect the 57 percent compliance rate to increase as they still had approximately 100 more registration forms to process on Thursday, the deadline to register.

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"Thurston hired to lead Pittsfield Economic Development Authority"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 1, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A Berkshire County resident with experience in land acquisition, sales, marketing and communications has been named the new executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

Corydon L. Thurston of Williamstown, the former president and chief operating officer of Berkshire Broadcasting Co., will officially succeed William M. Hines Sr. upon his retirement on April 29. Hines has been PEDA's interim executive director since he succeeded Thomas E. Hickey Jr. in February 2009.

"When I saw Bill's announcement of his retirement, I thought this was the job for me," Thurston said.

Thurston is the first executive director hired from outside the organization since PEDA was formed in 1998. The quasi-public organization is in charge of developing and marketing the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires as a commercial and industrial business site. The area used to be General Electric's power transformer facility.

PEDA's six-member board on Friday voted unanimously to approve Thurston's appointment.

Thurston, 58, is the son of the late Donald A. Thurston, who founded the Berkshire Broadcasting Co. radio group, and is one of two county residents who have been inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Thurston has also served as an acquisition specialist and property manager for Redstone Properties Inc., and most recently as the president of the North Adams Tower Company, which provides communications site management and leasing for the public safety, broadcast and wireless communications industries.

Thurston, who joined Berkshire Broadcasting Co. in 1974, served as its president until the company was sold to Vox Radio Group in 2004 for $2.02 million.

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"PEDA's new director"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, April 4, 2011

Corydon L. "Cory" Thurston, the former president and Chief Operating Officer of the Berkshire Broadcasting Co., has taken on perhaps the most thankless job in Pittsfield -- executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority. He is charged with bringing to life the William Stanley Business Park, the 52-acre site of Pittsfield's unrequited dreams of a major manufacturing renaissance.

In an interview Friday before he was officially named the successor to retiring interim executive director William M. Hines Sr., Mr. Thurston acknowledged that he had not held a position specifically related to economic development, which is notable in that he will head an economic development authority. This is where the "learning curve" he referred to exists. Still, he brings several attributes to the job, and we hope a thick skin will prove to be among them if past history is any guide.

Mr. Thurston has valuable communications skills and the sales and marketing experience he gained with Berkshire Broadcasting is enhanced by the land acquisition background gained with Redstone Properties of Williamstown, a land development firm that he joined after Berkshire Broadcasting was sold to Vox Radio Group in 2004. He is currently president of the North Adams Tower Co.

A major strong point is that Mr. Thurston comes from outside the agency and outside the tangled web of Pittsfield politics. The original director of the quasi-public agency, Thomas Hickey, was a former president of the Pittsfield City Council and Mr. Hines, who took over on an interim basis a little more than two years ago, is a businessman closely associated with Mayor Ruberto, which provides fodder for conspiracy theorists.

The Stanley Business Park has been a major disappointment to the city and to Mayor Ruberto, which he bluntly acknowledged during the course of the 2009 mayoral campaign. The site of the former General Electric power transformer facility was supposed to begin collecting tenants once GE finally signed off on all of its claims to the property (one parcel is still under remediation) but that hasn't happened. It is easy to point fingers, and there has been plenty of finger pointing, but a lingering economic recession and the particular problems facing Pittsfield, such as poor road access and the city's distance from the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 91, have left the park largely empty.

Empty and clean is better than empty and polluted, however, and the business park's cleanup is all but done. Considering the community's cynicism about the park, if Mr. Thurston can manage to break some ground in the near future he will earn considerable good will from residents waiting for the business park to fulfill its promise.

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"Mayor pulls choice for public services job"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 7, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto’s choice to fill the newly created position of public services commissioner has dropped out of contention for the job.

Ruberto has notified the City Council he has withdrawn his nomination of Kilian Flynn at his request. The 11-member panel has final approval of mayoral appointments.

Flynn’s change of heart is based on the fact his employer, Allied Waste Industries Inc., wants to keep him as the company’s general manager for its southern Vermont and Berkshire County operations.

"After 25 years of loyalty with my company, I chose to stay," he said to The Eagle on Wednesday.

"It’s a big loss for the city of Pittsfield," Ruberto said. "[Flynn] is a highly regarded business professional."

Several councilors had questioned the nomination, citing Flynn’s zero experience in municipal government, but were willing to give the North Adams man serious consideration.

"I would have liked the mayor to have sold us on Flynn, like he sold us on the position," said Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo. In January, the City Council approved Ruberto’s proposal to establish the job of public services commissioner.

Flynn was one of 12 applicants and three finalists for the City Hall department head position and was poised to receive an annual salary of $84,000, if he had received council endorsement.

Ruberto vows to consult with council leaders before conducting another search, possibly looking internally for a temporary public services commissioner until the new mayor succeeds him in January. Ruberto isn’t seeking re-election in the citywide fall election.

"Realistically, I hope we can get someone willing to take the job for a few months," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

The position of public services commissioner combines the jobs of highway and water superintendents to oversee highway and water and sewer maintenance, previously supervised by Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood. The appointee would also take over the administrative duties of parks maintenance.

Collingwood still manages city utilities, which include the water and sewage treatment plants, along with the city’s engineering division.

Flynn was one of three Ruberto appointments the council officially received two weeks ago, but tabled the agenda items at the mayor’s request who was out of town. The other nominations were Tricia Farley-Bouvier for director of administrative services and Gregory Yon to run Pittsfield’s maintenance department.

Ruberto has decided to bypass the City Council regarding the latter two appointees. He has declared Farley-Bouvier, his public affairs coordinator, will become his "acting" director of administrative services, a long-vacant job formerly known as assistant to the mayor for administration. The position recently reinstated by the council will assist the mayor in managing several city departments in order to improve government efficiency.

Similarly, Ruberto has installed Yon, husband of Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, as the "acting" director of maintenance, replacing Ernest Fortini who retired as of April 1.

Both appointments are effective immediately and also end when Ruberto leaves office.

The mayor claims he went the executive order route to maintain continuity at City Hall.

"I have a business to run and people have services they need from the city," Ruberto said.

His unilateral appointments of Farley-Bouvier and Yon are getting mixed reaction from councilors.

"By side-stepping [the City Council], the mayor is taking away the checks and balances of out city government and it sets him up for a lot of criticism," said Mazzeo.

Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. calls Ruberto’s decisions a "strange turn of events," but understands why he made them.

"The mayor does have a duty to run the city and these positions need to be filled," said Krol, a former Ruberto aide.

Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield native and current city resident, will see her annual salary increased from $36,000 to $49,000. The full salary would take effect when fiscal 2012 begins July 1. Gregory Yon’s salary has yet to be determined.

The public services commissioner and director of administrative services are a pair of managerial changes that stem from a report issued in July by former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III. Shortly after Ruberto began his fourth term in office a year ago January, he hired Barrett as a consultant to make recommendations for improving city services and to help implement any proposed changes approved by the City Council.

Barrett, who has been a consultant on street maintenance, will be interim public services commissioner until May 1.

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

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"Incubator idea reheated"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 9, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority isn’t ready to abandon its plans to build an incubator building for small start-up businesses at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires just yet.

After declaring that it had decided not to pursue the funding for the initiative in February, PEDA’s board has reversed direction and is going after the funds again.

The reason?

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center recently announced that it plans to allocate $25 million for uncommitted capital projects, and that the money will be available by fiscal 2013.

"We’re going to go after it again," said PEDA’s interim executive director William M. Hines Sr. at last week’s board meeting. Hines is retiring on April 29 and will be replaced as PEDA’s executive director by Corydon L. "Cory" Thurston.

"We figured that this was a door-opener to try it again," Hines said. "Cory and I are submitting the application right now."

The deadline for submitting applications is also Hines’ last day on the job.

"We’ve got our fingers crossed that this may be the one," he said.

In 2008, the House and Senate approved $6.5 million for an incubator project at the Stanley Business Park as part of a $1 billion life sciences bill that was approved by Gov. Deval L. Patrick.

But PEDA, charged with developing the site of General Electric Co.’s former power transformer facility, never received the funding.

It became tied up in the Legislature when the state was unable to find investors to buy the bonds to finance the projects that were scheduled for funding.

In February, Hines said the venture appeared to be "dead," but the possibility of finally obtaining the funding made the board reconsider its position.

"It’s raising its head again," he said, "and maybe there’s still a possibility."

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which is located in Waltham, is interested in investing in high-potential economic development projects that promise to make a significant contribution to the state’s life sciences ecosystem.

The center will hold an open solicitation for the $25 million that it has made available, and anticipates having comparable levels of funding available for further open solicitations over the next two years.

Applicants are required to submit a short application and two-page summary of their proposed projects by April 29. Those selected will be required to submit a full proposal for evaluation.

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Winning entry: contest for official Pittsfield flag

"City flag winner named"
By Jonathan Levine, The Pittsfield Gazette, April 7, 2011

A design by Shaun Harris has been selected as the victor in Pittsfield's 250th anniversary flag contest.

The city council will be asked to endorse the selection on Tuesday.

Harris' design features the four buildings on the north side of Park Square. The artist says these reflect commerce, faith, community and government.

The deep green background reflects the beauty of the Berkshires while the elm leaf represents history, notably the famous Park Square Elm Tree.

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"Council eyes limits to acting appointees"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 14, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council is considering limits on how long mayoral appointments can serve in an "acting" capacity, before the municipal positions are permanently filled.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo wants an ordinance giving the mayor up to 60 days to name, subject to the council's approval, permanent replacements for temporary appointees holding any position assigned by Pittsfield's chief executive. If the mayor fails to meet the requirement, the acting appointment must vacate the job and it must be re-posted.

Mazzeo's proposed regulation was prompted when Mayor James M. Ruberto bypassed the City Council regarding the nominations of Tricia Farley-Bouvier as director of administrative services and Gregory Yon as the city's maintenance department. Yon is the husband of Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon.

Three weeks ago, the council tabled the nominations at Ruberto's request because he was out of town. Last week, the mayor informed the council he was withdrawing Farley-Bouvier and Yon from their consideration and declared both as "acting" director of administrative services and director of maintenance, respectively. The council has final say only over permanent appointments and currently there is no time limit for "acting" appointees.

Both the Farley-Bouvier and Yon assignments went into effect immediately and also end when Ruberto leaves office in January.

Mazzeo was miffed by the mayor's maneuver.

"I take offense to that," she said at Tuesday night's council meeting. "To do an end around did a disservice to the council and the city."

Ruberto, who left the meeting prior to Mazzeo's remarks, said on Wednesday that Mazzeo's proposal has its own limitations.

"I don't think 60 days provides ample opportunity to fill top positions in city government," he said in an Eagle interview.

The mayor held off on further comment of the measure until after it is thoroughly reviewed at the council subcommittee level next month.

By a 9-1 vote, Council President Gerald M. Lee opposed, with Yon abstaining, the 11-member panel referred Mazzeo's proposal to its Committee on Ordinance and Rules for public discussion and a recommendation back to the entire council. The subcommittee next meets at 7:30 p.m., May 2, at City Hall.

"This is a matter we absolutely should discuss," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, chairman of Ordinance and Rules.

Lothrop cited how other mayors, besides Ruberto, have made temporary appointments to fill key city administrative positions without seeking permanent job holders.

Ruberto said he went the executive-order route to ensure the positions were filled to maintain continuity at City Hall. Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. understands Ruberto's reasoning, but said, "I believe the whole process was unfortunate as the mayor's office dropped the ball."

Farley-Bouvier, Ruberto's public affairs coordinator, fills a long-vacant job formerly known as assistant to the mayor for administration. She will assist the mayor in managing several city departments.

Gregory Yon succeeds Ernest Fortini as the city's maintenance director, who retired April 1.

Mazzeo cited how her proposed city ordinance -- similar to the one in West Springfield -- is necessary to maintain a check and balance between the City Council and mayor.

"Nobody should be in an acting position forever, but that's what we seem to have here," she said.

Mazzeo referring to the current police and fire chiefs, both appointed by Ruberto in January of 2009 and 2010, respectively, as "acting" chiefs to avoid going through civil service. Civil service requires prospective employees to take an exam and the employer must choose from a list of the top three candidates looking to fill a vacancy.

Several councilors cited how acting Police Chief Michael J. Wynn and acting Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski have done a good job and would like their temporary status unaffected by a new ordinance.

City attorney Richard M. Dohoney agreed to investigate the legality of grandfathering the appointments.

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

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"Pittsfield eyes new fleet of buses"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 16, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The Pittsfield public school system is eyeing new buses at a cost "significantly" higher than the ones purchased five years ago.

The School Committee has authorized school administrators to solicit bids to buy or lease buses to replace the fleet it bought outright in 2006. The city spent $2.75 million on the bus fleet in 2006; the committee scheduled them for replacement in 2011.

While the cost of new buses has "increased significantly" in five years, according to school officials, the final price tag hinges on the bids received and whether all 52 buses will be replaced.

"We will also look at the size of the fleet and should we scale back to what we need," said Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III said.

Since 1978, Pittsfield has operated its own fleet of school buses rather than hire a private company to provide bus transportation. School financial officials cited two separate audits in the past 15 years showing it's more cost-effective to keep busing in-house instead of contracting it out.

Nevertheless, Mayor James M. Ruberto believes privatizing the bus service should still be an option.

"I'm ever cautious about operating our own buses," said Ruberto, a member of the Pittsfield School Committee.

In addition, the mayor suggested the committee may want to review its current transportation practices to determine whether there's a benefit to shorter bus routes.

Pittsfield provides bussing for kindergartners living a half-mile or more from school, 11 2 miles for students in grades one through eight, and two miles for high-schoolers. Massachusetts only requires busing for kindergarten through sixth-grade students living two or more miles from school. Those in grades seven through 12 aren't guaranteed transportation.

Ruberto didn't suggest going to the state's minimum busing requirement but felt a change on the local level is worth exploring.

"We may be outgrowing our generosity for busing, and maybe we should direct some of the money toward [educational programs]," he said.

School Committee member Daniel C. Elias cited ways the current local busing policy is crucial to students succeeding in school.

"We struggle to get a certain percentage of students to school, and to tell them they have to walk could [adversely] affect our attendance and dropout rates," Elias said.

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

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"A check on mayor's dictatorship"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, April 16, 2011

I read with interest Friday’s article reporting that the City Council wants to limit the time that a person may serve as an "acting" employee/appointee. This is the best idea I have heard from the wizards of City Hall in ages!

The mayor has trampled on the due process of qualified individuals who should have been hired as police chief and fire chief, but to keep his finger on them has appointed them "acting" chiefs. This has allowed him to unilaterally bring into the city a company from across the state to provide ambulance service at a cost to local workers and employers, and to appoint political hacks to commissioner and assistant jobs. All of this from a man who prides himself on fairness and openness!

One has to wonder what the motivation is behind all of these moves. It appears that Mr. Mayor has created his own little dictatorship. Fortunately he has stated that he will not run again for the office. I only hope that he does not declare himself "Mayor for Life." We can’t handle any more of his shenanigans.

VICTOR S. LEE
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Fines motivate landlords to comply with law"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 22, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Several hundred more landlords -- prodded by city fines -- have registered their residential properties under Pittsfield's new anti-blight regulations.

Beginning April 1, the city began assessing weekly fines of $100 to about 800 landlords who had not registered with the Health Department by the March 31 deadline.

The result: About 350 landlords immediately flooded City Hall with their completed registration forms, leaving 254 non-compliant. The 200 remaining proved they didn't need to register, reducing to 1,500 the total number of landlords who were required to be on record with the Health Department.

"We stuck to our word and began issuing violation notices on April 1," said Pittsfield Health Director James J. Wilusz. "Many more landlords registered their properties, some of whom immediately appealed their fines."

Pittsfield's newly hired hearings officer, G. Richard Bordeau, will rule on the 67 appeals received through the City Clerk's office.

"The goal was compliance -- not making money," Wilusz said.

The latest influx of registrations has boosted the compliance rate to 87 percent, up from 57 percent on March 31 and 26 percent a month before the deadline.

"I truly appreciate the cooperation from the landlords and I'm not surprised at the response as I expected the good landlords to come through," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "I commend our Health Department for successfully carrying out the registration process."

Landlords who manage non-owner occupied or vacant and foreclosed single- and multiple-family dwellings have to pay a $10 annual registration fee for the first property and $1 for each additional property they own.

Since the registration effort began in mid-January, 1,880 dwellings out of 2,059 are registered with the Pittsfield Health Department overseeing the program. Wilusz believes most of the unregistered landlords are either ignoring, forgot or are still unaware of the regulation -- especially lenders holding mortgages on foreclosed homes.

The list of registered properties is intended to make it easier for the city to track down landlords if there are problems, such as blighted conditions, or in the event of a fire. By establishing a database of phone numbers and other current contact information, Pittsfield officials expect improved communication between the city and landlords in order to prevent blighted and unsecured homes and apartments.

"Some landlords have already told me they are working with tenants to make sure they avoid creating nuisances," said Wilusz.

The registration requirement is part of the anti-blight package the City Council approved last fall. The regulations also established a fee structure for fines for unkempt residential properties and a hearings officer to resolve contested fines. Bordeau, a longtime city official and former Board of Health member, was hired in February to hear the appeals, including those who claim they were unjustly fined for failure to register their home as non-owner occupied.

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

By the numbers ...

Currently 1,242 of Pittsfield's 1,496 landlords have officially registered non-owner occupied residential properties under the city's new anti-blight regulations.

The 254 unregistered landlords continue to be fined $100 weekly, until their residences are on record with the Pittsfield Health Department.

City health officials report the 87 percent compliance rate is up from the 57 percent on March 31, the registration deadline before fines were levied against the non-compliant landlords.

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"Road to be blocked for Pittsfield Airport work"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 27, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The city plans to temporarily close a section of South Mountain Road later this year in order to start the second and final phase of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion.

Mayor James M. Ruberto is seeking City Council approve to block off South Mountain between the new and former entrances to Wild Acres Park for about a year, so the nearly 2,100 feet of road can be moved to the north. The relocation will allow for the main 5,000-foot runway to be extended northward by 790 feet. In addition, another 1,000 feet of safety area will be installed on each end of the runway.

The entire $22.5 million local, state and federally funded project is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

Ruberto's road closure request was officially presented to the City Council on Tuesday night. The 11-member panel referred the proposal to its public works subcommittee for review and a recommendation back to the entire council for a final vote.

The subcommittee meets Monday, May 16, 7:30 p.m., at City Hall.

If approved, residents in all but three homes on South Mountain Road would still have access via South Street (Routes 7 & 20), while Barker Road would be the detour for those living in the other three houses. An alternate east-west route for traffic in the area would be Dan Fox Drive to Tamarack Road to Barker Road.

South Mountain Road is a popular shortcut to the southwest section of Pittsfield that will maintain its secondary-route nature when the relocation work is completed.

"We do not want it to become a highway," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop. "It will still be a neighborhood road."

City officials anticipate the temporarily halting of through traffic on South Mountain Road to occur in late summer or early fall. The start date depends on access to available funding, the contractor the city hires for Phase 2 and the status of Phase 1, according to airport manager, Mark Germanowski.

"It's an extremely fluid situation," he said.

Meanwhile, Germanowski expects the initial phase of the airport expansion to wrap up by early October, a year after J.H. Maxymillian got the go-ahead to start replacing wetlands impacted by the expansion.

Phase 1 involves the replication of 5.7 acres of wetlands and a body of water encompassing one-tenth of an acre. In addition, approximately 100 of the 120 acres of trees have been removed per order of the Federal Aviation Administration as the agency considered most of the woodlands as air traffic obstructions.

The wetlands mitigation is 40 percent complete despite the later-than-scheduled start to the project, according to Germanowski.

"Even with the winter we had, the contractor was able to work through mid-February," he said.

The contractor has since been idle due to the late winter thaw and ensuing mud season through April, with work expected to resume early next month -- weather permitting.

The Pittsfield Airport Commission has said the runway expansion was always based on making the airport safer for its users and nearby homeowners. City officials view an expanded and upgraded airport as crucial to attracting and keeping businesses in Pittsfield, allowing for easier access to and from the city.

The airport upgrade is expected to increase jet traffic by 250 to 350 planes each year, according to city officials, accommodating business growth in the city and surrounding towns. Airport officials have said currently 2,500 to 3,000 jets annually land and take off from Pittsfield.

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

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"Plan would rename street after Dr. King"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 28, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan to change Columbus Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive has sparked debate over the costly implications of renaming any city street.

Ruberto's rationale for the proposal is that Pittsfield has been "remiss" about honoring the slain civil rights leader with a street or park in his name.

The mayor also believes Columbus Avenue is an appropriate choice because it connects the West Side neighborhood to North Street.

"Dr. King doesn't belong on a side street, but in the center of the city," he said.

Ruberto was before the City Council Tuesday night seeking its approval for the name change. The 11-member panel referred the matter to its Committee on Public Works and Utilities for review and a recommendation back to the entire council for a final vote.

The council subcommittee meets Monday, May 16, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

While many city residents have no qualms about recognizing King and his accomplishments, some are concerned about the financial burden posed by renaming a street. Nearly 75 residents of Columbus Arms, the elderly housing project on Columbus Avenue, have petitioned the council to reject the mayor's proposal.

"It does not matter what the proposed name would be," wrote Mr. and Mrs. John Strinie. "The really big deal is that this is ... an expense that [senior citizens] cannot afford."

The couple continued, "It costs money to change names, addresses on drivers licenses, checking accounts, etc."

The petitioners suggested putting a second sign underneath the Columbus Avenue one in memory of King or naming a nearby park after him.

Other residents oppose the name change because they unwilling to give up the Columbus Avenue designation because it honors 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

However, longtime city activist and former director of the Christian Center, the Rev. Willard Durant, claimed Pittsfield is one of the few American cities of similar size without King's name on a street, park or building.

"We owe this to a man who gave so much and asked for so little," Durant said.

The council vowed to reach a compromise through plenty of public input on how best to display King's name in Pittsfield.

"I hope at the end of the day this is something the whole city can embrace," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

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

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Brian Litscher portrays Col. William Williams as he reads the wording of the original proclamation that established the town of Pittsfield on Friday during Pittsfield’s 250th kickoff event at City Hall. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Pittsfield kicks off its 250th birthday in style"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 30, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- There was a birthday party at City Hall Friday, and it was a wild one.

Nearly 500 showed up for the kickoff of the 250th anniversary celebration of Pittsfield's founding. Some arrived in period costume. There were balloons, flags and banners aplenty.

Dignitaries and longtime citizens, kids and grandparents, media types and working-class heroes, all watched as Mayor James M. Ruberto led the ceremony marking the day 250 years ago when Col. William Williams delivered a proclamation from the colonial governor officially recognizing the founding of the community named for Britain's prime minister at the time, William Pitt.

In fact, the colonel showed up at the ceremony, portrayed by Brian Litscher in full costume, and read the actual proclamation -- through the public address system it became a resounding echo from the mid-1700s.

Under partially blue skies with rain clouds presenting a passing threat, the crowd also heard The Eagles Band perform, the Berkshire Hillsmen sing the "Star Spangled Banner" and an invocation delivered by the Rev. Willard Durant.

Ruberto noted some of the innovations that Pittsfield has become known for over the two and a half centuries, including the first official reference to the game of baseball, the first agricultural fair, the development of the electrical transformer, the growth of General Electric, the invention of Lexan, the development of Total Quality Management by the Fiegenbaum brothers, "and the tomorrows of innovation that will bring continued good fortune to our community."

The celebration of Pittsfield's history, he added, "is a celebration of you, the hard-working, passionate people -- and not just you who are here today, but you who were here 250 years ago."

Ruberto made note of the impact that immigrant families have had and continue to have on Pittsfield's long history.

"Pittsfield's people have come from around the globe to make a better life for themselves," he said. "We knew then like we know today that diversity is our best strength."

The mayor also paid homage to the community's commitment and willingness to sacrifice to provide quality education to the younger generations; and its ongoing devotion to safeguarding the environment that provides the "great gift of beauty."

The new flag of Pittsfield was unfurled and hoisted on the City Hall's flagpole for the first time.

The city conducted a contest for the new flag's design, which was won by Shaun Harris, who was there to help Ruberto introduce it to onlookers.

"It's only taken 250 years, so I hope you like it," Ruberto said.

The new flag shows four buildings on Park Square surrounded by an elm tree leaf, all on a solid green background. "City of Pittsfield" is written above and "1761" below the artwork.

When he entered his design, Harris wrote that the green color represents the beauty of the Berkshires and the elm leaf symbolizes Pittsfield's dedication to preserving its rich historical heritage.

As the flag was raised, the crowd was enthusiastic in its applause.

U.S. Rep. John Olver was also on hand to read a congressional citation congratulating the city on its birthday.

As Ruberto seemed about to launch into further comments, a young man in an antique baseball uniform rushed the stage holding a laptop computer, and loudly wondered if the mayor would be his Facebook friend.

Of course, baseball boy was portrayed by Chris Hayden, and he represented the boys playing baseball on Park Square who chronically seemed to send the ball through nearby windows, thus prompting the city to enact a bylaw that turned out to be the first official reference to baseball in the U.S.

Hayden was followed by a procession of performers portraying people significant to the city's history, such as William Stanley, Elkanah Watson, Abraham Burbank, Lemuel Pomeroy, and a woman who represented the thousands of Irish immigrant women who worked in the local mills.

They all wanted to friend the mayor on Facebook.

After another performance by The Eagles Band, the crowd started drifting toward the adjacent First Methodist Church, with some stopping to buy a Pittsfield 250 T-shirt or hat.

Once inside the church, a celebration concert, "Pittsfield: Past, Present, Future" was soon under way with performances from a wide variety of community groups including the Pittsfield High School Jazz Combo, the Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church Choir, the Pittsfield Senior Singers, the Pittsfield Children's Chorus, and even the Pittsfield City Councilors and friends.

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6241.

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"Pittsfield schools face financial squeeze play"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 1, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- City school officials fear pending federal and state funding cuts could result in a reversal of fortune for Pittsfield Public Schools.

The city's increased investment in public education the past eight years has led to a steady decline in the school district's dropout rate, rise in the graduation rate and improved MCAS scores. However, the elimination of federal stimulus money, state aid cuts to the city and reduction in grant funding has school administrators considering several budget scenarios from level service to staff reductions.

The current spending plan of $52.8 million the School Committee adopted last June eliminated 15 jobs in the School department.

"We don't want to significantly reduce staff as that greatly affects our services and programs," said Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III. "We don't want to go backwards."

Eberwein and his staff are almost a month away from presenting the School Committee with a preliminary spending plan for fiscal 2012 starting July 1, but they told the seven-member panel on Wednesday to expect revenue shortfalls.

While Pittsfield Public Schools could receive at most a $1.4 million increase in state aid known as Chapter 70 funds, the loss of federal stimulus money used to balanced the school budget the past two years results in a $603,000 net loss in total aid, school officials said.

In addition, Pittsfield is poised for a $530,000 state aid cut that will impact school spending.

"Taxpayer ability to fund schools is compromised right out the block," Eberwein said in an Eagle interview.

Mayor James M. Ruberto, a leading advocate for city schools since he first took office in 2004, wants the School Committee to rein in its spending, given the continuing loss of revenue.

"This is the fourth straight year of local aid cuts," Ruberto said during Wednesday's meeting. "Whomever sits in the mayor's office next year won't be able to deliver [taxpayer money] to the schools like we've done in the past."

The mayor, who has an automatic seat on the School Committee, isn't seeking a fifth two-year term in the city's Nov. 8 election.

In addition to local taxes, state and federal aid, Pittsfield Public Schools currently rely on $10 million dollars in grants to pay for services and programs outside the $52.8 million operating budget. The budget ax will also fall on grant funding, city school officials said.

"We've been told by [the state] to prepare for a 5 to 7 percent reduction in entitlement grants," said Pittsfield Deputy Superintendent Barbara Malkas.

Furthermore, several federal grants, such as $300,000 for technology, are scheduled to lapse after fiscal 2011 ends June 30. The elimination of the grants means layoffs for some teaching and non-teaching positions and the loss of vital programs and services, unless the School Committee decides to roll them into the operating budget.

Last year, the committee agreed to continue funding the once grant-funded Juvenile Resource Center because it has been successful keeping most at-risk students in school.

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

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"Budget timeline"
May 1, 2011

The Pittsfield Public Schools has begun the approval process for its fiscal 2012 budget. Below is a timeline for budget discussions and final approval of the spending plan which is scheduled to take effect on July 1.

May 25, 7 p.m.: School Committee receives and begins debate on official line item budget.

June 1, 6 p.m.: School budget public hearing followed by committee's continued budget talks.

June 8, 7 p.m.: Committee votes to adopt new budget.

All meetings will be held in the Pittsfield High School library. The date for the school budget presentation to the City Council has yet to be scheduled.

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"It's in the charter"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, May 6, 2011

Contrary to the views of some in the city and on the City Council, the mayor of Pittsfield has rights that come with the position. Rather than attempt to tie the mayor in knots on a piecemeal basis, those unhappy with the way the position is defined should advocate creation of a charter review commission.

The council's Committee on Ordinances and Rules recommended this week by a 4-1 vote that the council vote against a proposal brought by at large Councilor Melissa Mazzeo to put limits on how long a mayoral appointment can serve in an "acting" capacity before the position must be vacated. Councilor Mazzeo was unhappy with Mayor Ruberto's decision to bypass the City Council, which was bogged down in a circular debate over two personnel appointments, by making the appointments of an "acting" nature.

Given the difficulty of accomplishing anything in Pittsfield we would advise against strengthening the City Council at the expense of the mayor, but if there is sentiment to do so then advocates should lobby for changes to the charter. Failing that, the mayor, whoever he or she is, should be allowed to do city business without backdoor efforts to install roadblocks.

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"A tough loss for city's downtown"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, May 6, 2011

Tuesday night marked the end to the innovative fine dining experience that was instrumental to the revitalization of North Street. The closing of Jae's Spice and the relatively new Shabu restaurants may seem to some just a result of business as usual. In fact, this upscale combination of eateries along with an elegant bar proved to become a popular destination for Berkshire residents and visitors alike. Diners were tempted away from South County to spend quality time and their money in Pittsfield. Also, dozens of outplaced workers have to wonder how their futures will unfold.

Apparently Joyce Bernstein and Larry Rosenthal are back at the helm and no doubt will rush to re-open the massive complex. However, they will be hard pressed to match the culinary delights of Jae Chung's kitchen and will be even more challenged to amass a dedicated team of professional waitstaff that were consistent with their passion for perfection.

Jae's Spice and Shabu will be sorely missed.

GEOFFREY P. WEBB
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"City on board with bottle bill expansion"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 6, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield has added its name to the growing list of Massachusetts cities and towns calling for an expanded bottle bill law.

The City Council recently endorsed a resolution urging the state Legislature to add water, sports drinks, flavored tea and other on-the-go beverage containers to the nickel deposit list. The current bottle bill, passed nearly 30 years ago, primarily covers soda and beer cans and bottles.

Pittsfield is among 16 of the county's 32 municipalities and 181 out of 351 statewide petitioning state lawmakers to approve the expansion bill still pending in the House and Senate.

Mayor James M. Ruberto said Pittsfield backing the legislation is a "no-brainer" given the city is a state recognized green community. Pittsfield hosts one of the largest private utility solar panel projects, saves thousands of dollars each year by using energy efficient street lights, and promotes bicycling over driving whenever possible to reduce fuel consumption.

"Pittsfield and the Berkshires are green and this only adds to our desire," Ruberto said Thursday during a brief press conference at City Hall.

Bottle deposit supporters claim a expanding the law will increase the state's recycling efforts. The environmental group MASSPIRG cites how 80 percent of the beverage containers under the current law are redeemed at 5 cents apiece compared to 22 percent of non-deposit containers being recycled.

"If the expanded bottle bill passes, what we take out of the waste stream would fill Fenway Park to the Green Monster seats [33 feet high] in one year," said Mark Walsh, MASSPIRG's Berkshire coordinator.

Ruberto noted, "The state estimates it takes about $1 per person each year to clean up bottles that become litter."

However, bottle bill opponents view the proposed expansion as an unnecessary added cost in tough economic times for the retailers saddled with the responsibility of collecting the redeemable bottles and cans.

"The retail store is not meant to be a trash bin bottle redemption is a messy operation," said Bill Rennie, vice president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. "Curbside recycling is a more effective and appropriate way to reduce waste."

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

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George Whaling, standing in the stairwell of the Greystone Building, has been climbing the real-estate ladder since he bought his first property in Pittsfield 15 years ago. ‘From the first time I met George, he believed in making downtown a destination location,’ Mayor James M. Ruberto says. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Developer Whaling changing face of North Street"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 7, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- When Brenda Torchio moved her restaurant/catering business into the Crawford Square building seven years ago, the two-story structure on the corner of North and Depot streets needed repairs.

So four years ago, Torchio decided to renovate her spot. When she finished the project, she said: "Our space was the best-looking space in the building."

Not anymore.

"Now our space looks ratty," she said. "It’s a big, big change."

The reason for the change?

George Whaling bought the building.

Whaling, 50, is the president of Whaling Properties LLC, a Pittsfield-based real-estate development company that has been a major contributor to the revitalization of the city’s downtown.

Last month he joined the board of directors of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the quasi-public agency charged with developing the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, but downtown is where Whaling has made his mark -- the vast majority of it positive.

Exhibit A: the Crawford Square building, which he bought for $450,000 in November 2009.

He took a drab, non-descript office building that was only half-occupied, redid the interior and exterior, and turned it into a modern retail/office complex. He also hired designer William Caligari to upgrade the building’s facade, lobby and retail storefronts.

The occupancy rate has gone from 50 percent to 92 percent.

"It’s a long-term investment," Whaling said. "It’s not my business model to buy it and put it on the market to make a quick $50,000."

The six other buildings Whaling owns on the North Street corridor -- part of his Pittsfield real-estate portfolio -- appear to mirror the vision he had for Crawford Square.

The Greystone Building, on the corner of North Street and Maplewood Avenue, has become a residential and commercial hub on upper North Street. And although a smattering of businesses have either closed or moved recently from the other side of North Street, where he also owns property, Whaling helped bring condominium living downtown when he developed the upper floors of 433 North St. (He since has sold all of the condominium units in that building.)

Whaling has impressed people involved in the renovation of downtown Pittsfield.

"I think it speaks for itself that every building that George buys becomes a beautiful showpiece," said Yvonne Pearson, executive director of Downtown Inc. "This office is always excited when he buys a new building. The Greystone Building, Crawford Square. Š He’s very business-savvy. When he puts his hands on something, he makes it beautiful."

"From the first time I met George [in 2001], he believed in making downtown a destination location that was critical for the city of Pittsfield," Mayor James M. Ruberto said. "As a private investor he can bring that vision to reality."

Most of Whaling’s current and former tenants describe him as a good landlord.

"He’s a great guy," said Emporium co-owner Carrie Wright, who moved from a Whaling-owned building on North Street to a bigger place on South Street in January. "He’s really trying to bring Pittsfield back to life."

‘Tenancy at will’

Landlords and tenants don’t always live in harmony, of course.

Whaling said he had a rocky relationship with Jimmy Tran, who owns Lucky Nails, which last May moved to the Allendale Shopping Center from a building Whaling owns on North Street.

Whaling said the shop’s lease reverted to "tenancy at will," a legal term that refers to a tenancy that can be terminated by either the owner or the tenant provided the statutory requirements for notice are met.

"I didn’t force [him] out," Whaling said.

Tran said there were problems with the ceiling and that the two had disputes over several issues, including the odor from the nail process, and parking and snow removal.

Tran said the shopping center is a better fit for his business because it contains more parking than North Street, but he said his issues with Whaling are what caused him to move.

"Part of the challenge with a nail salon is the odor," Whaling said. "If you think about what’s upstairs, it’s a dance studio with little ballerinas. There were concerns ... I think it got to a point where we both decided [to move on]."

Whaling said landlords normally evict a few residential tenants each year.

"It hasn’t happened on the commercial front," he said. "It’s the ebb and flow of the real-estate commercial world. Tenants come and tenants go, and there’s a number of reasons why they come, and there’s a number of reasons why they go."

The early days

A native of Carthage, N.Y., Whaling originally came to Pittsfield in 1990, to help grow and manage the Sampco Companies, which designs and manufactures samples and displays for the global building materials industry.

Owner Michael Ryan founded Sampco in his Denver apartment in 1986 before moving the company to Pittsfield, and Whaling said the company was still a start-up when he joined.

"I wanted to develop a situation in which I could build some equity," Whaling said. "I was treated very, very well at Sampco, but the opportunities to invest in that company were not present at that time."

An economics major in college, Whaling made his first purchase in 1996, when he bought a two-family house in Pittsfield.

"I had no idea what I was doing," he said. "I walked off a golf course after a good 18-hole round at the Country Club of Pittsfield, went to an open house on a two-family on Elizabeth Street, ran some quick numbers in my head, and decided to go after it."

Whaling purchased a couple of two-family homes the following year, then bought a few more.

"I just continued to do that," he said. "I was very, very lucky in the timing, because that’s when you could buy two-families for under $40,000 in nice areas."

Whaling didn’t buy his first commercial building until 2001, but he entered that market in a big way. He closed on the Greystone Building, the Livingston Building on East Street, and an adjacent structure on Second Street, all on the same day in January.

"That’s what put me in a situation where I wasn’t in Kansas anymore," he said. "Dorothy, this isn’t a two-family."

Turning point

Whaling said his decision to pursue structures that have mixed commercial and residential uses "just evolved," and that he tends to look for structurally sound buildings in nice or upcoming neighborhoods that need "professional management and cosmetic repositioning."

Whaling said a turning point came in 2002 when Beverly Dubiski opened Bellissimo Dolce cafe, a combination bakery, cafe and tea room in the first floor of the Greystone Building. The owners of several other commercial ventures, including a tattoo parlor and a variety store, approached Whaling about using that space before he settled on Dubiski.

"Bev was starting to attract [people] from South County and North County that typically would not have gone to North Street because there was no reason to go to North Street," Whaling said. "You want to talk about a milestone or a threshold -- that was one of them."

Dubiski sold Bellissimo Dolce in 2007 to Jessica Rufo, who now operates Dottie’s Coffee Lounge at that spot.

City officials say Whaling’s ventures downtown have paralleled their own redevelopment efforts.

"Because he was creative and outgoing and willing to use new opportunities, he was a natural ally for the city," Community Development Director Deanna L. Ruffer said. "He’s never been afraid to invest his own dollars. He became an investor and a key stakeholder in all that we are trying to achieve."

As for PEDA -- Whaling’s latest venture -- the 13-year-old organization is in the process of signing a lease that would bring its first commercial tenant, MountainOne Financial Partners, to the Stanley Business Park.

PEDA’s new executive director, Corydon "Cory" Thurston, said he’s looking forward to working with Whaling, who will attend his first meeting as a board member on May 18.

"He has experience in the development business and real estate, and has some marketing savvy," Thurston said. "He certainly knows Pittsfield and its development needs. I think he’ll be a great asset to the board."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224

George Whaling bio

Age: 50.

Hometown: Carthage, N.Y.

Title: President of Whaling Properties LLC of Pittsfield.

Education: 1984 graduate of Hobart and William Smith
colleges; economics major.

Professional affiliations: Board member, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

Downtown Pittsfield properties: Greystone Building, 440 North St.; 417, 441, 391 and 344 North St.; Crawford Square Building, 137 North St.; 34 Depot St.

Marital status: Single.

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"Sherman wants charter review"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 10, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman wants voters to establish Pittsfield's first elected city charter commission to complete a thorough review of the municipal government.

The last stem-to-stern overhaul of Pittsfield's charter -- the city's governance document -- occurred in 1932, and, for example, established the current 11-member City Council and seven-person School Committee.

While the city has never had an elected charter commission, proposals to amend the city's charter have been advanced -- and, in some cases, approved -- through a charter review committee appointed by City Council and the mayor. Previous amendments were either approved by voters at the polls and/or by a special act of the state Legislature.

Sherman realizes that going the route of an elected charter commission is an ambitious effort, but one voters should consider. He will formally present the proposal at tonight's City Council meeting, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

"The charter commission is a great exercise in democracy," he said. "We need to determine what works and what doesn't as everything in the charter should be on the table."

According to state law, Sherman's request to establish an elected city charter commission requires a petition signed by 15 percent of the registered voters -- currently 4,338 out of 28,920 -- and to be filed with the City Clerk's office. Once the petition is certified, candidates for the nine-member commission would be placed on the ballot of a regular citywide election, after each obtained the signatures of at least 50 register voters.

The elected charter commission has up to 18 months to propose changes. The proposals would then go before voters for their approval.

While Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop supports the concept of a charter commission, it won't be a "quick fix" to city government.

"It's easier to set up a commission than to get a consensus for change," Lothrop said.

Sherman's proposal grew out of the City Council's recent debate about several of Mayor James M. Ruberto's administrative changes at City Hall. When the council earlier this year approved the hiring of a director of administrative services within the mayor's office, the measure raised questions if the job was a new one or the renaming of a long-vacant position.

Tonight, the council will consider limiting how long mayoral appointments can serve in an "acting" capacity before the municipal jobs are permanently filled. While current "acting" appointees can serve indefinitely, several councilors view the limitations another piecemeal attempt to change city government.

"Let's open up the city charter, since we've been discussing how [Pittsfield] should operate," Sherman said. "We keep making changes related to the charter and end up making a quilt rather than a foundation for our government."

The mayor's office itself may be ripe for an extreme makeover, with Sherman suggesting a four-year term for mayor, rather than two years, to stabilize the position "so it's not always in election mode."

Lothrop advocates studying a city manager/mayor form of government. He believes a city manager can help the mayor deal with the growing complexities of running a city government.

If city voters feel Pittsfield's entire charter should be reexamined, going through an elected charter commission is the way to do it, according to former mayor and city solicitor Edward M. Reilly. However, Reilly believes there's no "profound reason" to revamp the charter at this time.

"It's never wrong to take a look at the charter," he said, "but there's no great need to change city government as it appears to be working."

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

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"Ex-city worker alleges age bias"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 13, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A former longtime municipal employee claims the city of Pittsfield and Mayor James M. Ruberto breached her contract when she was removed from office two years ago.

In papers filed in Berkshire Superior Court, Amy W. Davidson of Pittsfield claims state and city statutes were violated when she was removed from her job as a city assessor on Feb. 13, 2009.

Davidson also accuses the city and Ruberto of wrongful termination, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, intentional interference with contractual relations, violating the state constitution, and age discrimination. Davidson was 70 when she was removed from office. Her successor, Ruberto's former secretary Paula King, was 44 when she was appointed to the position 13 months after Davidson left.

"Unfortunately, it appears that the conditions set forth by the applicable state statutes and the Pittsfield city code were not met with respect to Ms. Davidson, giving rise to the cause of action in the complaint," said her attorney, Michael R. Hinkley of Pittsfield.

Through a spokeswoman, Ruberto declined comment.

Attorney Patricia M. Rapinchuk of Springfield, who represents both the mayor and the city, did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.

Davidson, a city employee for 42 years, referred all comments to Hinkley.

Davidson is seeking $50,000 in lost wages from the city, which Hinkley said represents her annual salary, along with undetermined punitive damages. State law prohibits plaintiffs from requesting a specific dollar figure when they file civil complaints, but the threshold for lawsuits to be considered in Superior Court is $25,000. Davidson's salary has been included in the complaint to satisfy that requirement, Hinkley said.

Davidson began working for the city in August 1966 as a senior clerk typist in the Pittsfield Assessors Department. She was appointed to assessor in September 1987, and re-appointed to the position by Ruberto in January 2005.

According to the complaint, Ruberto told Davidson that she had been "terminated" as an assessor on Feb. 13, 2009. She retrieved her personal belongings and left City Hall that day.

The complaint alleges that Ruberto violated state law because he did not present Davidson's removal from office to the City Council for confirmation or rejection, did not provide her with a copy of the reasons for removing her from office, and terminated her employment before a successor had been confirmed. King was not approved by the City Council until March 9, 2010.

The complaint alleges Ruberto also violated the city code for failing to place the matter before City Council for consideration.

Hinkley said Davidson waited two years to file the complaint to comply with provisions of the state tort claims act. She also decided not to file until after her successor was appointed, because the law states that an assessor is required to stay in office until then.

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Looking down onto Crawford Square at the intersection of North, Fenn and Depot streets in Pittsfield, the newly painted red crosswalks are quite striking. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"New look for city crosswalks"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 14, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- It’s hard not to notice the pedestrian crosswalks in downtown Pittsfield now: They’re being painted red.

The painting began Sunday night and is expected to continue through Memorial Day, said Superintendent of Public Services Peter Bruneau. The idea was conceived by Mayor James M. Ruberto, and is being done both for safety reasons and to coincide with Pittsfield’s 250th anniversary this year, according to former public works consultant John Barrett III.

"The mayor thought red would be a good color," Bruneau said. "I have to agree. It looks great."

Ruberto could not be reached for comment on Friday.

When the work is completed, the city will have red pedestrian crosswalks from the intersection of West Housatonic and South streets as far as Reid Middle School on upper North Street, Barrett and Bruneau said. Crosswalks on Tyler Street and West Street will also be painted red.

They will include "the immediate entrances coming into the city and the high-pedestrian areas," Barrett said. "The whole thought behind this was the city’s 250th anniversary. Renovation work is going on downtown, and most of the celebrations are taking place downtown."

The crosswalks are being painted with water-based paint, but Barrett said it won’t wash off. "Most of your paints now are water-based," he said.

According to Bruneau, three shades of red were considered before Ruberto made the final choice.

"One was a little darker, one was extremely lighter, and this one was kind of in the middle," Bruneau said. "[Ruberto] picked out the swatch and away we went."

A downtown merchant said he likes the change.

"I think it’s a good idea," said Joe Mele, who co-owns The New Berry Place in the Central Block on North Street. A newly painted crosswalk is located just outside his store. "I think it will help drivers see the crosswalk more clearly. Š A lot of people complain about getting run down in the middle of the crosswalk."

Not everybody is in favor of the idea.

"I understand the concept of them," said Megan Sherman, who works in downtown Pittsfield. "But I don’t think they look great. I think it’s such a contrast."

One woman said she hadn’t even noticed the change until recently.

"Actually, I never look down," said Joanna, who lives in Pittsfield, and declined to provide her last name.

According to Bruneau, this isn’t the first time the city has painted its downtown pedestrian crosswalks.

"We tried blue a few years back," Bruneau said. "But I don’t think it had the impact that this has."

The city hired a private contractor to do the crosswalk painting, and it’s being paid for out of the highway operations budget, according to Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood. The white lines bordering the red cross walks are also being painted. Barrett said he believed the total cost to the city is between $2,000 and $3,000.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski: tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6224.

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"Mayor pulls King plan: Ruberto's plan to rename Columbus Avenue in honor of the slain civil rights leader was facing strong opposition."
The Berkshire Eagle, May 17, 2011

PITTSFIELD - Amid heavy opposition from hundreds of city residents, Mayor James M. Ruberto has dropped his plan to change Columbus Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Ruberto was seeking City Council approval for the name change, but Monday night he submitted a brief letter to the Committee on Public Works and Utilities asking the council subcommittee to send the matter back to him "for further community discussion and consideration." The five-member panel unanimously agreed with his request.

"The petition ... has elicited an unfortunate amount of controversy, something which is not befitting this great man of social change," wrote Ruberto.

The proposal came as a surprise to many councilors and residents when Ruberto formally presented the name change to the City Council three weeks ago. The 11- member panel referred the matter to the public works committee for debate and a recommendation. Opposition quickly arose as nearly 75 residents of Berkshiretown apartments, an elderly housing project on Columbus Avenue, petitioned the council at its April 26 meeting to reject the mayor's proposal. Since then, 400 more people signed petitions objecting to the name change, citing Ruberto's lack of community input. The strong opposition was still evident during Tuesday night's meeting.

"He came in here [with the attitude], ' My way or no way,' " Mary Lou Robinson said during Tuesday's public works meeting "I think it was just pure arrogance."

The name change seemed to come out of the blue, according to Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

"It came pretty quick and with little discussion beforehand from the mayor's office," Krol said.

Ruberto's rationale for the proposal is that Pittsfield has been "remiss" about honoring the slain civil rights leader with a street or park in his name.

The mayor believed Columbus Avenue is an appropriate choice because it connects the West Side neighborhood to North Street.

While many city residents have no qualms about recognizing King and his accomplishments, some are concerned about the financial burden posed by renaming a street. Opponents cited the cost associated with changing addresses on driver's licenses, checking accounts, letterhead and other items.

Other residents opposed the name change because they are unwilling to give up the Columbus Avenue designation because it honors Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo suggested a special committee be formed to recommend how best Pittsfield can honor King and others in the future.

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Karen DuCharme, second from left, a special education teacher at Pittsfield High School, pickets outside the Pittsfield School District Administrative Offices on Friday with other members of the United Educators of Pittsfield. (Patrick Dodson / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Pittsfield teachers picket"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 21, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Several dozen local teachers picketed outside the city’s school district administration building Friday to draw attention to the fact that they have been working without a contract since last August.

To protest the lack of a contract, the union went to "work to rule" -- an action in which they do contractually required work but nothing else -- on Nov. 1, United Educators of Pittsfield Scott Eldridge said.

Union and School Committee sources both say there are three sticking points that seem minor but have proven to be difficult to resolve:

* The school committee wants to require teachers to complete 40 minutes of unpaid work per week.

Eldridge said most teachers already donate hours of time weekly helping students and volunteering at special events.

According to Kathleen Amuso, chair of the School Committee, this is the fourth time the union has gone to "work to rule" over contract negotiations in recent years, and many students and parents are lamenting the students’ inability to get after-school help from their teachers.

"If they already do that, then what’s the problem with putting it in the contract," Amuso asked. "I don’t understand why that is an issue."

* The union wants a higher wage for the school nurses, which amounts to a total of $7,000 per year to be split among 14 nurses, according to Eldridge.

The nurses have extensive certifications and greater liability for the work they do, and should be compensated for that, Eldridge said.

Amuso said nurses have already been offered a fair pay increase in the proposed 3-year contract.

* The committee wants a contractual obligation for teachers to file grades within 10 days of the end of the grading period to allow parents’ timely online access to their children’s grades.

Eldridge said nearly all teachers turn in their grades well within 10 days, and those who don’t are the subject of corrective input from their supervisors, making a contractual requirement superfluous.

Amuso agreed that very few teachers are late filing their grades, but for those who do, additional leverage is needed to correct their tardiness.

Eldridge noted that to prepare for the Fourth of July Parade, the schools’ band directors have to put in significant pro-bono time on practice sessions with the bands, which they are unable to do while under "work to rule."

"The band directors do that for nothing every year, time they willingly give to the community," Eldridge said. "But we need a contract for that to continue."

"We’re not that far apart, and that’s what is so frustrating," Amuso said. "We do support the teachers and we do want a couple of things in this contract, but we just can’t get an agreement."

"We all want to do what’s best for the students, but if we have to go without a contract for too much longer, we’ll start to lose some of our talented young teachers," Eldridge said.

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6241.

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Councilors listen as Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto delivers his proposed budget to the City Council on Friday at Pittsfield City Hall. The plan calls for an increase of 1.46 percent over the current year’s amount, meaning a possible residential tax rate hike. (Patrick Dodson)

"Mayor's proposed budget a 'bridge treading water'"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 28, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto on Friday unveiled his proposed $129.3 million city budget, which is up 1.46 percent over Pittsfield's current spending plan.

The fiscal 2012 budget also includes the potential for a 4.4 percent increase in the city's residential tax rate, which Ruberto said is essential to maintain services at current levels. The city doesn't set its tax rates until December.

"I've heard from all of you and I know that each of you does not want a property tax increase," said Ruberto, when he presented his budget proposal to the City Council. "But I think you'll share with me after you review this spending plan that it is both operationally prudent to provide services to residents and fiscally responsible."

Referring to his entire spending plan, Ruberto said, "This budget being presented to you is a bridge to a more prosperous future that is on its way." Later, he said, "This bridge is treading water."

"We're maintaining the services that we provide while we're promising to constantly monitor how we're spending those dollars and keeping those dollars in check," he said.

Ruberto has asked the City Council to appropriate $1 million from the free cash account to lower the tax rate, which is $1.4 million less than he asked them to approve for the same purpose last year. He also seeking to borrow $8.6 million for a variety of capital expenditures, including $5 million for street, road and sidewalk improvements, and $2.5 million to upgrade the McKay Street garage which is "close to having its safety questioned," Ruberto said.

The City Council will discuss Ruberto's proposal during five budget hearings that take place between June 1 and June 16. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Under Ruberto's proposal, the residential tax rate would increase 99 cents -- from $15.18 per $1,000 of valuation to $16.18.

The average residential tax bill would increase by $122.61, or 4.4 percent, in fiscal 2012 to $2,917.14. The value of the average single-family home is expected to decrease by 3.7 percent to $180,293 because fiscal 2012 is a re-valuation year, city Treasurer Susan M. Carmel said.

The city's average commercial tax rate is expected to increase by 3.4 percent or $597 to $17,960 in fiscal 2012. The value of the average commercial property is expected to decrease 5 percent with property values being evaluated next year.

Pittsfield's total tax levy -- the amount of revenue that the city receives from taxes -- is expected to increase by 4.9 percent to $66.8 million in fiscal 2012. The city's tax levy limit for fiscal 2012 is $69.6 million.

The budget's single biggest expenditure is $52.5 million for the city's public schools. Although the total amount of state aid to Pittsfield has been reduced by $502,000 in fiscal 2012 -- the fourth straight year it had decreased -- Ruberto said state Chapter 70 aid to the city's schools has increased by about $1.6 million.

Unlike previous years, the city is asking for no increases in the number of police officers, firefighters or school teachers, Ruberto said.

"By and large, we will see head counts stick and remain at current levels," he said.

Ruberto said cost savings in his proposed spending plan have been realized through the reorganization of the Public Works Department and the mayor's office.

If you go ...

The Pittsfield City Council will begin reviewing the proposed city budget for fiscal 2012. All budget hearings listed below are scheduled for 7 p.m. at City Hall.

June 1, review of Police Department, Cultural Development and Berkshire Athenaeum.

June 6, review of Council on Aging Pittsfield Municipal Airport and workers compensation.

June 9, review of Public Services and Utilities, city maintenance, parks and grounds and Health Department.

June 13, review of School Department budget.

June 16, review of Community Development and Fire departments and capital spending.

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"Higher Pittsfield school budget eyed"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 28, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee is considering a $1.5 million budget increase to pay for employees' scheduled pay raises and to enhance early childhood education.

Pittsfield Public School administrators have presented the committee with a proposed $54.3 million school spending plan for fiscal 2012. The budget proposal represents a 2.85 percent increase over the current $52.8 million budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

A public hearing on the preliminary budget is scheduled for June 1 at 6 p.m., and the School Committee is expected to vote on the plan June 8. Both meetings will be in the Pittsfield High School library.

School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III and his staff put forth an itemized budget that shows a nearly $1.1 million boost in salaries: $823,244 in teacher pay and $267,173 for the school system's other collective bargaining units. The increases don't include any potential pay hikes from the unresolved teacher contract negotiations that have dragged on for more than a year.

In addition, city school officials plan to spend $110,000 each at Conte and Morningside elementary schools to establish free-of-charge, full-day pre-schools to improve the readiness of children entering kindergarten.

School Committee member Daniel C. Elias backs the investment in early childhood education.

"To get [the children] into our system and keep them there, the pre-schools will be a welcome addition," Elias said.

If approved, the fiscal 2012 budget would eliminate six full- and part-time teaching jobs primarily through retirements and attrition. School ofcials say they are trying to avoid outright layoffs.

Meanwhile, nine full- and part-time teachers positions would be added mainly due to increased enrollment and expanded special education services on the elementary school level. The school district also wants to absorb several grant-funded education jobs directly into the operating budget.

The proposed spending plan doesn't factor in the grant money city schools will spend in fiscal 2012 on specialized programs and services. While city school officials said the proposed grant funding -- currently close to $10 million -- has yet to be finalized, they anticipate reductions in several grants.

School administrators cited good news on the revenue front as Pittsfield expects to receive a $1.4 million increase in direct state aid for education know as Chapter 70 funds for fiscal 2012.

Furthermore, Pittsfield schools have been in cost-saving mode in the current fiscal year by using more green technology to reduce energy cost and win more competitive grants.

"We also had a $500,00 increase in Medicare reimbursements for fiscal 2011, above what we budget for," said Kristen Behnke, the school department's assistant business manager.

Eberwein said the ultimate goal of fiscal 2012 school spending is to continue the success Pittsfield Public Schools have achieved since 2003. He cite three indicators: a declining dropout rate, rising graduation rate and more MCAS results soaring to the highest levels.

"In all grade levels, the English and math scores show more students are proficient or advanced in those subjects," he said.

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

What's next ...

The schedule for Pittsfield Public Schools' fiscal 2012 budget process:

Wednesday, June 1, 6 p.m.: The Pittsfield School Committee holds a public hearing on the proposed $54.3 million school budget for fiscal 2012, followed by a budget workshop. At Pittsfield High School library.

Wednesday, June 8, 7 p.m.: School Committee scheduled to adopt budget. At Pittsfield High School library.

Monday, June 13, 7 p.m.: City Council reviews the school spending plan and votes on the share funded by taxpayers. At City Hall.

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"Parade, tributes salute veterans who gave lives"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, May 31, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- With music, marching, words and tributes, Pittsfield honored its veterans on Memorial Day with a parade down North Street and a veterans remembrance ceremony at Pittsfield Cemetery.

Three marching bands, several veterans groups, Boy Scout troops, city councilors and Mayor James M. Ruberto marched through downtown Pittsfield and on to the cemetery on Wahconah Street, where city veterans of all wars were remembered shortly after a flyover of F-15 jets took place.

Guest speaker Michael F. Case of Washington, a former Pittsfield Police sergeant who served in Southeast Asia, Bosnia and Iraq during a long military career, told those gathered at the cemetery that Memorial Day should be seen more as a celebration of military service rather than "a day of solid mourning."

"Today we honor the American solider," Case said. "We honor the men and women who died in the service."

He said American flags have been placed on veterans' graves at Arlington National Cemetery each Memorial Day since 1948, a gesture that "reminds us that freedom is not free."

Case also asked those in attendance to honor Gold Star families, the relatives of veterans who died of illness, and the families of missing military personnel who have never returned home.

"When you pass a cemetery today and see a grave with an American flag," Case said, "just say thank you."

Mayor Ruberto noted that 143 years after the first official Memorial Day events took place, our armed forces are currently engaged in conflicts for the cause of freedom in a "number of places all over the world."

Sporadic applause broke out among the hundreds of people who gathered at the cemetery.

"Gosh, don't we wish it could be different," Ruberto said. "But it isn't."

Ruberto also received applause when he said this country needs to take care of all returning veterans, especially those who return from combat with unresolved issues.

"I hope that we as a people have the fortitude to make sure that every veteran, particularly those who have come back troubled, can be given and receive all the benefits and support that this country can give them," he said.

Following the speeches, representatives of seven veterans groups placed flower petals in an urn each time the Rev. Peter Gregory of St. Charles Church read a name off the list of the 73 Pittsfield veterans who had died during the past year. The first name on the list was Lt. Margaret H. Haggerty, the city's oldest living veteran, who died at age 101 on April 1.

Before the parade began, World War II and Korean War veterans were honored with a short ceremony in front of City Hall. Bob Shindler of Pittsfield, a commander of the Jewish Veterans of the United States, noted that he knew several of the city's 201 veterans who died during World War II, which included the president of the Pittsfield High School Class of 1942.

"Honor the strength of the people and their willingness to give all for their country," the 85-year-old Shindler said.

Also on Monday, family members placed a wreath on the Callahan Bridge on Hubbard Avenue in memory of SP5 James Callahan, a Vietnam veteran and Pittsfield native who died in a motorcycle accident in July 2008. The bridge had officially been named after Callahan on Memorial Day 2009.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6224

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"General Dynamics adds more than 100 jobs in Pittsfield"
Associated Press - May 31, 2011

General Dynamics Corp. has hired more than 100 employees to help work on a defense contract it was awarded by the Navy in December.

General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems ultimately hopes to hire 500 workers over the next five years to build, test and deliver the electronics systems for the Littoral Combat Ships.

Officials from the Pittsfield-based unit said half of the new workers came from inside Berkshire County. The other half is split between other Massachusetts residents and those living outside Massachusetts

Gov. Deval Patrick joined workers and company officials on Tuesday to mark the job growth.

The Littoral Combat Ships are estimated to cost $500 million each to build. The Navy wants 55.

General Dynamics is designing the ship's infrastructure, electronics systems and completing engineering work.

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"Pittsfield budget scrutinized"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 2, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- A city councilor failed to reduce the tax impact of Mayor James M. Ruberto's proposed fiscal 2012 budget on Wednesday night prior to the City Council starting its review of the $129.3 million spending plan.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward asked the 11-member panel to send the budget back to Ruberto to reduce the bottom line enough to lower the expected residential take rate increase from 4.4 percent to 3.4 percent.

"I got a lot of calls about the 4.4 percent when they saw it in the newspaper," Ward said. "I have people who are adjusting their own budgets due to someone losing a job in the family."

By a 9-2 vote, Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo also in support, the council rejected Ward's request to delay the budget debate.

"I think it's an arbitrary motion when we haven't gone through the budget," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

The council proceeded with the first of five budget hearings over the next two weeks on a spending plan which is up 1.85 percent over Pittsfield's current $126.9 million budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The councilors initially endorsed expenditures for several departments including Police, Building Inspectors, Cultural Development and Berkshire Athenaeum. The next budget hearing is Monday with three more through June 16, all 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Under Ruberto's proposal, the residential tax rate would increase 99 cents -- from $15.19 per $1,000 of valuation to $16.18. The average residential tax bill for a single-family home assessed at $180,293 would jump $122.61 to 2,917.14.

Commercial property owners face a $2.75 rate hike going from $30.95 to $33.70. Their average tax bill on property valued at $532,960 would increase from $597 to $17,960 in fiscal 2012.

Pittsfield doesn't set its tax rates until December.

Ruberto has asked the City Council to appropriate $1 million from the free cash account to lower the tax rate, which is $1.4 million less than he asked them to approve for the same purpose last year. He also seeking to borrow $8.6 million for a variety of capital expenditures, including $5 million for street, road and sidewalk improvements, and $2 million to upgrade the McKay Street garage.

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"Pittsfield needs cuts, not tax hikes"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, June 3, 2011

Mayor Ruberto wants to raise my property taxes again! Last year they went up $300 and now the city wants more. How nice it must be to simply reach into the taxpayers’ pockets when more money is needed. My family’s expenses have gone up too; food, gas, taxes and health insurance costs have jumped, while the other bills just keep creeping up. Who do I turn to for additional revenue in order to continue to provide essential services to my family? No one. We cut expenses or get a second job.

I am quite sure that I can find many ways to cut Pittsfield’s budget. We could start with health insurance. Give city workers the same "minimal creditable coverage" health insurance policies that most of the area workers now enjoy. Put salary freezes into effect. I don’t know anyone in the private sector that has gotten a raise in the past three years. Cut out crazy projects like the airport expansion. Why expand an airport that has no commercial flights?

Cut the cultural budget. When times are tough, I’m not out spending my money on movies and museums and theaters. Increase revenue by creating a luxury tax on second home owners. They’re only buying in Pittsfield because it’s cheaper than Lenox.

If my family can find ways to survive on less money, surely the brain trust that runs the city can do it. It’s time for Pittsfield residents to say "enough."

LYNN SUNDERLAND
Pittsfield

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"Pittsfield schools budget plan OK'd"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 9, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee has endorsed a $54.3 million school budget it says is "financially responsible" and will continue the success Pittsfield Public Schools has achieved for nearly a decade.

By a 6-1 vote, with Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga opposed, the seven-member panel on Wednesday approved a fiscal 2012 spending plan that is $1.5 million more than the current $52.8 million budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1. Scheduled employee pay raises and enhanced early childhood education account for most of the increase, according to city school officials.

The City Council will review the school expenditures at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall as part of Mayor James M. Ruberto's overall proposed city budget of $129.3 million.

Ruberto, a voting member of the School Committee, was one of several members who said the budget is "financially responsible" because school officials have spent taxpayers money wisely.

"Last year, we benefited from federal money that the schools spent carefully and allowed us to maintain programs [in fiscal 2012]," said the mayor.

"We're conscious about taxpayers' dollars," added committee member Churchill Cotton. "We're not spending on a whim."

School Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III and his staff put forth an itemized budget that shows a nearly $1.1 million boost in teacher and non-teacher salaries. The increases don't include any potential pay hikes from the unresolved teacher contract negotiations that have dragged on for more than a year.

The lack of a new deal with United Educators of Pittsfield is why Barbalunga was in the minority.

"I'm personally disappointed we didn't settle the UEP contract, which drives this engine," he said. "I can't support this budget."

The budget hike also includes $110,000 each for Conte and Morningside elementary schools to establish, free-of-charge, full-day pre-schools to improve the readiness of children entering kindergarten.

Eberwein cited how the pre-schools, Juvenile Resource Center and other programs will continue the success city schools have achieved since 2003.

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"Political bosses control Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, June 16, 2011

During the last election for state representative, it was widely known that Christopher Speranzo would take a lifelong appointment as clerk magistrate for Central Berkshire. But he got elected anyway. Who is in control here? Do the people with political influence in this city control the elections? Is our will as citizens of this city being served? Are the members of the City Council under the influence of the political bosses in this city?

Will we be levied more property taxes while this city's political bosses allow businesses they know pay almost nothing in taxes? Are you getting tired of increased property taxes? How long will the political bosses of Pittsfield control our lives?

THOMAS D. MARINI
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Mayor: Voice needed in PCB cleanup"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 17, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Saying the city lacks a "seat at the table" like it had leading up to previous phases of PCB removal, Mayor James M. Ruberto is questioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's receptiveness to the city's concerns with the next cleanup phase.

"We're going through people's backyards in the city of Pittsfield, and that is what makes it critical for Pittsfield to have a voice," Ruberto told The Eagle.

Ruberto said he wishes the city had a "seat at the table like we did for the Consent Decree."

The Consent Decree, an agreement between the city, state agencies in Massachusetts and Connecticut and the EPA, was signed by a federal judge in 2000. It laid the framework for remediation of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, that General Electric Co. either dumped or leaked into the Housatonic River and around its former Pittsfield plant.

Ruberto, who met last month with EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding, calls the relationship with the EPA "cordial and professional," while adding, "We surely have had input, but I would wish there was a lot more."

"We're certainly aware of [Ruberto's concerns] and we've heard a lot of comments from the public," said Jim Murphy, an EPA spokesman. "We're going to try to reflect those in our proposal."

Murphy did say, however, that the Consent Decree laid out the process for the Rest of River, and the EPA has no plans to change their decision-making process.

"This is what everybody agreed to at the time," said Murphy. "We have no intention of trying to re-open the Consent Decree at this time."

Ruberto said he would like to see a resolution similar to the one recommended by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which owns 80 percent of the land in the most contaminated 10-mile stretch below Fred Garner Park, has recommended dredging Woods Pond in Lenox and limited excavation of contaminated soil in the flood plain.

PCBs are probable cancer-causing chemicals GE used at its former Pittsfield plant until 1977, when most uses of the toxins were banned by the federal government.

Ruberto said he doesn't want to see the kind of "bank-to-bank" dredging that took place in the first two miles of the Housatonic, instead calling for a "common sense" approach of leaving certain areas untouched and excavation in potential hot spots.

Murphy wouldn't rule out bank-to-bank dredging, saying the contamination is evenly spread in areas north of Woods Pond, adding, "We do need to do enough remediation to meet our criteria to protect human health and the environment."

Ruberto went on to say that because of the EPA's national presence, he doesn't want to see a "cookie cutter" approach to a solution. He also said he doesn't want to see the Housatonic used to set precedent for future projects through adaptive management.

Murphy said adaptive management, which would allow the agency to change its approach as new alternatives become available, is possible, casting a wide net of more than five years and less than 50 for the cleanup process.

"Whatever we start with, we're committed to re-evaluate it along the way on a regular basis," said Murphy.

A draft of that proposal will submit to the EPA's National Remedy Review Board by the end of July, a step necessary of any EPA projects costing more than $25 million. The EPA sent a letter to all towns within the affected area letting them know their comments would be welcomed by the board.

To reach Trevor Jones: tjones@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 528-3660.

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"City squandered its place at table"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, June 21, 2011

In an article in the June 17 Eagle, Mayor Ruberto complained that Pittsfield had no seat at the table when it came to discussions regarding the cleanup of PCBs from the Housatonic River. This is an interesting comment since the city does in fact have a seat at the table, but has seldom bothered to sit at it.

On rare occasions (but not in the last year or so) the city’s conservation agent, Caleb Mitchell, or the city’s open space director, Jim McGrath, have attended the Citizens Coordinating Council meetings (the table). The conservation agent has shown his lack of interest in the cleanup by not even familiarizing himself with restrictions placed by the Consent Decree on projects coming before the Conservation Commission. Even when citizens have pointed out such restrictions to the agent, the Conservation Commission voted to allow work that later had to be modified to comply with the restrictions. The city has shown no interest in this process while many river, watershed, and environmental groups have attended and fought every step of the way for a better cleanup for both the environment and the people. The city’s lack of interest is evident from the mayor’s lack of awareness of the process and of the city’s role.

Let’s keep in mind that it is the city of Pittsfield that sold the people out by agreeing to the Consent Decree, which among other things, allowed two toxic waste dumps to be created right next to Allendale Elementary School. Is that a city protecting its citizens or is that a city catering to the needs of corporate interests? It was the Housatonic River Initiative that tried to intervene to stop the construction of that dump by fighting against the city to protect the citizens of Pittsfield. HRI has pointed out many times that more than half the properties tested for PCBs did in fact have PCBs, and yet very few properties have been tested. At what point will the city step up and decide to protect its citizens rather than GE’s profits?

The city has allowed tons of PCBs to be left in place in the city and just covered over, while environmental groups fought for the citizens by trying to have all the PCBs removed when areas were torn up. Instead GE was allowed to remove just the top few feet of contamination, then put down a barrier over the rest and cover it all up.

Now the corporate interests are at it again. GE sings, and the trained bears dance. "Just leave the PCBs in place," they say. "Don’t upset the tourists." "Don’t make GE clean up its mess." People -- speak up! We want a clean and beautiful river for our grandchildren and for our great grandchildren to enjoy. Let’s not let short term interests of a few destroy a resource that belongs to all of us. If we let GE and its allies have their way, this river will stay polluted for countless generations to come.

Make GE clean our river!

JANE WINN
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
The writer is executive director, Berkshire Environmental Action Team.

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"Pittsfield teacher deal OK'd."
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 24, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- City teachers have overwhelmingly supported a new, one-year contract, guaranteeing themselves pay hikes before the current fiscal year ends a week from today.

By a 212 to 17 vote, the 590-member United Educators of Pittsfield Thursday afternoon endorsed the 12-month deal proposed by the School Committee on Monday, which includes a 1 percent pay raise.

Later in the evening, the seven-member committee met in special session and voted 5-0 to approve collective bargaining agreement. Committee members Erin Sullivan and Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga were absent due to prior
commitments.

The city set aside $335,000 to cover the 1 percent retroactive salary increase for this fiscal year. Failure to reach an agreement by June 30, according to budget rules, would have required the money be returned to the city’s general fund.

However, teachers were still going to receive built-in step raises worth $678,000 this school year.

The contract mirrors the first year of the proposed three-year deal the teachers union soundly rejected earlier this month by a vote of 269-7.

"With summer vacation upon us, [Thursday’s] turnout was still a good one," said UEP President Scott Eldridge.

The contract is retroactive to last August, when a previous one-year contract expired. The teachers were working under the terms of that agreement until a new one was in place.

Both sides are glad the often-contentious negotiations that began in the spring of 2010 are over.

"This long and tedious process witnessed frustration on both sides," said Mayor James M. Ruberto. "Each one of these dollars will be reinvested in the city through quality education from our teachers."

The relief of a contract settlement will be short lived, since it expires Aug. 24. The School Committee and union leaders will return to the bargaining table July 20 in hopes of a more "expeditious and amicable" negotiations, said committee member Katherine L. Yon.

Eldridge noted the UEP has agreed to avoid enacting "work to rule" until at least Dec. 22, provided at least two negotiation sessions are held each month. Many parents and students were upset over the labor tactic, which the union employed most of the school year -- Nov. 1 until the new contract was approved.

Teachers who work to rule strictly follow the terms of the previous contract, which may include forgoing extra help for students or work on school activities beyond what is required of them in the contract.

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

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"Pittsfield City Council approves budget"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 29, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council on Tuesday night approved a $129 million budget for fiscal 2012, despite the trepidation of several councilors about the impact on tax rates.

The budget, which takes effect July 1, represents a spending increase of 1.85 percent from the current year's total of $126.9 million. The tax rate, however, is projected to increase 4.4 percent.

The budget passed by a 7-3 vote, with councilors Melissa Mazzeo, Michael L. Ward and Christine A. Yon in opposition. Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop was not in attendance.

Yon cited the school budget, which makes up $54.3 million of the budget, as her reason for opposition. She questioned school employee salary increases, along with the use of $1.3 million in grant funds she described as a "one-time cash infusions."

Yon said many of her constituents have not had raises in years, and the school salary increases "show a disconnect from the economic world that we're living in."

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol spoke in favor of the budget, saying its investments in education and infrastructure are key to the city's future health, and the council's job is to do "what makes sense for the city of Pittsfield."

The council also approved $9 million for capital expenses in fiscal 2012. The funds include $450,000 for a new fire truck Mayor James M. Ruberto added to his request at the behest of the council.

When asked if the fire department could go another year without the new vehicle, Chief Robert Czerwinski responded, "We'd certainly try but I would be surprised if we could make it another year without it."

The council also voted to use $1 million from a reserve fund to reduce the impact on the tax rate.

Preliminary estimates would result in a residential tax rate of $16.18 per $1,000 of valuation, an rate increase of 99 cents. The average residential tax bill, based on a house valued at $180,000, would rise $122.61 to $2,917.14.

The commercial property tax rate would rise to $33.70 per $1,000 of valuation, a rate increase of $2.75.

Both residential and commercial tax figures won't be finalized until the council approves them in December based on financial officials' recommendations. Several councilors said they would like to discuss the idea of using additional reserve funds to further lower the impact on tax rates.

To reach Trevor Jones: tjones@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 528-3660.

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"City's responsible budget"
The Berkshire Eaglem, Editorial, June 30, 2011

As Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto's budget made its way through the City Council process there was sentiment to make cuts essentially to demonstrate that the council had a role. Budget cuts, however, shouldn't be made just for the sake of making budget cuts. The $129 million budget and the projected 4.4 percent tax rate hike accompanying it are defensible on their merit, and the council rightly approved the budget.

That said, we share the concerns of Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, one of three councilors in opposition, about the salary increases for public school employees included in the budget. Those who want to hold the line on teacher salaries are accused of being anti-education, which is not only wrong but a cheap shot. Wages are stagnant in the private sector and teacher salaries should be level-funded in the next contract.

Other Berkshire communities are making severe budget cuts and holding the line on taxes, but that doesn't mean Pittsfield has to emulate them. As at large Councilor Kevin Sherman said Tuesday night, Pittsfield, to its credit, is not in as bad a shape as other communities are and should not act as if it is in establishing a budget and a tax rate. North Adams, for example, in rejecting a Proposition 21 2 override, is facing program cuts that will hurt the community far more than a tax increase would have. This is not the path that Pittsfield should follow.

Pittsfield for too many years kept taxes unreasonably low, and in doing so set the stage for future problems by letting the infrastructure rot and underfunding schools. The Ruberto administration and the City Councils it has worked with have corrected this inequity without overburdening businesses and residents with taxes.

There will be discussion ahead about using additional reserve funds to lower the tax rate, but $1 million in reserves has already received council approval for that purpose and the reserve account should not be drained. The responsible budget approved as is Tuesday night will enable Pittsfield to maintain its forward progress.

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"Pittsfield's 250th"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, July 2, 2011

On Monday, the United States celebrates another birthday, but when the U.S. celebrated its first birthday, Pittsfield was already a going concern. Incorporated as a town in 1761 and named after the British Earl of Chatham, William Pitt, Pittsfield was putting down deep roots before the Revolutionary War that would shed British rule and lead to the nation’s birth.

Today’s Berkshire Eagle features a two-part section marking the city’s 250th anniversary, and Pittsfield’s rich, fascinating history comes alive in stories and photographs. Pittsfield has had its glory days and its dark days, and today it is a city pulling its way up, meeting new challenges and confronting old problems along the way.

Discussing Pittsfield’s glory days means discussing General Electric, or "the GE" as it was and is known in the city. The corporate giant fueled the city and county economies for decades. The closing of the power transformer plant in Pittsfield in 1981 led to an economic decline that had the residual effect of creating a defeatist mentality that severely hampered the city’s efforts to move on.

With the removal of the PCB contamination left behind by General Electric largely accomplished within the city, and the James Ruberto administration adopting an aggressive, positive approach to the city’s problems, Pittsfield today is feeling better about itself. Challenges remain, but with its focus on culture, alternative energy and small businesses, the city has a strategy for taking those challenges on.

Pittsfield, a city since 1891, has deep roots in baseball, a rich literary tradition exemplified by Herman Melville, a history of entrepreneurs and a strong African-American heritage. With this foundation to build upon, it will be fascinating to see where Pittsfield goes next.

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North Street, as it was more than 160 years ago. The town hadn’t built its first courthouse (to be completed in 1871), fought in the Civil War, or seen the wonders of electricity -- introduced for the first time in 1885. Herman Melville was hard at work on ‘Moby-Dick’ at Arrowhead, and the new high school was just a year old. (Eagle file)

"Past meets present, and future looms in Pittsfield"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 2, 2011

Pittsfield began as a remote collection of farms in the rolling Berkshire Hills, rose to regional prominence as an industrial hub, and now is attempting to align itself with the county's worldwide renown as a cultural destination.

Two hundred and fifty years after its incorporation as a town, Pittsfield has a history marked by an independent spirit and an ability to re-invent its identity to adapt to a changing world.

Its early years were spent aiding in the nation's fight for independence while struggling to establish an identity in isolated Berkshire County. General Electric Co. took the city to new heights in the first half of the 20th century as a hub for jobs and innovation, but the company's slow exit was marked by falling population, high unemployment and massive pollution.

But like it has so many times, the city is looking to pick itself up. City leaders are looking to entrepreneurs and new technology to foster economic growth, and a steady revitalization of downtown is tapping into the Berkshires' reputation as a cultural attraction.

Mayor James M. Ruberto says that resilience highlights a shared sense of responsibility and effort, traits that are starting to pay off in this, the community's 250th year.

"You see tremendous improvements of existing properties, historic properties, and a renewed faith and hope and pride in the city of Pittsfield," Ruberto said. "We see it in the faces of so many ... that the transition from really questioning the value of investments has changed to: ‘Wow, we are a city to be revered.' "

In the beginning ...

Settlement of Western Massachusetts took hold in the first half of the 1600s, as Puritans spread throughout the Connecticut River Valley. But their path ended abruptly at the foot of the Berkshire Hills, as difficult terrain, fear of Indian attacks and a land dispute between Massachusetts and New York kept wary settlers away for nearly a century.

Then, in 1735, a six-mile tract of "wild lands" in Hampshire County that later became a manufacturing hubs for textiles, transformers and plastics was granted to Boston as a reprieve from its tax burden. That land was expanded to include the "waste ponds" of Onota Lake and a portion of Pontoosuc Lake, and was purchased at public auction by Jacob Wendell, a prosperous merchant born in Albany, N.Y. of British descent.

A small band of pioneers began clearing the land in 1743, and they likely stayed at log camps and interacted with the occasional Indian or fur trapper. The men worked long and hard to prepare the land for sale, only to leave for five years amid fears of war with the French.

In 1753, a year after Solomon and Sarah Deming became the first settlers here, the plantation of Pontoosuc was incorporated with a population of 200.

After a second war-related exodus, settlers returned for good, and in April of 1761, the area was incorporated as a town, the governor at the time naming it for noted British statesman and Colonial advocate William Pitt.

The town grew as an agricultural center and had several grist and saw mills along the Housatonic River. By 1772 the population had reached 800, and early settlers, such as Col. William Williams, began writing to others, extolling the unique wonders of this burgeoning town.

"No man or woman of but common understanding that ever came and got settled among us wished themselves back," Williams said.

Religion

Local churches were crucial to early settlers and in many ways have been reflective of the community ever since.

Thomas Allen, of Northampton, was selected as pastor of First Church in 1764. Upon hearing of her son's selection, Allen's mother responded with a sentiment that to this day chides locals.

"Pittsfield!" she said. "That's the end of the earth. If Thomas goes up there, he'll fall off."

Allen was a staunch supporter of the colonialist's cause, and his views often conflicted with residents who supported the Tories', and later Federalists', call for a strong aristocratic element to governance. Known simply as "Reverend," Allen likely wielded more power during his time here than any citizen since.

In the 1800s, a wave of Jewish, German, Irish and Italian immigrants saw the rise of synagogues and Lutheran and Catholic churches. The connection between growing minority populations and houses of worship continues, as evidenced by the American Muslim Association of the Berkshires opening a storefront on Melville Street in 2009.

Wars

Pittsfield has played a role in every major conflict the nation has engaged in, from the Revolutionary War to the war in Afghanistan.

Though the town originally condemned the Boston Tea Party as "unnecessary and a highly unwarrantable" riot, the residents soon banded behind the call for independence and created a local committee to join Sam Adams' rapidly expanding network of revolutionary organizations.

"The popular rage is very high in the Berkshires," the royal governor of Boston complained, "and makes its way rapidly to the rest."

Two days after Paul Revere's famous ride, word came to the Berkshires, and by sunrise the town's men headed for Cambridge. From there residents took part in some of the biggest battles of the Revolutionary War.

In the War of 1812, though Massachusetts did little in the way of support with troops and funds, Pittsfield again did its part. While the Berkshire Blues took to the battlefield, the town became an important military center, with a large contonment on North Street that housed hundreds of captured British soldiers.

Camp Briggs (Deming Field) was established on Elm Street during the Civil War and served as a local barracks while troops from Pittsfield fought in some of the biggest battles of the war, including Gettysburg and in the wilds that led to Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

The local representation also was marked by the first contributions of black soldiers as part of the 54th Regiment. Samuel Harrison, pastor of the Second Congregational Church, served as the regiment's chaplain until he was forced to leave because of illness. He also led the charge for providing equal pay for black soldiers.

"He was by far the most prominent black man in the county during his lifetime," said David Levinson, a cultural anthropologist who has studied the 54th.

More than 1,000 city residents, including two women, took part in World War I. None was more famous than Lt. Colonel Charles W. Whittlesey, who later was given the Congressional Medal of Honor for keeping the "Lost Battalion" afloat as it fell under siege.

The war coincided with the Spanish flu epidemic, which killed 400 Pittsfield esidents in six weeks in 1918 and led to as many as 10,000 residents becoming ill.

"Coming almost without warning and sweeping rapidly onward, the epidemic of influenza and pneumonia has left us a community stricken as never before in our history," said Mayor William C. Moulton. "The traces of it will be seen and felt for years."

Twenty-three years later, on Dec. 7, two Pittsfield servicemen were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Through the course of World War II, 6,000 Pittsfield men and women served in the armed forces, and 197 died.

Pittsfield residents went on to serve bravely in the Korean and Vietnam wars and in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"To this day, in wartime the city has more than held its own," said Bernard Drew, a local historian.

Sports, agriculture, the arts

One of Pittsfield's greatest claims to fame goes back nearly as far as the town itself, but was uncovered just more than a decade ago and speaks to the storied connection the city has to the game of baseball.

A town bylaw from 1791, unearthed at the Berkshire Athenaeum, bans the play of "base ball" within 80 yards of the meeting house. Believed to be the first mention of the game in North America, the bylaw predates what is commonly considered the game's founding in 1839 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

In 2008, Congress passed a resolution affirming the document as the earliest known reference to America's pastime.

Phil Massery, a local Realtor, was among those who pushed for the congressional resolution. Massery said he and others have no intention of dethroning Cooperstown, the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but noted that, "If Cooperstown is the Bible of baseball, then Pittsfield is the Genesis of baseball. We're where it all began."

Pittsfield also hosted the first collegiate baseball game, with Amherst and Williams squaring off in 1859. And Wahconah Park, built in 1892, has been home to professional and collegiate-level teams, from the Saugerties/Pittsfield Hillies of 1905 to the Pittsfield Colonials of today.

Beyond the athletic arena, the Berkshire Agricultural Society in 1810 hosted the first agricultural fair in the nation.

"It was the beginning of farmers deciding to educate themselves, to learn from each other and improve," Drew said.

In a city that was home to Herman Melville when he completed "Moby-Dick" and whose home, Arrowhead, was a frequent stop for fellow author Nathaniel Hawthorne, arts also have been part of the landscape.

The first theater, the Academy of Music, was built along North Street in 1872 and closed in 1903, but not before two lions brought in for a performance escaped and terrorized citizens along North Street.

The same year the Academy closed, the Berkshire Museum and The Colonial Theatre opened.

That arts connection continues today, with Barrington Stage and the revitalized Colonial Theatre leading the way.

Manufacturing

In its infancy, the town primarily was an agricultural center, though that role diminished as more fertile fields were farmed to the west.

Manufacturing became the dominant force here in the 1800s, following the introduction of the first carding machine for making wool.

And after Elkanah Watson introduced Merino sheep to the area in 1807, Pittsfield became a leader in the production of textiles for more than a century.

The first sizable business block was erected along Bank Row in 1868, and as new industries -- including Crane Paper on the Dalton town line -- and the population grew, it was decided the usefulness of town meetings were waning, and by charter Pittsfield became a city in 1891.

As the transition readied, Judge Joseph Tucker summed up the residents' sentiment.

"This ancient town is passing away," Tucker said. "Sorrowfully, we await its last moments. When they come, let us cry with loud acclaim -- long live the City of Pittsfield!"

Perhaps the most serendipitous moment in the city's history came in 1890when William Stanley, inventor of the electric transformer, formed the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Co. in Pittsfield, rejecting partners' ideas to locate in New Jersey.

Stanley sold his business to General Electric in 1903, and the company's ascendancy was rapid -- employing 6,000 people, or one-sixth of the town population, by World War I, and nearly 13,000 by World War II.

GE manufactured transformers and government wares at its 150-acre campus in the Morningside neighborhood, later expanding into plastics. The company's influence on the community was immeasurable, leading to a renewed focus on local education and large North Street crowds on Thursdays -- payday for GE employees.

The manufacturing giant's resonance also meant companies in similar fields began gravitating to the city. Many of those smaller companies -- including plastic mold makers such as Starbase Technologies on Pecks Road -- still have a presence here today.

As GE began its slow march toward exiting manufacturing in the city all together, questions about contamination from oils used in the transformer manufacturing began to surface.

It later was discovered that mass amounts of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenlys, had been either leaked, dumped or spilled at GE's Pittsfield plant and into the Housatonic River. A probable cancer-causing chemical, PCBs were used at the Pittsfield plant from 1929 until they were banned by the federal government in 1977. The cleanup, which began in the 1990s, is ongoing.

Today, Pittsfield maintains a manufacturing presence, including Sabic Innovative Plastics and General Dynamics. The city also is looking toward entrepreneurs to foster greater local innovation in the high-tech and green-energy fields, according to Ruberto.

Revival

After the lows of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pittsfield has witnessed a rebirth in the 2000s. The downtown is slowly revitalizing amid an effort to tap into the cultural renown of Berkshire County, high school dropout rates are on the decline, and General Dynamics announced last year it would bring in 500 new employees to fill a U.S. Navy contract.

Ruberto said the private and public sectors have united in efforts to invigorate the city. And despite the challenges Pittsfield faces as the nation sluggishly pulls itself out of the Great Recession, Ruberto said he is confident the sense of entrepreneurship and shared dedication will be relied upon to continue the city's pursuit of further improvements.

"The impact of General Electric's withdrawal from the community certainly affected the hope of this becoming a renewed community," Ruberto said. "The investments we've been making show we are a renewed city, and the results of those investments show we can be even more."

To reach Trevor Jones: tjones@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 528-3660.

Pittsfield today

Population 44,737

Registered voters 28,988

Democrats 13,065

Republicans 2,805

Unenrolled 12,859

Other 137

Average house value $143,000

Average single-family tax bill $2,795

Number of housing units 21,366

Total area square miles 42.32

Average high temp in January 32

Average low temp in January 13

Average high temp in July 81

Average low temp in July 57

Source: Eagle news sources

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"Pittsfield has reasons to celebrate"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 3, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- With 250 reasons to celebrate, some people got started early Saturday.

Independence Day weekend is doubling as the celebration of Pittsfield's 250th anniversary, and folks were not shy about celebrating both.

In fact, starting at 8 a.m., Pittsfield residents started gathering at tables set up on the North Street sidewalk outside the Froio Senior Center for "Flap-Jackery," a pancake breakfast to help celebrate the anniversary and raise money for charities served by UNICO.

During the afternoon, at least one neighborhood gathered for an Independence Day celebration.

And Saturday night was a perfect time for locals to gather and watch the city's Can-Am baseball team, the Colonials.

At Flap-Jackery, more than 300 close friends and longtime Pittsfield residents ate breakfast together, at time reminiscing about their childhood years in Pittsfield.

One of them, Hugh Black, a retired Monument Regional High School librarian and local history aficionado, said he was there "to eat pancakes of course."

He said he is appreciative of the city's efforts to mark its 250th birthday.

"No question, 250 years is really a milestone," Black said. "And while the city has had its ups and downs, I really think its been making a comeback, and anything we can do to support the cultural activity helps the whole community."

Meanwhile, sisters Tina and Jennifer Coppola sat at a table together chatting with friends.

"We're here because it's a beautiful and we're hungry," said Tina, 55.

"Also we want to support the city and the UNICO charities," said Jennifer, who deftly declined to give her age. "The more community events we have, the better. We were born here so we really care about Pittsfield."

At another table, Fran Smegal Lysonski explained that she is thrilled with the 250th anniversary. She's even clipping Pittsfield 250 history pieces in the Eagle and putting them in a scrapbook for her grandchildren.

When she was a teen, she remembered, "we used to have weekly dances at the Armory with a DJ from the radio station," said Lysonski, 65. "The big draw was Boom Boom Brannigan, a DJ from a radio station in New York."

By mid-afternoon, neighbors of the Morgan Street neighborhood, along with friends and relatives, had their tents up, their grills lit, and music was echoing through the neighborhood.

They gathered at the end of the dead-end street to eat, drink, and celebrate their freedom and friendship.

Many of the families that reside on Morgan Street have lived there for decades, so when they gather, there's plenty to talk about, and to remember.

"We did this to get together with our neighbors, friends and family, and celebrate," said Lynn Mallory.

"This has to be one of the best neighborhoods in Pittsfield," added her husband, Bill Mallory. "We've been here since 1985 and we're lifers. And we stay here because of the people."

By 7 p.m., the stands at Wahconah Stadium were more than half full of fans who came to see the Colonials play the Brockton Rox.

Doug Plachinski brought his children in to see the game as part of their Independence Day weekend.

"It's a nice evening for the family," he said. "And we'll go to the car show tomorrow and catch the parade and fireworks on Monday."

Pat Casella and his 9-year-old son Josh were also there enjoying America's pastime.

"The weather is really perfect and it's the first chance we've had to come and see a game," Casella said.

Even Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto and his little dog Fenway were there.

"We're here because I love baseball, and the sports experience here is as good as anywhere," Ruberto said.

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6241.

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"Pittsfield OKs water, sewer rate hike"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 10, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The City Council has boosted municipal water and sewer rates -- among the lowest in the state -- for the first time in seven years.

By an 9-1 vote -- with Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo opposed and Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols absent -- the council has approved a 2.5 percent hike in water and sewer rates, adding more than $7 to the annual bill for residences paying a flat fee.

Home and business owners with meters will see 5.7 percent jump in rates, a 16-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 2012 fiscal year.

The council also endorsed Mayor James M. Ruberto's request to boost, from $7.9 million to $12 million, the borrowing necessary to help pay for the 50 percent increased cost for an upgrade to Pittsfield's wastewater treatment plant.

The City Council had initially approved both public utilities proposals during a special session two weeks ago that required a final vote at Tuesday regularly scheduled meeting.

The added water and sewer revenue will help pay for ongoing water and sewer projects, city officials said, with users expected to pay for work still in the planning stage. The council last raised water and sewer rates in June 2004.

"Based on our proposed metered sewer rate, Pittsfield has the lowest one in the state and metered water is the third-lowest," said Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood.

Nevertheless, home and business owners shouldn't be paying higher bills in the current economic climate, according to Mazzeo.

"We can't increase fees at this time," she said.

Meanwhile for the second time in nearly two years, the City Council has agreed to spend more money to improve Pittsfield's 48-year-old sewer plant. The council, without discussion, has authorized the Ruberto administration to borrow an additional $4.1 million, in the form of a 2 percent interest loan, from the state's revolving fund program.

A similar state loan, coupled with nearly $700,000 in federal stimulus money, is already covering the $7.9 million, which the council increased from the initial $6.7 million figure in October 2009.

The culprit fueling the new increase is the need to replace the plant's worn out pump and power motor control center and its standby power system, according to Collingwood.

He has noted failure of the control center could result in raw sewage being discharged into the Housatonic River.

City officials expect the current phase of the upgrade to be completed this fall. Collingwood has no timetable for the added work, which must be put out to bid.

The City Council granted the first increase of $1.2 million primarily because an extra $900,000 was needed to pay for a new aeration system, which provides oxygen to break down the sewage for treatment.

The aeration system is one of three upgrades being made to original parts of the Holmes Road facility built in 1963.

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

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"Bottling company to get grant, despite concerns"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 11, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Amid concerns over Ice River Springs Co. initial hiring practice, the Canadian water bottling company is poised to receive a $275,000 city grant for increasing its Pittsfield work force.

The City Council has approved Mayor James M. Ruberto's proposal that Ice River be awarded $175,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to Ice River, if the West Housatonic Street plant has 60 full-time employees by June 30, 2019. Currently, Ice River has 47 employees, a figure that includes an unknown number of temporary hires, city officials said.

Disbursement of the money is contingent on Ice River replacing an existing noisy exterior cooling tower on the northern side of the building with one more pleasing to the ears of nearby residents on Lebanon Avenue. The remaining $100,000 from the grant would help Ice River pay for the new tower and/or other measures to reduce the noise.

Since Ice River began operations nearly three years ago, the cooling tower has irritated neighbors, despite the company's attempt to muffle the sound they claim satisfies Pittsfield's noise ordinance.

An 8-2 council majority on Tuesday night -- with councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Michael L. Ward opposed and Joseph C. Nichols absent -- supported the grant despite an issue that arose over Ice River hiring people on a trial basis. If the temporary workers panned out, they would be elevated to full-time status.

The employment policy didn't sit well with Sarah Silvano of Pittsfield who told the 11-member panel her fiancé was hired and then let go within a month in July.

"Ice River has relied heavily on temporary workers to avoid benefits and cut costs," Silvano said. "Are they running some sort of racket to get the money?"

While Ice River denied the claim, the water bottler did recently halt the hiring strategy because it led to disruption on the production lines, according to executive vice president Sandy Gott.

"We had trouble with attendance by the temps and reduced our operations from four to three [production line] crews," Gott said. "We are now actively recruiting to fill full-time positions."

City officials pointed out conditions of the grant require Ice River to be up front about its payroll.

"There is no money being handed over until we have proof of those jobs," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.

Ice River plans to increase payroll to 57 full-time workers by Jan. 1, city officials said, nearly qualifying for the entire $175,000. If the company meets its employment projection by the end of the year, it will have met two of the three work force thresholds and receive payments of $70,000 and $30,000. The third payment of $70,000 would be doled out three months after Ice River reaches the 60-job plateau.

The additional workers being hired by Jan. 1 are to fully man a third production line and staff an injection line so the local plant can manufacturer its own plastic bottles. The stepped-up production will allow Ice River to meet the demand for bottled water from CVS Pharmacy, A&P, Shaw's and Shop Rite supermarkets and other customers served by the Pittsfield facility.

The $275,000 grant is Ice River's second economic stimulus package from Pittsfield in nearly three years.

In December 2008, the family-run company based in Feversham, Ontario, Canada, opened its fourth U.S. facility at the former KB Toy Distribution Center at 1505 W. Housatonic St. The City Council granted Ice River a tax deferral over a 10-year period on $5.2 million in renovations it made to the 255,000-square-foot warehouse in exchange for creating jobs.

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

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"Candidates few for city election"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 12, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Voters can expect fewer candidates to choose in the upcoming election season compared with two years ago, despite the fact many incumbents aren’t running for mayor, City Council and School Committee.

Typically, more people will run for office if the contest lacks an incumbent, city elections officials said. That won’t be the case in Pittsfield this fall.

Following Tuesday’s deadline to file nomination papers with the Pittsfield Registrar of Voters, five candidates will campaign for mayor in next month’s preliminary election, compared to 10 in 2009, when Mayor James M. Ruberto won his fourth consecutive two-year term.

The top two vote-getters in the Sept. 27 preliminary advance to the Nov. 8 general election. The winner will succeed Ruberto who isn’t in the running.

Meanwhile, 18 residents are vying for the 11 City Council seats, five of which don’t have incumbents. In 2009, 21 candidates competed in a race in which only one incumbent opted not to run.

"I’m surprised by the overall response to the election," said City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, who oversees Pittsfield elections. "I expected a bigger field for mayor with [Ruberto] stepping down and a bigger field for councilor at large, given there are two open seats."

Wards 2, 4, and 7 are the other races devoid of councilors seeking re-election.

Council President Gerald M. Lee and mayoral candidate Peter M. Marchetti are the at large councilors forgoing another two-year term.

The remaining incumbents, Kevin J. Sherman and Melissa Mazzeo, along with 2009 mayoral candidate Nicholas J. Caccamo, Barry J. Clairmont, Pittsfield School Committee member Churchill Cotton and former councilors Anthony V. Maffuccio and Richard A. Scapin are vying for the four at large bids.

An eighth candidate, Thomas J. Sakshaug, a member of the Conservation Commission, formally withdrew from the race on Wednesday, according to Tyer. Sakshaug had qualified for the ballot in May, but on Thursday he told The Eagle he’s bowing out for personal reasons.

The mayoral contest has triggered one of only two preliminary election contests in Pittsfield next month, whereas the previous election had four preliminary races, including one for mayor.

Marchetti, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols, former councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, who lost by 200 votes to Ruberto two years ago, Stephen R. Fillio and Donna M. Walto will be on the September ballot.

The three-way battle for Ward 4 is the only council race requiring a preliminary election, compared to three -- wards 2, 4 and 7 -- in 2009.

James E. Bronson, former councilor Ozias "Chuck" Vincelette and Christopher J. Connell are the Ward 4 hopefuls seeking to replace Michael L. Ward. The top two finishers on Sept. 27 move on to the November run-off.

Kevin J. Morandi and Anthony J. Simonelli, seeking wards 2 and 7 candidates respectively, had expected opposition given they weren’t facing incumbents. The two men were surprised to learn they were the only ones who filed nomination papers for their respective races.

"I’m surprised there weren’t more people running citywide, not just Ward 2," Morandi said. "But being a councilor is a big commitment of time."

Morandi, a runner-up in the 2007 and 2009 Ward 2 races, will succeed Peter T. White who is running in the 3rd Berkshire District special election.

Morandi and Simonelli, Nichols’ likely successor, said they still plan to hit the campaign trail, despite the lack of opposition.

"My wife and I walk a lot and if I see someone I’ll talk to the person," Simonelli said. "There may be a lot of people who don’t know who I am, so this gives them a chance to get to know me."

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon and Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. are the only Council incumbents without opposition. Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio and Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop ran unopposed two years ago, but face challengers Jeffrey W. Ferrin and J. Joseph Breault, respectively, on Nov. 8.

Meanwhile, the School Committee campaign mirrors that of 2009: Seven candidates seeking the six available spots on the seven-member panel. The seventh seat is automatically held by the mayor.

Unlike two years ago, two of the seats, instead of one, are open. Erin Sullivan, along with Cotton, aren’t seeking re-election.

On the Nov. 8 ballot will be Chairwoman Kathleen A. Amuso, committee members Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga, Daniel C. Elias and Katherine L. Yon, and James Conant, Terry M. Kinnas and Jonathan D. King.

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

Election deadlines

Aug. 25, 5 p.m.: Last day Pittsfield candidates for mayor, City Clerk, City Council and School Committee can withdraw.

Aug. 31, 8 p.m.: Voter registration ends for the Sept. 27 preliminary election.

Sept. 26, noon : Absentee ballot applications are due to the Registrar of Voters for preliminary election. Applications are now available at City Hall.

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"Pittsfield remains a friendly city"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, August 13, 2011

Having spent my first 18 years in Pittsfield, I considered it an idyllic place to grow up. Pittsfield had great schools, two beautiful lakes, three ski areas within an hour’s drive, and a strong and vibrant church life. With General Electric leaving, it was hard to see the population decrease and the downtown grow a bit shabby.

So it was delightful to see Pittsfield reinvent itself so successfully as an arts Mecca. My husband Paul, also a native of Pittsfield, and I have been to outstanding performances at the Colonial Theatre and Barrington Stage. But best of all, our son Christopher was chosen to be one of the gamblers in the terrific production of "Guys and Dolls" at Barrington Stage in July.

As fate would have it, he lost his driver’s license during that month, probably dropping it on North Street, as the cast frequented all of the great downtown restaurants that have cropped up. Imagine our surprise when Chris’s license appeared in the mail at our house in Holliston! Some kind soul found it, mailed it to Chris’s home address, added an encouraging note and didn’t even sign the note or ask for a reward!

Clearly, Pittsfield has not lost touch with its friendly, hometown roots. What a great place to live Pittsfield was, is, and always will be.

CECI HERMANN LEBEAU
Holliston

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"Voters are getting what they deserve"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, August 19, 2011

We think the politicians who got us in this mess in the first place are going to get us out. We are sadly mistaken.

We should thank former state Rep. Chris Speranzo for showing us what most politicians are about. We have a government that pretends to care about us but really doesn’t. Politicians do what’s easiest for them (raise our taxes) and look out for themselves. Democrats and Republicans are alike, so don’t be fooled into thinking one is better than the other.

This country is in gridlock. The career politicians had the answers, or did they? If they did, how did we get in this debt crisis? We as voters put these same politicians back in office as if more of the same will make a change. Governments don’t change, people change governments. We don’t have to give our lives as is happening in Libya, we just have to go to the polls.

The city of Pittsfield has raised taxes almost every year during a time population is declining and the economy is at its worst. They don’t care how we’ll be able pay these tax increases, or how it will affect business. Politicians think we don’t care. Are they right? I begin to wonder! We are responsible for these problems because we accepted this.

In 2012 we should vote out the old in with the new. If our politicians don’t do the job, vote them out. If we continue to vote them out maybe they will get the message that we want true change.

We better start caring. If not for yourself then do it for your children’s future. I think this country is going to get much worse. If we don’t make the change that is necessary, we will get what we deserve.

MICHAEL SHAW
Pittsfield

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"Downtown launches new website to boost business"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 6, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has launched a new Internet campaign in an effort to boost business at the shops, restaurants and cultural venues in the revitalized city center.

The promotional group has posted a new colorful and comprehensive website -- www.downtownpittsfield.com -- geared toward potential visitors, according to organization officials.

"It's easy to use, attractive and rivals websites of other urban downtowns," said Peter J. Lafayette, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc. "We will continue to expand it to better serve the community."

The site, designed by Studio Two of Lenox, has separate sections devoted to arts and culture, dining, shopping and general business; listing the hours of operation, directions to and website of each commercial entity. In addition, users will find information on public parking and upcoming special events, such as Third Thursday.

"This new website really does put everything you needed to know about downtown Pittsfield right at your finger tips," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.

"It does a much better job of showing what the city has to offer," said Laura Roudabush, marketing director for Barrington Stage Co. "It makes you want to go back to it."

Unlike the previous, corporate-style website, the new one has an every-changing home page designed to showcase businesses to potential downtown visitors, officials said.

"We have a number of photographs that rotate and each has an identifier," said Elie Hammerling, chairman of the organization's marketing committee. "It's very customer centric."

Nevertheless, the website, like its predecessor, continues to serve 240 members with a newsletter and other organization information, as well as try to boost its membership.

"It's very user-friendly for members who want to update their information," Roudabush said.

As Downtown Pittsfield Inc. attempts to attract more visitors to the city, it also wants to ensure any new and existing downtown businesses are successful. Since 2005, the organization reports 41 new stores, eateries and entertainment venues have opened in the heart of Pittsfield.

"The downtown is constantly changing and evolving," Lafayette said. "We have to keep supporting our businesses and help them survive."

And downtown businesses continuing to support each other will be a key to that survival, according to John Valente, general manager of the Beacon Cinema, which opened two years ago.

"There's a surprising level of cooperation among diverse businesses in the downtown," Valente said. "In this day in age it's usually, ‘Me first.' "

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

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"Pittsfield gets new Health Department director"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 8, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Thanks, in part, to a hurricane 16 years ago, Merridith A. O'Leary chose a career in public health.

The city's new health department director was studying marine biology on the U.S. Virgin Islands when Hurricane Marilyn ravaged the territory in 1995. The natural disaster prompted the Southampton native's return to Western Massachusetts to earn a degree in environmental science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

After graduation, O'Leary worked as a laboratory technician at Amherst College before taking a more challenging position within the Holyoke Health Department in 2005. She quickly rose through Holyoke's ranks to become assistant director, prior to succeeding James J. Wilusz who left City Hall in May to be the director of the Tri-Town Health Department based in Lee.

"At the time, I didn't think this would be the path I would take, but I fell in love with [public health]," she said. "So here I am six years later doing what I wanted to do."

O'Leary, wanting to become a public health leader, came to fruition last month when the Pittsfield Board of Health chose her over nine other applicants for the director's job. She attended her first board meeting Wednesday night, a week after arriving at City Hall and start the transition into her new role.

"Merridith has some great experience in the health field and we're going to keep her busy," Board Chairman Dr. Philip Adamo said in introducing O'Leary."

O'Leary, 40, will manage the city's Health Department duties, including inspections of restaurants, lodging facilities and septic systems. In addition, city health officials investigate food and water-borne illnesses, nuisances such as illegal curbside trash, and promote wellness though a variety of programs such as tobacco awareness and healthy housing.

Pittsfield appealed to O'Leary because it's similar to Holyoke in population, demographics and approach to public health: Be proactive and less punitive than some other municipal health departments.

Since Pittsfield's crackdown on tobacco sales to minors began nearly four years ago, illegal sales in the city, through compliance checks, fell from 38 to 2 between July 2007 to July 2010. However, city health officials Tuesday night reported youth sales inexplicably spiked to 16 from July 2010 to July of this year. They vowed to address the sharp increase over the next 12-month period.

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"Airport's final financing up for council vote"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 13, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The final phase of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport expansion is ready to take off, once the city finalizes funding for the second half of the $22.5 million project.

Tonight, Mayor James M. Ruberto will ask the City Council to approve short-term borrowing of up to $17 million for Phase 2 -- $16.5 million toward construction with a $500,000 contingency.

The council meets at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Ruberto has put forth his request because the Federal Aviation Administration and Massachusetts Department of Transportation have finally awarded grants that will cover all but $2 million of the loan.

"We are in the home stretch for the expansion," the mayor said. "It was exciting to receive notice that the funding is in place from the FAA and MassDOT."

If the council approves the borrowing, airport manager Mark Germanowski said work could conceivably start on Phase 2 in late fall.

Germanowski noted that Rifenburg Construction from Troy, N.Y., has been awarded the bid for Phase 2, while J.H. Maxymillian of Pittsfield is nearing completion of the first phase. The entire project is scheduled to be finished in 2013.

The second phase includes moving to the north the roughly 2,100-foot section of South Mountain Road between the new and former entrances to Wild Acres Park. The city has temporarily blocked off that part of South Mountain to through-traffic so its relocation and the runway expansion can occur safely and quickly at the same time. The relocation will allow for the main 5,000-foot runway to be extended north by 790 feet. In addition, another 1,000 feet of safety area will be installed on each end of the runway.

Phase 1, under way since last October, is a $6 million venture costing city taxpayers $1 million. The balance is being paid for by $5 million in grants also from the FAA and MassDOT.

The first half of the project has involved the replication of 5.7 acres of wetlands and a body of water encompassing one-tenth of an acre. Approximately 100 of the 120 acres of trees have been removed by order of the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency considered most of the woodlands air traffic obstructions.

Airport officials cited how the recent heavy rains -- 12 inches recorded at the airport since late August -- have tested the erosion control measures during construction.

"We've spent a lot of money and time on storm water management," Germanowski said. "When we are done with an area, we stabilize it by seeding."

He added, "In fact, this week we look to button up a section of land near the main runway."

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Pittsfield mayoral candidates, left to right, Stephen Fillio, Donna Walto, Joseph Nichols, Daniel Bianchi and Peter Marchetti speak during the official mayoral debate at Berkshire Community College. (Stephanie Zollshan)

"Ward 4 mayoral candidates square off in debate"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 20, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The city's next mayor needs to be in the forefront of job creation and bring stability to City Hall.

The five candidates seeking to succeed Mayor James M. Ruberto delivered that message during Monday night's debate at Berkshire Community College. City councilors Joseph C. Nichols and Peter M. Marchetti, former Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi along with two-time mayoral hopefuls Donna M. Walto and Stephen R. Fillio squared off in 70-minute question-and-answer session

Ruberto announced in January he wouldn't seek a fifth consecutive two-year term.

Prior to the mayoral debate, the three candidates in the Ward 4 council contest spent 50 minutes debating issues, such as how they would ease tax burden on homeowners and businesses. Christopher J. Connell, James E. Bronson and former Ward 4 Councilor Ozias "Chuck" Vincelette want to succeed Michael L. Ward, who also isn't seeking re-election.

The top two vote-getters of both races on Sept. 27 will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

The fostering of new businesses and jobs in Pittsfield is a top issue with the mayoral candidates, just as it was in the 2009 race for the corner office at City Hall.

"The mayor should be more involved to get businesses to come here," Fillio said.

Nichols added, "I would talk to CEOs and investors to help bring business to Pittsfield."

The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's ability to draw tenants to the William Stanley Business Park it oversees is viewed by the candidates as crucial to increasing the work force. If elected, Bianchi advocated for appointing himself to the PEDA board of directors to help them achieve that goal.

"They need a well defined marketing plan with goals and objectives that should be shared with the people," he said.

Marchetti wouldn't appoint himself to the PEDA board, but agrees the agency must improve communication with the city.

"I want them to provide quarterly updates before the City Council regarding what's going on at the PEDA site," he said.

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

"This is our opportunity to build the best and brightest buildings that reflect our heritage," she said.

The candidates also called for permanent, rather than acting, appointments to fill department head positions and stabilize how city government is managed. In recent years, Ruberto has named acting police and fire chiefs and a director of maintenance.

In addition, all five advocated for the return of a city solicitor to handle municipal legal issues, rather the law firm Ruberto hired to do the job.

Meanwhile, the Ward 4 candidates criticized the current City Council for failing to minimize the tax impact of the budget it passed in June.

"Raising taxes should be the last thing a politician does, not the first thing," said Bronson. "We have to increase our tax base, not our tax rate."

His opponents agreed, but Connell felt it's being done at the expense of demolishing blighted structures.

"We continue to take down buildings and new ones aren't going up," he said.

"But now you have an empty lot to put a new building on," replied Vincelette in support of the city removing run down homes and businesses.

Vincelette also strongly supported regional vocational education as part of the proposed high school project on the Taconic High School campus. Bronson felt the impact of the regional component needs to be assessed, while Connell felt improved vocational offerings may help keep some students from leaving for neighboring school districts under school choice.

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

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"Trees to be planted"
The Berkshire Eagle, September 27, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The Department of Community Development and The Department of Public Utilities have joined efforts with Pittsfield Tree Watch and Elm Street Partnership to plant 47 trees on Elm Street, beginning at Gordon Street continuing to Holmes Road.

Maynard Landscaping & Garden Center will begin planting this week and finish the project by Sept. 30. Eleven different varieties of trees will be planted.

Led by Astrid Hagenguth, who passed away earlier this year, Pittsfield Tree Watch approached the city about this project and worked closely with both City Departments to secure the funding. Pittsfield Tree Watch is a volunteer organization that advocates for tree plantings throughout the city.

"This vision has become a reality as a result of Astrid’s energy and passion for raising tree-consciousness and inspiring the city and residents to plant trees throughout the community," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.

Pittsfield Tree Watch organized the Elm Street Partnership comprised of businesses located in the project area. Janet Farnsworth, owner of the Chocolatier located at 208 Elm St., is a member of the partnership.

"This project is absolutely wonderful. Astrid would have been ecstatic and every business on Elm Street should take pride," Farnsworth said.

The Department of Public Utilities received an Urban Forestry Challenge Grant. This grant funding along with Community Development Block Grant Funding from The Department of Community Development has allowed this project to move forward.

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"Pittsfield's Licensing Board grows to five"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 27, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The city's Licensing Board has expanded from three to five members in an effort to bring additional viewpoints and legal expertise to its decision-making.

Mayor James M. Ruberto recently named, with City Council approval, local attorneys Dana S. Doyle and Thomas L. Campoli to fill the two new seats on a board. The other members are chairman Carmen C. Massimiano Jr., Albert "Butch" Pisani and Robert Quattrochi.

Massimiano was absent Monday when the board met for the first time with all five positions having been filled. Doyle was appointed last month and attended her first monthly meeting Aug. 15, while Campoli's appointment was confirmed three weeks ago.

The Licensing Board is responsible for issuing and monitoring 25 types of licenses that include the sale of alcoholic beverages, new and used vehicles and providing live or recorded entertainment.

Ruberto views the expansion beneficial for both the board and those applying for licenses.

"Going to five members makes it easier to have a quorum and enrich the discussion of items that come before the board," Ruberto said.

Doyle added, "It's better to have more than three people so we can different perspectives on the board."

A year ago, the city sought and received through a special act of the state Legislature, approval to enlarge the board. However, Ruberto took another 12 months before he was able to pick two new board members.

"Filling these positions was a challenge, as I wanted to have attorneys who would have few conflicts of interest when voting on licensing matters," he said.

The newly expanded board met briefly Monday, needing 20 minutes to handle its three agenda items, one involving a troubled West Side establishment.

By a 4-to-0 vote, the board agreed to transfer the liquor license owned by the former Teti's Variety and Luncheonette to O'Bagel's Cafe, located at 117 Seymour Street.

If the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission approves, O'Bagel's owners Michelle and Michael Krueger plan to purchase the All Alcohol Restaurant license for $25,000 and turn in its more restrictive Downtown liquor license.

Teti's has been closed since the owner, Joseph Teti Sr., died in September 2009, with his estate putting on the market the license, business and building at 231 Columbus Ave. The bar and grill had been a known hangout for drug dealers since the late 1990s, city police have said, and the scene of a triple shooting in September 2008. The victims recovered, but refused to cooperate with local authorities in identifying the shooter for fear of reprisals.

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Mayor James Ruberto still loves the Red Sox, despite the team’s dramatic slide this year. He feels ‘terrible’ about Boston’s collapse, but he remembers the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s when the Sox were truly terrible. Many Sox fans, however, took a harder stance. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff) September 29, 2011.
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"More local aid is coming to Pittsfield and Berkshire County"
By Ned Oliver, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 9, 2011

The state House and Senate has passed a supplemental budget that appropriates an additional half-million dollars in local aid to Pittsfield and includes funding for two major county infrastructure projects.

The bill, submitted by Gov. Deval Patrick last month, is expected to be finalized this week.

A total of $65 million in additional aid will be distributed to municipalities across the state by the end of the month, ensuring that no cities and towns receive less funding than they did during the previous fiscal year.

Pittsfield is receiving $528,000 more than expected, while North Adams is set to collect an additional $271,000. Meanwhile, towns across the county will get anywhere from several hundred to several thousand additional state dollars.

The cash infusion is good news for the municipalities, who going into the current fiscal year were told to expect a 6-percent reduction in state aid.

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said the additional funds represents a commitment by himself and his colleagues to provide as much local aid support as possible.

"I hope this additional funding will help cities and towns advance projects and provide local services this year," said Downing in a statement released by his office.

Patrick filed the supplemental budget bill, which passed late last week, in response to a massive and unexpected budget surplus caused by higher than expected revenues.

The bill also includes earmarks of $2.5 million for the rehabilitation of the decaying McKay Street parking garage in downtown Pittsfield as well as $2 million for infrastructure improvements around the Greylock Glen in Adams.

Both projects are considered critical to the future of their respective communities.

Pittsfield City Council President Gerald Lee has said the McKay Street garage is deteriorating terribly. Mayor James M. Ruberto said the grant, which should cover about half the cost of repairing the garage, is a "real shot in the arm" for the city.

In Adams, Town Administrator Jonathan Butler said the MassWorks grant will fund the installation of new water pipes, mains and gas lines, as well as allow for several roads to be repaved.

The improvements may sound mundane, but Butler said it represented a milestone in the development of the area, which has been in the works for years.

"This will be the first time the town will be able to put shovels in the ground since the 1980s for this project," said Butler.

Material from New England Newspapers was used in this report.

By the numbers ...

The state House and Senate passed a supplemental budget last week that includes additional local aid for all towns in Berkshire County. Here's how much extra cash each town will be given under the budget.

Adams: $143,175

Alford: $858

Becket: $5,554

Cheshire: $37,569

Dalton: $69,580

Egremont: $3,859

Florida: $3,044

Great Barrington: $46,413

Hancock: $3,453

Hinsdale: $13,617

Lanesborough: $21,069

Lee: $38,087

Lenox: $32,597

Monterey: $2,828

Mount Washington: $1,833

New Marlborough: $3,582

North Adams: $271,321

Otis: $2,224

Peru: $6,984

Pittsfield: $528,023

Richmond: $6,671

Sandisfield: $2,119

Savoy: $7,086

Sheffield: $14,899

Stockbridge: $6,096

Tyringham: $776

West Stockbridge: $5,946

Williamstown: $58,389

Source: State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing's office

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"Parents may pay for kids' violations on North Street"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 14, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Parents may soon be held accountable for minors who violate a city ordinance that bans the use of skateboards, bicycles and rollerblades on North Street sidewalks.

Mayor James M. Ruberto has proposed the City Council approve an amendment to the regulation that would allow police to levy the same fines against the parents, as well the youngsters. Under the current ordinance only the violators face a first-offense fine of $25, the second is $50 and third, $300.

In addition, police officers could seize the skateboard, bike and rollerblades from the scofflaws.

The council has referred the matter to its Committee on Ordinance and Rules for debate and a recommendation back to the entire 11-member panel. Committee chairman Jonathan N. Lothrop has yet to set a meeting date for the subcommittee review.

The proposed revision is in response to nearly 25 North Street retailers who claim skaters and riders are putting pedestrians at risk by riding on the sidewalks in front of their stores.

Last month, the merchants called on the police, through a petition to the City Council, to start to strictly enforce the ban. Donna Todd Rivers, owner of Bisque Beads & Beyond, helped organize the petition drive.

"I want to thank you for making this a priority," Rivers said to the council on Tuesday night.

However, local skate and bike enthusiasts feel they are being unfairly targeted for the actions of a "few bad apples," according to Bill Whitaker, co-owner of The Garden, a skate and snowboard store on North Street.

"If the parents don’t teach some of these kids respect, everyone gets blamed," said Whitaker.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael J. Wynn claims the ordinance needs to be re-written because it’s difficult to hold a child financially responsible for disobeying the ordinance. He cited how parent accountability is used elsewhere in law enforcement.

"There is precedent for this in state law, including some motor vehicle violations and vandalism committed by minors," Wynn said.

The police chief hopes the tighter controls on skateboard and bicycle use will be enough of a deterrent that his officers won’t have to dole out fines.

"We just want to keep the sidewalks safe," he said.

Area skateboarders and bicyclists have lacked a formal skate park since the city removed the one at the First Street Common as part of the park’s multimillion-dollar redesign and upgrade. Currently, a replacement skate park is under construction at the former tennis courts next to Pittsfield High School on East Street. The $215,00 project is scheduled for completion by mid-November.

"Once the new skate park opens, 90 percent of the problem on North Street will resolve itself," Whitaker said. "The kids right now simply don’t have a place to go."

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

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(Pearson)

"Downtown Pittsfield Inc. searching for new leader"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 14, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Downtown Pittsfield Inc. is about to launch a search for a new executive director following the exit Yvonne Pearson, the non-profit’s long-time leader.

After more than 15 years, Pearson’s last day as executive director was Friday. At 65, she had been battling health concerns during the past year. Pearson said the health issue has been resolved and is not the reason for her resignation. It did, however, bring into focus her wish to "enjoy life."

"It was just time," she said. "I love the work, but I just think it was time to pass the baton."

During Pearson’s tenure, Downtown Inc. (recently re-named Downtown Pittsfield Inc.) was an integral player the multi-year strategy to revive the downtown area.

Downtown Inc. was heavily involved in tipping-point projects that have driven consumers back to downtown including the renovations of Central Block, the Colonial Theatre, Barrington Stage, Beacon Cinema and the streetscape project. It was also a player in the birth of Third Thursday and other downtown events.

"I think it is safe to say anything that happened in downtown, we had a hand in it," Pearson said. "I am proud of what we accomplished and I’m leaving with a good feeling."

The board of directors for Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has appointed a search committee to seek a new director to take the organization through its next phase, said Gerry Murray, vice president of human resources at Greylock Federal Credit Union and a member of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.’s board of directors. Murray will serve as the search committee chair.

The committee’s first meeting will be next week, Murray said. The search committee will determine the skills and credentials necessary in the right candidate, as well as determine the proper pay scale.

"Our plan is to throw out a net as wide as we can to find the best person for the executive director position," Murray said. "We’ll be looking for a person with the energy, drive and experience to continue the downtown revitalization that has been under way for a number of years. There is still a lot of work to be done."

Officials hope to fill the position in the next six weeks. One of the abilities thought to be essential in the new director will be marketing and promotions.

"The big push is in marketing and business development during the next few years," said Peter Lafayette, chair of the Downtown Pittsfield board and executive director of the Berkshire Bank Foundation. "It’s critical that we continue to bring in new businesses and cultural attractions. We’ll be looking to get people downtown in new and different ways."

The right candidate will also need to have experience in promoting a downtown area, he added.

To reach Scott Stafford: sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6241.

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"Berkshire Chamber Business Leaders 'Salute' Ruberto"
By Andy McKeever - iBerkshires Staff - October 14, 2011

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — With Mayor James Ruberto stepping out of the corner office after eight years, the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce "saluted" him Friday morning at the Crowne Plaza for his efforts to change the city.

"In just eight years the city has been utterly transformed," John Bissell, executive vice president of Greylock Federal Credit Union, said. "Business needs the right environment to flourish. We didn't have that 10 years ago. We have that now."

Bissell said when he moved to the city, it was desolate. There was "no sushi, no Colonial, no wine-bars" but Ruberto had given the community "hope" to become the "best darn city in the Northeast," Bissell said.

That message echoed by state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, who said he moved back to the city in part because of Ruberto.

"I saw the energy, the optimism and the real love the mayor had for Pittsfield. I probably would not have come back if it wasn't for Jim Ruberto," Downing said. "For too long there was no vision in the city of Pittsfield. Jim gave us that vision."

Ruberto changed the way the community saw itself, Downing said, and added optimism. Growing up in the city, Downing said the pessimism was worse that "the glass is half empty."

"We thought somebody drank half of it and then threw the glass out," Downing said.

That has since changed and Julianne Boyd, co-founder of Barrington Stage Company, said the transformation came because Ruberto "dreamed big."

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary Grant, Michael Tweed-Kent, vice president of mission integration systems at General Dynamics, and Michael Daly, president of Berkshire Bank, all shared similar thoughts and stories before the chamber presented two donations to organizations Ruberto cared about.

Jerry Burke, chairman of the chamber's board of directors, announced a $1,000 donation to Berkshire Community College for scholarships and another $1,000 for the multicultural Bridge program.

Ruberto said the accomplishments he was credited with Friday morning could not have happened without the people who showered him with praise.

"This recognition of me is a recognition of you," Ruberto said, whose term ends in a couple months. "This community is you. What we do, we do together."

The mayor said the city's revitalization is not complete. Ruberto called on the next administration and the business leadership to "keep forging ahead" and build on public, private partnerships, diversity, education and to strive for excellence.

The breakfast salute drew hundreds of local business leaders, politicians and community members.

www.iberkshires.com/new/story.php?story_id=39633

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Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto receives applause at the breakfast. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Governor praises Ruberto"
By Amanda Korman, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 15, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Outgoing Mayor James. M. Ruberto’s sendoff has begun early with Gov. Deval Patrick as well as local business leaders giving separate salutes Friday to the mayor’s eight years in office.

The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce began the day with a celebratory breakfast in Ruberto’s honor at the Crowne Plaza, followed by a recognition from Patrick and his cabinet members, who opened their weekly meeting in the Pittsfield City Council chambers with congratulatory remarks and a standing ovation for the "extraordinary" mayor.

Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray praised Ruberto for improving Pittsfield through construction projects on North and South streets, economic and industrial developments, and cultural milestones like the Beacon Cinema, Barrington Stage Company, and the refurbished Colonial Theatre.

"The creative economy has been a part of your legacy here, and other mayors have modeled your work," Murray said.

Former city councilor Daniel L. Bianchi and current Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti are running to fill the mayor’s seat in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

The new mayor will be sworn in Monday, Jan. 2, 2012.

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"Pittsfield’s council candidates feisty at debate"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 25, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Tearing down the former Grossman’s buildings, enforcing speed limits and a new city highway garage are among the hot topics in the Ward 3, 4 and 5 City Council races heading into next month’s election.

Two of the political contests involve incumbents who went unchallenged two years ago: Ward 3 Councilor Paul J. Capitanio squares off against Jeffrey W. Ferrin on Nov. 8, while Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop up against J. Joseph Breault.

The Ward 4 contest pits Christopher J. Connell against Ozias "Chuck" Vincelette, who represented the ward from 2002 to 2006. The winner succeeds Michael L. Ward who isn’t seeking re-election.

All three sets of candidates squeezed in discussion of both ward-centric and citywide issues during separate 25-minute debates Monday night at Berkshire Community College

Organizers of the political forums, Pittsfield Gazette, BCC and Pittsfield Community Television didn’t stage a debate for the Ward 2 race because they have a policy against inviting write-in candidates. Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White decided to mount a write-in campaign after his failed attempt to win the Democratic nomination in the 3rd Berkshire District special election. Kevin J. Morandi is officially on the ballot for Ward 2 councilor.

Ward 3

Before the Ward 3 candidates talked issues, Ferrin criticized Capitanio for being too silent at council meetings and always willing to endorse proposals from Mayor James M. Ruberto. Ferrin vowed to be a true voice for the ward.

"I have no connections to the ‘good old boy’ network," Ferrin said.

Capitanio replied he’s disagreed with Ruberto on some issues and has worked as hard as any other ward councilor.

"I’ve held several crime watch meetings, had several roads paved and helped get other infrastructure improvements," Capitanio said.

While both men agree the blighted former Grossman’s building on East Street should be demolished, Capitanio pushed for city funds to do the job. Ferrin wants it to be the owners’ responsibility, General Electric being one of them.

"I contacted GE and they said it would cost them $1.7 million and taxpayers $300,000," said Ferrin.

Capitanio countered by saying, "I got a figure of $190,000. I don’t know where my opponent got $2 million."

They also sparred on the issue of flooding around Deming Park: Ferrin claims it remains an issue for homes surrounding the recreational area, whereas Capitanio claims he’s helped resolve the problem.

Ward 4

Vincelette found himself on the defensive regarding Connell’s contention that Vincelette has not been active since leaving the City Council in 2006.

"I pride myself in being positive and will not go out of my way to make Mr. Connell feel small," Vincelette said.

Connell stood by his remarks saying, "What separates me from my opponent is my involvement in the city."

Connell, who lost to his Ward 4 bid in 2009, called for hiring an enforcement officer to monitor the newly paved Holmes Road and other city streets where speeding is a problem.

"The citations the officer writes would more than pay for the position," he said.

Vincelette somewhat agreed with Connell.

"I would like to use police officers on their time off and their pay is based on the number of citations hand out," Vincelette said.

As for replacing the city’s fleet of school buses, Vincelette wants them to remain city-owned with Connell pushing for the option of leasing the buses from a private company.

Ward 5

Lothrop and Breault conducted a more civil debate, yet showed their differences on certain issues.

Breault wants the city to stop funding Downtown Pittsfield Inc., claiming it has "run its course" in promoting the North Street area.

Lothrop finds the business-based organization is still crucial to working with the city to continually improve the downtown.

As for the city’s run-down and partially condemned highway garage on West Housatonic Street, it needs to be replaced, according to both candidates.

"That building can be considered as bad as the Grossman’s building," said Breault.

While Mayor Ruberto targeted a vacant commercial building on East Street to be the new highway garage, Lothrop was among the councilors who had issues with the site.

"The facility may have been a viable one, but we didn’t have enough information on the site’s liability," he said.

As for job creation, Lothrop said he was proud to have voted to award the Ice River Springs water bottling plant $275,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund. The money was incentive for the Canada-based company to hire full-time workers and resolve a noise problem that has been a nuisance to neighbors.

Breault said he also supports cash incentives to create more jobs within Pittsfield.

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

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"Mayor Ruberto casts first veto"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 2, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- For the first time in his eight years in office, Mayor James M. Ruberto has vetoed a City Council measure he claims will hinder the ability of future mayors to fill city government positions.

A month before leaving office, Ruberto has refused to sign off on the council's recent approval of an ordinance giving Pittsfield's chief executive up to 6 months to choose a permanent replacement for any paid or volunteer job appointed by the mayor that has been vacated or whose term has expired.

Ruberto's veto will stand unless eight of the 11 councilors override the decision.

Council President Gerald M. Lee said an override vote could happen at the Dec. 13 meeting, the panel's last official gathering before the newly elected council is sworn in next month.

By a 7-3 vote, Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon abstained, the council on Nov. 15 approved the ordinance. Lee was among the three councilors opposed to dictating how and when the mayor should make appointments.

"We have a weak-mayor form of government and this makes it weaker," he said. "We are a legislative body, not personnel directors."

While the council must confirm the mayor's permanent appointments, it doesn't have such authority over acting appointments that currently have no time limit.

Under the regulation, acting appointments to temporarily fill the positions would expire after 90 days. The council can grant a 90-day extension, at the mayor's request, if he or she needs more time to make a permanent appointment.

Ruberto believes the time constraint will be troublesome to his successors.

"I don't want to see the next mayor who comes into office have to make rush judgments," he said.

Former Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, who won last month's mayor's race, officially takes office Jan. 2, replacing Ruberto who didn't seek re-election.

However, several councilors were taken aback by the veto.

"I was kind of surprised as [Ruberto] didn't bring up an objection during the debate," said Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White.

White proposed the ordinance after Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo failed to convince her colleagues earlier this year to approve one giving the mayor a maximum of two months to make permanent appointments.

Mazzeo claims a time limit is needed because Ruberto and several previous mayors have made several acting appointments in an attempt to bypass the city charter.

"The intent of the charter, as part of checks and balances, is the mayor makes all appointments subject to council approval," she said.

Mazzeo's plan prompted Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman to call for a city charter review in an effort to at least tighten up language and close any loopholes. In addition, Sherman, Mazzeo, Ruberto and others want the review to determine of wholesale changes to city government are needed, such as restructuring the makeup of the City Council and lengthening the mayor's term from two to four years.

Ruberto feels the issue of acting appointments should be addressed in the context of the charter's re-examination.

"The council to isolate out one issue doesn't serve the interest of future mayors," he said.

White finds both a charter review and the ordinance are necessary.

"I think the charter does need reviewing, but that doesn't mean the council should abdicate its duties of approving appointments," he said.

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

In brief ...

* Mayor James M. Ruberto has vetoed an ordinance, passed 7-3, that would impose a 6-month limit on choosing a permanent replacement for any position appointed by the mayor that has been vacated or whose term has expired.

* The City Council may now attempt to override the decision, but eight of the 11 councilors must approve the motion.

* An override vote could happen at the Dec. 13 meeting, their final meeting before the new council is sworn in in January.

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"Council's override bid fails"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 15, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto's veto of a six-month limit for "acting" mayoral appointments has withstood a City Council override vote.

Ruberto said the measure would have hindered the ability of future mayors to fill positions in city government.

Eight votes are needed to override a mayor's veto. Tuesday night's vote was 7-3, with Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon abstaining.

The ordinance aimed to give mayors up to six months to choose a permanent replacement for paid or volunteer positions that have been vacated or whose term has expired and which are appointed by the mayor.

The veto was Ruberto's only one in his eight years in office.

The override vote was the exact outcome of the council's initial approval of the ordinance on Nov. 15, which Ruberto vetoed two weeks later.

While the council must confirm a mayor's permanent appointments, it doesn't have such authority over acting appointments, which can last indefinitely.

The regulation would have made acting appointments expire after 90 days. The council could have granted a 90-day extension, at the mayor's request, if he or she needed more time to make a permanent appointment.

Ruberto said the time constraint would have forced his successors to make hasty decisions in filling positions. Former Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, who won last month's mayor's race, officially takes office Jan. 2. Ruberto didn't seek re-election.

In issuing the veto, Ruberto claimed the city charter gives the mayor discretion "with regard to the management of personnel matters and I believe that the proposed ordinance violates that discretion."

During Tuesday's council meeting, Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo refuted Ruberto's interpretation of the charter. The mayor has no such leeway in making appointments, she said.

Mazzeo said a time limit is necessary because Ruberto and several previous mayors have made acting appointments to bypass the city charter.

However, she didn't get to argue her point directly with Ruberto.

"I am disappointed the mayor has left before we discussed this," the councilor said.

In response on Wednesday, Ruberto told an Eagle reporter, "I expressed myself quite clearly in my letter to the council."

However, he said councilors know they can always call him with questions regarding his decisions.

Ward 2 Councilor Peter T. White proposed the vetoed ordinance.

Earlier, Mazzeo couldn't get council support for a two-month time limit on acting appointments. But her effort prompted Councilor at large Kevin J. Sherman to call for a city charter review to tighten language and close loopholes.

Sherman voted against both proposals saying, "it is an issue that became personal."

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop said that changes in government shouldn't be about personalities.

"The question should be, ‘Is it good for the city?'" said Lothrop, who supported White's plan.

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

How they voted ...

Council's attempted override of Mayor James Ruberto's veto failed in a 7 to 3 vote with one abstention.

Yea: Melissa Mazzeo, Paul J. Capitanio, Michael L. Ward, Peter M. Marchetti, Joseph C. Nichols, Jonathan N. Lothrop, Peter T. White.

Nay: Council President Gerald M. Lee, John M. Krol Jr. Kevin J. Sherman.

Abstained: Christine Yon.

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"Pittsfield mayor praises police actions"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 12, 2011

LENOX -- Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto on Sunday praised city police for solving a recent series of serious crimes -- including last week's homicide -- and urged citizens to be more vigilant in helping local authorities prevent further lawlessness.

During a speaking engagement in Lenox, Ruberto lauded the Pittsfield Police Department for tracking down Kurt Hudson, the alleged killer of Nikolas S. Carnute who was gunned down Dec. 4 on Wellington Avenue. Four days later, Hudson was arrested in Columbia, S.C., where he awaits extradition to Pittsfield to face a murder charge.

Two weeks ago, city police nabbed Raheem Garrett, of Pittsfield, and Laura Methe, of the town of Washington, and accused them of three armed robberies and two attempted armed robberies in Pittsfield dating back to September. Investigators claim the couple may be linked to as many as seven of the more than 12 armed robberies in the city the last six months.

"[These crimes reflect] the urban nature of Pittsfield and shows we have too many guns on the street," Ruberto said. "But, if you're going to do the crime, you're going to do the time."

The outgoing mayor's comments came during a question-and-answer period following his speech at the Lenox Library as part of its monthly lecture series.

Ruberto, who didn't seek another two-year term last month, spoke about his eight years in office, as he gives way to his successor Daniel L. Bianchi. The former city councilor will be sworn in as the new mayor Jan. 2, having defeated Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti in the Nov. 8 city election.

While Pittsfield police have made headway with some of the violent crimes, they are still searching for a suspect or suspects who burglarized 12 businesses and nonprofit organizations since Thanksgiving. Ruberto said he's been told many of locations lacked alarm systems to ward off intruders. He urged both commercial and residential property owners to invest in high-tech security.

"[These crimes] are disastrous because it brings fear to people who live next door," he said.

City native Valerie Joyce, who attended the mayor's speech, commented how Pittsfield isn't alone in combating violent crime. Joyce was visiting from the town of Cheshire, Conn., where a mother and two daughters were murdered during a home invasion in July 2007.

"We have an epidemic, nationally," she said. "Crime is a sensitive issue common to many communities."

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"Pittsfield property taxes could rise"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 15, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- If you're a typical homeowner in Pittsfield, you can expect to pay about $66 more in property taxes.

The City Council still has to approve the tax rate, but the Board of Assessors on Wednesday proposed increasing the residential property tax to $16.11 on every thousand dollars of property value. The existing rate is $15.19.

The $66 figure is based on the average, single-family home assessed at $178,000.

The assessors also propose upping the commercial property tax rate -- from $30.95 to $32.85. Therefore, a business owner with property valued at $541,000 (the citywide average) would see annual tax bills go from $17,363 to $17,772 -- a total of $409.

The tax hikes are lower than what property owners got hit with last year at this time. The typical residential increase was $132 in fiscal 2011, while the commercial bill had gone up $820 on average.

If approved, the new tax rates would cover the current fiscal year -- from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. The assessors say the tax increases, when combined with other revenues, will fully fund the city's $129.3 million budget.

The City Council is expected to vote on the proposed tax rates at tonight's special meeting at 7:30 at City Hall.

City officials say the proposed tax rates are slightly lower than what had been anticipated when the City Council approved the budget on June 28.

The reason?

The city is projecting $700,000 more in local receipts from excise, lodging and meals taxes, according to Pittsfield Finance Director and Treasurer Susan Carmel.

"The meals tax definitely is a factor," she said. "We have first-quarter receipts that have exceeded the last six months of fiscal 2011."

The 2 percent local meals tax, approved by the City Council, took effect Jan. 1.

Nevertheless, to compensate for lower assessments and a city spending plan that increased by $2.4 million, a higher tax rate was necessary to raise $66.3 million in revenue toward the budget, according to city financial officials. Pittsfield relied on $63.7 million in property taxes to fund the fiscal 2011 spending plan of $126.9 million.

"It's important to find a balance between the city services we provide and a responsible budget and tax rate," said Mayor James M. Ruberto.

As for the lower assessments, they are due in part to falling housing prices based mostly on last year's real estate transactions in Pittsfield, according to Paula King, chairwoman of the Board of Assessors.

"We looked at sales in 2010 and part of 2009," King said. "Overall total value in the city went down 2 percent."

Meanwhile, city officials propose shifting more of the tax burden to residential property owners for the fourth consecutive fiscal year in order to help the business community grow. The City Council is being asked to approve a tax shift for fiscal 2012 at 1.666 percent, down from 1.675 in fiscal 2011. The rate has gradually fallen each fiscal year since the maximum of 1.75 percent was imposed in fiscal 2008.

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

Inside the numbers ...

The Pittsfield City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on the proposed property tax rate to fund the city budget. Here's a look at the proposed rate for the current fiscal year (2012) compared with last fiscal year's rate.

Fiscal ‘11 Fiscal ‘12 Change

Residential:

Rate per $1,000 $15.19 $16.11 +$0.92

Avg. annual bill $2,794.53 $2,860.81* +$66.28

Commercial:

Rate per $1,000 $30.95 $32.85 +$1.90

Avg. annual bill $17,363.26 $17,772.61** +$409.35

* Based on single family home valued at $177,580.

** Based on commercial property valued at $541,023.

Source: Pittsfield Board of Assessors

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"Approvals won for school renovations"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 15, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The School Committee has completed the trifecta of approvals needed for the city to seek state funding toward renovations at three decades-old elementary schools.

Wednesday night the seven-member board unanimously supported the School Building Needs Commission's plan to submit to the Massachusetts School Building Authority a "statement of interest" each for Morningside and Conte community schools and Crosby Elementary School.

The documents detail what renovation work is needed to improve the quality of education for the pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students.

The committee's approval followed endorsements by the commission and City Council earlier this week. The fast-track approval process was necessary in order to meet the SBA's filing deadline of Jan. 11.

City school officials have cited how Morningside and Conte, products of the mid-1970's, and 50-year-old Crosby need new heating, ventilation and other systems. In addition, all three are in need of classroom restructuring to meet present-day educational standards.

However, potential state funding for the projects are several years away as plans to either renovate, build anew, or renovate and expand Taconic High School remains the district's priority project, according to schools Superintendent Howard "Jake" Eberwein III.

Mayor James M. Ruberto agreed that Taconic, followed by renovations at Pittsfield High, should stay atop the city's school building to-do list.

"We certainly need a new [Taconic] and it needs to meet 21st century education requirements," said Ruberto.

However, committee member Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga said, "I wish these elementary schools had come first."

If approved, Morningside, Conte and Crosby would the complete city's plan begun more than a decade ago to renovate all eight of its elementary schools. From 1999 to 2001, upgrades and/or additions were made to Allendale, Capeless, Egremont, Stearns and Williams elementary schools.

Related Stories:
City eyes renovations to three elementary schools
City seeking funds for elementary schools

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Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto, who has been at the city’s helm since 2004, relaxes in his office at the end of his storied tenure. The creation of the Beacon Cinema complex ranks high on his list of successes. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Mayor James M. Ruberto: A look back"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 18, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- The Beacon Cinema project was stuck in the planning stages when James M. Ruberto took over as Pittsfield's mayor in January 2004.

Then, early in his tenure, Ruberto struggled to help developer Richard Stanley get the $23 million project on a fast track toward completion.

Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr., an aide to Ruberto at the time, thought the project was doomed.

"At one point, I even advised the mayor to forget the project because it seemed dead for the umpteenth time," said Krol, Ruberto's public-affairs coordinator from August 2005 to June 2007. "And yet he never quit on it. So today we have The Beacon Cinema -- the house that Ruberto built."

The Beacon project involved the renovation and conversion of the Kinnell-Kresge building on North Street into a movie theater, office and retail complex. It all opened in November 2009, primarily due to Ruberto's convincing the City Council, state and local lending institutions to help finance the project.

"Public-private partnerships are at the key of the success of everything that has occurred in Pittsfield the last eight years," Ruberto said. "Were it not for the generosity of the banks and companies we would not be nearly as advanced as we are today."

Ruberto, 65, was reflecting on his eight years in office -- four consecutive two-year terms.

A Pittsfield native and a retired corporate executive in the plastics industry, Ruberto will end his tenure as mayor next month. He will be succeeded by former city councilor Daniel L. Bianchi, who will be sworn in on Jan. 2 as the city's 38th mayor.

Saying "my time has come to step aside," Ruberto decided last January to not seek a fifth term. Bianchi became the mayor-elect when he defeated councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti in the Nov. 8 election.

Only one Pittsfield mayor -- James Fallon from 1938-47 -- has served longer than Ruberto, whose successes include a cultural and economic resurgence downtown, an improved public school system, and the creation of jobs through new and existing business.

Among his failures, critics point to his inability to deliver economic success beyond North Street and a lack of attention to residential neighborhoods. They also cite how he wouldn't listen to opposing viewpoints, and they accuse him of playing political favoritism, especially during his final term.

Eariler this year, Ruberto appointed Tricia Farley-Bouvier, his public-affairs coordinator, as the director of administration services and named Greg Yon, husband of Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, as head of the Maintenance Department. Both were done as acting appointments that didn't require council approval.

"[Ruberto] did many good things in the early years, but I felt he hurt his legacy in this last year," said Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo. "He put too many of his friends into positions ... and he didn't seem to care."

Ruberto said one of his biggest failures in his eight years in office was in not recruiting more minorities to work at City Hall and in the public schools. Recruiting in both sectors would have better reflected the city's diversifying population, he said.

While Ruberto had his share of disappointments, his supporters say his positive attitude and love for his hometown are what Pittsfield needed to start its revitalization in the post-General Electric era.

Under Ruberto, empty North Street storefronts started to fill with merchants and restaurateurs thanks to the Beacon, the reopening of the Colonial Theatre, and Third Thursdays, the city-sponsored monthly block party from May through October.

"The enthusiasm he had was infectious," said City Council President Gerald M. Lee. "It started with the Colonial, and the revitalization took off from there."

Ruberto said he had a game plan for the downtown, and he stuck to it.

"The job of mayor is to set the vision for the community -- plain and simple," he said.

Former Pittsfield Mayor Edward M. Reilly noted that "having a goal is key to being a successful mayor."

Reilly, the city's chief executive from 1992-1997, praised Ruberto for sticking with the plan to revive North Street.

"He gets a lot of credit for the downtown," Reilly said. "If you're active and work hard, things will get done."

Ruberto also saw the need for school improvements by re-activating the School Building Needs Commission five years ago. The panel is studying several options for the Taconic High School campus: Build anew, renovate, or a cominbation of renovation and additions. The city and SBA have said the renovation of Pittsfield High School should follow the Taconic project.

With City Council support, Ruberto also boosted public education by adding 50 to 70 teachers and educational programs, he said. The mayor cited how the investment in the Pittsfield Public Schools has resulted in higher MCAS scores throughout the school system, along with a higher graduation rate and lower dropout rate at Pittsfield High and Taconic.

Ruberto's vision also included using -- again with City Council backing -- economic development funds and tax incentives to lure new employers. LTI Smart Glass and the Ice River Springs water bottling company were among businesses that brought new jobs with them and added to the city's tax base.

Lenox-based LTI relocated the majority of its manufacturing to Federico Drive, while Canadian-based Ice River opened a new bottling plant in a vacant warehouse on West Housatonic Street.

Nevertheless, Ruberto's political adversaries felt it wasn't enough.

"[He] did a fairly good job with economic development, but didn't do what he promised because he didn't put the most qualified people in charge," Mazzeo said.

Ruberto often was criticized for his appointments to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, charged with overseeing the marketing of the William Stanley Business Park. PEDA has landed only one tenant -- Mountain One Financial of North Adams -- since PEDA first gained partial control in 2005 of the 52-acre site once home to a General Electric power transformer plant.

Mountain One is building a new center at the corner of Silver Lake Boulevard and East Street, while a second potential William Stanley tenant, Action Ambulance, is negotiating a lease agreement with PEDA to build a new facility in the business park.

Action opened its Pittsfield operations Feb. 15 out of a facility on West Housatonic Street.

"A lot of talk of marketing, but virtually nothing has been done other than clearing away the buildings, leaving a giant open wound in the middle of the city," said a Pittsfield resident who didn't want his name published.

But the Ruberto era brought stability to city government, especially the working relationship between the mayor and council, according to City Clerk Linda M. Tyer.

"He was able to prove that government works best when there is collaboration between the mayor and City Council," she said.

Tyer was the Ward 3 councilor from 2004 to 2009, before Ruberto tabbed her as the replacement for City Clerk Jody L. Phillips, who vacated the position in January 2009 for a private-sector job.

Ruberto, however, credits Lee, the council president, with helping to maintain the stable mayor-council relationship. Lee has led the 11-member panel since Ruberto's first term.

"He has been a willing supporter and private critic," Ruberto said. "He helped me bend in some ways to reality when it came to some things I wanted accomplished."

Ruberto also forged a lasting political and personal bond with John Barrett III during Barrett's last six years as North Adams' mayor. Barrett was voted out of office in November 2009 after a 26-year reign in the county's only other city.

The two grew closer after Ruberto's wife, Ellen, died in July 2009 after battling a rare form of cancer. Barrett understood the pain Ruberto was going through, having lost his wife, Eileen, to cancer in 1990 during his fifth year in office.

"They say it's lonely at the top. It's even lonelier when there's nobody to go home to," Barrett said.

Ruberto acknowledges that losing Ellen made his last term "much less fun." Others said his close-minded managerial style worked against him in his administration's later years.

Former city employee and longtime Ruberto critic Jeffrey Ferrin cited how Ruberto "failed to communicate with the public."

"When there was gang-related activity three years ago, he never held a press conference to support his police department," said Ferrin, who lost to councilor Paul J. Capitanio in the Ward 3 council race last month.

Ferrin and others also say Ruberto wouldn't listen to opposing viewpoints, criticism that Ruberto backers say is unfounded.

"He had a very open administration ... contrary to popular belief," Lee said.

After Ruberto clears out his personal belongings from City Hall, he'll head to his second home in Bonita Springs, Fla., and stay through spring training to watch his beloved Boston Red Sox in nearby Fort Myers. He said his long-term goal is to take his political skills to another community in need of revitalization.

Does that include a consulting job? Two years ago, after Barrett left the mayor's office, Ruberto hired him to help him improve the delivery of city services to Pittsfield residents.

"Perhaps -- you never rule out anything," Ruberto said. "If there is an opportunity to have influence, I would be interested."

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

Ruberto recap

Some highlights and disappointments during James M. Ruberto's four terms as Pittsfield's mayor.

HIGHLIGHTS

* Oversaw revitalization of downtown Pittsfield and transition to a creative economy, which included the opening of the Beacon Cinema, streetscape projects and improved parking to attract more visitors to the North Street area.

* Instituted anti-blight regulations to get vacant and abandoned properties cleaned up and to improve communication between the city and non-resident landlords.

* Increased city investment in the Pittsfield Public Schools, a move that has led to improved MCAS scores, a declining dropout rate, and a rising high school graduation rate.

* Began work on $22.5 million expansion of Pittsfield Municipal Airport, 12 years after the project was conceived.

* Improved relations between the city and administration of Pittsfield Public Schools and between the mayor and City Council.

* Switched the city's health insurance plan to the state-run Group Insurance Commission, which is expected to save Pittsfield $5.6 million through June 30, 2012.

* Switched the city's health insurance plan to the state-run Group Insurance Commission, which is expected to save Pittsfield $5.6 million through June 30, 2012.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

* The lack of development at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

* Failure to win the City Council's backing for the controversial Resort Development bylaw in 2006, which would have changed the definition of time shares in the city's zoning code.

* Inability to hire more minority city employees, especially teachers, to better reflect Pittsfield's diversifying population.

Source: Berkshire Eagle via interviews and research

Good report card

Since becoming mayor in 2004, James Ruberto has increased the city's investment in the Pittsfield Public Schools, a move that has led to improved MCAS scores, a declining dropout rate, and a rising high school graduation rate. The breakdown:

* On their latest MCAS scores, announced in September, Pittsfield students got a rating of 83.9 out of 100, compared with a 69.9 in 2005. The 83.9 is the best score among all 24 urban school districts in the state in 2011.

* The dropout rate fell from 8.6 percent in 2003 to 3.4 percent in 2010.

* The combined graduation rate for Pittsfield and Taconic high schools rose from 69.5 percent in 2007 to 78.2 percent last year. The graduation and dropout rates for 2011 have yet to be released.

Source: www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_19572711

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"Ruberto made city a far better place"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, December 18, 2011

A mayor of any city is judged on tangible accomplishments, but because a mayor sets the tone for a city, the chief executive is also judged on intangibles that are less easy to quantify. When James M. Ruberto was first elected mayor eight years ago, Pittsfield had many specific needs but it also badly needed an attitude adjustment. As he prepares to leave office, Mr. Ruberto can take pride in tangible accomplishments, but just as significantly he gave the city a shot of adrenaline, triggering a forward momentum that must continue if the city is to thrive in the years ahead.

Pittsfield was slow to accept the reality of the loss of General Electric and its manufacturing base and slower still to accept that new ways of thinking had to be adopted and new approaches taken. Upon his election, Mr. Ruberto had to confront the attitude in some circles that the city should hunker down and wait for good times to return rather than act aggressively to make them return. During four terms in office that largely coincided with a flat economy, Mr. Ruberto, with the critical assistance of capable department heads and a progressive City Council led by "willing supporter and private critic" Gerald Lee, pushed, prodded and dragged Pittsfield forward while other cities in the Northeast stagnated or fell backward.

A mayor’s job, Mr. Ruberto told members of The Eagle’s editorial board recently, is to "set the vision for the community, plain and simple, and marshal the forces to execute that vision." A large portion of that vision was the renovation of a bleak downtown so it could become the proud face of the city once again. His success there cannot be overemphasized, because the revived downtown enlivened by cultural venues, restaurants, retailers and a fresh look is not only a point of pride to residents it is a recruiting tool to attract the businesses the city needs to boost its tax base and employ its residents.

Public-private partnerships, the mayor told The Eagle, "were the key to the success of everything that happened in the last years," and that was certainly true downtown. The renovation of the Colonial Theatre and the building of the Beacon Cinema would not have happened, said the mayor, without the city’s banks and business community. That business community was largely an untapped resource until Mr. Ruberto, with the help of state and federal grants and other "tools" that government provided his administration, was invited to help jump-start the city. In guiding the Beacon on the long road to completion, Mr. Ruberto demonstrated his characteristic dogged persistence.

Mr. Ruberto promised eight years ago to be an advocate for public education, and Pittsfield’s public schools have improved under his watch in spite of financial challenges. The expansion of the Pittsfield airport finally became reality, anti-blight regulations have made neighborhoods more livable, and his advocacy of switching the city’s health insurance plan to the state’s Group Insurance Commission has saved and will save millions of dollars. There have been disappointments, most notably slow growth at the William Stanley Business Park, but as the mayor’s term ends there are encouraging signs there.

The pugnacious mayor made enemies, but for the most part they were the right enemies. The city’s many conspiracy theorists were convinced that any action by City Hall was motivated by a sinister secret agenda and critics were so invested in the mayor’s failure they would have welcomed it even if that failure was by definition bad for the city. The mayor acknowledged to The Eagle that this anger and cynicism were harder to shrug off his last term because his wife Ellen, who was so important to his success, had died in July of 2009 after a long struggle with cancer.

As he leaves office, Mayor Ruberto has set the bar high for his successor, Daniel Bianchi. The mayor is also handing over the reins of a city that is in far better shape than it was when he took office.

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"Council gives company time on employment quotas"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 19, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- LTI Smart Glass has been granted another two years to meet a hiring quota in order to keep accessing city economic development funds.

The City Council has approved Mayor James M. Ruberto's request to grant the Lenox-based manufacturer another two years to meet an employment deadline worth $100,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund.

"When this first came before us, it was the kind of investment [by the city] people wanted to see," said Ward 4 Councilor Michael L. Ward.

In 2008, the City Council allocated a total of $350,000 to LTI from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund. So far, the company has received $250,000 for making capital improvements at its Federico Drive facility and for having at least 70 workers at that location by Dec. 31, 2010.

The final $100,000 payment was to be disbursed three months after LTI reached 100 employees, which was to be required by Dec. 31 of this year. Under the extension, the commitment would be split in half: a $50,000 payment if the company has 85 employees by Dec. 31, 2012, and $50,000 if it has a 100-person payroll as of Dec. 31, 2013.

By a 10-1 vote, with Ward 7 Councilor Joseph C. Nichols opposed, the council last week granted the extension. Nichols voted against the proposal saying LTI had its chances to meet the hiring benchmarks and another deserving business could use the $100,000.

"I think an agreement is an agreement and the city met all its requirements," he said.

While LTI officials claim the global economic climate kept the company from reaching its final hiring benchmark, company president Jeffrey Besse has cited how his payroll has doubled in two years from 30 to 76 employees.

In 2008, LTI purchased a vacant 35,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at 14 Federico Drive; the first step toward moving the bulk of its company to Pittsfield. The following year, LTI started construction on a 60,000-square-foot addition, in part to accommodate the relocation of its Melbourne, Fla. operation to Pittsfield.

The $7 million investment has generated $57,000 in annual tax revenue for Pittsfield, according to city officials, a figure expected to reach $90,000 by the end of the decade.

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"New prospect for business park to be named"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 20, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- More development may be on the horizon for the William Stanley Business Park.

According to a statement released by Mayor James Ruberto's office, city officials plan to announce a new prospect for the 52-acre park on Wednesday.

"We have a party that wishes to make a major investment in Pittsfield and we're going to make that announcement tomorrow," said Corydon L. Thurston, the executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, which administers the park.

Thurston said a developer has expressed interest in leasing a 16-acre parcel of the park bordered by Woodland Avenue and Tyler Street. He declined to be more specific.

The new tenant would be the third this year to announce plans to lease space from the business park.

In April, MountainOne Financial Partners announced plans to construct a financial center on a 1.3-acre parcel that overlooks Silver Lake. The North Adams-based financial institution was the first business tenant that PEDA has brought to the 52-acre business park since the organization's inception 13 years ago.

Last month, Action Ambulance, headquartered in Wilmington, announced plans to build a 17,000-square-foot building to serve as its regional headquarters at the park.

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"Ruberto Q&A: Looking back on his 8 years as mayor"
Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 28, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Outgoing Mayor James Ruberto recently met with The Eagle editorial board to discuss his eight years in office. Dan Bianchi will take over as Pittsfield's next mayor on Monday. The following excerpts are from the Ruberto question-and-answer session:

Q: What do you consider your greatest success during your tenure in office?

A: It's making Pittsfield a livable city again. It's making the city a very good place to work and to play. The things which were done to reinvent our downtown have truly helped make us a livable city.

Q: So the redevelopment of the downtown was the biggest achievement?

A: As a building block, I think that was the cornerstone to major economic development, and that I am very, very proud of. Allowing for Pittsfield to be a destination point for culture and entertainment ... that I think ties to creating that first building block that will ultimately allow for us to recruit entrepreneurial companies into Pittsfield. Our theme has always been about jobs and how do we identify jobs.

The public schools [also are] a point of pride. What we have done is not only stabilized but advanced the quality of education in the city of Pittsfield. The successes that we have had in the Pittsfield school system, I believe, are a direct result of making sure we look at dropouts and we continue to look at different ways to educate them, and that's reflected in our improved MCAS scores that we keep seeing. We are doing things right, and we must continue to invest heavily in our school system.

Q: What is your biggest disappointment?

A: Personally, thatwe did not recruit into the city a more diverse employee base that better reflects what the population of Pittsfield is. If I were to do it over again ... and coming in for one final term, the first thing I would do is go to the City Council to hire a diversity recruiter. Someone whose challenge it is to identify qualified [minorities] and get them into City Hall and the school system.

Q: Do you think the city will be better off in two years?

A: For that to happen, certainly I think we're going to need to see continued strengthening in state revenue and hopefully see increases in state aid. It would be wise to continue the focus on public-private partnerships that the city has benefited from over the last eight years. It's going to be very important that city leaders encourage arts and culture both from a performance and professional perspective. Finally, I think it's important to show [state government] that we can take tools from their tool box that are legislated and be implemented here, whether it be streamlining the permitting process or creating affordable housing.

Q: How important was your wife, Ellen, to doing your job and how did that change when she passed away two years ago?

A: Ellen had some passions: drug abuse, homelessness, she was involved in the formation of the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership ... and with the Red Cross. She was involved in so many elements of the community that I had somebody coming home all the time saying, ‘You're not paying enough attention here,' and that was most helpful. Without [her input], it did impact parts of my vision for the city over the past two years.

Q: Now that you'll be on the outside looking in at City Hall, will you second-guess the decisions of the new mayor and City Council?
A: Once you're gone -- you're gone. When someone takes over, they take over on their terms, and as an individual, you have no right to interfere."

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"Arts community fetes Mayor Ruberto"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 29, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Nearly five years ago, Mayor James M. Ruberto and his late wife Ellen were so enamored with Ferrin Gallery, they convinced the owners to join in the city’s downtown revitalization.

So in the spring of 2007, Leslie Ferrin and her business partner Donald Clark moved their Lenox art gallery to 437 North St. The Rubertos were thrilled to have a business feature area painters, sculptors and photographers; it became one of their favorite venues. Ellen made sure the gallery was one of the last places she visited a week before she died in July 2009, her husband recalled at a gathering in his honor there on Wednesday evening.

"Pittsfield has one of the finest art galleries in Berkshire County," Ruberto said. "Ellen and I encouraged people to come in and support the local artists."

Some 30 members of the local arts community gathered at the Ferrin Gallery to praise the out-going mayor for supporting them during his eight years in office.

"[Ruberto] changed so many lives in Pittsfield that we felt the need for an event to celebrate all he has given to the creative community," Ferrin said.

Ruberto officially leaves City Hall in a few days, giving way to Daniel L. Bianchi, who will be sworn in as Pittsfield’s new chief executive on Jan. 2.

Last month, Bianchi defeated Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti in the mayoral election after Ruberto had opted against seeking a fifth consecutive two-year term.

During the intimate gathering, Ruberto was praised for realizing that the performing and visual arts could be part of the downtown’s renaissance. He was lauded for the revival of the Colonial Theatre and the return of a movie house downtown in The Beacon Cinema.

"Ten to 15 years ago, people were embarrassed to bring others to downtown Pittsfield; now they come here first," said Peter J. Lafayette, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.

Ruberto cited how the arts community remains vital to the city’s future successes.

"This group represents the spirit and energy of Pittsfield," he said.

Local artisans vowed to continue Ruberto’s vision of a creative Pittsfield.

"I’m here to tell you your dream is here to stay," said local dancer Reba Evenchik.

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"Ruberto reflects on four terms in office"
By: Brandon Walker - (Link: http://capitalregion.ynn.com/content/top_stories/568543/ruberto-reflects-on-four-terms-in-office/?MP4 ) - 12/29/2011

Pittsfield starts a new chapter Monday when Dan Bianchi is sworn in as mayor. He succeeds James Ruberto, who says his last days in office have been busier than ever. Ruberto shared some highs and lows from his eight years as mayor with our Berkshire County reporter Brandon Walker.

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts -- As James Ruberto bids City Hall a final adieu, Jimmy, as he's known around town, looks back at his time in office.

"In 2001, Pittsfield simply wasn't a livable city. It's downtown was in distress," he said.

So, he and his wife, Ellen, decided they could work to change that. Ruberto first ran for mayor in 2001, shortly after moving back to his hometown from Dallas. He lost that bid, though, ran again, and won, in 2003.

"What we had to do is recognize that it's only through an eclectic mix of businesses that Pittsfield is going to create itself to be a sustainable community," he said.

He says he achieved that. Changing the city's industrial scope to welcome small business, tourism and the arts to create an economic base post-General Electric.

"We were able together with the city council to forge a progressive agenda that was based on the fact that government is necessary to change the lives of people in a community."

But Ruberto admits the progressive approach wasn't always the right approach.

"You'll always look back and say I should have done things better."

Particularly, a push to bring to town what became the Pittsfield Colonials. They played their first season in 2010, but low ticket sales resulted in the operation playing its final inning this past fall.

"That was an effort that was not built on the financial certainties I thought existed"

Though overall, Ruberto says he's leaving the city in good condition to his successor, Dan Bianchi. A pledge he made to his wife, Ellen, who passed away during his last bid for re-election.

"She's smiling today. For sure."

Ruberto will split his time between Pittsfield and a home he owns in Florida.

Meanwhile, Mayor-elect Dan Bianchi will be sworn in Monday (January 2, 2011) at 10 a.m.

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"Ruberto says he served with passion"
By Brian Sullivan, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, December 29, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- I asked the question expecting a certain answer. But Jimmy Ruberto fooled me.

I asked the mayor if cancer angered him. I wanted to know if he'd like one chance to wrap his hands around the throat of the disease that took away his wife, Ellen, and her sister Anne. I wanted to know if he'd like to choke the life out of what also took away his brother, Tony, the former district court judge and the first elected Berkshire district attorney.

Ruberto said no. He said when it's your time, it's your time.

"Is that your Catholic upbringing and St. Joe education talking, or is this the Jimmy Ruberto of 2011 talking," I said.

"It's the Jim Ruberto of 2011 talking," he said.

Ruberto's office, "the corner office," looked more like the dormitory room of a college student clearing out for the summer. There were boxes and crates and files ready to be moved out after Ruberto's four-term, eight-year run as the leader of our city. Visible evidence supported the theory that you pick up a little of this and a little of that over eight years.

Gone on this day was the vintage desk that his father, Anthony Sr., and brother, Tony, had also used. The desk is in storage now, and the mayor doubted there would be a time when it might get summoned again from the furniture bullpen. But, you never know.

The desk and only a few other items went wire-to-wire with the mayor during his eight years. There was, of course, the Red Sox lunch box and the Red Sox this and Red Sox that -- this Yankees fan squirmed in his seat while it all was being pointed out. I asked about the painting of Robert Kennedy, and Ruberto beamed. That, he said, has been in his office since Day One. It's a LeRoy Neiman work, and there are only 250 prints. He pointed to a number in the lower left corner of the painting. "See, No. 209," he said.

Why Bobby Kennedy? "Someone else asked me that once," Ruberto said. "I told them that when someone came into this office I wanted them to feel passion. And who was a better model for passion in politics than Bobby Kennedy."

A bronze medallion with the likeness of former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller also made the eight-year journey. Ruberto had seen the former GOP strongman at a campaign stop years ago and made eye contact.

Rockefeller acknowledged Ruberto in some fashion, and a love affair was born.

Ruberto went to the mound for five elections. He record was 4-1, losing the opener to Sara Hathaway before evening the score and winning his next three decisions. Successful in the private sector and having been away for 30 years, Jim and Ellen returned to their native Pittsfield 10 years ago and were somewhat dismayed.

"I didn't find Pittsfield livable," he said. "I said to Ellen, ‘Why don't we run for mayor?' "

That was a tough election. People didn't really know Ruberto, his sister-in-law died just before the campaign, and he was fighting his own battle against Bell's palsy. No one would have blamed him if he gave up the ideal right then and there after the subsequent loss to Hathaway. But he threw his hat in the ring again and this time prevailed.

I asked Ruberto which of the five campaigns were the most difficult.

The first? Because, well, it's the first. The second? Because who wants to lose back-to-back elections? The fourth? Ellen had been diagnosed with cancer, but pressed her husband to move forward.

It was, said Ruberto, the final one. "Because Ellen was gone," he said.

She died in July 2009 just a short time before the campaign season. "She had told me that January that she wanted me to run," Ruberto recalled. "She knew I had unfinished business, and it's true, I did. Things like the airport project were important to me."

Ruberto will go to Florida for the winter, but when the Red Sox break camp and head north, so will he. Then what? "If there's a place for me or someone wants me, then great," he said. "If not ..." He shrugged.

The carousel ride in the corner office has stopped for the moment, and Ruberto is getting off. But like he said, when it's your time, it's your time.

Brian Sullivan can be reached at mariavicsullivan@yahoo.com

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"Pittsfield planner Ruffer to step down, head to Cape"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 15, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The city's top planner, who was instrumental in the downtown revitalization and other Pittsfield economic development in recent years, is taking her talents to Cape Cod.

Deanna L. Ruffer said on Tuesday she will step down as community development director, effective Sept. 7, to assume a similar position in the town of Chatham.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi will begin to search for Ruffer's successor, as community development director is a mayoral appointment, subject to City Council approval. The position currently pays an annual salary of nearly $73,000, with the funding evenly split between city taxpayers and a federal grant.

While Ruffer relishes her eight years at City Hall working with Bianchi and former Mayor James M. Ruberto, who appointed her director in 2004, she said the move is a good one for her personally and professionally.

"I'll be responsible for implementing the reorganization of [Chatham's] community development department," she said. "This is an opportunity to apply my leadership skills in an area my husband and I love."

Bianchi and Ruberto say the city is losing a consummate professional who helped guide millions of dollars worth of economic development, housing and recreational projects. The successes include the Beacon Cinema, Colonial Theatre, Rice Silk Mill apartments and First Street Common. She also was responsible for recruiting LTI Smart Glass and Ice River Springs to expand into Pittsfield.

"All of us will miss her exceptional work ethic, her talent for putting difficult projects together and her skill at bringing them to successful conclusions," Bianchi said in a statement.

"Pittsfield is losing the finest community development director it ever had," added Ruberto. "[Ruffer] leaves the city a legacy of how to get grants and get Pittsfield recognized in Boston."

Under Ruffer's direction, the city received more than $22 million in grants, excluding the federal community development block grants Pittsfield is awarded every year, toward infrastructure and other im provements to the city.

"It became clear to me early on, Pittsfield had to pursue every possible funding source to help move the city forward," she said.

Ruffer is confident the community development office won't miss a beat during the search for her successor.

"This staff steps up to the plate when asked as they take pride in serving this community," she said.

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The second floor of this three-floor building on Summer Street that houses Berkshire Nautilus will be the site of Spectrum Healthcare Systems’ methadone clinc. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

"Taxpayers to pay for $100K clinic settlement"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 15, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield taxpayers will foot the $100,000 bill incurred by the city as part of a settlement with Spectrum Healthcare Systems that was filed in federal court on Tuesday to resolve a dispute over a proposed methadone clinic.

According to Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, the payment is coming from funds in the fiscal 2013 budget approved by the City Council in June.

"We set aside the money in case we needed it," Bianchi said. "I was hoping we wouldn't use it."

City Solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan noted the city's liability insurance won't cover a claim in order to pay the penalty.

Through emails to The Eagle and before City Council, several city residents on Tuesday said they were thrilled with the settlement.

"I think this is a very expensive lesson to pay $100,000 to satisfy a lawsuit that should have never taken place," said Mary Lou Robinson.

The settlement also allows Spectrum to open its methadone treatment center on Summer Street this fall, but it will consider eventually moving the center into a Berkshire Health Systems facility, city officials announced Monday.

The Worcester-based nonprofit sued Pittsfield last year after Mayor James M. Ruberto and his administration sought to block a building permit for the clinic.

"We commend the city for reaching a negotiated resolution of this matter," said Charles Faris, Spectrum's president and CEO.

However, Faris, in his brief written statement issued Tuesday, didn't comment on the specifics of the settlement, opting to look forward to the clinic's opening later this fall.

"We are primarily concerned with getting the treatment service operational and responding to the significant levels of addiction in Pittsfield," Faris said. "We concur with Mayor Bianchi that the provision of this service is part of the solution, not the problem."

The state Department of Public Health has determined Pittsfield needs a methadone clinic to serve the number of drug addicts who reside here. According to state health officials, there were 695 non-fatal opiod related overdoses in Pittsfield three years ago.

Meanwhile, Berkshire Health Systems officials on Tuesday had no further comment on the possibility that BHS could provide space for the clinic if Spectrum chose to relocate.

Pending approval from the city's Building Department -- likely by mid- to late October -- the clinic will open in the Berkshire Nautilus building, according to city officials. The second floor of the three-story building is currently being renovated to accommodate the clinic.

According to Spectrum's website, it has posted job openings for eight employees who will staff the outpatient facility.

The potential location of the methadone clinic created a firestorm of opposition two months ago when word spread that Spectrum was possibly looking at private property on Stoddard Avenue. Many residents and city councilors were upset over that location, primarily because the city had made no mention Spectrum was considering the site.

Bianchi said he couldn't comment on the negotiations between the city and Spectrum, because he had to honor a confidentiality agreement between the nonprofit and Ruberto, reached prior to the mayor taking office Jan. 1.

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"Pittsfield retirement system 'in good shape'"
By Jim Therrien / Berkshire Eagle, 12/23/2012

Retirement funds solid The city employee system's investments have grown by $ 8.6 million since January.

PITTSFIELD - City employee retirement system investments continue to recover from the depths of the Great Recession, when the Retirement Board opted to join a larger state investment fund and allowed the city to spread out its annual payments to the system.

The system's investments now are worth a total of $88.8 million, up $ 8.6 million since January, the Retirement Board reported this week.

The overall health of the system, including its projected long-term liabilities in terms of pension benefits to be paid over time, now appears good, according to Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop, chairman of the council's Finance Committee.

"I think there have been people who have wanted to create anxiety for political reasons," Lothrop said, referring to the projected amounts that will be owed to retirees.

"Personally," he added, "I don't believe there is a crisis at all."

The city this year put $9.7 million into the retirement system, which includes municipal and non-instructional school employees. The amount is similar to payments a private sector employee would be required to pay as an employer match into the Social Security system.

The amount is determined annually based on state Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission figures, which include an evaluation of assets and the long-term liabilities the system is expected to incur.

In Pittsfield, the Retirement Board decided in 2008 to allow the state Pension Reserves Investment Management board to manage 90 percent of its investments, according to Karen L. Lancto, executive director of the city system. That allowed the system's investments to be included in a much larger statewide fund, where it might expect a higher rate of return.

Berkshire County Retirement System investments also are managed by PRIM, along with 20 other entities in the state, according to the website.

At the time of the last twoyear audit report from PERAC (January 2011), the city system had $110 million in estimated long-term liabilities and 46.4 percent of that was considered funded. As an investment fund gains value, however, the percentage considered funded should rise.

Lancto said the next audit is due in 2013.

The Retirement Board also decided to allow the city to spread out payments to the system by six more years (to 2038) than in the original calculation, lowering annual payments but adding more to the total over time. This was similar to a homeowner refinancing a mortgage and adding years to the repayment term.

Lothrop said he believes that was a sound move. He said the city's choices were to raise taxes, cut spending or spread out the payments. "The [repayment] figures do get daunting going out," he said, but added that inflation or other factors could reduce the city's annual payments in coming years.

The extension option for retirement systems was allowed by the state, which has been dealing with its own pension liability issues and wanted to do the same.

While he believes the pension system is "in pretty good shape," Lothrop said he is "far more concerned about the health insurance side of things."

He said that unlike with the pension system, which has an investment fund, health insurance benefits for city retirees are funded through direct annual payments. Those are projected to keep rising.

Lothrop added, however, that there has been discussion among city officials of setting up an investment fund to help cover those costs, which would result in substantial savings over time. The option would require setting up an investment fund and paying into it annually, but projections in figures prepared by the state show long-term expenses can be cut considerably.

There currently are about 750 retirees in the city pension system.

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"Pittsfield alleges malpractice in suit against former city solicitor Richard Dohoney"
By Andrew Amelinckx, Berkshire Eagle, January 19, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The city of Pittsfield, after losing a lawsuit over the demolition of an apartment complex, has turned around and sued a former city solicitor for malpractice, blaming him for the go-ahead to tear down the building and asking the court to make him pay whatever damages are assessed in the case.

According to court documents filed in Berkshire Superior Court, the city alleges that attorney Richard M. Dohoney, the city solicitor under Mayor James Ruberto’s administration, informed the Pittsfield Board of Health in January 2010 that the demolition of a building located at 11-15 Melville St. was legal.

The building was torn down in April 2010. Two years later, in May 2012, the building’s owner, Pesu Inc., filed an amended complaint in Berkshire Superior Court stating that the demolition was illegal because there had been no required condemnation order in place before the building was demolished. Dohoney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In a summary judgment by Judge John A. Agostini from November, Pesu won the case. The company is asking for $175,000 in damages; a hearing on the damages could happen as early as next month.

In his decision, Agostini wrote that because "the [Board of Health] did not issue a condemnation order, they did not provide sufficient notice and thus were without authority to demolish Pesu’s building."

The Secretary of State’s Corporations Division lists Madeline C. Culpo of Pittsfield as president of Pesu Inc.

According to court papers, four apartments in the complex were cited six separate times between 2000 to 2004 for various sanitary code violations, including a non-functioning toilet and insufficient heat. In 2006, the Board of Health declared the property "unfit for human habitation" and issued a condemnation order, but rescinded the order three days later. It was unclear in court documents why the order was rescinded.

The next year, another apartment in the complex was cited for violations, and in October 2007 the city ordered the property demolished.

In August 2008, the Board of Health told Pesu that if it could find a buyer and present a purchase and sale agreement as well as a plan to repair the property by the next month, the board would rescind the order. No sale materialized and after a final inspection in January 2010 determined that the original violations hadn’t been corrected, the complex was demolished.

The city alleges that it went ahead with the demolition based on Dohoney’s advice. The court file doesn’t yet contain Dohoney’s response to the accusations, which isn’t due until May.

The case is scheduled to be in Superior Court in July.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi was on his way to Washington, D.C., on Friday and was unavailable for comment. A call to current city solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan was not returned by press time.

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"News analysis: Fix still far off for Pittsfield appointments process"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, January 25, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The city's department head appointment process is generally described as a frustrating muddle -- and something the Charter Review Study Committee intends to tackle -- but the group appears split on a recommended fix.

The situation today, under Pittsfield's 80-year-old charter, is that the City Council is supposed to have review and approval authority over the mayor's appointments, but that doesn't always happen when appointees are considered to be in an "acting" capacity -- and sometimes remain there for lengthy periods.

In addition, "holdover" appointments -- officials who are retained by a mayor into a new term, or those who remain under a newly elected mayor -- apparently are required to go before the council, according to wording in the charter. But that isn't often the reality.

And then there are those people appointed under Civil Service -- the merit system for hiring and promotions -- regulations: Can they be considered "acting"? And if so, for how long? Are they automatically permanent and protected under the Civil Service system? And does the council have any role under Civil Service law?

"It's very confusing," said Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, when discussing the status of police Chief Michael J. Wynn and fire Chief Robert Czerwinski and whether they fall under Civil Service regulations.

Both chiefs were appointed by former Mayor James M. Ruberto, but apparently as "acting chiefs."

Ruberto and Bianchi have said they believe the positions should be removed from Civil Service testing and selection requirements, but nothing has occurred over the past four years to clarify the situation. The hope is that this issue will be among those resolved in an overhaul of the charter.

After completing its study in April, the charter review committee is expected to recommend a number of changes to how city government operates, which would then need mayoral and council approval and a sign-off from the state Legislature before being submitted to the voters -- likely in November.

"The mayor should have the power to put in place a team that reflects his or her administration," Bianchi said of his position on appointments. "This would enhance professionalism long term. It would take the personal politics out of it."

The City Council, Bianchi said, can always investigate actions of the administration and request information from department heads they consider ineffective.

The position on appointments is one that has gained support among some councilors and other city officials and on the charter committee. However, members of the 11-member charter review committee balked at a recommendation vote. They have called for further study and information gathering, especially on technical and legal issues and Civil Service requirements.

The extended use of acting department head designations was perhaps the prime motivation for council members in calling for charter revisions to spell out time limits and other restrictions on such appointments.

In 2011, Ruberto vetoed a council proposal to limit the terms of acting department heads and other paid or voluntary appointments to six months. His veto was upheld in December on a 7-3 vote of the council with one abstention. Eight votes would have been required for a veto override.

The proposed ordinance would have given mayors up to six months to choose a permanent replacement for positions that had been vacated or whose term has expired and which are appointed by the mayor.

Ruberto, who did not seek re-election and was replaced by Bianchi in January 2012, argued that the ordinance would have hindered the ability of mayors to fill positions in city government.

Bianchi said last week that he agrees with the former mayor on that. "I don't see the benefit of a time limit," he said.

Ruberto also argued in 2011 that under the current city charter, the mayor has discretion in such personnel decisions and added that he believed the proposed ordinance would have run counter to that.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo and others rejected that claim, and despite the failed ordinance, the focus began to turn in 2011 to creation of a charter review committee to make recommendations on this and other issues. Mazzeo had earlier proposed a 60-day limit on acting mayor appointments before a permanent official would have to be nominated.

Not only does the practice allow the mayor to avoid council scrutiny of appointments, Mazzeo said this week, but it makes appointees "beholding to the mayor," because he or she is serving "at the whim of the mayor."

She is one of the councilors who favors retention of council review of appointments, but with referral of nominee names to a council subcommittee first for initial discussion and a recommendation to the full council.

If the charter is changed to allow the mayor full appointment power, the issues of acting or so-called holdover appointees would naturally become moot.

Some councilors and others see mayoral appointments as dangerous if cronies could be appointed and prove incompetent -- particularly if a proposed four-year term for mayor is included in a new charter, meaning he or she could not as quickly be removed from office along with his or her appointees.

The idea of a recall provision that would allow a supermajority of the council to fire an appointee hasn't been discussed. Currently, the charter only allows the council in a supermajority of 8 of 11 votes to reject a mayor's attempt to fire an appointee.

Councilor at large Barry J. Clairmont, who favors having the mayor make the appointments without review, said a recall provision on appointees might be worth exploring during the charter process.

Of the Civil Service testing requirement, in which a mayor must choose from top scorers on a test for the position, Bianchi said, "I see it as limiting. Tests may not be a great assessment of leaders."

While a number of officials have said they favor allowing the mayor to make appointments, some want a few key officials, such as the police and fire chiefs and city solicitor, to be reviewed by the council. If the chiefs are to be hired under Civil Service rules, however, the council apparently would not then be able to reject that person.

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"City recoups $60,000 from insurance carrier in Spectrum settlement"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 10, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The mayor and city solicitor have negotiated an agreement with Pittsfield’s liability insurance carrier that will recoup more than half the amount of a controversial lawsuit settlement with Spectrum Healthcare Systems.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said the insurance carrier, Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA) Property and Casualty Group Inc., agreed late last month to pay the city $60,000. The city had sought reimbursement for the $100,000 it paid in August as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by Spectrum to resolve a dispute over a proposed methadone clinic.

The nonprofit group sued Pittsfield after the administration of former Mayor James M. Ruberto sought to block a building permit for the clinic. The Bianchi administration, which came into office in January 2012, subsequently settled the suit in a controversial agreement that allowed a permit for the clinic on Summer Street and paid Spectrum $100,000.

In the written agreement with the city’s insurer, MIIA agrees to pay the city $60,000 to resolve their disagreement over liability coverage, but states that "it is not to be construed as an admission of any coverage obligations owed to the city by MIIA under the [city’s] policies."

City Solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan said Thursday that she and the mayor continued talking to the carrier after the first response was a denial of coverage for the $100,000 Pittsfield had to pay Spectrum in the lawsuit settlement.

"Obviously, they disagree, but they did end up paying [$60,000]," she said.

Bianchi said Thursday, "I’m pleased. I was disappointed with the denial but pleased we could negotiate."

The mayor said MIIA at first rejected an appeal of its original denial and later offered a lower settlement amount before finally agreeing to pay Pittsfield $60,000.

The lawsuit filed by Spectrum in U.S. District Court and the Bianchi administration’s decision to settle it in August by agreeing to a permit for a methadone clinic here and to a $100,000 payment sparked controversy and criticism from city councilors and others. The debate raged before the council and in the media for several weeks, especially over the $100,000 payment, the fact the Bianchi administration settled a dispute with Spectrum that the Ruberto administration had fought in court, and over Degnan’s handling of the suit settlement.

Bianchi has vigorously defended the lawsuit settlement, which he said was necessary because the Ruberto administration had "illegally" denied a building permit for the methadone clinic. He said that he saw very little chance the city would prevail in the courts and that it could be liable for much more than $100,000, based on similar lawsuits.

Some councilors and others said they thought the city might have prevailed in court or at least avoided the $100,000 payment.

The state Department of Public Health had earlier determined that the city needs a methadone clinic to serve the number of addicts who reside here. Methadone is commonly used to treat addiction to painkillers and opiates, such as heroin.

And Bianchi defended Degnan against harsh criticism from some councilors and rejected a call for her to be fired. He termed an unsuccessful attempt at a no-confidence vote in the council on the solicitor and other criticism "playing politics" on the part of some councilors.

Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, one of those critical of the handling of the Spectrum settlement, said Friday, "I am very happy we have received some compensation, and I think it is time to move forward."

Lothrop said, however, that he still sees a need for greater communication on the part of the Bianchi administration with the council, particularly briefings concerning pending legal matters. He said this biggest concern last year was that he felt the council was kept in the dark concerning details of the Spectrum settlement and asked to approve the $100,000 payment without knowing of the state of the lawsuit negotiations.

Ward 1 City Councilor Christine Yon issued a statement Friday on the insurance settlement, saying: "I am happy that a partial payment from the insurance company will relieve some of the burden from the taxpayers; however, I believe if we had been properly represented no funds should have been paid to Spectrum.

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"First Fridays Artswalk energizes downtown Pittsfield"

Photographer Drew Finn showed a collection
BostonGlobe.com - Winter/Spring of 2013

PITTSFIELD — It’s late on Friday afternoon and a small crowd has gathered at Mary’s Carrot Cake on Union Street. Today Mary McGinnis’s 27-ingredient carrot cake and addictive red velvet cupcakes take second billing to the art of Jackie Kearns, 26. The University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate is presenting a show of her latest works at the store. Kearns’s unpopulated street scenes, created with a hazy charcoal and oil mix, evoke a feeling of mystery, especially when painted on objects such as chairs, a bookshelf, and curtains. The pieces are on the floor and on walls around the room, one painting hanging atop a display case of cakes, cupcakes, and other goodies.

When the 17 artists working in studio spaces above McGinnis’s bake shop approached her with the idea of presenting their work in her store, she embraced the idea and renamed that section of the shop Gallery 25. Then McGinnis took it a step further. Having heard about art walks around the country, she wanted to create one downtown. Except there was one big difference. Those other cities had art galleries to showcase artists’ wares. Except for the Ferrin Gallery, Berkshire Community College’s Intermodal Gallery, and the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, there wasn’t much traditional gallery space in Pittsfield.

That didn’t stop McGinnis. One of eight children brought up here, she had seen the steady decline of a city that had relied heavily on General Electric for jobs. After the company pulled out in the ’80s, downtown was littered with vacant buildings and became the object of ridicule from its far more manicured neighbors to the south and north, Lenox and Williamstown.

Where others saw despair, artists saw opportunity. In 2002, local artist Maggie Mailer, the daughter of author Norman Mailer, founded the Storefront Artists Project, converting vacant retail space into artists’ studios. Backed by Pittsfield’s mayor at the time, James Ruberto, and Megan Whilden, director of the city’s Office of Cultural Development, a new arts district started to take root. In 2006, the long dormant Colonial Theatre, an epic Vaudevillian stage that first made its debut in 1903, reopened to much fanfare. That same summer, the Barrington Stage Company moved to town and made the 1912 Music Hall its new home.

Slowly, empty storefronts on North Street, the main commercial artery downtown, transformed into restaurants, health food stores, and a new movie theater, The Beacon Cinema. They weren’t art galleries, but they had walls where you could hang works by artists who were now living and working in the city. So McGinnis went door to door, asking store and restaurant owners to stay open the first Friday night of every month to showcase the artists’ works. More than 20 signed up and last May First Fridays Artswalk made its debut. So far, it’s been a smashing success.

“The event has brought in well over $250,000 worth of sales of art and commerce,” says McGinnis. By merging art with local businesses, she has made believers out of store owners like Steven Valenti, a purveyor of quality men’s suits, dress shirts, sweaters, and shoes who’s celebrating his 30th anniversary on North Street this year.

“It’s been quite a roller coaster ride. Over the past five years, I’ve seen a resurgence in downtown. I’m glad I stuck around,” says Valenti. At first reluctant, he was swayed by McGinnis’s passion for the project and impressed by the work of a local artist and curator, Sean McCusker, who matches the right artist to the right space and then arranges the exhibition. One artist Valenti’s store presented was his former art history professor.

“I saw classmates I haven’t seen in 40 years,” says Valenti, adding that he’s welcomed over 100 people to his store on certain First Fridays, including many new customers who were happy to make a purchase simply because he’s supportive of the arts.

“We had this one guy come up from New York solely for the Artswalk. He ended up buying over $700 worth of merchandise and then called me two days later to tell me what a grand time he and his wife had,” adds Valenti.

The art also flies off the walls. When photographer Susan Geller had her show at Gallery 25 in October, she sold seven works and met Dr. Ruth, who was performing at the Barrington Stage Company across the street.

Not content with simply founding the First Fridays Artswalk, McGinnis leads a free tour every month. This month the first stop is Wild Sage, an antiques store that showcased the postcard-sized works of Ellen Joffe-Halpern. It took the artist three years to complete 365 of these attractive pint-sized watercolors, depicting everyday life, from the tilt of a coffee cup to the ticking of a clock.

At the Berkshire Community College Intermodal Gallery, housed in the Pittsfield bus station, painter Don Orcutt presents recent works that he likes to describe as “surrealism with a John Cleese attitude.” Inspired by artists Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí, many of Orcutt’s oils have a whimsical side, like “The Emperor’s New Head,” where a large head is afloat in a medieval-like parade.

Photographer Drew Finn, whose crisp images can be found at The Marketplace Cafe, takes inspiration from Italy, such as the enchanting alleyways and cemeteries of Milan. Closer to home, morning sunlight pours onto a dense forest in Dalton, in a wondrous photo called “Wonderland,” illuminating the verdant backdrop of ferns, trees, and a rushing creek.

Landscape artist Marion Grant, whose works can be seen at the Kinderhook Real Estate office in Crawford Square, uses her Richmond farm as a muse for her oil paintings. The velvety green fields of grass and rolled hay easily seduce.

With Artswalk having made a huge impact on the local economy in less than a year, it’s not surprising that other communities are taking a good look at McGinnis’s prototype. She is hard at work on a business model that cities can emulate. She is also quick to point out that it took far more effort than her own to ensure that First Fridays Artwalk would not only come to fruition but also succeed.

“An idea is just an idea until it’s put into action. Once born, it can only flourish under the watchful eye of many,” says McGinnis.

Dining on tapas and listening to live jazz at Mission Bar and Tapas after my night of seeing art, I wanted to thank McGinnis for her artful activism and a fun night out in Pittsfield.

Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.activetravels.com.

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"Pittsfield Catholic Schools Inducting Ruberto, Others to Hall of Fame"
iBerkshires.com - April 24, 2013

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — Catholic Schools of Pittsfield will honor a stacked list of inductees — which includes retired four-term Mayor James Ruberto — to its Hall of Fame at a benefit gala scheduled for Friday, April 26, 2013.

"Inducted into our Hall of Fame are individuals who have carried forward the legacy, teachings and values of St. Joseph Central High School into their personal and professional careers," said William C. Jones, chairman of the Catholic Schools of Pittsfield Board. "The honorees are successful people who have a deep commitment to community service, excelled at leadership and enjoyed successful professional careers. Their faith and impact at the local, regional and even global levels are beacons for success that future generations of alumni can look to as positive role models in their own endeavors."

The the third annual "Evening with the Stars" fundraiser gala will be held at the Crowne Plaza. Cocktails begin at 6 and dinner and induction ceremony at 7. The event is open to the public and tickets are $100, including dinner and drinks.

For more information and to RSVP call 413-443-9686 or visit www.stjosephpittsfield.org. All the proceeds for this event will benefit the Catholic Schools of Pittsfield.

The Hall of Fame inductees are:

James Ruberto
[Jimmy] Ruberto, class of 1964, is a retired four-term mayor of Pittsfield and lead the city to "Green Community" status. In addition, he helped lead the city to the state's most creative community award in 2009. Prior to serving as mayor, Ruberto held executive positions at both New York Stock Exchange and privately held companies.

John Bradley
John Bradley, class of 1978, is the global group head of human resources at UBS. Now living in Switzerland, Bradley is responsible for all aspects of human resources at UBS and provides support globally to businesses whose employee base comprises approximately 65,000 staff.

Edmund Wary
Edmund Wary, class of 1963, is a Bronze Star and Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War. Wary lives in Honolulu, where he has become one of the city’s premier restaurateurs, opening and operating multiple restaurant concepts and nightclubs over the years. He is past president of the Hawaii Restaurant Association and director emeritus of the National Restaurant Association, where he spent 11 years as the director representing Hawaii. While a director, he was the first American to be invited to China to speak to the Chinese Food Service Industry Association.

Michael Haley
Michael Haley, class of 1960, has worked on more than 60 feature films and 18 movies for television in roles such as assistant director, producer and choreographer. He has worked with directors including Sidney Lumet, Sidney Pollock, Barry Levinson, and Penny Marshall, and on films such as "Biloxi Blues," "Working Girl," "Primary Colors" and "Angels In America." Haley has also worked and acted with Katherine Hepburn, Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sophia Loren, Christian Slater and John Travolta. He has won numerous awards, including an Emmy for "Angels In America."

Sheila Keator
Sheila Keator, class of 1955, is the founder of Keator Group LLC. Keator devotes her time to helping clients define and achieve business and investment objectives. She currently sits on the advisory committee for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts' Master's of Business Administration Program and serves on the board of directors of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst's Newman Center. Keator is also the former treasurer and vice chairman of the Massachusetts College Building Authority. She was named on Barron's Top 100 Financial Women in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Dennis Kelly
Dennis Kelly, class of 1964, has practiced law in Boston since 1972. In the 1980s, he served as assistant U.S. attorney in Massachusetts prosecuting major frauds and international high-tech transfer cases. For the past 21 years, he has been a trial lawyer and partner at Burns & Levinson, specializing in business litigation and white-collar crime defense.

Paul E. Perachi
Paul E. Perachi, class of 1957, was appointed as first justice of the Berkshire Juvenile Court in October 1997. Perachi was an algebra teacher, guidance counselor and a driver's education teacher in addition to serving as athletic director, varsity basketball and assistant football coach at St. Joseph High School.

Regina Larkin Petron
Regina Larkin Petron, class of 1973, is a dancer, choreographer, master teacher and arts administrator. She was a dance professor at Adelphi University for more 25 years, toured the world for more than 20 years for the United States Information Agency Embassy and has created dance programs for urban and rural communities.

Kathryn Flanagan
Kathryn Flanagan, a Sister of St. Joseph, was named principal of Our Lady of Hope School in Springfield in 1970. From 1975 to 1995 Flanagan taught English, served as reading specialist at St. Joseph High School in Pittsfield and as director of community service. During this time she instituted and was director of St. Joseph's soup kitchen, which is now the St. Joseph Kitchen and Pantry at South Congregational Church. Flanagan ministers to the parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish and has been liaison for Habitat for Humanity and various civic endeavors during the year.

Julia Sullivan
Julia Sullivan, a Sister of St. Joseph was assigned to St. Joseph Central High School in 1970 after teaching at a middle school in Rhode Island. She taught for nine years, and was principal for 13 years. In 1994, she was hired by the Berkshire County sheriff's office to work with inmates as a case manager and two years later as an assistant deputy superintendent, responsible for administering the programs and treatment department at the sheriff's office.

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Current and all former Mayors — at SURPRISE party for Remo DelGallo sponsored by the Pittsfield Democratic City Committee. 5/23/2013.

"Former Pittsfield mayor Remo Del Gallo feted for service to city"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, May 24, 2013

Former Pittsfield mayors Remo Del Gallo, left, and James Ruberto talk during an event honoring Del Gallo’s service to the city throughout the years on Thursday at the ITAM Lodge in Pittsfield. (Jim Therrien / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

PITTSFIELD -- One of the city's legendary political figures, former Mayor Remo Del Gallo, was showered with praise and affection Thursday during a surprise recognition event organized by the city's Democratic Committee.

However, regardless of political party, the dinner meeting at the ITAM Lodge drew some 300 of the many officials, friends and family members who've known Del Gallo over the more than five decades of his public service.

Del Gallo's nephew City Council President Kevin Sherman, who coordinated the dinner, described the former mayor's role as mentor, role model and hero to a long line of political leaders who followed him. "There will never, ever be another Remo Del Gallo," Sherman concluded, prompting a standing ovation.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who joined five former mayors is honoring Del Gallo, called his predecessor "a man of great stature, a real hero to so many people. He has served so well for so many years."

Del Gallo served on the City Council before being elected mayor in 1965. But speakers described an even more important role since that era, when he served on several boards and commissions, while his Del Gallo's Restaurant on Newell Street became a center for frank political discussion and an unofficial school for novice politicians.

"You don't get nuanced at Del Gallo's," said U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, who praised Del Gallo from Washington in a video shown during the event.

Neal said Del Gallo is "a legendary figure in the city of Pittsfield," and "a shining example of what public service should be about."

The guest of honor was described as someone who always worked for the good of the city in a nonabrasive style that gained respect, even from political opponents.

Those who know him agree "he is a very good and decent man who always led in a consensus-building way," said his longtime friend, former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano.

"He was a very active mayor and a very active citizen," Massimiano said. "I would say a first citizen among citizens."

Other speakers included state Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who presented a citation to Del Gallo from the Berkshire legislative delegation, and Sheila Irvin, who served for many years with Del Gallo on the Community Development Board.

He retired from that position earlier this year.

Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, who could not attend, sent a certificate of praise from the state Senate, and Berkshire Labor Council members described Del Gallo as a longtime friend of labor.

Former Mayor Evan Dobelle sent a letter, read by Sherman, which said in part that advice he received from Del Gallo 50 years ago best describes the man: "His advice to me was: Never trade your old friends for new ones."


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"Taxes up, no savings or grant funds"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 12/05/2013

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

Once again the mayor and City Council have raised our business and residential taxes without any evidence of looking for ways to reduce city expenses. In addition to this, the taxpayers, except for very few of us, have accepted the increase without any challenge. Of course, more emphasis was placed on the rate for business taxes then residential, but this is understandable if we want to keep people employed.

I have written letters and attended numerous City Council meetings over the past three years asking why there never seem to be studies into reducing city spending and expenses and have never received an explanation that had merit. The taxpayer is still waiting for an explanation and discovery into the loss of millions of dollars in a federal educational grant that was allowed to slip through the cracks a year ago without anyone being held responsible. This grant could have eased the financial burden on the city and taxpayers. Yet no explanation from those who are elected by and sworn to serve the taxpayer. How much of this tax increase will go to education? If any, here is another reason to explain why the city missed the timeline for the educational grant. At a time when everyone is feeling financial burdens, the city continues to add to those burdens.

The city will spend $75,000 on a North Street parking study. This same $75,000 could have been used to investigate the education grant blunder and study the number of unnecessary positions held by people in city government, consolidate positions where possible and reduce spending to give the taxpayer a break next year.

Another issue that was never explained or justified was the hiring of former North Adams Mayor Barrett by Mayor Ruberto, at $85,000, for him to conduct a study into saving the city money. Did the study recover the expense of Barrett’s $85,000 fee and where are the savings resulting from the study? It did however, keep Mr. Barrett employed while he waited for his retirement to kick in. Once again, a waste of taxpayer money.

The mayor and city councilors need to set their priorities for what is better for all, not just the selected few. If not, it will be up to the taxpayers to look for new leadership during the next election, new leadership that will reduce spending not increase it every year.

DAN COLELLO
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

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"Giveaways cost Pittsfield taxpayers"
Letter to the Editor, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/15/2014

To the Editor of THE EAGLE:

The recent news of a proposed boutique hotel in the middle of our city on the surface may seem like a good idea. However, a bigger question remains. Who is being held accountable for the 18-year tax break given to Larry Rosenthal and Joyce Bernstein by the Doyle administration for their not living up to their obligation of jobs creation on a permanent basis? Has the Bianchi administration forgiven this obligation? We the people have a right to know.

And so now we can add this to Pittsfield’s giveaway of money that is the taxpayers’, beginning with E.V. Worldwide. Add to this the failure of Workshop Live, which received $750,000 in economic development money, and now what seems to be a free ride for Link to Life and Spice.

I find it interesting that our city, once a powerhouse of economics and development, is riddled with free giveaways for the privileged few, who don’t even live in the city but are the recipients of Pittsfield money off the backs of taxpayers whose families have been here for generations and are bearing the brunt of these ill-conceived ideas of economic development. The latest give-away for economic development now comes from the Bianchi administration -- MBTA cars. If this development happens here it will be a miracle. However, freeing up more of the G.E. economic development funds without the proper scrutiny is ill-conceived. We the taxpayers have the right to have all information given to us and not just carefully selected snippets.

Government needs to be open and honest and I am not sure that we the people have the respect of this administration. My question to the mayor is, what happened with the agreement between the owners of Spice Restaurant and Link to Life and their tax forgiveness? It was for 18 years, in return for creating jobs that provide a living wage. They are now out of business on both accounts and selling the building on North Street. Therefore, they are not living up to their obligation to the citizens of our city.

How and when did this forgiveness take place? When my phone doesn’t ring I’ll know the answer.

DONNA WALTO
Pittsfield

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"Tax packages were rescinded"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, February 19, 2014

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

I am writing to respond to Donna Walto's letter on Saturday, Feb. 15 headlined "Giveaways cost Pittsfield taxpayers." Ms. Walto suggests that Tax Increment Financing ("TIF") packages put in place in 1998 and 2005 for the buildings located at 297 and 273 North St. were still benefiting the property owners.

In 2012 Mayor Bianchi rescinded those TIFs because they did not comply with the original terms of the agreements. His action rescinding the TIFs was presented in a public meeting, the City Council meeting.

TIF performances are reviewed regularly to insure that they are in compliance with the original conditions. The status of any TIF is available to the public at the Community Development Department.

DOUGLAS CLARK
Pittsfield
The writer is director, Community Development Office.

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"Feeling good about Pittsfield"
Letter to the Editor, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/15/2014

To the Editor of THE EAGLE:

In case you need reasons to love Pittsfield, how about these?

We have the creative preservation of the downtown Besse-Clarke building through the collaboration of a bunch of Berkshire folks via a new boutique hotel.

We have the 10X10 festival coming into full swing. This includes -- 10 cool, 10 minute plays at Barrington Stage, a teen art show in City Hall, Pecha Kucha at the Berkshire Museum. The latter are short talks given by presenters in quick succession, and are amazing. See www.discoverpittsfield.com for full listings of events.

We have the most devoted high school teams and fans that compete every week to be the best they can be. Try going to a game, you’ll really get into it.

We have the Bousquet Ski Area to enjoy with our families. We have the Beacon Cinema, where we can watch top-notch movies. We have the best restaurants, open every night of the week.

Finally, we have friends and families here with us to share in our joy. Don’t worry, be happy!

ANDY and SUE KELLY
Pittsfield

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"A cultural legacy"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 4/19/2014

Pittsfield has long had cultural offerings, but it hasn’t always had a cultural community. The city wasn’t convinced culture could play a role in the economy and there was in fact resistance to that concept in some circles. It was a manufacturing city, and the cultural economy was for communities like Lenox and Stockbridge that went out of their way to welcome tourists.

That attitude began to change shortly after James Ruberto was elected mayor. He didn’t see cultural and manufacturing as either/or, suggesting instead that cultural attractions could, by reviving downtown and making the city more appealing, help attract business and industry and their employees. There was skepticism, but the concept took hold and Pittsfield fully joined the Berkshire artistic scene.

In her nine years as the city’s cultural development director, Megan Whilden was instrumental in that cultural renaissance. Third Thursday and WordXWord are perhaps the best examples of her approach, which was to get the community as a whole, adults and children, involved in the city’s cultural offerings. A cultural community was created, destroying the image of culture as something dusty and elitist and making it part of Pittsfield’s fabric. Her energy and enthusiasm were refreshing for a city that needed both, and the new attitude was noticed by, among others, Barrington Stage, which moved to a welcoming downtown Pittsfield in 2006.

Ms. Whilden will be leaving on May 16, the day after the first Third Thursday of 2014, to take over leadership of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College. She will be difficult to replace, but culture’s role is now firmly rooted in Pittsfield, and the next cultural director will be fortunate to have a firm foundation in place upon which to build.

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"Whilden's efforts sure to continue"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 5/22/2014

To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:

The Sunday, May 18, profile of Megan Whilden's significant contributions as cultural development director of Pittsfield beautifully detailed how arts and culture impact a community through jobs, quality of life and ancillary economic development.

Megan's tenure in Pittsfield overlapped with a growing understanding that arts and culture are at the heart of the larger Berkshires' creative economy made up of creative industries, businesses, organizations and individuals throughout the county. She was a founding member and will continue her valuable service on the board of Berkshire Creative, as well as 1Berkshire, the economic development alliance binding the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, and Berkshire Creative.

Through her community leadership, she has been a knowledgeable advocate for public policy and funds to support the creative economy while helping develop programs to serve the various enterprises comprising the sector. She has pursued her accomplishments with a joyfulness that can only come from loving her work.

On behalf of the people who benefit from the Berkshires' creative economy, we congratulate her on her achievements and look forward to her continued service!

VAN SHIELDS
Pittsfield
The writer is board president Berkshire Creative, board member of 1Berkshire, and executive director of the Berkshire Museum.

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"Whilden: Decision to promote arts transformed Pittsfield's image"
By Jim Therrien, Berkshire Eagle, May 18, 2014

PITTSFIELD -- The city's inspired decision to actively promote the arts community has transformed Pittsfield's image around the state and beyond, said outgoing Cultural Development Director Megan Whilden.

The first person named to the new position in 2005, Whilden left Friday to become director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College, beginning in June. She leaves a flourishing downtown arts district that might have been unimaginable a decade ago.

"I think it is important for people to realize what has happened over the last 10 years," Whilden said. Because of its image makeover from fading industrial center to cultural mecca, Pittsfield "is very much respected and admired, especially in Massachusetts," she said.

In terms of theater and performance space alone, she said, having the Colonial Theatre, Barrington Stage Company and Berkshire Theatre Festival in the downtown, along with smaller theater groups, has made Pittsfield a "summer theater capital," rivaling any community in New England.

The change, Whilden emphasizes, resulted from city support for her office and a communitywide spirit of collaboration that has expanded exponentially. "This has built upon itself," she said. "There were many, many people working together, with collaboration, camaraderie and cooperation in Pittsfield.

Referring to a large, impressive exhibit of student art at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, where her office is located, Whilden points to an exploding interest in the arts among young city residents. That has grown, she said, right along with activities and community events in what is now officially the city's downtown arts district.

Children who were 8 years old when the first Third Thursday downtown events were held are now 16, she said, and they have grown up in a "community that celebrates the arts."

One of those young people is Andres Ramirez, now 22, who recently opened the Funk Box Dance Studio at 137 North Street. During a recent brief visit to Whilden's office, he said Third Thursday events helped spark in him a passion for street dancing.

Because the city has a cultural affairs office and someone whose job description includes fostering "a welcoming atmosphere" for the arts, residents and groups have come forward to develop their own ideas for events and exhibits, Whilden said, and they found support.

The Spoken Word Festival, developed by Jim Benson, and the Hayman! Scarecrows sculpture event, developed by Berkshire Bank, are examples.

"Things have changed dramatically," Whilden said. "People should remember how it was with all the vacant storefronts and how much positive change there has been."

Beyond the visual impact of more shops, galleries and restaurants along North Street, the arts have proven to be a strong driver of the local economy, Whilden said. From 2005 to 2010, she said, annual direct spending relating to the nonprofit arts sector and its audience rose from an estimated $17 million to $25.3 million, the number of full-time equivalent jobs increased from 531 to 762, and attendance at cultural events rose from 225,000 to 606,239.

"There is no greater proof of the impact of investing in the arts," she said.

State and local tax revenue related to the arts also increased significantly Whilden said. One recommendation she would have going forward is to designate a percentage of local option tax revenue to promoting Pittsfield tourism -- and "continuing the work of beautifying the downtown."

Tourism promotion was assigned to her office several years ago as well, and a destination website established during her tenure -- DiscoverPittsfield.com -- provides an events calendar, along with information on lodging, dining, shopping and other activities in the city.

Referring to the hundreds of new hotel rooms recently proposed for the Pittsfield area, including an upscale 40-room hotel on North Street, Whilden said the city should take note that "these folks are investing their money and they have done their research" on the area's potential.

Another focus over the past few years, Whilden said, has been on how she could further increase the visibility of the arts beyond the existing theaters and galleries. That's difficult, she said, given the width and length of North Street.

Whilden said a revival of the spirit of the StoreFront Artists Project, which sought to fill vacant storefronts with artwork and sparked collaborative efforts for several years before shutting down in 2011, would be welcome and could spark further innovation in promoting the arts.

Another mantra for her has been that "the arts are for everyone," Whilden said. In that vein, she said she's proud to have been honored for her work by the Multicultural BRIDGE, Chapter 65 of the Vietnam Veterans of America and other groups for community projects such as "The Big Read."

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said the search for Whilden's replacement is underway, and he expects to have a committee review the resumes. He said he has no plans to alter the position or the funding, but would want the new director to offer recommendations.

Whilden's office has grown over the years to include two staff members, Shiobban Lemme and Jen Glockner, who focuses primarily on tourism. The office budget increased slightly over 10 years and is now $120,000. Whilden said she typically more than doubles that amount through grants, sponsorships and collaborations with local organizations.

It's not an overwhelming budget, Whilden acknowledges, but adds, "One of my mottos is 'Little Office, Big Impact' -- Pow!"

The California native, who grew up in Monterey, said she will remain involved in the arts scene but plans to keep a much lower profile.

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"Report: Jimmy Ruberto resigns as Westfield State trustee"
Berkshire Eagle, August 27, 2014

WESTFIELD -- Former Mayor James M. Ruberto has resigned from the Westfield State University board of trustees.

Jim Ruberto, who accompanied then-university President Evan Dobelle and 20 guests on a trip to Cuba last year, submitted a resignation letter to Governor Deval Patrick in May without stating a reason, the Springfield Republican first reported on Tuesday.

Jimmy Ruberto, who served four terms as Pittsfield's mayor, leaving office in 2011, joined the Westfield State board in June 2013, nearly three months after joining Dobelle and others on a trip to Havana that coincided with two exhibition games played by the school's baseball team, the Springfield Republican reported.

Dobelle, who also served as mayor of Pittsfield during the 1970s, resigned from the university post after six years in November, amid mounting criticism of his lavish spending as president, often on travel.

Details on the trip became public recently following investigations by the state Inspector General and state Attorney General's offices, both of which have challenged Dobelle's spending.

Attorney General Martha Coakley recently sued to recover nearly $100,000 in public funds allegedly spent by Dobelle on personal expenses.

Dobelle has maintained that his spending benefited the university and any personal items charged to WSU-related credit cards were later reimbursed.

Information from the Springfield Republican was used in this report.

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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

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Hookers for Jesus

Hookers for Jesus
Annie Lobert is the founder of "Hookers for Jesus" - www.hookersforjesus.net/home.cfm - Saving Sin City: Las Vegas, Nevada?

Forever personalized stamped envelope

Forever personalized stamped envelope
The Forever stamp will continue to cover the price of a first-class letter. The USPS will also introduce Forever personalized, stamped envelopes. The envelopes will be preprinted with a Forever stamp, the sender's name and return address, and an optional personal message.

Purple Heart

Purple Heart
First issued in 2003, the Purple heart stamp will continue to honor the men and women wounded while serving in the US military. The Purple Heart stamp covers the cost of 44 cents for first-class, one-ounce mail.

Dolphin

Dolphin
The bottlenose is just one of the new animals set to appear on the price-change stamps. It will serve as a 64-cent stamp for odd shaped envelopes.

2009 price-change stamps

2009 price-change stamps
www.boston.com/business/gallery/2009pircechangestamps/ -&- www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/02/27/new_stamps_set_for_rate_increase_in_may/

Red Sox v Yankees

Red Sox v Yankees
Go Red Sox!

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
AP photo v Shepard Fairey

Rush Limbaugh lackeys

Rush Limbaugh lackeys
Posted by Dan Wasserman of the Boston Globe on March 3, 2009.

Honest Abe

Honest Abe
A 2007 US Penny

Dog race

Dog race
Sledding for dogs

The Capital of the Constitution State

The Capital of the Constitution State
Hartford, once the wealthiest city in the United States but now the poorest in Connecticut, is facing an uphill battle.

Brady, Bundchen married

Brady, Bundchen married
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and model Gisele Bundchen wed Feb. 26, 2009 in a Catholic ceremony in Los Angeles. www.boston.com/ae/celebrity/gallery/tom_gisele/

Mayor Jimmy Ruberto

Mayor Jimmy Ruberto
Tanked Pittsfield's local economy while helping his fellow insider political hacks and business campaign contributors!

Journalist Andrew Manuse

Journalist Andrew Manuse
www.manuse.com

New Hampshire Supreme Court Building

New Hampshire Supreme Court Building
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Supreme_Court

Economic State of the Union

Economic State of the Union
A look at some of the economic conditions the Obama administration faces and what resources have already been pledged to help. 2/24/2009

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
The president addresses the nation's governors during a dinner in the State Dinning Room, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari).

The Oscars - 2/22/2009.

The Oscars - 2/22/2009.
Hugh Jackman and Beyoncé Knowles teamed up for a musical medley during the show.

The 81st Academy Awards - Oscars - 2009

The 81st Academy Awards - Oscars - 2009
Hugh Jackman pulled actress Anne Hathaway on stage to accompany him during his opening musical number.

Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow
A Progressive News Commentator

$500,000 per year

$500,000 per year
That is chump change for the corporate elite!

THE CORPORATE ELITE...

THE CORPORATE ELITE...
Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and chief executive of General Electric

The Presidents' Club

The Presidents' Club
Bush, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton & Carter.

5 Presidents: Bush, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, & Carter!

5 Presidents: Bush, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, & Carter!
White House Event: January 7, 2009.

Bank Bailout!

Bank Bailout!
v taxpayer

Actress Elizabeth Banks

Actress Elizabeth Banks
She will present an award to her hometown (Pittsfield) at the Massachusetts State House next month (1/2009). She recently starred in "W" and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," and just signed a $1 million annual contract to be a spokesmodel for Paris.

Joanna Lipper

Joanna Lipper
Her award-winning 1999 documentary, "Growing Up Fast," about teenaged mothers in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Happy Holidays...

Happy Holidays...
...from "Star Wars"

Massachusetts "poor" economy

Massachusetts "poor" economy
Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states, but it is also very inequitable. For example, it boasts the nation's most lucrative lottery, which is just a system of regressive taxation so that the corporate elite get to pay less in taxes!

Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon
Hollywood Actress

Peter G. Arlos.

Peter G. Arlos.
Arlos is shown in his Pittsfield office in early 2000.

Turnpike OK's hefty toll hikes

Turnpike OK's hefty toll hikes
Big Dig - East-west commuters take hit; Fees at tunnels would double. 11/15/2008.

The Pink Panther 2

The Pink Panther 2
Starring Steve Martin

Police ABUSE

Police ABUSE
I was a victim of Manchester Police Officer John Cunningham's ILLEGAL USES of FORCE! John Cunningham was reprimanded by the Chief of Police for disrespecting me. John Cunningham yelled at a witness: "I don't care if he (Jonathan Melle) is disabled!"

Barack Obama

Barack Obama
The 44th US President!

Vote

Vote
Elections

The Bailout & the economic stimulus check

The Bailout & the economic stimulus check
A political cartoon by Dan Wasserman

A rainbow over Boston

A rainbow over Boston
"Rainbows galore" 10/2/2008

Our nation's leaders!

Our nation's leaders!
President Bush with both John McCain & Barack Obama - 9/25/2008.

Massachusetts & Big Dig: Big hike in tolls for Pike looming (9/26/2008).

Massachusetts & Big Dig: Big hike in tolls for Pike looming (9/26/2008).
$5 rise at tunnels is one possibility $1 jump posed for elsewhere.

Mary E Carey

Mary E Carey
My FAVORITE Journalist EVER!

9/11/2008 - A Show of Unity!

9/11/2008 - A Show of Unity!
John McCain and Barack Obama appeared together at ground zero in New York City - September 11, 2008.

John McCain...

John McCain...
...has all but abandoned the positions on taxes, torture and immigration. (A cartoon by Dan Wasserman. September 2008).

Dan Wasserman

Dan Wasserman
The deregulated chickens come home to roost... in all our pocketbooks. September 2008.

Sarah Palin's phobia

Sarah Palin's phobia
A scripted candidate! (A cartoon by Dan Wasserman).

Dan Wasserman

Dan Wasserman
Family FInances - September, 2008.

Mark E. Roy

Mark E. Roy
Ward 1 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Theodore “Ted” L. Gatsas

Theodore “Ted” L. Gatsas
Ward 2 Alderman (& NH State Senator) for Manchester, NH (2008).

Peter M. Sullivan

Peter M. Sullivan
Ward 3 (downtown) Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Jim Roy

Jim Roy
Ward 4 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Ed Osborne

Ed Osborne
Ward 5 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Real R. Pinard

Real R. Pinard
Ward 6 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

William P. Shea

William P. Shea
Ward 7 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Betsi DeVries

Betsi DeVries
Ward 8 Alder-woman (& NH State Senator) for Manchester, NH (2008).

Michael Garrity

Michael Garrity
Ward 9 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

George Smith

George Smith
Ward 10 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Russ Ouellette

Russ Ouellette
Ward 11 Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Kelleigh (Domaingue) Murphy

Kelleigh (Domaingue) Murphy
Ward 12 Alder-woman for Manchester, NH (2008).

“Mike” Lopez

“Mike” Lopez
At-Large Alderman for Manchester, NH. (2008).

Daniel P. O’Neil

Daniel P. O’Neil
At-Large Alderman for Manchester, NH (2008).

Sarah Palin for Vice President.

Sarah Palin for Vice President.
Republican John McCain made the surprise pick of Alaska's governor Sarah Palin as his running mate today, August 29, 2008.

U.S. Representative John Olver, D-Amherst, Massachusetts.

U.S. Representative John Olver, D-Amherst, Massachusetts.
Congressman Olver said the country has spent well over a half-trillion dollars on the war in Iraq while the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. 8/25/08.

Ed O'Reilly for US Senate in Massachusetts!

Ed O'Reilly for US Senate in Massachusetts!
John Kerry's 9/2008 challenger in the Democratic Primary.

Shays' Rebellion

Shays' Rebellion
In a tax revolt, Massachusetts farmers fought back during Shays' Rebellion in the mid-1780s after The American Revolutionary War.

Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore
Actress. "The Big Lebowski" is one of my favorite movies. I also like "The Fugitive", too.

Rinaldo Del Gallo III & "Superman"

Rinaldo Del Gallo III & "Superman"
Go to: http://www.berkshirefatherhood.com/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=699&cntnt01returnid=69

"Income chasm widening in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts"

"Income chasm widening in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts"
The gap between rich and poor has widened substantially in Massachusetts over the past two decades. (8/15/2008).

Dan "Bureaucrat" Bosley

Dan "Bureaucrat" Bosley
"The Bosley Amendment": To create tax loopholes for the wealthiest corporate interests in Massachusetts!

John Edwards and...

John Edwards and...
...Rielle Hunter. WHO CARES?!

Rep. Edward J. Markey

Rep. Edward J. Markey
He wants online-privacy legislation. Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent.

Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan
She gained fame with her antiwar vigil outside the Bush ranch.

Olympics kick off in Beijing

Olympics kick off in Beijing
Go USA!

Exxon Mobil 2Q profit sets US record, shares fall

Exxon Mobil 2Q profit sets US record, shares fall
In this May 1, 2008, file photo, a customer pumps gas at an Exxon station in Middleton, Mass. Exxon Mobil Corp. reported second-quarter earnings of $11.68 billion Thursday, July 31, the biggest quarterly profit ever by any U.S. corporation, but the results were well short of Wall Street expectations and its shares fell as markets opened. (AP Photo/Lisa Poole, File) 7/31/2008.

Onota Lake 'Sea Serpent'

Onota Lake 'Sea Serpent'
Some kind of monster on Onota Lake. Five-year-old Tyler Smith rides a 'sea serpent' on Onota Lake in Pittsfield, Mass. The 'monster,' fashioned by Smith's grandfather, first appeared over July 4 weekend. (Photo courtesy of Ron Smith). 7/30/2008.

Al Gore, Jr.

Al Gore, Jr.
Al Gore issues challenge on energy

The Norman Rockwell Museum

The Norman Rockwell Museum
Stockbridge, Massachusetts

"Big Dig"

"Big Dig"
Boston's financially wasteful pork barrel project!

"Big Dig"

"Big Dig"
Boston's pork barrel public works project cost 50 times more than the original price!

Mary E Carey

Mary E Carey
My favorite journalist EVER!

U.S. Rep. John Olver, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Selectwomen Stephanie O'Keeffe and Alisa Brewer

U.S. Rep. John Olver, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and Selectwomen Stephanie O'Keeffe and Alisa Brewer
Note: Photo from Mary E Carey's Blog.

Tanglewood

Tanglewood
Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine.

Google

Google
Chagall

Jimmy Ruberto

Jimmy Ruberto
Faces multiple persecutions under the Massachusetts "Ethics" conflict of interest laws.