Jonathan Melle

Jonathan Melle
I turned 39 (2014)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Linda Tyer for Mayor of Pittsfield in 2015. Linda Tyer is part of Jimmy Ruberto's Good Old Boys club! Pittsfield politics 2015


The lovely Linda Tyer is sworn in as mayor of the City of Pittsfield on January 4, 2016. Jim Levulis/WAMC.

Peter Marchetti is the new city council president on 1/4/2016. Jim Levulis/WAMC.

www.tyerformayor.com


Pittsfield mayoral candidate Linda Tyer addresses what she calls a 'problem property' on John Street in Pittsfield, claiming that homeowners should be held more accountable for maintaining their properties in accordance with city ordinances. (Photos by Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

A 'problem property' on John Street in Pittsfield drew criticism from mayoral candidate Linda Tyer, who said homeowners should be held more accountable for maintaining their properties in accordance with city ordinances.

“Mayoral candidate Linda Tyer pledges to target blight: Linda Tyer seeks tougher stand on city codes”
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, July 28, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Against the backdrop of a run down, vacant home, mayoral candidate Linda Tyer on Tuesday said more intervention is needed to clean up neighborhood eyesores.

During a press conference at John and West Union streets, Tyer proposed tougher city ordinances aimed at getting property owners to secure their residences, especially doors and windows.

She also called for improved adherence to anti-blight regulations approved by the City Council under Mayor James M. Ruberto several years ago, such as keeping lawns mowed and free from trash.

It's a battle she says Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi seems reluctant to engage in.

"The problem is the current ordinances aren't being enforced," Tyer said.

She added, "As a city councilor, Bianchi voted on two separate occasions [in 2007] against giving our Inspection Services Department more tools to combat the problem of absentee landlords."

Tyer acknowledged the majority of landlords are "doing the right thing" and maintaining their properties.

Tyer, Bianchi and city resident Craig Gaetani will square off in the city's Sept. 22 primary, with the top two finishers advancing to the general election Nov. 3. This is the first mayoral contest for a four-year term under the new city charter approved by voters in 2013.

Residential and commercial blight throughout Pittsfield has been a hot-button topic for Tyer early in her campaign for the corner office at City Hall. In June, the current city clerk kicked off her run for mayor by announcing a proactive effort to deal with empty, gone-to-seed commercial sites, pointing a finger at the former Kentucky Fried Chicken eatery on East Street, near Lyman Street.

"This may feel like a one-trick pony on blight, but it's extremely important to the city of Pittsfield," she said. "You will hear me put together proposals throughout the campaign and when I become mayor."

Tyer's proposals currently include requiring working windows and doors for blighted homes, formation of a Problem Properties Task Force, direct Public Works to maintain properties that are considered blighted where the owner has not taken action after notification and create a program where property owners can report concerns to the city's Community Development Office.

Since June, Tyer and her campaign staff have fanned out across the city in search of unkempt homes, identifying the 10 worst.

The John Street duplex is overgrown with weeds and small trees, has broken windows and could easily be occupied by squatters.

"The city could easily clean this up and put a [tax] lien on it," Tyer said. "We owe that to every person who lives on this street."

The mayoral hopeful also vowed to put blighted properties back into good use by engaging in conversation with local developers.

"A house like this, once we get it cleaned up, is a good investment opportunity," she said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter.

------------

"Frequent visitor an admirer of Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 23, 2015

To the editor:

I don't know Cindy Hillard, but I appreciate and applaud her Sept. 7 letter that wrote positively of Pittsfield. I have friends in the Berkshires and visit often. I read The Eagle any chance I get. I love Pittsfield and your lovely Park Square with the beautiful flowers and fountain. When the flags waved at that park last fall, my heart soared.

I love Museum Facsimiles across the street — a smart and creative store. I travel frequently on the east coast, but the best tie I ever bought was at Steven Valenti's. I love the food and service at Mazzeo's Restaurant, where the Mazzeos are excellent ambassadors for Pittsfield.

I've visited your lakes, your state forest, and had a grand time at your terrific museum. I've seen great performances at your downtown theaters.

You have attractive neighborhoods, which you might not realize since you also have a candidate for mayor who is dragging reporters to your so-called blight. Note to the Pittsfield Chamber of Commerce: political campaigns can be a grave blow to your hard work. I am active in the Warwick Valley Chamber of Commerce, and appreciate the energy required to promote a community's positive businesses, residents, public employees and leaders.

You are lucky to have a hardware store like Carr's, which has everything you could possibly need. I've met helpful people there , and every place I visit in Pittsfield.

I had a health emergency on a visit once, and landed in Berkshire Medical Center where I was cared for by a brainy and beautiful cardiologist, who fixed and captured my heart. The care rivaled my New York City hospital. Pittsfield and neighboring communities should treasure its top-rate medical facility.

The Berkshire hills surround you, and will shortly be covered in dazzling red and gold. I can't wait.

Francis Olert, Warwick, N.Y.

------------

“Accentuate positive in mayoral campaign”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 28, 2015

To the editor:

Although I am a resident of Framingham I often visit Pittsfield because I have family living there. I have been following the current mayoral election because I am taking a government and political science course at Framingham High School, where I am a senior and had to choose an election to follow.

The letters to the editor of The Eagle have been very interesting and I particularly enjoyed Francis Olert's letter of Sept. 24. He made several insightful comments about Mayor Bianchi and his opponent. He claimed that she has been "dragging reporters to supposed blight-ridden areas," and has been painting a negative picture of Pittsfield. He made an excellent point when he stated that members of the Chamber of Commerce should be concerned, as this dark picture she is painting does damage to all of their hard work in trying to show visitors and business owners why they should value the city of Pittsfield.

One of the first areas we explored in class was how candidates use negative and false tactics to condemn their opponents. When candidates have no record of achievement of their own and no real issues to discuss, what do they do? They turn to negative comments and try to paint the darkest picture possible. I have learned that anyone in politics running against an incumbent who doesn't have a record of achievement or experience would have to follow this amateur strategy.

Although I am not able to vote yet because of my age, and because I am not a resident of Pittsfield, I would want to be a Bianchi supporter due to his hard work in supporting the building of a new 21st century Taconic High School, the creative game-changing idea of the Berkshire Innovation Center which I researched as apart of my project assignment.

My teacher has strongly encouraged my peers and I to get out and exercise our democratic important right to vote.

Eve Marie Ushkurnis, Framingham

------------

“Parking lot fiasco hurts Colonial, city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, July 28, 2015

To the editor:

On July 23, two friends, my wife and I went to see a matinee of "Bells Are Ringing" at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. We were a half hour early and felt very lucky to find a parking space in the adjacent parking lot.

After the show, which we all enjoyed thoroughly, we were shocked to find a parking ticket on our windshield! We then saw small signs that read "Permit parking"! We never saw the signs when we parked and found it hard to believe that a parking lot within steps of the theater, one of the biggest attractions to Pittsfield during the summer, could not be used by most of the people attending the theater!

Drivers in the line of cars next to us were equally shocked to find they were also ticketed. We wondered if the ticketing is a daily occurrence and, if so, it is apparent that a lot of people are making the same assumption that we did — that the parking lot is there for the use of theater-goers.

So, an otherwise perfect afternoon was spoiled for us. The Colonial Theatre and the city of Pittsfield should rethink this parking situation.

David Vacheron, Canaan, N.Y.

------------

Craig Gaetani, a candidate for mayor of Pittsfield, is facing charges for allegedly threatening to shoot a city employee and to burn down her house. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani facing charges for alleged threats”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, July 31, 2015

PITTSFIELD - City mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani is facing criminal charges for allegedly threatening to shoot a city employee and making a series of harassing phone calls to her in early July.

The same woman alleges Gaetani also threatened to burn her house down during a series of phone calls in June.

Attempts to reach Gaetani for comment Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.

The woman, who works for the Pittsfield Fire Department, received a call from the 67-year-old Gaetani on July 3, according to court records.

She told police she recognized the number from which the calls came and Gaetani's voice from having received phone calls from him in the past.

Gaetani called to speak to the city fire inspector about having junk vehicles removed from his Indian Street property.

When he was told that neither the inspector nor the deputy chief was available, Gaetani allegedly called the woman an, "a--hole," before she hung up on him.

Gaetani called back immediately, informed the woman that he was going to be the next mayor and he would take away her job and retirement benefits before she hung up on him again, according to court documents.

One minute later, Gaetani called again, this time allegedly telling her he was going to, "come to her office and shoot her with a gun."

The woman feared for her safety and notified police.

She also showed police a log from June 12 that shows six calls from Gaetani over a 31-minute span about the same junk cars on his property.

During one of those calls, according to court records, Gaetani threatened to burn the woman's house down.

She told police she didn't notify them of the earlier threat, because at the time she didn't take it seriously.

Police called the number on the log and it was answered by Gaetani, according to court records.

Since then, Gaetani was served with a trespass notice, signed by Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, barring him from the Pittsfield City Offices at 100 North St., according to court files.

On Thursday, Gaetani attended a Clerk Magistrate hearing in Central Berkshire District Court, after which it was determined there was enough probable cause to proceed with the charges against him, according to the Court Clerk's office.

Gaetani is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 19 on charges of threatening to commit a crime and making annoying phone calls.

Threatening to commit a crime carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a $100 fine.

Gaetani is on the ballot, along with City Clerk Linda Tyer and incumbent Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, in a preliminary election for mayor to be held Sept. 22; the top two finishers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-----

"Pittsfield mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani set for hearing on harassment, threat charges"
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, August 19, 2015

PITTSFIELD — Mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani will be back in court this week for a pre-trial hearing on charges that he harassed and threatened a city employee.

Gaetani, of West Street, was released on personal recognizance last week after pleading not guilty during his arraignment on the charges.

He is accused of threatening to shoot a Pittsfield Fire Department employee during a series of harassing phone calls in early July after being told the people with whom he wished to speak were not available.

Gaetani also allegedly called the woman on the phone an, "a--hole," and informed her he would take away her job and retirement benefits when he became mayor.

He was scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on Aug. 19, but Gaetani sought a continuance on the grounds he was going to be unavailable on that date, according to the Central Berkshire District Court clerk's office.

Rather than delay the proceeding, authorities instead opted to arraign Gaetani on Aug. 12 before Judge Paul Smyth.

He pleaded not guilty to charges of threatening to commit a crime and making harassing phone calls or electronic communications.

Smyth released Gaetani on the conditions he have no contact with the alleged victim in the case and, "not contact (the) Fire Department unless there is an emergency," according to court documents.

A pre-trial hearing in the case has been scheduled for Thursday in Central Berkshire District Court.

Gaetani has called the charges, "trumped up," "plainly false," and part of a smear campaign orchestrated by current Mayor Daniel Bianchi and other city officials.

He vowed to fight them in court while acting as his own attorney.

During an Aug. 5 press conference he called at his home, which he's dubbed his campaign headquarters, Gaetani said he's "better than attorneys," and said there was only a "one in a billion," chance he would be convicted.

The charges were brought forward following a clerk magistrate's hearing in late July, which found there was enough probable cause for the case to proceed.

Gaetani has said he could have made a motion to have the case thrown out on a technicality, but he wishes to win on the merits of the case instead.

He is on the ballot, along with current City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, Donna M. Walto, and Bianchi, in a preliminary election for mayor to be held Sept. 22. The top two finishers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-----

“Gaetani proclaims innocence in harassment charges during hearing: Tells judge brother made harassing phone calls”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, August 20, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Against a judge's advice, Pittsfield mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani will continue to represent himself against charges he threatened to shoot a city employee in a series of harassing phone calls.

Gaetani told Judge Michael J. Ripps that his brother, David, was the one responsible for the calls in early July, and David was giving a statement to that effect to Pittsfield police.

Two messages left with the Pittsfield Police Department in an effort to establish if such a statement was provided were not immediately returned.

Gaetani insisted throughout Thursday's pre-trial hearing in Central Berkshire District Court that he could settle the case and exonerate himself "in two minutes," with the evidence he was willing to provide the court.

Because Thursday's hearing was not an evidentiary hearing nor a bench trial, no witnesses were called or evidence presented.

On Aug. 12, Gaetani was arraigned on charges of threatening to commit a crime and making harassing phone calls.

Ripps offered to set a date for a further hearing three weeks from Thursday, but Gaetani balked and said the date was "not acceptable," and he needed to get the case over with as quickly as possible.

Gaetani informed the court he was a mayoral candidate and the pending charges are "destroying" his campaign, and wanted a court date before the Sept. 22 primary.

"I should be exonerated right now," Gaetani told the court, adding that the charges are part of a "smear campaign" against him.

After conferring with prosecutors, Ripps agreed to set a pre-trial hearing date of Aug. 28, to allow enough time for the state to examine any new evidence and to interview its own witnesses.

Gaetani is accused of threatening to shoot an employee of the Pittsfield Fire Department during a series of harassing phone calls after he was told the people with whom he wished to speak about having some junk cars removed from property he owns were not available.

During the series of calls, Gaetani allegedly told the same woman he was going to be the next mayor and would take away her job and retirement benefits when he was elected and, in a separate call, called her an "a-hole."

The woman told police she recognized the number from which the calls came as Craig Gaetani's and recognized his voice, having received calls from him in the past.

During one of those earlier calls, Gaetani allegedly told the same woman he would burn her house down.

Police said they called the number from the log and it was answered by Craig Gaetani.

At a press conference held at his West Street home, Gaetani denied making any threats.

"I might get hot a little bit and yell on the telephone," he said. "But to tell somebody I'm going to burn their house down or shoot them, is completely ridiculous."

A clerk magistrate hearing on the charges was held on July 30, after which it was determined there was enough probable cause to move the case forward.

Gaetani has called that hearing "illegal," and threatened to file a civil suit against the clerk magistrate and have him fired.

Gaetani is on the ballot, along with current City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, Donna M. Walto, and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, in a preliminary election for mayor on Sept. 22. The top two finishers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-----

“Mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani set for trial in alleged phone threats”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, August 31, 2015

PITTSFIELD - City mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani will go to trial in December on charges he threatened to shoot a city employee and take away her job and benefits during a series of harassing phone calls in July.

Gaetani, who is representing himself, appeared in Central Berkshire District Court on Monday for a pre-trial hearing in the case.

At an earlier hearing, he said he would produce evidence that would implicate his brother David as the one who made the offending calls.

Gaetani told Judge Michael Ripps he was not able to provide that evidence Monday and agreed to tentatively schedule a jury trial in the case for sometime in December.

A further pre-trial hearing in the case was also set for Sept. 21, one day before the Pittsfield mayoral primary election.

In court, Gaetani repeated his claim that the charges are part of a larger "smear campaign" against him and his mayoral bid.

Gaetani is accused of calling the Pittsfield Fire Department on July 3, asking to speak to someone about having junk vehicles removed from property he owns.

When he was told the people he wanted to speak with were not available, Gaetani allegedly called the woman an, "a--hole," before she hung up on him.

Gaetani called back immediately, informed the woman that he was going to be the next mayor and he would take away her job and retirement benefits before she hung up on him again, according to court documents.

One minute later, Gaetani called again, this time allegedly telling her he was going to, "come to her office and shoot her with a gun."

She also showed police a log from June 12 that shows six calls from Gaetani over a 31-minute span about the same junk cars on his property.

During one of those calls, according to court records, Gaetani threatened to burn the woman's house down.

Gaetani has flatly denied the charges.

"I might get hot a little bit and yell on the telephone," he said. "But to tell somebody I'm going to burn their house down or shoot them is completely ridiculous."

He has pleaded not guilty to charges of threatening to commit a crime and making harassing phone calls.

A conviction on a charge of threatening to commit a crime carries a penalty of up to six months in jail.

Gaetani is on the ballot, along with current City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, Donna M. Walto, and incumbent Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, in a preliminary election for mayor to be held Sept. 22. The top two finishers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-----

“Mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani seeks dismissal; claims hearing tainted”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, September 11, 2015

PITTSFIELD — City mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani has filed a motion seeking to have criminal charges against him dropped, claiming that members of the press and the public were present during his court magistrate hearing.

Judge Michael Ripps heard arguments from Gaetani — who is representing himself against the allegations — and prosecutors Thursday and said he will have a decision on the matter ready for Gaetani's next court date.

Gaetani is accused of threatening to shoot a municipal employee and burn her house down during two separate series of phone calls made in June and July.

In a two-page handwritten motion and during Thursday's hearing, Gaetani said his case should be dismissed after insisting the clerk magistrate hearing that led to the filing of criminal charges in district court was improperly held.

Gaetani claims the July 30 hearing was held in open court in front of a "packed courtroom crowd, including press people," part of the motion reads.

No Eagle reporter attended that hearing.

When Gaetani was asked which members of the media were in attendance, he could not identify any and would only respond "the press" to repeated queries.

Gaetani said because the hearing was held in a room in the courthouse referred to as "Courtroom 3," means it was heard in open court.

Ripps said Thursday that Courtroom 3 is used for magistrate hearings, which are typically not open to the public in contrast to district and superior court matters, which are open and held in different courtrooms.

The Eagle obtained a copy of the criminal complaint against Gaetani only after his case had been moved into district court following the determination by the magistrate there was enough probable cause to move the case forward.

Ripps said that even if the presiding magistrate had abused their discretion and allowed the press and public into the hearing, Gaetani would still need to demonstrate that action irreparably hindered his ability to mount a defense against his charges.

Prosectors asked Ripps to deny the motion, stating Gaetani had not met that burden.

Gaetani called the prosecutor's argument, "legal mumbo-jumbo."

During an August proceeding in the case, Gaetani told Ripps it was his brother who made the offending calls. On Thursday, Gaetani said his brother was trying to, "take a fall," for him by accepting responsibility and it was someone else who made the offending calls, but he declined to identify that person.

Gaetani has pleaded not guilty to charges of threatening to commit a crime and making harassing phone calls.

He is free on his own recognizance provided he have no contact with the alleged victim and not call the Pittsfield Fire Department unless there is an emergency.

Gaetani is due back in court on Sept. 21 for a pre-trial hearing by which time, Ripps said he will have rendered his decision.

Gaetani is on the ballot, along with current City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, Donna M. Walto, and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, in a preliminary election for mayor on Sept. 22. The top two finishers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-----

“Pittsfield mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani alleges conspiracy to damage campaign”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 19, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayoral candidate Craig C. Gaetani says his efforts to acquire recordings of telephone calls to city offices, which he contends would exonerate him of charges of harassment and threats to a city employee, have been frustrated because of a conspiracy and "smear campaign" to discredit him prior to the preliminary election on Tuesday.

However, city officials denied that any conspiracy exists, and they confirmed to The Eagle that the phone line that is the focus of Gaetani's case at Central Berkshire District Court is not one that is recorded.

Gaetani last week provided copies of public records requests he has sent to the Pittsfield Police Department seeking copies of recordings of calls to office numbers on June 12, July 17 and July 20.

In a written response to Gaetani, dated July 22, Police Capt. John Mullin states: "The phones that you list, Police Chief, his secretary, front desk Officer [Steven] Hunt, and Captain Mullin's office are not recorded lines."

In addition, Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said on Friday that the phone line related to Gaetani's District Court case is associated with city inspection services the department provides and is never recorded.

Gaetani has pleaded not guilty to charges of threatening to commit a crime and making harassing phone calls, and the next hearing in the case is set for Monday, a day before the city preliminary election. He faces Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, Donna M. Walto and City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, with the top two vote-getters moving on to the city election on Nov. 3.

The charges against Gaetani focus on alleged harassing and threatening calls to a city employee, amid a series of calls in June and July from Gaetani, who was seeking to have junk vehicles removed from his rental property on Indian Street.

Gaetani insisted in an interview last week that "something is fishy over there [city government]," preventing him from obtaining recordings of phone calls he believes will exonerate him from the charges. He said he asked police and dispatch employees whether all phone lines going into the department were recorded and was told they are.

In a statement earlier this month on phone line recording policies, Police Chief Michael Wynn told The Eagle in an email that "The following lines are recorded: All four 911 answering positions; the five 'non-emergency' lines into the communications center; the dedicated line for 'fire alarm' calls; the two main lines that service the front desk."

The chief added, "Calls that are made directly to these lines are recorded. Calls that are received elsewhere and forwarded are not. The required retention period for the recording is 60 days."

Asked Friday whether he knew of any existing recordings involving the allegations against Gaetani, Wynn stated in an email, "I am not the keeper of the record for calls to the Fire Department administrative offices. We do not record calls to the Fire Dept., except for their line into communications."

Gaetani also alleges that Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is involved and that there is a conspiracy. "This is a trumped up case," he said, and a conspiracy "that involves Bianchi and the chiefs."

Bianchi said Friday, "There is no conspiracy," adding, "I wish this didn't happen but it did," referring to the alleged harassment and threats toward a city employee.

The mayor said he hasn't closely followed the case in district court.

Concerning his court case, Gaetani told The Eagle that if someone made harassing or threatening calls from his phone line it was not him. However, Gaetani said there are a number of people, such as house cleaners, who are routinely at his West Street residence, although he did not accuse anyone of making such phone calls.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-----

“Mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani rejected in bid to have criminal charges dropped”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, September 21, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A judge has rejected arguments by mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani that criminal charges against him should be dismissed.

Gaetani, who is accused of threatening to shoot a municipal employee during a series of harassing phone calls, filed the motion earlier this month in Central Berkshire District Court. Gaetani is representing himself in the matter.

In his motion, Gaetani said his case should be dismissed because his July 30 clerk magistrate hearing on the accusations was open to the public, preventing him from mounting an effective defense.

In his decision, Judge Michael Ripps acknowledged the hearing was open, but he added that there are cases with "special public significance" in which the magistrate determines public interests outweigh the accused's right to privacy.

"The hearing had 'special public significance,' because Mr. Gaetani was a mayoral candidate and the allegation related to what Mr. Gaetani is alleged to have said he would do if elected," part of Ripps' decision reads.

In addition to the threat of violence, Gaetani is accused of threatening to fire an employee of the Pittsfield Fire Department and take away their retirement benefits once elected mayor.

On Monday, Judge William O'Grady set another pre-trial hearing date for Oct. 21. The case is tentatively set for trial in December.

Gaetani has pleaded not guilty to charges of threatening to commit a crime and making harassing phone calls.

He has called the charges, "trumped up," and claims they are part of a smear campaign against him orchestrated by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and other city officials.

He has adamantly maintained his innocence in the case, but says he doesn't know who called the inspection services line from his home phone claiming to be him. City officials have made clear that calls to city's department of inspection services are not recorded.

Meanwhile, Gaetani has sought to prove that certain police lines are recorded. On Monday, Gaetani pointed out to The Eagle that the police department has subsequently acknowledged that lines to the chief, his secretary, the front desk officer and the police captain are recorded.

However, police department phone line recordings are not at issue in Gaetani's criminal case.

Gaetani is on the ballot, along with current City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, Donna M. Walto, and Bianchi, in a preliminary election for mayor on Tuesday. The top two finishers will square off in the Nov. 3 general election.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-----

“Trial date set for former Pittsfield mayoral candidate”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, October 21, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A trial date has been set in the criminal case of former city mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani.

During a brief pre-trial hearing in Central Berkshire District Court on Wednesday, Judge William Rota set Feb. 22 for the beginning of a jury trial.

Gaetani is accused of making a series of harassing phone calls to the Pittsfield Fire Department during which he threatened to shoot the woman on the other end of the phone, fire her and take away her retirement benefits once elected mayor.

The caller identified himself as Gaetani. When police called the number from where the calls originated, Gaetani answered the phone, according to court records.

Gaetani has adamantly denied the charges.

In earlier court proceedings, Gaetani first said it was his brother who made the offending calls, but later recanted that theory. Gaetani has since said he does not know who made the calls.

Gaetani, who is representing himself against the charges, filed two separate motions to have his charges dismissed. Both motions were denied.

He faces charges of threatening to commit a crime and making harassing phone calls.

Gaetani was on the ballot along with current Mayor Daniel Bianchi, City Clerk Linda Tyer and Donna Walto, but was eliminated along with Walto after receiving 176 votes in the Sept. 21 primary election.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

------------

A parking lot for three businesses, located at 147 Tyler St., was the scene of a shooting on Friday afternoon. (Bob Dunn — The Berkshire Eagle)

State and local police have Tyler Street shut down near the scene of a Friday afternoon shooting in Pittsfield. (Jenn Smith — The Berkshire Eagle)

"Daytime shooting reported on Tyler Street in Pittsfield"
Berkshire Eagle Staff report, July 31, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Police are actively searching for an 18-year-old man wanted for questioning after a shooting on Tyler Street. A K-9 unit is active on the scene.

Witnesses said it appeared two people were struck by bullets shortly after 1 p.m.

City and state police are on the scene of 147 Tyler St., in the parking lot of a commercial building that includes a barber shop, massage business and piercing business. A reporter on the scene reported seeing blood on the pavement.

A witness reported hearing about five gunshots. The victim or victims appeared to have been taken to the hospital.

An employee of nearby Martino Glass Co., who declined to give his name, said he saw first responders performing CPR on one of the victims.

"He was lying on the ground bleeding profusely from the chest," he said.

Authorities said they were preparing to release a photo and description of the man wanted for questioning.

-----

“1 dead, another expected to survive after shootings on Tyler Street in Pittsfield”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, July 31, 2015

PITTSFIELD - An 18-year-old city man is dead following a suspected gang-related shooting Friday afternoon.

According to the Berkshire District Attorney's office, Keenan S. Pellot Jr. was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Berkshire Medical Center for treatment of his wounds.

A second victim, a 17-year-old Pittsfield male, is undergoing surgery at BMC for multiple gunshot wounds, but is expected to survive, according to the DA.

Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi said he does not consider the shootings to represent a threat to the general public.

Bianchi urged anyone with information to cooperate with investigators.

Pittsfield Police Captain John Mullin said police were seeking an 18-year-old Pittsfield male for questioning in connection with the shooting.

According to police, about 1:02 p.m. multiple 911 calls were received about shots fired in the 100 block of Tyler Street.

Police taped off the area around 147 Tyler St., in the parking lot of a commercial building that includes a barber shop, massage business and piercing business.

"At this time, no determination has been made as to whether there is a connection between these incidents and the shootings that occurred on July 4th, but that is obviously an avenue that investigators are pursuing," Capeless said in a statement.

That shooting killed one and wounded four others.

Witnesses said they heard from three to five shots. One said she saw a man with "frizzy hair" and wearing a red ball cap hit the ground outside 147 Tyler.

An employee of nearby Martino Glass Co., who declined to give his name, said he saw first responders performing CPR on one of the victims.

"He was lying on the ground bleeding profusely from the chest," he said.

A man who lives on nearby Myrtle Street said he heard the shots and came around the corner to find the one man in Chewy's parking lot and a second man around the corner from the shop, wounded and surrounded by a "huge pool of blood."

In the aftermath of the shooting, as police cordoned off the area, a red ball cap and a pair of red sandals could be seen lying nearby a large bloodstain, drying on the asphalt of the barber shop's parking lot.

In a second, and possibly related incident, about a dozen police officers with automatic rifles, flak jackets and a ballistic shield broke down the door of 38 Hull Ave.

Capeless said investigators are looking into a report of shots fired in that area as well.

Officers could be heard identifying themselves and yelling to whomever may be inside to show them their hands. They emerged about 10 minutes later with no one in custody.

Police on the scene would not divulge the purpose of the raid.

Mike Williams, an outreach worker with Pittsfield Community Connection, said he suspected the shooting was gang-related and he intended to speak to some of those gathered at the hospital in order to try and prevent any possible retaliation.

As people gathered on the sidewalk, police conducted the early stages of the investigation, including canvassing the neighborhood and interviewing witnesses.

Many lamented what they perceived as escalating violence in the city.

One woman said she now "hated" living here. A man compared Pittsfield to the "wild west." Another witness who heard the shots said he didn't feel threatened because he felt the shootings weren't random, but between "bad guys going after bad guys."

"I just don't want to catch any stray bullets," he said.

Eric Shuman, a father of three, summed up his thoughts about Friday's violence.

"It's literally crazy," he said. "From a parent's standpoint, you don't want your kids to go outside. You just never know."

Extra security measures were put into place at Berkshire Medical Center in response to the shootings.

"Whenever there is an incident in the community, particularly if it is in close proximity to the medical center, we enact enhanced security measures to ensure the safety of our patients and staff," said spokesman Michael Leary in an email.

Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless and First Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Paul Caccaviello were at both the Tyler Street and Hull Avenue scenes, but declined to comment.

Wynn said the investigation is open and ongoing and asked anyone with information to call 413-448-9700 ext. 305.

The investigation is being conducted by members of the Pittsfield Police Department, State Police detectives assigned to the District Attorney's Office and the State Police Crime Scene Services and Firearms Identification Sections.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-----

A GoFundMe campaign has raised thousands of dollars toward funeral services for Keenan S. Pellot Jr. (Courtesy photo)

Thomas Lee Newman Jr. is suspected of fatally shooting Keenan S. Pellot Jr. on Friday and wounding another man.

“Update: Victim's mother says 'family issue' led to Pittsfield shootings; warrant issued for suspect”
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, August 1, 2015

PITTSFIELD - An 18-year-old city man suspected in Friday's fatal shooting of Keenan S. Pellot Jr. was dating the victim's sister, according to Pellot's mother, Carey Pilot.

She said the alleged shooter, Thomas Lee Newman Jr., and her son have known each other since childhood and she believed Friday's slaying stemmed from a "family issue."

The Berkshire District Attorney's Office on Saturday issued a warrant for Newman's arrest on charges of murder and assault with intent to commit murder.

"[Pellot] knew Thomas since they were both in Pampers," Pilot said.

Pellot died of his wounds shortly after the shooting, which occurred around 1 p.m. in the 100 block of Tyler Street.

A second victim who was with Pellot, who police described as a 17-year-old man, also suffered multiple gunshot wounds and remains in guarded condition at Berkshire Medical Center, according the DA's office.

In an interview with the Eagle on Saturday, Pilot objected to suggestions on social media that the shooting was gang-related or somehow related to shootings on July 4, which left one dead and four wounded.

Pilot identified Newman as a member of a gang but said her son was not, and Newman's participation played no role in the dispute.

It involved the relationship between Newman and Pellot's 16-year-old sister, she said.

"Thomas was my daughter's boyfriend," Pilot said. "He's at my house all the time. I've had him at my house regularly since he was a baby."

"Keenan did hit him," she said. "Thomas pushed Keenan down and then shot him in the chest five times."

Pilot said she was told what happened by someone who was there. She said she didn't know who the other victim was.

"I feel like there ain't no justice," Pilot said. "He took my baby. I'm furious."

Pilot said shortly after the shooting, she spoke with a cousin of Newman's at neighborhood gas station. The cousin was "shaking" and apologetic about the death and told her Newman had given him the gun used in the shooting then "got on the bus to Tennessee," where other members of his family are living, she said.

A GoFundMe.com page established to help defray the funeral costs collected several thousand dollars Saturday, while Pilot's Bartlett Avenue home was flooded with family and other visitors bearing food and condolences.

Pellot grew up in Pittsfield before moving with his family to Northampton. The family returned to Pittsfield in 2011.

He previously attended high school through Department of Youth Services educational programs but was preparing to enter Hoosac Valley Middle & High School for his senior year this fall.

Pellot's multiple talents included outstanding athletic prowess on the basketball court and football field, intelligence and a touch for painting and the arts, Pilot said.

"He was an athlete that was out of this world," Pilot said. "Whatever ball you gave him, he could play the game. He was the only kid in the DYS school who understood chemistry."

At Hoosac, Pellot hoped to play basketball and get recruited to a Division I college, Pilot said.

He also recently had worked his way up from dishwasher to food preparation at his job at Hotel on North.

Pilot said Newman was known for starting fights in the neighborhood and that following the shooting he "got on a bus to Tennessee," where other members of his family are living.

Sabrina Powell, director of Meeting Our Community Youth Needs of Pittsfield, was with Pilot at the Barlett Avenue home on Saturday.

"It's another tragedy to hit this community," Powell said. "It's time for this to stop. No child should go before their mother, no child should go before their father."

Powell knew Pellot and said she would most remember "his smile."

"If you were frowning his smile would awaken your spirit," Powell said. "It could brighten up any room."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. pdemers@berkshireeagle.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter.

------------

"Pittsfield shootings may empty out city"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 3, 2015

To the editor:

If Pittsfield is really serious in encouraging new businesses and new arts venues to relocate here, it had better aggressively solve its gang-related shootings soon (even if it means stop and frisk) or GE's leaving so many years ago will be repeated by a cessation of visitors and potential well-minded potential new businesses.

Larry Horn, Lee
The writer is chair, Business Crimes and Tax Litigation Departments, Sills Cummis & Gross P.C., Newark, N.J.

------------

Our Opinion: “Mayor Bianchi hands opponent a PR victory”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, August 1, 2015

Pittsfield City Clerk Linda Tyer is in a potentially awkward position as candidate for mayor. A controversy over the preliminary mayoral election could have been troublesome but the clerk ended up with a chance to show that she does her homework.

In a terse letter to the city clerk, Mayor Daniel Bianchi observed that "It has come to my attention that you scheduled the primary election on Yom Kippur. I respectfully request that you move the date of the primary election." The mayor informed the media of his action in a press release which concluded with the sentence "I am sure this was an unfortunate oversight." This could be interpreted as a sardonic reference to what the mayor saw as a blunder by one of his two mayoral opponents.

When contacted by The Eagle Wednesday, Ms. Tyer provided documents from January showing that the choice of the September 22 primary date had been supported by her research, approved by the City Council — and signed off on by Mayor Bianchi.

The city charter calls for the preliminary election to be held on the third Tuesday of September, which this year would be September 15, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, an all-day observance for many in the Jewish community. Ms. Tyer consulted Rabbi David Weiner of Congregation Knesset Israel and Rabbi Josh Breindel from Temple Anshe Amunin who advised the clerk that September 22 would be a better date.

Yom Kippur observances begin that day at sundown, which is about two hours before the polls close, giving Jewish residents time to vote. "Religious practice would not prevent even the most observant Jewish resident of Pittsfield from voting sometime before 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 22," wrote Rabbi Weiner in a letter to the mayor and released to the media.

In an email to The Eagle Friday, Mayor Bianchi said his request for a reconsideration of the election date "was not a criticism of the city clerk or her work regarding the management of the election process." This doesn't negate the accusatory ..."you scheduled the primary election on Yom Kippur" statement by the mayor. He went on to explain that members of the community had expressed their concerns about the date, which came up for discussion at a recent mayor's meeting, and added that other communities in the state have moved or are considering moving their elections from September 22.

These details weren't offered in the letter to Ms. Tyer or the original press release, creating the impression that the mayor is trying to back off his complaint to the city clerk. If the mayor was indeed playing "gotcha" politics with Ms. Tyer it backfired. Ms. Tyer's reasons for choosing the September 22 primary date were so sound that Mr. Bianchi supported them with his signature. And September 22 should remain the date of the preliminary election.

-----

"Mayor's shameful political tactic"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 2, 2015

To the editor:

I sincerely hope that Mayor Bianchi is not using religion as a tactic for political gain. Although Yom Kippur is the holiest of all Jewish holidays, City Clerk Linda Tyer had information from two local rabbis that the holiday does not begin until sundown and this leaves ample time to get to the polls in the daytime.

This appears to have solved the problem, yet this debate appears on the front page of the Berkshire Eagle (July 31). It was a little disconcerting to read the mayor's message to Linda Tyer: "...you scheduled the primary election on Yom Kippur."

However, one has to read the rest of the article to see this is a fallacy. Hopefully voters are good readers and this rather shameful political tactic will not do any harm.

Susan Zuckerman, Pittsfield

------------

“Mayor Bianchi addresses crime, works for west side”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 2, 2015

To the editor:

I disagree with the claims Linda Tyer, candidate for mayor and current city clerk, has made against Mayor Daniel Bianchi. She has called his comments "reckless and irresponsible" in responding to the current unrest in the city. How completely false her statements are.

Before running for mayor, when has she walked through the city, talked to residents or shown any interest in the concerns of the city? Where was this concern before she put in her papers to run for mayor? She has been a resident of Pittsfield for many years, what has she been waiting for? She wrongly criticizes the diligent work, compassion, concern and closeness with the public that has always been the structure of the office of Mayor Bianchi.

Mayor Bianchi is and always has been a hard-working delegate of the community. He proved that when he was the Ward 6 councilor for 10 years. Since becoming mayor he has implemented the Pittsfield Community Connection and has also given his support to a network of other groups to combat violence in the city. All this was done before the recent tragedy at Linden and Dewey Avenues.

These groups not only combat violence they give the youth of the city venues to explore other ways to be more productive. The youth are involved in creating solutions for improvement in the city and in their own lives. Mayor Bianchi has "circled the wagons" in networking these organizations, neighborhood watch groups, and as many Pittsfield citizens who are willing to give of themselves in his quest to protect, benefit and keep the city safe and productive.

I was born and raised on the west side and have lived in my home on the west side for 45 years. Tyer has accused the mayor of neglecting the west side. After speaking to others, I want it known that Mayor Bianchi has invested $4 million in the repair of sidewalks and streets on the west side. This includes partnership with the "safe routes" projects to improve the streets and sidewalks in the vicinity of the Silvio O. Conte Elementary School. The mayor has also removed many problem structures that had become eyesores and dangerous gathering places.

I attended the wonderful Christian Center Block Party on July 18. Mayor Bianchi was there, greeting people and listening to what they had to say. He walked side by side with them and gave each person his individual attention. I did not see Linda Tyer in attendance.

Vote for Mayor Daniel Bianchi, he's not just a bystander.

Barbara A. Bizzi, Pittsfield

------------

“Tyer has knowledge, right agenda for city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 5, 2015

To the editor:

In judging a mayoral candidate, we look first for a person who will affect our community and change our direction for the future. One who has leadership and experience that they will bring to the office.

Second, we look for a person who will address the problems of the community with intelligence and honesty and with the ability to communicate with the people in the community and meet their needs.

I believe that Linda Tyer displays the capability of doing all of the above. She has the knowledge and agenda to affect the growth of Pittsfield.

Linda served on the City Council and is now the city clerk. In each of these positions you can be assured that she listened, thought about what was put before her, and took her time before she acted upon any issue. She isn't looking for the prestige of being addressed as mayor of the city. Her main interest lies in correcting the direction of the city's future, and there are many areas that need attention.

Linda has addressed two issues in The Eagle and I am sure there will be many more issues needing immediate attention that will be addressed in the campaign. Many are issues that have been overlooked by the mayor.

I know Linda well enough to state that she will accomplish her mission during her four-year term because she has the desire to place Pittsfield on the map again as a safe place to live for young and old. I encourage you to vote for her in the preliminary election on Sept. 22 and continue your support for her in the November election.

Eleanor M. Persip, Pittsfield

------------

“Bianchi has worked for Pittsfield's youth”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 5, 2015

To the editor:

About 3 1/2 years ago, Daniel Bianchi was sworn in as mayor of the city of Pittsfield, and what a job he has done. He has gone to the edge of the earth for any family in need, and he has really drawn the attention and support of young adults, such as myself, which may impact this upcoming election.

Where should I start? His support for the new Taconic High School plan has been tremendous. We absolutely need a new high school, as kids should be able to receive high quality education in a building that isn't falling apart brick by brick. Or maybe I should start with all the paving being done on main roads, filling up all these potholes and making these roads drivable again.

His ongoing support for our public schools has done wonders for kids. His help of the Shannon Grant to combat youth violence won over a lot of hearts, and he turned the Common into a friendly, fun-filled park again, just like the old days.

This mayor has done more for this city than other Pittsfield mayor has done in my lifetime. He's a superb mayor and a class act inside and outside of the office. I believe in Mayor Bianchi.

Scott Steinman, Pittsfield

------------

“Controlling blight is critical to city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 5, 2015

To the editor:

In response to Dick Lindsay's July 28 article "Mayoral candidate Linda Tyer pledges to target residential blight," it is a breath of fresh air to hear a mayoral candidate recognize the importance of code enforcement.

Neighborhood blight is a form of cancer that attacks a neighborhood from the inside out and if not treated, will spread in uncontrollable ways to a point where it cannot be contained. It depletes property assessment values, it diminishes neighborhood positive attitudes and confidence, contributes to crime, and overall destroys a community from its core.

No leader wants to admit there are code issues in any community but it is a reality. The first battle to win is admitting there is a problem and two, creating a strategy to manage it.

Hearing mayoral candidate Linda Tyer address the importance and then admitting there are still code compliance issues in our neighborhoods is the first step in achieving the very best for us Pittsfield residents.

The city of Pittsfield has done this in the past. From 2008-2011, during Mayor Ruberto's administration, code enforcement compliance rates in the city of Pittsfield more than doubled due to a multi-faceted approach. The city engaged in the priorities, ordaining minimum standards, adhering to the property registration requirements, and staffing inspectors. Most importantly, we had a mayor and City Council that understood and recognized the advantages of improving neighborhoods by utilizing code enforcement. It's all right to be aggressive with respect to code enforcement as there are multiple layers to ensure due process to all property owners. There are board of health hearings, a hearings officer and the court system.

Leaders and citizens of the city of Pittsfield must make a statement to set the highest standards possible. We deserve nothing less.

James J. Wilusz, Pittsfield

------------

“Mayoral candidate Donna Walto seeks economic overhaul for Pittsfield”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, August 7, 2015

PITTSFIELD - "Economic development is the No. 1 issue," mayoral candidate Donna M. Walto said this week, and she doesn't believe the city has seen much progress on that score for more than a decade.

"Over the last 15 years, no [large] industry has been brought in, and many have left," Walto said, adding, "There are not any sound initiatives for the city to turn itself around."

As a result, she said, "we are depending too much on small entrepreneurial businesses. We need to get some big industry in here."

Walto, 65, of Sadler Avenue, is one of four candidates running for mayor in the Sept. 22 primary, which will narrow the field to two finalists for the Nov. 3 city election.

She will face Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, current City Clerk Linda M. Tyer and municipal water systems consultant Craig C. Gaetani in the preliminary contest.

Over the past 15 years, when both the mayor and Tyer served in the City Council, there has been little progress on economic development, Walto asserted. "I don't think we have seen anything getting better," she said. "If anything, it is getting worse."

In an underperforming economy, "everybody is feeling the pinch, and they are not feeling as safe as they used to feel." Walto said. "People have no hope."

She said that coupled with a rash of recent violence, including two fatal shootings, the city appears to be "on a downward spiral."

A Williams College graduate who created an entrepreneurial business (Berkshire BackRoad Tour Co.), and someone who raised three children as a single mother, Walto said she believes she has the right experience to take on the economic development challenge.

To shake up the status quo, Walto said she'd advocate that more city residents familiar with the area's history be named to the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority board and staff. And she proposes a building at the William Stanley Business Park, which PEDA manages, that "would make a statement."

She said gathering input from professionals, including younger ones, on the building's design could lead to "something that says, 'Wow, that's a great building. That's who we are."

One idea, she said, would be to create a museum dedicated to William Stanley, the inventor whose company in Pittsfield eventually was purchased by General Electric Co. — once the employer of thousands in the city. The industrial park is located off East Street on former GE industrial parcels.

She also cited the example of former Williams College Museum of Art Director Thomas Krens, whose idea during the late 1980s for a museum at the former Sprague Electric Co. in North Adams became the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Walto said "some of the best and brightest went to Williams," and she believes her connections as a graduate could spark new development ideas for Pittsfield.

Walto said she has been a strong supporter of development of the arts community, "but we need more." A Stanley museum honoring the inventor could compliment the cultural development successes, she said.

Walto graduated from Pittsfield High School in 1967 and from Williams in 1986.

She has made three other attempts for the corner office, losing in 2005 and 2007 to former Mayor James M. Ruberto and in a primary election in 2011, when Bianchi went on from the primary to win his first term as mayor.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

“Pittsfield's children need our help, support”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 9, 2015

To the editor:

On July 4, a horrible tragedy happened and someone was killed and people were injured. Then again on July 31 another shooting occurred, but this time in daylight, a child was killed. The place that we call home is becoming a poverty war zone. People can be heard saying that they hate living here and wish that they had the means to leave.

This has become much bigger than some neighborhood watch program and some blighted property issues. Our children are not safe and innocent bystanders are not safe either.

The shooting on July 31 didn't involve anyone from out of town. They were all local boys who have grown up on these Pittsfield streets and went to local schools.

We as a society need to support these children at a young age, starting with education. The younger grades have DARE and they should also have anti-violence classes as well. In the high schools, anti-violence classes should be mandatory. Don't just put at risk kids in the program either because it is an issue for everyone.

I know as a parent raising my children it's a nerve-wracking situation here. You are afraid to get into an argument with someone in fear a gun will be pulled out on you. You don't even want to let your children out of your sight. You certainly can't keep them in the house forever but at the same time you are afraid to let them leave the yard.

The only hope is uniting together as a society and putting pressure on the courts and schools to enroll these juvenile offenders into programs of prevention and take a stronger stance. Let's not just give them a slap on the wrist. The courts need to be held more responsible and require that anyone entering into the courts have a psychological evaluation. It is sad that it takes someone to be incarcerated to receive the help that they need.

We need to find more logical reasons why these crimes are happening. These are unfortunately not isolated incidents. There isn't anyone leading the community in a different direction and giving residents a feeling of safety. People need to feel like they are being heard and they don't feel it. People don't trust people even if they wear a uniform. This is just all so tragic and it seems to be one right after the next.

We all need to band together and put aside our differences for the future of this city. We need to ensure that Pittsfield is a city that thrives and our residents are once again proud to call this place home again for generations to come.

Let us not forget that the victims of these crimes have families that are mourning their loss. No one comes out of this untouched. Let's not forget someone lost a child, a friend and a relative regardless of the persons past. I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to everyone effected by all of these tragedies

Tammy Ives, Pittsfield

------------

“'Zero tolerance' invites police brutality”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 10, 2015

To the editor:

In regard to the August 8 article about increased police patrols in Pittsfield, The term used to describe these patrols was "zero tolerance." It was never explained what that meant. Is the media attempting to scare readers into staying in their homes?

In a country rash with police killings (705 in 2015), people everywhere are taking more notice of police actions, not because they are bored, but because they are afraid. More people have been killed by police in the last decade alone than those slain in the Iraq War.

Some citizens are even going as far as videotaping their interactions with police with their smartphones, posting these videos on the internet for the world to see. Chris Rock, the famous comedian, posts pictures on his Twitter account every time he is pulled over so the world knows happened in case the officer shoots him or otherwise injures him.

I would prefer to not see headlines of police brutality in the coming weeks as these "zero tolerance patrols" are out serving the community, especially as the city has already endured violence and tragedy recently.

Kyle Lallatin, Pittsfield

------------

Prior to a walking tour of the City of Pittsfield Monday, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey talks with representatives in the Mayor's office. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

During a tour of Pittsfield Monday with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, center, walk in the Common in Pittsfield. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

“U.S. Sen. Markey tours economic development sites in the Berkshires”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, August 10, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The city's downtown revitalization and emerging industrial innovation center are impressive projects that should drive Pittsfield's future development efforts, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey said during a visit Monday.

Meeting at City Hall with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, City Council President Melissa Mazzeo, Councilor Nicholas Caccamo and leaders of the Berkshire Innovation Center, Markey discussed the center and other projects, and later joined in a walk around The Common and sections of North Street.

"The state is transitioning to a higher percentage of life sciences job development," the senator said. "That has been a big focus of mine."

After hearing a presentation on the nonprofit BIC organization and planned $10 million facility, which is progressing toward a ground-breaking this year at the William Stanley Business Park, Markey said he will keep the regional collaborative in mind when discussing sources of federal funding.

Bianchi; Rod Jane, executive director of the BIC; Berkshire Community College Vice President for Community Education & Workforce Development William Mulholland, and other officials explained the center and gave the brief visual presentation. The BIC organization, which will have small manufacturing firms and educational and research institutions as members, is designed to play to the economic strength of the region, Bianchi said, by assisting companies that make products to support the life sciences industry.

The center now has 11 companies as members in the collaborative, Jane said, with more than 20 expected over time. Institutions, such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Williams College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, BCC, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Lowell, as well as the vocational component at Taconic High School, also are committed to the center, he said, and a number of vendor companies in the industry are expected to join as associate members.

Two large companies, General Dynamics and SABIC also are members.

The 20,000-square-foot BIC center is being constructed with the help of $9.7 million in funding through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

Mulholland said BCC also has received grant funding through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for laser scanning equipment that will support the BIC and be used in partnership with the Taconic vocational program.

The BIC will open with some $2 million in specialized equipment to support research and development initiatives as well as training programs.

"You will be able to create an educational dynamic," Markey said.

Jane said most of the member manufacturing companies will have 25 to 120 employees. Without the technical and product prototype testing equipment the BIC will have, "they are finding it very difficult to grow," he said, largely because of the great expense of owning the equipment that will be shared at the center.

Mulholland said the capacity for worker training, closely related to the needs of existing companies in the region, will help the firms expand and "move up to the food chain."

Earlier Monday, Markey visited North Adams, touring the MCLA campus, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Berkshire Health Systems facility in the former North Adams Regional Hospital building.

He said collaboration between BCC, MCLA's new science center and other institutions and entities has formed "an educational chain that will reinforce economic development."

Representative Farley-Bouvier noted that the vocational education aspect of the center will provide a competitive edge and good-paying jobs for young people who aren't going to a four-year college, especially those coming from lower-income backgrounds.

"It's a great pathway for low- to moderate income students," Bianchi said, adding that about 60 percent of students in city schools receive free or reduced-cost lunches because of their family income level.

"This is a great concept," Markey said, "but the execution also is happening in a profound way."

The officials later took a walking tour of The Common, which is being upgraded in a multi-phase project costing nearly $5 million, supported by significant grant funding. Also highlighted for the senator were the downtown Streetscape project areas and the new Hotel on North.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

Pittsfield mayoral candidate Linda Tyer speaks about early education at her East Street headquarters, Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Ben Garver The Berkshire Eagle.

“Pittsfield mayoral candidate Tyer offers plan to boost early childhood education: Wants to expand existing school and city efforts”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, August 12, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayoral candidate Linda M. Tyer is promising a focus on early childhood education for city youngsters and to bring together key stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan to expand existing efforts.

"I will work with Superintendent [Jason] McCandless, the School Committee, the City Council and early education professionals to develop and implement a viable and sustainable early education and care program for Pittsfield preschoolers," Tyer said in a campaign release.

The candidate, who is the current city clerk, added that she would "advocate for the passage of state legislation currently proposed that would give communities with underperforming schools access to grants from the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education."

Early education "has to become a priority," Tyer said. "There are a variety of models out there, from universal preschool to doing nothing."

She said the bottom line is that early education has a strong positive effect on youngsters and leads to successes later in life.

Tyer said, if elected mayor, she wants to work closely with organizations like Berkshire United Way and its Pittsfield Promise program, Multicultural BRIDGE and its mentoring efforts to create a comprehensive program for preschoolers.

The candidate said she doesn't want to "put a figure on it," referring to the cost to the city, but wants to work to develop a "broad and robust" program that is in line with the city's resources. Part of the solution, she suggested, might be to share some public school teaching or other staff personnel with nonprofit organizations that work with young people.

"I don't like to start from a position of 'no,'" Tyer said. "I like to start from a position of, 'how can we?'"

Tyer is competing in a Sept. 22 primary race along with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, businesswoman Donna M. Walto, and water facilities consultant Craig C. Gaetani. The top two finishers will secure spots on the Nov. 3 city election ballot.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

"Decision to leave GIC is already a failure"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 14, 2015

To the editor:

I would like to give a great big shout-out to Mayor Bianchi, Brendan Sheran, the team at MIIA Blue Cross Blue Shield and the bargaining units that voted in favor of leaving the GIC for the sub-par health insurance plan they sold the city of Pittsfield employees that went into effect July 1.

So far, the cost for the HMO plan that I have at $540 per year is $45 more per month than the PPO I had with the GIC, which was a much better plan. The co-pay at the 510 walk-in clinic is $100 as opposed to $35 with GIC. The cost for one of my prescriptions went from $50 for a 90-day supply to $110 ($240 per year.) That's a total of $780 per year increase so far and this is just one month into the plan.

I don't understand how this plan is going to save the taxpayers money. If my premium payment is $45 more per month and the split between the city is still 85/15 that means the city is paying more also.

It's perfectly clear why the mayor's office hid this from everyone until it was too late. Thank you so much to Mayor Bianchi and him minions for this plan. I can't wait to see what happens after the two-year freeze on premiums expires. Hold onto your wallets!

Eric J. Walger, Pittsfield

------------

Pittsfield Ward 7 City Council candidate Kathy Lloyd. (Photo by Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield City Council candidate Kathy Lloyd launches her campaign”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, August 14, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Political newcomer Katherine "Kathy" Lloyd says she wants to "bring a fresh, positive face to the City Council."

The businesswoman, who with her husband, Gabriel Lloyd, operates the How We Roll food truck, is challenging incumbent Councilor Anthony Simonelli in Ward 7 in the fall election.

On Thursday, she announced via her Facebook campaign page, a campaign kick-off party, scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, at the Polish Falcons Club, 32 Bel Air Ave. There is a suggested donation of $20 to attend the event.

Lloyd, 40, became more involved in community issues in Pittsfield over the past few years and this spring decided to take out nomination papers for the council. She's been active with the Springside Park Conservation Committee and the Lake Onota Preservation Society; was a Giving Garden volunteer and adviser, and served on a committee set up by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to advise the Board of Health on mosquito control alternatives to spraying.

This summer, Lloyd has acted as co-producer for the Shire City Sessions concerts at the Shire City Sanctuary and participated in various community events in the downtown.

From talking to residents, Lloyd said she hears concerns expressed about crime in Pittsfield, staffing levels for the Pittsfield Police Department, the condition of some streets, including those in her ward; the maintenance of city parks, and a shortage of good-paying jobs.

"We have some pretty major issues," she said, "and it is easy to get down and negative about the city. But we have some great things going on too."

Lloyd said she believes trying not to compartmentalize the serious issues facing the city and promoting positive aspects like the burgeoning arts community could help in terms of luring new businesses. In general, she said, "put a unified, beautiful and positive face on the city of Pittsfield."

As an example of small positive steps that can produce changes, Lloyd said her "2,500 for 25" effort on her campaign Facebook page seeks 2,500 residents willing to pledge to drive 25 miles per hour or less on residential streets.

That has sparked discussion and other suggestions, she said, adding, "This is something we can do right now, and it's free."

The 1992 graduate of Taconic High School, who received a bachelor of science degree in biology from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in 2013, said she spent several summers working at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox and in Texas and elsewhere in the South during the colder months.

She and her husband began to learn some of their culinary skills while in New Orleans, Lloyd said, and soon after returned to Pittsfield to live and raise a family. They now have two children, ages 6 and 3.

In addition to the How We Roll food truck, in which they travel to festivals and events throughout the region within about a two-hour drive from Pittsfield, the couple also buys used delivery trucks and converts them into food trucks, which they sell.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

"Four Candidates Heading Into Pittsfield Mayoral Primary"
By Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Radio, August 14, 2015

Four people are vying for the mayor’s seat in Pittsfield just two years after Dan Bianchi skated through an uncontested re-election.

Mayor Bianchi is seeking a third term, which under a new city charter would last four years instead of the previous two-year stints. City Clerk Linda Tyer has been the most visible of the challengers thanks in part to a campaign headquarters in downtown Pittsfield. A former city councilor, Tyer has focused on combating blight and problem properties, saying her administration would pursue owners who fail to maintain their buildings. She wants to use city money to create a system where schools partner with private educational and care organizations to offer pre-kindergarten learning.

“That controls costs, gets to the goal of expanding it for 3 and 4-year olds and for parents in the community at the same time helping our current organizations and those who are currently in this work to maintain their success,” said Tyer.

According to Strategies For Children*, 44 percent of Pittsfield’s 1,544 preschool age children are enrolled in an early education program. The state average is 60 percent. In the wake of deadly July shootings, Tyer has called for increasing the police force. Bianchi looks toward city and community support of childhood literacy programs to the fill the gap left by the lack of universal pre-K. Bianchi says his top priorities are public safety, economic development and education. Saying those items are linked, Bianchi believes the Berkshire Innovation Center will stimulate economic opportunity.

“We have the nanotechnology center over in Albany that is going to be a member,” Bianchi said. “Other manufacturers are going to have access to nanoscale sciences that they didn’t have in the past.”

The center’s groundbreaking is expected in the fall. Also on the September 22nd preliminary ballot is Craig Gaetani “The next mayor of the city of Pittsfield" as he introduced himself at the most recent city council meeting.

He has constantly criticized the Bianchi administration and city councilors. At that meeting Gaetani echoed his call for police officers to walk the West Side, the site of deadly July 4th shootings.

“Let me tell you something every last one of you people here who have done really not much for our city in the past couple years, those people down there definitely are screaming for a relationship with the cops,” said Gaetani.

But Gaetani’s campaign got off to a rocky start. He denies charges that he threatened to shoot a city employee during a series of harassing phone calls. He is scheduled to be arraigned August 19 on charges of threatening to commit a crime and making harassing phone calls. Gaetani calls them “trumped up charges” made by Bianchi and the city’s police and fire chiefs.

“These same charges against me is what’s going to sink them,” Gaetani said. “Because I will definitely be sinking my teeth into them shortly.”

Bianchi says he didn’t know Gaetani was facing charges until contacted by The Berkshire Eagle.

“I think Mr. Gaetani really has to examine his behavior,” Bianchi said. “You can’t be threatening people. Just because people are public employees doesn’t mean people can threaten them or frighten them. It shouldn’t happen.”

Donna Walto, who operates a sightseeing company and has run unsuccessfully for city council and mayor numerous times over the past dozen years, returned the necessary 300 signatures to make it onto the preliminary ballot. Walto says her first priority is the safety of the people.

“One of the ways to achieve that is to make sure we get some economic development here,” Walto said. “For the last 15 years at least I haven’t seen anything. In fact I’ve seen it getting more distraught and dire.”

A mayoral forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. September 14th at Berkshire Community College. Pittsfield Community Television will broadcast it live.

* www.strategiesforchildren.org/FastFacts/Pittsfield.html

------------

“Baseball's origins pre-date Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 16, 2015

To the editor:

It is always sad when so many gullible people believe in an historical error, especially when it comes from the Berkshire Historical Society and has no corroborating evidence. The belief that baseball somehow originated in the Berkshires is a case in point (Eagle, August 10).

"The earliest known document mentioning baseball" was not the 1791 bylaw and Pittsfield was neither America's "first home plate" nor "baseball's Garden of Edden." The earliest known reference to baseball appeared in a small children's book entitled "A Little Pretty Pocket-Book."

First published in England in 1744, this book was re-published in New York in 1762 and widely circulated. It was printed in Worcester in 1787 and sold locally in Hartford. Accompanying the reference to "Base Ball" was a woodcut showing children playing cricket.

Now cricket was the dominant ball game played in 18th-century America. It was also known as "baseball" and "wicket." George Washington and his soldiers played cricket at Valley Forge in 1778. Harvard students are shown playing cricket in an engraving of 1795. The first history of Berkshire County, printed in 1829, states that "the game of ball, called wicket, has been one of great interest in some parts of the County."

American baseball was virtually unknown until the 1840s and was so little regarded that the New York Atlantics team visited the White House in 1865 and invited President Andrew Johnson to a game "if but for a few minutes, as such countenance of the game would give a national stamp on it, which would greatly promote its popularity."

Lion G. Miles, Stockbridge

------------

"Pittsfield should pass a residential light law"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 18, 2015

To the editor:

Please, can Pittsfield enact a residential light ordinance? That would protect us from inconsiderate neighbors who shine spotlights on neighboring property. This act is intrusive, annoying and can be vindictive.

I have contacted my ward councilor, City Hall and the police. All gave me the same response, and that was because there is no such law my only resource is to shine a light back at them. Really?

Nancy M. Smith, Pittsfield

------------

“Suggestions for a better Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 19, 2015

To the editor:

As a resident of Pittsfield who is originally from Williamstown, I notice a lot of discrepancies between the two towns. It seems as if Pittsfeld has got a few things down — the school systems seem all right, the shopping plazas are always bustling, but it's almost as if a few things get in the way of Pittsfield being a truly successful Berkshire town.

To me, it seems as if Pittsfield is torn between being a true cosmopolitan area and a small Berkshire town, and it seems as if a good way to unite the two would be to encourage more nature in Pittsfield. Silver Lake, for example, which is situated right in the center of town, is unswimmable and people have been discouraged from going there for years. If rehabilitated, Silver Lake could become an epicenter of refreshing nature in the middle of what many consider to be a ¨dirty"area of the city.

Secondly, North Street is practically devoid of greenery, and I think it would do a world of good to plant trees along the meridian going all along North Street to offer some shade and greenery to passerby. Perhaps with more nature abutting Pittsfield, the city will be able to reconcile its identity both as Berkshire town and Berkshire city, and will be a more pleasant place to live in.

In addition, there are too many empty storefronts on North Street. How hard is it to get business developers to open small businesses in a rapidly growing town, and why aren't they here already? Pittsfield needs more coffee shops and small stores that are affordable and accessible to the public to unite its many varied citizens.

Furthermore, I strongly believe that the Capitol Theater should be redone and turned into a theater once again, as that area of North Street could become a social epicenter once again, perhaps for live theater, as the Beacon Cinema is already there and successful.

Jennifer Gorson, Pittsfield

------------

“In federal suit, Pittsfield police sergeant cites 'hostile work environment'”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, August 21, 2015

PITTSFIELD — A city police sergeant has filed a suit in U.S. District Court alleging he was retaliated against and passed over for promotion after raising concerns about hiring policies and other practices within the department.

The suit, filed by Sgt. Mark Lenihan, names the City of Pittsfield, Police Chief Michael Wynn, Police Capt. Michael Granger and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi as defendants.

In a 12-page complaint, Lenihan alleges he was "subjected to disparate treatment, a hostile work environment, retaliatory acts, and denial of promotion, loss of income and other benefits from his employment." He is seeking unspecified damages.

Lenihan says he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant at least three times.

In at least one case, Lenihan had a score higher than that of the candidate who was promoted. And he claims the candidate who received that promotion was the same person responsible for vetting candidates for department positions.

On behalf of the city and the department, City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan declined to comment on the matter because it is an open and ongoing case.

But in an August 2014 letter to the Human Resources Division in Boston, Bianchi said Lenihan was passed over because the majority of his experience has been in the patrol division, he lacked specialized training and was suspended three times during his 28-year career.

The first suspension was for five days in 1987 for crashing a patrol car; the second was a one-day suspension for abandoning a post, and the third was another one-day suspension in 2009 for failure to follow the verbal orders of a superior officer, according to Bianchi's letter.

According to the suit, which was filed in April, Lenihan first raised concerns in the fall of 2013 after he learned the sons of Granger and Bianchi were listed as candidates for hire on the most recent Civil Service list.

Granger's son was at or near the top of the list due to a preferred veteran's status, Lenihan said, despite having no qualifying military service.

Lenihan claims that Granger appointed Sgt. Michael Maddalena to conduct the background investigations of those who were applying to the department, but that Granger himself took an "active role" in the process of interviewing and screening candidates.

Lenihan said he raised concerns — including to Granger himself — about Granger having a role in the interview process while his son was a candidate.

The suit goes on to claim neither Granger nor Bianchi notified the state Human Resources Division their sons were on the certified list, nor did they remove themselves from the hiring process.

Neither man was apparently hired by the department, according to Lenihan's lead attorney, Timothy M. Burke.

Further, the suit alleges, during a meeting with Bianchi to discuss department morale, Lenihan said he aired concerns about Granger's handling of the formation of anti-gang and anti-crime units.

Specifically, Lenihan was wary of Granger's ability to hand-pick for those details officers who would, in turn, receive overtime and training compensation for their participation.

That, he said, created a situation in which those officers would become "economically dependent" on Granger and create a loyalty to him rather than the department as a whole.

He said Granger's ability to assign overtime and special details was illegal and a violation of the seniority clause in the department's union contract.

The suit claims Granger also violated the contract by changing a long-standing practice of bidding for shifts in a public and transparent manner in favor of a new policy that required officers to see Granger personally to request their preferred shifts.

It alleges Maddalena, who was tapped by Granger to conduct background checks of candidates, was tasked with giving favorable reviews of Granger's and Bianchi's sons in exchange for multiple training opportunities that would justify their promotion over Lenihan.

In July 2014, Lenihan made his first of three unsuccessful bids for promotion to lieutenant, according to the suit. Bianchi and Wynn both were present for that interview.

Lenihan was notified in August that command staff had chosen to bypass him and promote Maddalena — a sergeant at the time — to lieutenant.

In the suit, Lenihan claims that he scored higher on the exam, but was passed over in part because Maddalena had received 18 separate specialized training and certification programs — training that Lenihan said he repeatedly requested but was denied.

In a letter dated Aug. 5, 2014, Bianchi cited the suspensions and lack of specialized training as reasons for not choosing Lenihan.

The news of the bypass caused Lenihan stress-related symptoms including nausea, migraines and elevated heartbeat, the suit alleges.

Later that month, Lenihan hand-delivered a letter to Wynn and Bianchi giving notice he believed being passed over for the position was retaliation for airing his concerns about the hiring and interview processes.

In October 2014, Lenihan again learned he was being passed over for promotion.

In response to a February letter from Lenihan's attorney, Degnan declined to detail why he had been passed over, stating that the officer's promotion was "provisional" and thus the city was not required to explain the decision.

On March 2, Lenihan again was notified that he was bypassed for promotion.

In that case, a bypass letter was drafted by Bianchi, citing his previous reasons for Lenihan not being promoted.

The case has been assigned to Judge Mark G. Mastroianni in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

A status hearing in the case is set for Feb. 10, 2016.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/275502746/Lenihan-v-City-of-Pittsfield

------

“Lawsuit raises concerns about police department practices”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, August 23, 2015

The merits of a lawsuit brought by a Pittsfield police sergeant will be determined in court, but if the claims made about hiring practices are correct there were conflicts that should not have taken place.

The federal suit filed by Sergeant Mark Lenihan asserts he was passed over for promotion to lieutenant and retaliated against for challenging hiring and other practices. Police Chief Michael Wynn, Police Captain Michael Granger and Mayor Daniel Bianchi are named as defendants.

In a letter a year ago to the Human Resources Division in Boston, the mayor said Sergeant Lenihan was passed over because he was suspended three times in his 28-year career and lacked specialized training. The suit doesn't challenge the suspensions but Sergeant Lenihan asserts he requested and was denied special training that went to Sergeant Michael Maddalena, who eventually received the promotion to lieutenant.

The suit asserts that Sergeant Lenihan expressed concern to Captain Granger about the role he was playing in the hiring process when his son was a candidate, and claims that Sergeant Maddalena was tasked with giving positive reviews to the son of the captain and the son of the mayor, who was also on the Civil Service list. Neither of the two sons was evidently hired.

Factor in Sergeant Lenihan's expressed objections to some of the administrative policies of Captain Granger which he believes led to retaliation against him and the result is a tangled web to be sorted out in court. Regardless of that outcome, however, the allegations raised by Sergeant Lenihan invite an independent assessment of the hiring practices and other procedures of the police department.

------------

“Rash of break-ins spark calls to 'lock up'”
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, August 22, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A spate of recent car and home break-ins led Pittsfield Police Department to issue an advisory on Facebook on Saturday telling folks to lock up and "don't become a victim."

Lt. Jeffrey Bradford told The Eagle there has been a total of 21 motor vehicle break-ins and 23 home break-ins so far in the month of August.

"These crimes are occurring in every neighborhood," the PPD Facebook post read. "Burglars and thieves are opportunists so don't give them the opportunity to victimize you."

"I'm looking at 44 pins on the [crimes] map, and they're spread out everywhere," Bradford added.

The advisory ran through a numbered list that included the following.

People should lock their doors and windows, set house and car alarms, stash away valuables out of plain sight and vary parking habits and the hours you stay at home.

People should also avoid leaving extra keys "under doormats, flowerpots, mailboxes or fake rocks next to the porch" because "burglars know where to look for hidden keys," the advisory said.

Finally, it requested that readers be good neighbors and keep a watch on adjacent homes, and to report any suspicious activity.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. pdemers@berkshireeagle.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter.

------------

“Bianchi is committed to city's best interests”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 25, 2015

To the editor:

As a lifelong resident of the city of Pittsfield, a local attorney, and an active volunteer in the community I wish to express my support in the upcoming mayoral election for Daniel L. Bianchi.

I have worked closely with the mayor as an attorney for the city on projects such as the Berkshire Innovation Center, Taconic High School project, and the tax title auction. Mayor Bianchi's commitment to the city and his attention its financial well-being are exemplary. The mayor also carries himself with dignity and conducts all of his duties with high level of skill and values that I share.

Please join me in supporting Mayor Bianchi in the election this fall.

Darren M. Lee, Pittsfield

------------

“Column didn't compare Pittsfield then and now”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, August 30, 2015

To the editor:

I think that letter writer Benjamin Smith (August 24) missed the point of the August 20 article written by Jim Shulman ("Berkshires a great place during baby boom heyday"). Mr. Smith assumes that Mr. Shulman wrote the piece to compare one era to another when he implied that all things were not better years ago than they are today.

If Mr. Smith had lived in Pittsfield in the '50s and '60s he might understand what our lives were like in Pittsfield and surrounding towns in the Berkshires. Jim wrote from a personal perspective of a city in which he loved growing up.

It is a sad comment on our community that so many people living in Pittsfield these days share attitudes of pessimism and negativity about this city. I saw Jim's column as a reflection of the positives in the community post World War II and how people worked together to make Pittsfield a safe and healthy community for kids. The positives sure outweighed the negatives for most of us living in Pittsfield in that era.

Of course there was some anti-Semitism, ethnic and sexual discrimination, violence, poverty and crime, but those are still present and more evident today.

GE was a benefactor that employed over 13,000 workers and gave back to the community in many ways in those days. No one knew of PCBs then. Murders and violent crimes, drug abuse and sexual abuse, teen pregnancies and sexual harassment were not major problems in Pittsfield. The abuses Mr. Smith mentioned were rare incidents in the city whose population was a third greater than it is now with a median income of 10 percent above the state's average (compared to over 20 percent below now).

Unlike folks today, people were much more optimistic and positive and perhaps somewhat naïve or blind to privations, deprivations and abuses as Smith implies. Note that in The Eagle piece, Jim did state, "Yes these and many more experiences during early baby boom years have made us realize that we may have been very lucky in our ignorance."

Anyone who knows Jim (my older brother), knows that he loves the city in which he grew up in the '50s and early '60s. He felt it important to give back now, in a way that involves local people from all socio-demographics, to contribute to the betterment of the community. The Berkshire Carousel project that he and his wife Jackie started 10 years ago for which they have been the primary backers, has enabled 400 volunteers to contribute to and take pride in their community by creating a beautiful and functional legacy, without the influence of politics or personal agendas.

Nancy L. Shulman, Pittsfield

------------

Richard Scapin

“Former councilor Richard Scapin seeks return in Ward 5 race”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, August 30, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Former City Councilor Richard Scapin is making a bid to return to his former seat in Ward 5.

"Having been involved in the politics of Pittsfield for many years, I have worked for positive change in the past," Scapin said in his formal campaign announcement. "My family and I feel that the time has come for me to return to elective office, so I can bring my experience and hard work back to the community, and in cooperation with others, continue the ongoing positive changes to our city, and offer my own ideas as well."

In the Ward 5 race in the Nov. 3 city election, Scapin will face Donna Todd Rivers in the contest to succeed longtime Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, who did not seek re-election.

Scapin, 57, a resident of Gale Avenue, listed as priorities working to ensure further street and sidewalk improvements, "working with the police and fire on public safety issues, working with existing efforts to improve the schools, and most importantly, to listen and respond to the residents of Ward 5."

He added: "What I offer more than my opponent is experience. I have a unique ability to listen, problem solve, and especially to communicate. I want to hear the needs of Ward 5 residents, and I will share my ideas and goals, centering on public safety, quality of life, economic development, along with continued growth for the arts and entertainment."

The candidate said he wants to improve the condition of Ward 5 and other sections of Pittsfield that may be affected by absentee landlords who are not keeping up their properties. "Helping to support the efforts of code enforcement that are currently underway will make a difference," he stated. "My priorities will be those expressed by the citizens of Ward 5."

Scapin said his campaign "will be based on communication, visibility, and hard work. I will be a good listener and respond to the best of my ability, and when elected, I will work hard with my colleagues to accomplish good things for Pittsfield."

Scapin served on the Parks Commission for six years and later on the council from 1998-2004, as president from 2002-04. He lost a bid for re-election to Lothrop in 2003 and was defeated in a bid for an at large council seat in 2011.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

“Pittsfield mayor's top aide on family leave; campaign consultant hired”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, August 31, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The recent birth of a daughter to Director of Administrative Services Julia Sabourin and her parental leave have forced some changes in staffing, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said Friday.

Sabourin and her husband, Ryan Sabourin, vice principal at Reid Middle School, became parents of a daughter just after midnight on Aug. 22, Bianchi said, after his top administrative assistant had worked until about 3 p.m. the day before.

"They are very healthy; both mom and baby are doing well," the mayor said.

To assist during Sabourin's 12-week leave, Bianchi said he has used funds from a temporary employee line item in the budget to hire Roberta McCulloch-Dews a few days per week to handle office communications and other work normally overseen by Sabourin.

"We all will have to pitch in," he added, referring to Executive Assistant Kathy Quinn, himself, and at times staff members from other City Hall offices.

Because he is gearing up for the city primary election on Sept. 22, Bianchi said he also has hired a public relations firm, RMC Strategies, to organize campaign and media events, and to oversee other planning tasks for his bid for a third term.

"This will be somebody to help coordinate the campaign," he said. "When you're mayor, you don't have the luxury of doing a lot of coordinating, as if you weren't the mayor."

In the primary race, the mayor faces current City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, businesswoman Donna M. Walto and municipal water systems consultant Craig C. Gaetani. The top two vote-getters in the primary will move on to the Nov. 3 city election ballot.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

“Second Pittsfield officer files federal whistleblower lawsuit”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, September 2, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A second city police officer has filed suit in federal court alleging he was denied promotions in retaliation for alerting superiors to possible wrongdoing in the department.

Christopher Kennedy, 57, claims he was passed over because of his age and for reporting his belief that the son of Pittsfield Police Capt. David Granger falsely claimed veterans status on a Civil Service exam.

Kennedy, represented by attorney Timothy Burke of Needham, alleges he was "wrongfully investigated" in order to discredit him and subjected to "a very intimidating and hostile work environment."

The suit, which was filed Monday in U.S. District Court, seeks unspecified damages for loss of compensation and benefits, damage to his personal and professional reputation, emotional distress and legal fees and expenses.

In court documents, however, the city claims Kennedy was denied promotion due, in part, to a lack of supervisory experience and his receipt of four letters of reprimand, a suspension and a demotion over the course of his career.

Solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan said she had not yet seen a copy of the complaint as of Wednesday afternoon and could not comment on it.

A similar suit was filed in April by Pittsfield Police Sgt. Mark Lenihan claiming he was denied promotions after alerting his superiors about the younger Granger's veteran status.

Both suits name the City of Pittsfield, Police Chief Michael Wynn, Capt. Granger and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi as defendants.

In response to the earlier suit, the city released a statement saying it plans a "vigorous" defense against the charges.

Kennedy, now a 27-year member of the department, claims shortly before the results of the October 2012 Civil Service exam were to be released, a lieutenant gave him a copy of the state retirement guide and told him he, "should read this," despite his having no plans to retire.

The suit alleges Kennedy was being encouraged to retire to create an additional position on the force for new officers.

When the exam scores were released in March 2013, Kennedy, who scored an 81, was placed at the top of the list for promotion to sergeant.

In the suit, Kennedy claims he began to be "targeted and heavily scrutinized," after the scores were released. He said he was written up in April 2013 for allegedly requesting to delay a missing person report entry into the National Crime Information Center computer system for about an hour, in case the person returned before then.

The suit alleges the purpose of the report against him was two-fold. First, to discredit his job performance and ability to make decisions; and second, to compel him to respond to the report in writing, providing an excuse to pass him over for promotion or force him into early retirement.

Kennedy addressed his concerns with Bianchi, Wynn and Granger, telling them all he felt he was being discriminated against in an effort to prevent his promotion.

He further claims in November 2013, he learned that Granger's son was placed at the top of the eligibility list due to a preferred veteran status on the Civil Service exam, despite having no qualifying military service.

Kennedy aired his concerns to others in the department, including Lenihan. Both Kennedy and Lenihan claim they were ostracized for being whistleblowers about the younger Granger's status.

The city has said an investigation revealed that Civil Service had mistakenly merged the records of Granger and his son — who share the same name — and credited the younger man with his father's veteran status. It was later corrected.

The error only was uncovered through an inquiry sparked by the concerns raised within the department, according to the suit.

"Had (Kennedy) not spoken out about ... Granger's son's wrongful position on the appointment list for new hires ... he would potentially have been hired before other candidates," the 11-page complaint reads.

Granger's son did not apply for a position with the department, according to the city.

Kennedy said after word began circulating in March 2014 that he was going to be bypassed for promotion to sergeant, he asked confronted Wynn about it.

Wynn he had "no intention," to promote him, despite the formal interviewing process not having been completed, the suit alleges.

But the city said there were valid reasons to deny Kennedy the promotion.

An April 2014 letter, written and signed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, noted that Kennedy was reprimanded four times between 1989 and 2008 for offenses including "discourtesy, profanity and unreasonable force," "abuse of sick time," "failure to respond to a call," and, "failure to uphold professional responsibilities, conduct unbecoming an officer and criticism of officers."

That last reprimand, in March 2008, led to Kennedy being demoted from provisional sergeant to patrol officer and bypassed for promotion to permanent sergeant. The Civil Service Commission upheld that bypass in 2009, according to the letter.

Kennedy also served a one-day suspension in 2004 for "conduct unbecoming and discourtesy," the letter reads.

His attorney notes his client also has received numerous awards, commendations and letters of appreciation throughout his career.

Summons in the case were issued Tuesday, according to court records, but no future court dates have yet been set.

The cases of Kennedy and Lenihan have both been assigned to Judge Mark G. Mastroianni in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

A status hearing in Lenihan's case has been set for Feb. 10, 2016.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/278034401/Officer-Chris-Kennedy-vs-City-of-Pittsfield

http://wamc.org/post/second-pittsfield-police-officers-suing-city-claiming-whistleblower-retaliation#stream/0

------------

“Keep moving forward with Mayor Bianchi”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 7, 2015

To the editor:

I ask you to vote for Mayor Dan Bianchi to continue the progress Pittsfield has made through hard work and frugal management of taxpayers' dollars.

He has made progress on economic development, education (both curriculum and building needs), and neighborhood improvement, along with the day-to-day management of a team of department heads and their co-workers. The city continues to need infrastructure investment, and we share with cities across the state the crisis of opioid use. Bianchi has cooperated with the Police Department, D.A. Capeless, and Sheriff Bowler in efforts to address this terrible threat to health and safety.

Petty political back-and-forth will not succeed in addressing these challenges. Change for change sake is not the answer. I hope that you will join me in supporting Dan Bianchi in his efforts to move Pittsfield forward.

Mary K. O'Brien, Pittsfield

------------

“Pittsfield City Council to weigh appointments, bid to sideline president”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 7, 2015

PITTSFIELD — After a slow summer on the meeting front, the City Council is facing a jam-packed agenda right after the long Labor Day weekend.

In addition to 23 requested appointments or reappointments, including a commissioner of public services, an assessor and five new firefighters, petitions seek a vote on the temporary removal of President Melissa Mazzeo; the renaming of Pitt Park to honor the late Rosemary and Rev. Willard Durant; a request to have Police Chief Michael Wynn explain to the council policies for police recordings of telephone calls; two items relative to a Dunkin' Donuts plan for Tyler Street; and a petition relative to a ban on heavy truck traffic on Pecks Road and Highland Avenue.

While many of the 44 agenda items will likely be referred to subcommittees for review, the council — which meets only once monthly during the summer — could face a long night. The council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

Mazzeo said Saturday that the petition calling for her to step down temporarily, "until criminal charges against her are decided in District Court," which was put forth by mayoral candidate and frequent Mazzeo critic Craig C. Gaetani, is "frivolous."

She said she will turn the meeting over to Vice President Christopher Connell so she can respond to Gaetani's allegations, before making a motion to file his petition, effectively killing it.

Gaetani refers in the petition to Mazzeo's attendance at a Berkshire Theatre Group fundraising gala during the summer, which she attended alone as a guest without having to pay the $500 ticket price. Mazzeo said she has filed the necessary disclosure paperwork with the city clerk's office to comply with state Ethics Commission requirements for public officials.

In essence, Mazzeo said, she and other officials, including state lawmakers, attend such events to represent or promote the city, an area or a sector of the economy. She added that if a complaint is to be made, it should properly go to the commission, not district court.

According to the Central Berkshire District Court clerk's office, no criminal complaint against Mazzeo had been issued as of 4:15 p.m. on Friday.

Gaetani also wants Chief Wynn to "explain the policy of police tapings regarding telephone calls to the Pittsfield Police Department." And he proposes in a third petition supplying body cameras to every officer in the PPD.

Those two petitions were referred to Wynn.

The council will be asked to weigh in on a petition from Eddie Taylor and others to rename Pitt Park off Columbus Avenue in honor of the Durants. The proposal, which has garnered more than 1,000 signatures of support at downtown events and through an online petition on Change.org, is expected to be referred by the council to the Parks Commission for a vote to rename the park.

The council also will act on the appointment of David Turocy, the former public works commissioner in Newton, as the commissioner of public services, overseeing highway, engineering and related departments. Turocy is expected to be present on Tuesday, Mazzeo said.

Laura Catalano is up for appointment as assessor, to replace former Assessor Shaun McHugh; and there are a number of appointments or reappointments to city boards, as well as the five firefighter appointments and the appointment of Daniel Garner as deputy fire chief.

In addition, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli is calling for enforcement of a heavy commercial truck ban approved by the mayor and council in 2013 for Pecks Road and Highland Avenue from the Lanesborough town line to Valentine Road and Highland Avenue.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi is requesting a heavy commercial vehicle ban sign on Manchester Avenue and for enforcement of a ban once that is installed.

New Community Development Director Janis Akerstrom is requesting authorization to impose a project review fee on the developer of a Dunkin' Donuts restaurant and drive-thru proposed on the campus of the former St. Mary the Morning Star Church on Tyler Street.

Cafua Management Co. recently revised its plan for the parcel, moving the proposed restaurant on the site and leaving the former church building intact. A prior plan to raze the church aroused strong community opposition and was withdrawn in September 2014.

Cafua also has a petition into the council seeking a special permit for the drive-thru operation. That will be referred to the Community Development Board. A supermajority approval by at least 8 of the 11 councilors is required for drive-thru aspect of the project.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

"One bidder for mayor taking race seriously"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 11, 2015

To the editor:

As a mayoral candidate in the Pittsfield preliminary election on Sept. 22, I have to conclude that neither city residents nor the media could care less who wins. With less than two weeks go to, it is an utter disgrace that the media, with the exception of the Gazette, feel it is not important to hold mayoral debates to inform the city's residents as to who and what the candidates stand for.

Foreseeing that this would be the case, I proposed to all mayoral candidates a pledge to forgo fund-raising, lawn signs and paid advertising. I took the pledge and informed the other mayoral candidates that if they also took the pledge they could join me on my TV show on PCTV Channel 16 on Fridays up until Election Day. Mayor Bianchi and Linda Tyer declined to do so, instead doing the bidding of the Good Old Boy network that they would say as little as possible right up to Election Day. I have been campaigning seriously through commentaries, press conferences and speaking at many events.

On August 28, IUE Local 233 held a mayoral forum at its headquarters on Tyler Street. Bianchi and Tyer spoke but said nothing of any significance. I laid out a platform to address violence and my ideas were well-received by the audience, which was about 85 percent for Tyer or Bianchi. I was told that I was the hands-down winner of whatever you would call that forum but you could not call it a debate.

The public has only one more opportunity to see all of the mayoral candidates at Berkshire Community College Monday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m. This may or may not be a debate and I may not show up at all. If it were a real debate I wouldn't miss it for all the tea in China, but what I expect to see and hear are softball questions with no opportunity to debate whatsoever.

If I decide not to show up for the charade, citizens can tune into my show on Friday, Sept. 18 to see me lay out my entire platform on PCTV, Channel 16. That will be at 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

If anyone sees any lawn signs or paid political advertising, those are the candidates you should not vote for. They had a chance for a clean election and they blew it. The Good Old Boys and their money are more important to them than the issues or the taxpayers.

Craig C. Gaetani, Pittsfield
The writer is a candidate for mayor of Pittsfield.

------------

Mayoral candidate Linda Tyer sits on the fountain's edge at Park Square to discuss a plan for the city's parks on Friday. (Ben Garver — The Berkshie Eagle)

"Mayoral candidate Linda Tyer outlines plans for Pittsfield parks, playgrounds: Candidate points out need for basic maintenance, long term focus"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 11, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayoral candidate Linda M. Tyer visited Park Square on Friday to outline her proposals for care and expansion of the city's parks system.

Tyer, the current city clerk, said she wanted to make two central points — that there is a need for more focus on basic maintenance, such as garbage collection on weekends at Burbank Park, and to continue to pursue long-range projects like the restoration work at The Common and planning for a revival or reuse of Springside Park and its former mansion.

"The simple basics, we need to be more committed to that," Tyer said, referring to trash receptacles at the lakeside Burbank Park, and to the fountain and benches at Park Square, which she said need to be kept clear of trash and refurbished as needed.

Pitt Park on Columbus Avenue, which could soon be renamed in honor of the late Rosemary and the Rev. Willard Durant, also should be upgraded, Tyer said. "We need to give it the attention we have given other parks," she said of the West Side park.

"Throughout our city there are 29 parks and five conservation areas. Each one is unique and every neighborhood has a special patch of green space that makes Pittsfield a lovely place to live," Tyer said Friday at Park Square. "Renovation of The Common has shown how a well-designed and managed park can be a place of visual beauty and outdoor enjoyment."

Through the efforts of a coalition of neighbors, park users, athletic organizations, nonprofits and local businesses, Tyer said that Springside Park is the next opportunity for park improvement.

Many Pittsfield residents have long-advocated for a canine-friendly outdoor space, which Tyer said she supports.

"A dog park is a great way for neighbors to interact with each other while their dogs enjoy fresh air and socialization," she said. "It's been a dream of many dog owners, and now is the time for the city of Pittsfield to add this outdoor amenity."

"As your next mayor, I promise that our parks and playgrounds will be enhanced to create more opportunities for healthy outdoor experiences," she said.

On the Sept. 22 city election primary ballot, Tyer faces incumbent Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, municipal water system consultant Craig C. Gaetani, and businesswoman Donna M. Walto.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

"Bianchi has done job for business community"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 12, 2015

To the editor:

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mayor Daniel Bianchi for doing a great job for Pittsfield.

As the owner of a manufacturing company in Pittsfield, Starbase Technologies, I appreciate Mayor Bianchi's support and enthusiasm for the health and growth of business in Berkshire County. Along with his active interest in and pursuit of strengthening the manufacturing community in Pittsfield and our county and through his involvement with the new BIC (Berkshire Innovation Center) program, he is helping to foster much needed training and support for many of our local plastics and other manufacturing companies. His easy access and ability to cut through layers of bureaucratic red tape has been helping a lot of manufacturing firms.

I also appreciate the work getting done on our infrastructure. The streets are looking much better after one of the worst winters on record, and the traffic flow through the city and down to the Pike seems to be flowing better than ever. If only we could convince the residents of Pittsfield how important our utility costs are compared to the rest of the country, and figure out a way to help the population and business owners to get a better handle on skyrocketing energy and health care costs.

We should all get out and vote to support our mayor this Nov. 3 to help ensure a continued and successful reelection of this vital, progressive candidate.

Burton Francis, III, Pittsfield
The writer is president, Starbase Technologies.

------------

"Finish job in city with Mayor Bianchi"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 14, 2015

To the editor:

Mayor Daniel Bianchi has been a devoted public servant focusing his energies to promoting both the educational and economic development opportunities here in Pittsfield.

The mayor's emphasis on economic development, working with PEDA, is seen in his work to make the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) a reality and is consistent with my hope that the BIC will bring a wave of new technology businesses and well-paying jobs to the area.

A critical component of attracting new business is our schools, a community's investment in human capital. Mayor Bianchi's plan for the new Taconic High School will not only educate students in the academics, but also foster technology-based and vocational employment opportunities.

The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce has stated there are more than 1,700 unfilled jobs in Berkshire County. We must prepare our high school students for these in-demand industries. This investment in the new high school will encourage students to reach their educational potential and in the long term, help build a renewed Pittsfield!

The mayor is making all of the necessary steps to promote growth in Pittsfield. As a business owner and resident, I recognize there is more work to be done. Please vote for Mayor Bianchi on preliminary day on Sept. 22. Let him finish the job to bring economic opportunity back to Pittsfield.

Patrick Muraca, Pittsfield
The writer is president and CEO of Nuclea Biotechnologies.

------------

Berkshire Community college hosted a mayoral forum Monday with the four Pittsfield candidates, Linda Tyer, Donna Walto, Dan Bianchi and Craig Gaetani. The forum was moderated by William Sturgeon. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Blunt but mostly civil Pittsfield mayoral forum as primary looms”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 15, 2015

PITTSFIELD — A 90-minute forum Monday for the mayoral candidates in the city primary race produced a range of sometimes blunt but mostly civil answers to the questions posed by moderator Bill Sturgeon.

The four candidates vying for two spots on the Nov. 3 election ballot — Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, municipal water system consultant Craig C. Gaetani and businesswoman Donna M. Walto — met before a full conference room at Berkshire Community College in the only forum scheduled before the Sept. 22 primary.

Gaetani, 67, by far the most outspoken public figure at city meetings over the past 18 months, continued that trend. He repeated several times his vow to shake up city government and fire Police Chief Michael Wynn and Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood on his first day in office.

He also asserted he would slash city spending by 7 percent per year for four years and would "kill" the new Taconic High School construction project if elected. "What the taxpayers want they are going to get, and what they don't want they won't get," he said at one point.

The other candidates generally took more moderate positions but there were some distinct differences.

On economic development, Bianchi, 64, listed the planned Berkshire Innovation Center at the William Stanley Business Park, in conjunction with the Taconic High project and its enhanced vocational curriculum, as a potential boon for small industrial firms wishing to expand in the city and for "a 21st century education" for young people for high-paying advanced manufacturing local jobs.

Walto, 65, said she would do a better job of luring new business to Pittsfield because of her alumni connections from Williams College and her business offering tours of the Berkshire area. "I will show them [business owners] what we have here."

She added that both Bianchi as mayor and a councilor and Tyer as councilor and now clerk, have been in office for the past decade or more, and "I don't see my city is any better now than when I grew up here in the 1950s."

Tyer, 50, said her managerial style is to work with all employees "toward a shared vision" for the city and to stress accountability. In dealing with the City Council, she said, she'd engage "in healthy debate" rather than divisive politics.

She said "it is not the 1950s" and Pittsfield requires new innovative leadership approaches to move forward. That should include enhanced broadband service for all city industrial parks, she said, and a program that would allow young professionals to visit and fully explore the area's job openings and cultural and recreational attractions.

Tyer said she is not convinced the mayor should be on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority board, because that could inject politics into decisions. She also called for "mixed uses" for the park as the only viable option.

Bianchi said the mayor should be a PEDA board member to ensure there is a vision to benefit the entire city.

Walto proposed a new building for the park to be designed by young architects that could be a statement of the city's future and optimism. She advocated a project for Pittsfield similar to the one that led to the public-private venture at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Act in North Adams.

PEDA and the Berkshire Innovation Center project, Gaetani asserted, have been "a total disaster" for the city. He said he would replace the entire PEDA board with business leaders.

His biggest economic development initiative, he said, would be to "significantly" cut property taxes. The Pittsfield budget, Gaetani asserted, "is now in a total state of chaos."

Bianchi also stressed progress on finishing the multi-year downtown Streetscape and The Common projects and on securing a computerized pavement management system and other initiatives as accomplishments during his administration.

Concerning crime in the city, Tyer said "no other issue is as important." She added, "In my mind, time is up; not more excuses ... I will hire more police officers."

Bianchi noted his efforts to secure multi-year state Shannon grant funding for the Pittsfield Community Connection program that is working with young people at risk of gang influences and violence and a growing and intensive mentoring program.

"One second after I am sworn in," Gaetani said, he would put police "boots on the ground" in the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods to combat crime and drug activity. He said he also would provide body cameras for police.

Answering a question on how candidates would avoid a repeat of last winter's street-clearing failures during severe cold and snowy weather, Gaetani said that residents might "slip and slide until January 3rd," but when he became mayor any problems would cease.

Bianchi said several steps taken since last winter will ensure a better response to storms. The city recently filled a long-vacant position of commissioner of public services to oversee highway department and related divisions, he said, and the city has a new highway superintendent who the mayor said has done "a tremendous job" overseeing streetwork this summer.

"We are totally prepared, with sand and salt contracts in place," Bianchi said.

Walto stressed the need to better educate the private contract plowers the city hires on how to clear city streets.

The problems last winter resulted in dozens of accidents on slick streets, Tyer said, calling the situation "a complete breakdown of management and oversight." She said the crews have not been given an adequate management system to work under.

All four candidates denied they would close any fire stations in answer to a question from Sturgeon about "a rumor" to that effect.

The well-attended forum in the Koussevitzky Arts Center at the college was sponsored by BCC, the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television, which will rebroadcast the forum and make it available online.

Bianchi won election as mayor in 2011 in a close contest against Councilor Peter Marchetti. He was unopposed for his second term in 2013. The next mayor will be the first elected to a four-year term in Pittsfield, based on changes in the new city charter approved in November 2013.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.


Berkshire Community college hosted a mayoral forum Monday with the four Pittsfield candidates, Linda Tyer, Donna Walto, Dan Bianchi and Craig Gaetani. The four will face off in the city primary Sept. 22, 2015. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

------------

"Tyer will be a full-time mayor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 16, 2015

To the editor:

As a person who has lived and worked in Pittsfield all my life, I have always been taught that if you are going to do a good job at whatever you do, you must keep your mind on one thing at a time and do it thoroughly. With that philosophy, I have worked at General Electric, in the Pittsfield School Department, held many positions with non-profit organizations and have been successful in all my endeavors.

I know that Linda Tyer will be a full-time mayor for our city. She has a thorough understanding of what our city needs, having been a city councilor and now as city clerk. She will work hard for us and not use the office as a part-time job. I know Pittsfield needs a full-time mayor, working just for the city of Pittsfield and concentrating on all the needs of our city.

If you agree with this philosophy, vote for Linda Tyer on Sept. 22 and Nov. 3. Let's get Pittsfield going again!

Isabel M. (Belle) O'Brien, Pittsfield

-----

“Nothing part-time about Mayor Bianchi”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 18, 2015

To the editor:

I've had the pleasure of knowing Dan Bianchi for 15 years and I was honored to work in the mayor's office as his executive assistant for the past three years. Dan Bianchi is a well-educated, hard-working, compassionate family man and dedicated public servant.

To address letter writer Isabel O'Brien's comments (Sept. 16) about a "full-time mayor," I personally worked 10-12 hour days, Monday through Friday, in the mayor's office alongside Mayor Bianchi. He would often insist that I go home only to leave him still at his desk or heading off to a School Committee meeting or downtown event. I administered Mayor Bianchi's calendar and will vouch for the weekend events also. There is nothing part-time about this mayor.

One only needs to look up one year of Mayor Bianchi's "Accomplishments" posted on the city website to prove my point (195 meetings with business leaders, 237 meetings with city employees in addition to 56 separate meetings with department heads, 259 events attended out of almost 400 (local) invitations received — not including school events, meeting with constituents, committee meetings and visits with federal and state delegation as well as local leaders. This does not include walk-ins, media interviews or phone calls/emails. That was his first year in office. Truly amazing!

I was saddened to step down from my position but decided to retire with my husband. Dan Bianchi is truly the best person for mayor and I still stand with him, supporting him, just no longer witnessing the many, daily, negative political schemes, all set on disparaging the Bianchi administration. Pittsfield is lucky to have a gentleman as its mayor.

Susan Santolin, Pittsfield

------------

"Tyer will bring new perspective"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 16, 2015

To the editor:

On Sept. 22 I will be casting a vote for my niece Linda Tyer for mayor of Pittsfield. It's time for bright young minds to take the helm of our city.

She has lived and worked all over the world. She will bring that perspective to her work on our behalf.

As you can see from the platform she has laid out on crime, blight and parks, Linda is creative, energetic and engaged. Let's put her to work for us.

Please join me in supporting Linda Tyer on Sept. 22. Get out there and vote!

Marilyn Herrman, Pittsfield

------------

"Mayor key to better public housing sector"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 16, 2015

To the editor:

I serve on Mayor Bianchi's Public Safety Task Force. I know that public housing is on the radar of the police department, and hoped to do all I could to make our developments safer for the hundreds of families living there.

The mayor's task force wanted a strategy to reduce crime while also improving the quality of life for people living in public housing. We developed the idea of community centers where police can drop in, but where we could also host important programs that could help our residents.

Working in collaboration with Mayor Bianchi's administration, we opened two community centers in 2013 at Francis Plaza and Dower Square, and a third this year at Wilson Park. My personal observation over the last two years is less damage and graffiti, fewer reported disturbances, more socializing, and overall happier tenants since the center opened.

I asked the police department to check my observations and the city's crime analyst confirmed what I was seeing. Police calls for disturbances at public housing are down, as well as arrest.

Programming at the community centers is managed by the city's Department of Community Development. At Dower Square alone, 96 events held at the center attracted over 1,000 residents between June 2013 and August 2015. Agencies such as Berkshire Health Systems, the Pittsfield Suns, Youth Alive, the Berkshire Humane Society, United Way, the Police Department, The Brien Center and many more have held programs and workshops covering a wide variety of topics.

I see residents who are more engaged in their neighborhood, who are getting help at the community center programs, and who are having better relationships with police. This project took a lot of planning and coordination but I believe the results are worth the effort. I'd like to thank the members of my staff and Mayor Bianchi's administration, who took a complex problem and found a comprehensive way to address it.

Things are not perfect in public housing and they never will be, but we are sincere in our efforts toward improvement. I'd also like to thank the many local agencies who have brought great programs to our residents such as health screenings, literacy, after school homework help, and many sports clinics for kids. It's all making a difference.

Charles L. Smith, Jr., Pittsfield
The writer is executive director of the Pittsfield Housing Authority.

------------

"Tyer will put end to city's stagnation"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 16, 2015

To the editor:

As a past founder of WHEN (Women Helping Empower Neighborhoods) I watch the Pittsfield political scene very carefully. I urge the citizens of Pittsfield to get out and vote for Linda Tyer on Sept. 22.

Linda will be a great leader who will do all in her power to move the city forward rather than watch it stagnate.

Look at Linda's voting record and then look at the voting record of the present mayor. Mr. Bianchi as a city councilor voted against affordable housing on the West Side, against the restoration of the Colonial Theatre, and against improvements to the Berkshire Museum. He did his best to keep Megan Whilden from being appointed to the Office of Cultural Development. He even spoke out against the streetscape project and so much more.

On the other hand, Linda Tyer has been an ardent proponent of progress for every area of the city which she will continue as Mayor. Whenever she could, Linda voted as the Ward 3 Councilor to improve downtown, our cultural establishments, education and community development and safety.

We will see great improvements in the city of Pittsfield during the next four years with Linda Tyer as mayor.

Anne Pasko, Lanesborough

------------

"Bianchi a good mayor, and a good person"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 16, 2015

To the editor:

Dan Bianchi is an excellent choice for mayor of Pittsfield. He's a smart and hard-working guy. His administration has provided fundamental city services in a fiscally responsible manner, he has worked to enhance the city's reputation as a good place to do business, and he has been a friend to the arts.

His administration modernized the city charter for the first time in decades and it updated the entire city code in conformity with the new charter. The North Street streetscape improvements are being finished and the Common has been completely renovated. Visitors comment on how good the city is looking these days.

Dan Bianchi's civic achievements are most important, but I'd like to offer my thoughts about Dan as an individual. Dan spends less time promoting himself and more time seeking achievements for the city. That may not be especially good politics, but, to my way of thinking, it's admirable.

Dan and his wife Theresa are terrific neighbors. When the facility we booked for my father's funeral reception last winter cancelled the night before the funeral due to the huge blizzard that was forecast we moved the gathering to my home, and had to scurry around last minute for food and drink for the large gathering we expected. Among the first to arrive, laden down with delicious homemade casseroles and salads, were Dan and Theresa Bianchi.

Seeing that the youngsters at my house were trying to sled down my front hill on the newly fallen snow on cardboard boxes, Dan left a warm and comfortable house for the cold and snowy outdoors in order to retrieve from his garage down the street a half dozen sleds and toboggans which he delivered to the children, who happily used them all afternoon. We didn't have to ask the Bianchis to help out. They just knew we were in a bit of a pickle, so they pitched in without hesitation and without fanfare.

For the many years I have know Dan and Theresa, they have always been incredibly thoughtful and generous with their time and effort, not only to friends and family, but to their church, the schools their children attended, UNICO, and countless other organizations all over town. They are wonderful people who year after year go above and beyond duty for this great community.

I don't know of a better person to serve as mayor than Dan Bianchi, nor one who deserves my vote more.

David Murphy, Pittsfield

------------

"Gateway streetscape allowed to deteriorate"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 16, 2015

To the editor:

What is happening to the streetscape from the Country Club of Pittsfield to East Housatonic Street? This is our gateway to Downtown Pittsfield and the landscaping is not being maintained. The plants that were planted a year ago have all gone to weeds. Shame on Pittsfield for letting these streetscapes go unweeded for so long.

Also our street, Crofut, has not seen a street cleaner since spring 2014. The city did repaint the lines over existing piles of dirt. I did email through the proper channels to City Hall and have not received a reply in over two months.

Where is our city maintenance department?

D. Francis, Pittsfield

------------

"Mayor made business easier for contractors"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 16, 2015

To the editor:

When Mayor Dan Bianchi first campaigned for office four years ago, I told him that getting a permit from the city for my work was difficult and time-consuming. I know that many other trades people like me told him the same thing. Shortly after he was elected, the mayor held a meeting at City Hall and invited all of the contractors to discuss how the city could make the process easier. I've been to a lot of meetings where nothing gets done. This time it was different.

Today, all of the inspection departments that contractors have to see are in the same building, and all on the same floor. If I have a question about a permit application, the inspector is right there for the answer. It used to take weeks to get a permit. Now it's a few days, and doing business in the city of Pittsfield is easier and more efficient.

This change is very important. Contractors bring a lot of money into the city, we keep people employed and we buy materials for our jobs here in Pittsfield. It just makes sense to have a more professional system for us to contribute to the local economy, and our customers appreciate that their work is not held up by long waits getting permits.

Streamlining the permitting process was a very strong move on the mayor's part. Everybody always says that we need to make Pittsfield a better place to do business. For contractors and the people who hire us, Dan Bianchi got the job done. Please join me in re-electing Mayor Dan Bianchi.

Don Davis, Pittsfield
The writer is owner, Don Davis Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.

------------

“Rally around Tyer's positive city vision”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 18, 2015

To the editor:

Linda M. Tyer has earned my vote for Pittsfield's first four-year term mayor.

I have attended public events where she clearly articulated her positions, and actively listened to the concerns of her audience. This is why I support her: She has a positive, energizing, can-do attitude. She has life experience living and traveling both in the U.S. and abroad which gives her an informed understanding and appreciation of differences. She has served our city with excellence as city clerk and as Ward 3 councilor. More importantly, she was instrumental in elevating the tone of, and expanding diversity of participation in, city government through her work with WHEN.

Inclusion and communication are cornerstones to Linda's platform. She understands the importance of the arts to Pittsfield's revitalization, sees small business and entrepreneurial efforts as key to the city's growth, and will streamline doing business with Pittsfield so that government encourages, and doesn't obstruct building projects.

She has ideas to attract and retain young families to work and live here, while being cognizant of the needs of aging citizens, the homeless, and the less fortunate. Linda is committed to eliminating blight, and working with the active social services, community groups, and police to make our city kinder and safer. I find her ideas to be fiscally responsible — for instance, contracting out parking fee collection, thus saving revenue.

There is an old saying that it is easier to get people organized against something than for something, but I am hoping in this upcoming election we can rally around the positives, and our collective desire to make Pittsfield a better city for all current and prospective residents, visitors, and businesses. It will take active citizen participation to reach our goals of a more dynamic, progressive, and safe city, and that involvement needs to inspired by leadership that works by example, builds consensus and coalitions, and gets things done.

I believe the person who can best get us there is Linda M. Tyer.

Nan Bookless, Pittsfield
The writer is a lifelong resident of Pittsfield and co-owner of BookMarc Creative, a Pittsfield-based graphic design firm.

------------

September 18, 2015

Re: Linda Tyer is allied with Jimmy Ruberto

I think Linda Tyer is really smart and has good ideas for Pittsfield, but I can’t bring myself to like her because she is part of Jimmy Ruberto’s organization. All of Jimmy Ruberto’s supporters are now supporting Linda Tyer.

One of my biggest mistakes in my citizen participation in politics was believing in Jimmy Ruberto. He failed at everything he said he stood for. During the Jimmy Ruberto regime, thousands of people moved away from Pittsfield, while thousands of jobs were lost. And once jobs are lost, they ain’t comin’ back, Jack (Welch)! KB Toys went bankrupt, GE Plastics sold to Sabic, and the local economy tanked to the worst levels in 2009 since around 1990. Jimmy Ruberto said he was a businessman with a “roladex” of network contacts. That was a bald faced lie!

Jimmy Ruberto campaigned against the Good Old Boy network because the Nuciforo/Anne Wojtkowski network backed Sara Hathaway. Then, Jimmy Ruberto was the King of the Good Old Boys. Ruberto’s biggest backers included Gerry Doyle, Angelo Stracuzzi, Carmen Massimiano, and evenutally Nuciforo.

Jimmy Ruberto raised taxes by about 5% per year for 8 years. While Pittsfield’s tax base shrunk, and jobs disappeared, and welfare caseload rolls increased, Jimmy Ruberto spent taxpayer money like a drunken sailor. Even Jimmy Ruberto admitted, PEDA was one of his biggest failures.

Linda Tyer sees Jimmy Ruberto as a great Mayor of Pittsfield. She is using his political organization as her own. I can’t bring myself to support Linda Tyer for Mayor because of her alliance with Jimmy Ruberto!

- Jonathan Melle

------------

"Tyer is committed to Pittsfield's parks"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 18, 2015

To the editor:

I strongly support mayoral candidate Linda Tyer's recent statements and positions on the state of parks in our city. I spend a lot of time walking through the park at Onota Lake. The lake offers some of the most beautiful views that the city has to offer. I believe our lakes and our parks are jewels of the city and are neglected.

I recently ran into a retired judge and his wife bringing a couple along to have picnic at the point at Onota. The couple never knew there were picnic tables available for their use. The parks are free and accessible to everyone.

Proper upkeep, sense of responsibility, pride of place and policing of illicit behavior — these are things we need in the maintenance of our public properties. I am excited that our next mayor is voicing her commitment to this!

Julie Salatino, Pittsfield

------------

“Bianchi draws upon deep roots in city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 18, 2015

To the editor:

Mayor Dan Bianchi grew up on Harvard Street in Morningside next door to me and my family. I know firsthand that his family values, his moral character, and his love for our neighborhoods are the touchstones for all his good works and daily relationships.

Dan's wonderful parents, Emile and Rita, had a strong work ethic and belief in community. They were a hard-working family with sincere compassion for others. They were the human embodiment of dependability and good citizenship. His deceased dad, Emile, was always available to help others. He shared not only the fruits of his gardens, but also advice on life. His poppies still bloom in my backyard and Rita is still teaching me how to cook "Italian."

Dan Bianchi shares his dad and mom's virtues and beliefs. He wants Pittsfield to be a city where our children and grandchildren have opportunities for the best education possible and lucrative employment that will allow them to remain in Pittsfield. This is why he has concentrated on economic development and establishing projects like the Berkshire Innovation Center and the Taconic High School vocational program.

Another project dear to Dan's heart is the Tyler Street Initiative. Dan remembers the glory of Tyler Street when he was a boy. He lived a block away from a thriving thoroughfare. Tyler Street (and portions of Dalton Avenue) had five grocery stores, three drugstores, a branch of the Berkshire Athenaeum, a department store, a movie theater, a toy store, a bakery, an ice cream parlor, a fruit and vegetable stand that sold Christmas trees in season, three variety stores, a hobby shop, a plumbing business, a satellite post office, three other churches and more. Hopefully, Dan will be able to further assist the state's launch to revitalize Tyler Street.

There is comfort in knowing that our mayor, Dan Bianchi, is concentrating wholeheartedly on the economic, cultural, recreational, and educational development of Pittsfield. Dan is working hard for the future of Pittsfield.

Please join me in voting for Mayor Dan Bianchi to allow him to continue his endeavors.

Lillian Quinn Pittsfield
The writer is former academic dean and acting principal, St. Joseph Central High School.

------------

"New mayor will mean better Pittsfield roads"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 18, 2015

To the editor:

Pittsfield's roads and beautification will improve once the current mayor is defeated. (Commissioner of Public Utilities) Bruce Collingwood isn't doing a good job and the mayor insists on keeping him.

For example, many roads were torn up and paved weeks later. This is a poor practice.

J.D. Pope, Pittsfield

------------

“Mayor has in place good violence program”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 18, 2015

To the editor:

As a long-time member of a neighborhood watch group in the city, I would like to hear more about mayoral candidate Linda Tyer's plan to bring the Cure Violence program to the city, which I understand costs $350,000 a year. According to her campaign statement, "There are three essential elements of the Cure Violence health model: to detect and interrupt potentially violent conflicts, to identify and treat the highest risk, and to mobilize the community to change norms...I will bring the Cure Violence model to Pittsfield for implementation."

But wait a minute. Pittsfield already has the Community Connections program which the state is paying for from the Shannon Grant that Mayor Bianchi won for the city. A recent news article said that this year the grant was increased to $140,000. The article also stated that the program "involves outreach workers, a case manager, and a newly formed comprehensive mentoring network that will work with about 40 city youth considered at risk of gang influence."

Isn't this the same thing that Cure Violence is supposed to do? The difference is that taxpayers will fund Tyer's proposal and the state is giving money to Pittsfield for Mayor Bianchi's plan.

I'm voting for the mayor.

Robert Smith, Pittsfield

------------

“Building momentum for manufacturers”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 18, 2015

To the editor:

For my business and for several other businesses in the area, the Berkshire Innovative Center is a very big deal. At Apex Resource Technologies, we manufacture and supply precision implantable (human use) medical product for the life sciences industry. To remain competitive in a global market, we need access to leading edge technology. This is what the Berkshire Innovative Center will provide to Apex and the other local businesses that have signed on as BIC members. The BIC will be a portal to the future.

This facility, funded almost entirely through a state grant, will bring advanced technological capabilities that our membership could not afford individually. It will strengthen our ability to innovate and create jobs.

I credit Mayor Dan Bianchi with the vision to see the PEDA property represented the future of Pittsfield, and the commitment to make the Berkshire Innovation Center a reality. With this major project underway, and with the new Taconic High School's superb vocation program, we will have thriving high-tech businesses and a pipeline of skilled new employees.

These are great achievements, but I believe Dan Bianchi's best days as mayor are still ahead of him. The manufacturing community, the community that continues to create jobs, can't afford to lose the momentum Mayor Bianchi has created. He has earned our vote for reelection.

Donald Rochelo, Pittsfield
The writer is COO/chairman, Apex Resource Technologies.

------------

Incumbent Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi speaks Friday during a pre-election rally held at his campaign headquarters on Elm Street. (Jim Therrien — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Incumbent Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi rallies to keep corner office”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 19, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and about 50 supporters gathered Friday for a pre-election rally at his campaign headquarters on Elm Street.

The two-term mayor, who faces three challengers in the preliminary city election on Tuesday, was praised by City Council President Melissa Mazzeo and Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler before citing some of his accomplishments over the past four years and his goals for the next four.

The next Pittsfield mayor will be the first in the city's history to serve a four-year term, following changes in the government charter revision approved in 2013.

Bianchi is "one of the most ethical human beings that I've ever met," Bowler said, adding that the mayor is "a tireless worker" and the only candidate who has actively worked over the past four years to move the city forward.

Mazzeo said Pittsfield needs to keep Bianchi in the corner office to complete all of the projects and initiatives he has put in place. She said her experience as a councilor dealing with his administration compared to the previous Mayor James Ruberto administration was "like night and day," because Bianchi has always been available to talk through issues.

Both officials described the mayor as someone whose prime motivation in seeking office has been a love for the city and a desire to achieve results for his hometown.

Among those attending the late afternoon rally were City Councilors Anthony Simonelli, Christopher Connell, Kevin Morandi and Lisa Tully. Also attending were former councilors Pam Malumphy and Louis Costi and former Mayor Sara Hathaway.

In the preliminary election, Bianchi faces City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, water systems consultant Craig C. Gaetani and businesswoman Donna M. Walto. The top two vote-getters will move on to the Nov. 3 city election ballot.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

"Four Pittsfield mayoral candidates profiled"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 19, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The four candidates for mayor of Pittsfield will become two candidates after Tuesday's preliminary city election to decide the finalists for the Nov. 3 ballot.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi is being challenged by City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, water systems consultant Craig C. Gaetani and businesswoman Donna M. Walto. The next mayor will be the first in Pittsfield's history to serve a four-year term, following changes approved in a new city charter adopted in 2013.

Crime, youth violence, economic development, taxes, education, blight, the condition of city parks, and leadership style have been prominent issues during the campaign.


Pittsfield mayoral candidate and businesswoman Donna Walto. (Eagle file photo)

DONNA M. WALTO

Walto has stressed the need to bring in major employers to bolster a local economy she said has come to rely too heavily on small businesses and cultural attractions. She termed economic development "the No. 1 issue" facing the city and related to others such as crime.

For the past decade or more, Walto said, both Bianchi and Tyer have been involved in city government, but she hasn't "seen anything getting any better; if anything, it's getting worse."

Coupled with fatal shootings and other violent incidents, Walto contends residents are losing faith that the city can avoid "a downward spiral."

She promised an open door policy as mayor, not only for "the select few," and said she'd use to promote the city the customer skills she learned from her tour business and while working for several years at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.

"I think Pittsfield could flourish again with the right person in the mayor's office," Walto said.

The Williams College graduate contends she could use her contacts within the school's alumni community to reach out to influential people capable of bringing in business and spurring the local economy.

Among her proposals is a museum at the William Stanley Business Park honoring the inventor whose company in Pittsfield was purchased by General Electric Co. and eventually employed thousands — including at the site of the current business park off East Street.

She cited the example of former Williams College Museum of Art Director Thomas Krens, whose idea during the late 1980s for a museum at the former Sprague Electric Co. in North Adams became the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Walto, 65, graduated from Pittsfield High School in 1967 and from Williams in 1986. She raised three children as a single mother.

Walto has made three other attempts for the corner office, losing in 2005 and 2007 to former Mayor James M. Ruberto and in a preliminary election in 2011, when Bianchi went on from the primary to win his first term as mayor.


Pittsfield mayoral candidate and consultant Craig Gaetani. (Eagle file photo)

CRAIG C. GAETANI

Gaetani has been consistently outspoken about his desire to completely shake up city government if elected mayor. He has been critical of Police Chief Michael Wynn, Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood and other Bianchi administration officials, vowing to fire them if he wins the election.

Gaetani also has stressed a need to slash city spending, declaring he would cut the overall budget by 7 percent per year for four years to gain control over a budgetary situation he described as "in total chaos."

"I want it to be known that my primary goal is to demand respect for the taxpayer," he said. "The 40-year stranglehold of the good old boy network in Pittsfield is coming to an end shortly."

On Jan. 3, Gaetani asserted, "the taxpayers will own their city again."

In addition, Gaetani said he would work to "kill" the $120 million new Taconic High School project, which has been approved by the School Building Needs Commission, mayor and City Council and is moving toward the final design phase with the expectation of a ground-breaking next year.

A new school might be needed, he has said, but the city "can't afford it at this time."

Critical of Wynn over the police response to recent fatal shootings in the West Side and Morningside sections of Pittsfield, Gaetani said he would immediately "put boots on the ground" and establish police foot patrols upon taking office.

He also promised to provide body cameras for city officers.

Gaetani's ongoing disputes with administration officials, carried out during city board meetings over the past year or more, began over his contention his consulting firm could "save the city millions" in water and sewer plant operations, but he is not being seriously considered by the administration.

Gaetani contends that Collingwood and Bianchi have refused to consider him as a consultant for plant upgrades, despite his affiliation with Krofta Engineering, which installed a water filtration system for the city during the 1980s that was credited with considerable cost savings over other possible system designs.

Gaetani said he maintains a consulting firm with Lawrence K. Wang, another former Krofta principal, advising municipalities on plant operations.

The candidate said he has stuck to a pledge to not spend any money on his campaign but has made points through the media. He said television programs he has recorded through Pittsfield Community Television on city issues are available through the cable network.

Gaetani, 67, grew up in the city and served in the Army from 1967-69, including in an Army Intelligence unit as a repair specialist servicing communications equipment. He was stationed both at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and in Vietnam.

He later attended both Berkshire Community College and the former North Adams State College (now Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), and became a teacher. He said he taught science courses in Pittsfield and Lenox schools and for a time in New Hampshire.

He joined the Lenox-based Krofta Engineering and the related Lenox Institute of Water Technology in the early 1980s, and worked closely with the company's founder, Milos Krofta, who died in 2002, and Wang.


Pittsfield mayoral candidate and current city clerk Linda Tyer. (Eagle file photo)

LINDA M. TYER

Tyer, the current city clerk, has issued a series of position papers outlining her ideas for Pittsfield and stresses what she sees as a difference in leadership style from the mayor.

"Building relationships is what I excel at over the incumbent," she said.

Tyer said her approach would be to "create critical partnerships with all the stakeholders" to address issues facing the city, and she would inspire city employees to build a shared vision for positive change.

In her initial campaign statement, Tyer said, "Let's make living, working and learning together in a 21st-century city a power-shared vision."

The candidate also said she would stress accountability in city officials and focus more "on the little things" that affect quality of life for residents. She cited as an example what she has termed inconsistent trash removal at Burbank Park during the weekends.

"Keeping the community safe" is a top priority, Tyer said. She promised to hire more police officers and facilitate "a modern, robust law enforcement agency" for Pittsfield.

She said that would include a dedicated traffic bureau, more community policing and other initiatives.

Tyer also proposed a new program in collaboration with business or other groups to bring young professionals from targeted areas to Pittsfield for three or four days to expose them to the job prospects, entertainment, culture and natural environment of the central Berkshires.

The candidate also called for new initiatives to reduce the number of residential and commercial buildings and their effect on surrounding properties that are being well maintained.

And she promised to push to expand pre-school options for city youngsters while adding that she "understands the fiscal constraints" involved.

Tyer promised a greater focus on the maintenance of city parks and would continue encouraging long-range improvement projects, such as at The Common and those proposed for Springside Park.

Tyer, 50, was elected to the City Council in 2003 and later was appointed clerk to fill a vacancy when Clerk Jody Phillips left mid-term to accept a job in the private sector. Tyer was later elected to two terms as clerk, the most recent in 2013.

She is a graduate of Bay Path College in Longmeadow, previously worked for 17 years for Lenox Public Schools. She said she moved often while growing up while her father was in the Air Force, but also has many relatives and extended family members living in the Berkshires.


Pittsfield incumbent Mayor Daniel Bianchi. (Eagle file photo)

DANIEL L. BIANCHI

Bianchi, 64, was first elected mayor in 2011 and re-elected unopposed in 2013. He previously served five terms as a city councilor and was finance director from 1998-92, during the administration of the late Anne Everest Wojtkowski.

He argues that his administration has worked to put into place a number of strong initiatives that either have been successful or are about to greatly benefit the city, and he would like to see them through in a new term.

Among those, he said, are the anti-youth violence initiative funded through a state Sen. Charles E. Shannon Community Safety Initiative grant, now in its third year; the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) planned for the William Stanley Business Park; the planned new Taconic High School with an enhanced vocational curriculum; a computerized street pavement planning system; an online city permitting system, now being implemented; and a number of projects like the downtown Streetscape project, The Common restoration, and a planning initiative to benefit the Tyler Street business district.

The BIC project, which will create a collaborative nonprofit center with small industrial firms and educational institutions as members, will allow local companies to develop new products using the center's advanced research and development equipment, he said, and create links between the businesses and highly regarded institutions like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and other colleges in the region.

"I wish people would learn more about the BIC and about the top flight companies that are doing state of the art work in their fields and the top flight institutions involved, like RPI," Bianchi said.

He said he and others helped refine the concept for the center, which could break ground later this year. The BIC received a $9.7 million grant for construction and equipment through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

The educational component of the center, which will include employee training, and the collaborations possible with the new Taconic High School, Berkshire Community College and the other institutions will boost the prospects of many local youth of securing good-paying jobs — regardless of whether they graduate from a four-year college, Bianchi said.

Those changes, he said, will benefit the economy in Pittsfield and the surrounding area. With another term as mayor, he said he would focus on expanding the cluster of companies and institutions involved in the BIC and the educational collaborations.

The Shannon grant program, which is funding the Pittsfield Community Connection, is having a positive impact on youth violence and crime, the mayor said, and an associated intense mentoring program already serves more than 30 at-risk youth and is expanding.

In response to crime, the mayor said police also have instituted extra patrols in areas that have experienced the most violence and are working with state police on that initiative. He said he is working on agreements that would increase the number of officers available for targeted patrols or similar duties.

Bianchi worked for 30 years in the energy industry, assisting companies in the region in meeting energy needs and managing costs.

He is a Pittsfield High School graduate, holds a bachelor's degree in business and finance at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and served in the Army National Guard for seven years.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

City Clerk Linda Tyer casts her ballot at Egremont Elementary School in Pittsfield during Tuesday's preliminary election. Tyer will square off against incumbent Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in the Nov. 3 general election. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Linda Tyer posts decisive win in Pittsfield preliminary election; will face Bianchi on Nov. 3”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 22, 2015

PITTSFIELD — In a year of political outsiders nationally, two experienced municipal officials finished first and second Tuesday in the city's preliminary contest and will move on to the Nov. 3 election.

Anti-incumbent fever may, however, have played a role, as City Clerk Linda M. Tyer swept to a convincing 830-vote win in the preliminary, defeating Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who is seeking a third term. She won in all city voting precincts except for Ward 6A at the Columbia Arms Housing complex.

Bianchi, 64, and Tyer, 50, will now go head-to-head over the next five weeks to determine who will be the first in Pittsfield's history to serve a four-year term. The city charter overhaul approved by voters in 2013 increased the term for mayor from the traditional two years.

Tyer received 2,790 votes overall, or 55 percent, and the mayor received 1,960 votes, or 38.6 percent, in what was the only contest on Tuesday's ballot. Two other candidates were eliminated from the November ballot.

Water systems consultant Craig C. Gaetani and business woman Donna M. Walto both finished far back and did not significantly affect the race between the two top vote-getters. Gaetani received 176 votes and Walto 133.

There were 5,076 votes cast Tuesday, according to the city's preliminary report, or 18.77 percent of the 27,049 registered city voters.

"I am thrilled with the energy and enthusiasm surrounding the campaign," Tyer said after the vote count. "I've received such strong support from so many residents in and around Pittsfield and today's results solidify that our city is in desperate need of a change."

Bianchi remained upbeat when reached after the totals were announced. "I am really looking forward to the November election to be able to talk about the all the important issues facing Pittsfield," he said, adding that "now that this is down to two people, it will be easier to delineate between the two leaders, and I think the [choices] will become more obvious to the people."

The mayor noted what he termed "a very anemic [voter] turnout," which he doesn't believe will be the case on Nov. 3. "We have such critical and important issues," he said.

The campaign is especially important in light of the four-year term the next mayor will serve, he said. "I think the future of the city hangs on that campaign."

"We have another 41 days to continue the momentum and to share plans on how together we can improve our city," Tyer said Tuesday night. "I look forward to more opportunities to have productive and candid discussions about the direction of Pittsfield. I believe that our city deserves better and, based on tonight's results, it is clear that voters agree. I promise our city residents that I will restore their faith in municipal government."

Bianchi said he would "like to have a debate a week" until November, "when we can start laying out the initiatives and qualifications" of the two candidates. He said there should be one debate on each major issue facing the city.

"Absolutely," Tyer agreed when asked if she would favor more mayoral debates.

"We are celebrating today," Tyer added by phone from her after-vote party, "but today's home run doesn't count tomorrow."

She vowed to "work harder than we ever did before" in furthering what she termed "a grass-roots movement from the beginning."

Bianchi said of the preliminary contest that he has been focused more on his job as mayor, but now will concentrate much more on the campaign in the general election.

Gaetani, 67, was outspoken about his desire to completely shake up city government if elected mayor, including vows to fire several officials. He promised to slash city spending, saying he would cut the overall budget by 7 percent per year for four years.

In her campaign, Walto stressed a need to bring in major employers to bolster a local economy she said has come to rely too heavily on small businesses and cultural attractions. She termed economic development "the No. 1 issue" facing the city and related to others such as crime.

Walto, 65, has made three other attempts for the corner office, losing in 2005 and 2007 to former Mayor James M. Ruberto and in a preliminary election in 2011.

During the preliminary race, Bianchi stressed his experience in managerial positions, both as a city finance director and as mayor, and the projects and initiatives he has helped launch or move forward over the past four years, saying he wants another term to continue those efforts.

Projects include the planned new Taconic High School, the planned Berkshire Innovation Center at William Stanley Industrial Park and Streetscape and parks improvement projects, as well as the multi-year Shannon grant-funded Pittsfield Community Connection program to combat youth violence and gang activity and online city permitting and computerized pavement management systems.

Tyer called for a change in leadership styles, saying she is much better at forging collaborations and partnerships with stakeholders on issues to both engage city workers and residents in a shared vision for Pittsfield and to reduce divisive political strife.

"Building relationships is what I excel at over the incumbent," she said prior to the election.

She also put out a series of position papers on issues such as blight, maintenance of the parks system, early childhood education and crime.

Both candidates also formerly served on the City Council as ward councilor. Tyer was elected Ward 3 councilor in 2003 and served before being appointed clerk to fill a vacancy, She was additionally elected twice more to that post, the most recent in 2013, before launching a run for mayor in the spring.

Bianchi served five terms as Ward 6 councilor before winning a close race for mayor in 2011 against Councilor at large Peter Marchetti. He was unopposed for re-election in 2013.

The remaining candidates will engage in at least one televised debate, scheduled for Oct. 14.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.


Bianchi checks his phone at his campaign headquarters on Elm Street on Tuesday night as the results of the preliminary election are announced. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle.)

------------

"Tyer Outspending Bianchi So Far In Pittsfield Mayoral Race"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, September 23, 2015

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Preliminary fundraising reports show mayoral candidate Linda Tyer has raised more and spent more thus far in the 2015 election campaign.

The reports filed last Monday show the city clerk raised $23,110 so far. However, she also spent, a total of $16,191.21, leaving her with a balance of $8,431.99.

Incumbent Daniel Bianchi started with $12,077.43 in his campaign account and so far has raised an additional $9,200. He's spent $7,918.47 leaving him with a balance of $13,358.96.

The other two candidates in the preliminary field, Donna Walto and Craig Gaetani, both filed saying they haven't raised any money.

Tyer reported donations from 59 people, including some large donations from the likes of former Mayor James Ruberto, former City Councilor Christine Yon, City Councilor Barry Clairmont, Allen Harris and Stacey Carver, both from Berkshire Money Management, Tyer's campaign manager, Thomas Sakshaug, Ernest Weider of E. Weider Mechanical, and retired residents Rosemary Casey, Pamela Casey, Lawrence Casey, and Anne Pasko. All of them donated $1,000.

Laurie Tierney, David Tierney, Walter Pasko, Courtney Addy, Eric Hill, Alf Barbalunga, and Diane Clairmont all donated $500. Peter Sibner, Edwin Stevens, and Normalyn Powers donated $250; Marilyn Herrman donated $215; former City Councilor Peter Marchetti and former state representatives Denis Guyer and Daniel Bosley each donated $200.

Denice Yon donated $150. Bernard Auge, Paul Gamache, Jean Hughes, Lorranie Moresi, Dawn Dellea, Mary McGinnis, Patricia Simonetta, Jeffrey Hunt, George Keator, Steven Como, Christina Barrett, Lois Forsley, Suzanne Engels, Lynette Cornwell, Louis Robesch, Michael Merriam, James Wilusz, Mike Ward, Robert Vaughan, John Massey, Tony Massery, Michael Macdonald, Judith Hodgkins, Gary Scarafoni, Jennifer Stokes, Beverly Millenski, and Janet Fiske all donated $100.

Sally Chavarry donated $75. Mary McGinnis, Marilyn Hermann, Bernard Auge, and Peter Marchetti all donated another $50. And Patricia Simonetta donated made a second donation of $25.

Tyer also reported raising $515 from a fundraiser.

Topping the expenditure list is $2,000 for office space on East Street. Tyer paid two bills of $1,965 each to Mib Research, for work from political consultant Matt Baron. The rest of the expenditures are for printing expenses, supplies, deposits on venues for events, one newspaper ad with the Pittsfield Gazzette, and reimbursements to campaign staffers.

She also purchased software from the Democratic party and donated to the Pittsfield Parade.

Bianchi's report shows 60 donations this year but only one was for $1,000, which came from Brian Harrison of Fidelity Investments.

He received $500 donations from Shaun Harrison, Merrilyn Wojkowski, Deborah Haddad-holmes, Floyd Passardi, and Patrick Muraca. Donna Mattoon and Alan Righi each donated $300. The local carpenters union, Matthew Jarck, Patrick Muraca (a second donation), and Michael Basil all donated $250.

Patrick Larkin, James Mazymillian, and Pamela Sullivan each donated $200. Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy donated $150. Former City Councilor Louis Costi donated $150.

Mark Hayer, James Penna, Joan Callahan, Judith Hodgkins, Joseph Pierre, Richard Stanley, Miriam Maduro, Susan Santolin, Barbara Clary, Richard Bordeau, Hugh Holland, Gornon Dinsmore, Michael Conti, Jane Bresnahan, Perri Pertricca, Paul Zdanis, Eugene Dellea, Albert Ingegni, Edward Reilly, Scott Robinson, the local electrical workers union, Robert Eckart, and Jeffrey Whitehouse all donated $100.

Arnold Perris, City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, Robert Race, Maryellen Therrien, Mary O'Brien, Alice Jones, Alexander Blumin, John Betters, Margaret Loehr, Glynis MacVeety, Dawn Betters, Faisal Ali, Michael Supranowicz, Maria Sibley, Kurt Hospot, and Leona Serafino all donated $50.

City Councilor Lisa Tully and her husband Mark Tully each donated $25, Sheila Irvin and Marilyn Larkin also donated $25.

Bianchi's largest expense was $1,475 for lawn signs. He also paid Get Set Marketing $1,250 to design his website and candidate cards. His office is listed as an in-kind contribution from the landlord Jay Newhouse. He paid his own consultant, RMC Strategies, $450.

The majority of the expenses are for printing, supplies, and phone bills. However, he also made contributions to a number of other campaigns include U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Sheriff Thomas Bowler, and City Councilor Kathleen Amuso. There are also a series of donations to organizations like the Pittsfield Suns, Barrington Stage, the Deputy Sheriff's Association, and the National Association of Mental Illness. He also purchased a directory from the Democratic Party.

------------

“Pittsfield Mayor Bianchi challenges City Clerk Tyer to debates; she quickly agrees”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 25, 2015

PITTSFIELD - It didn't take long for the mayor's race to heat up after the votes were recorded in the city's preliminary election.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who was decisively out-polled by challenger City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, said after the count on Tuesday that he intended to focus harder on his campaign and strive to point out differences between himself and his opponent.

On Friday, the mayor issued a challenge calling for five debates before election day, Nov. 3.

"With the preliminary behind us, the race now is a one-on-one contest between me and my opponent," Bianchi said in a media statement. "I would like to allow Pittsfield's voters the opportunity to hear and compare our qualifications, our records as elected officials and our vision for the future of our city. I hope that Ms. Tyer would agree to five debates between now and election day."

"Bring it on," Tyer said later Friday in response. "Anytime, anywhere, on any topic. I eagerly accept the challenge."

Bianchi called for debates focused separately on key issues facing the city.

"I suggest those subjects to be public safety, education, economic development and city management," he stated. "A final debate would be all encompassing, or Ms. Tyer could suggest an idea of an issue not mentioned."

The mayor added, "Each debate should be in a different part of our city and the public would be invited. The specifics on rules, location, time, moderators and media and community sponsors can be determined between the campaigns once the challenge is accepted by Ms. Tyer."

In her response Friday, Tyer said, "There are clear distinctions between myself and Mayor Bianchi. Debates are an opportunity to showcase those differences."

Two debates currently are planned, one sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette, Pittsfield Community Television and Berkshire Community College on Oct. 14 at the college. Tyer said the West Side Neighborhood Initiative also is planning to host a mayoral debate.

The preliminary vote on Tuesday narrowed the mayoral field to two, eliminating Craig C. Gaetani, with 176 votes, and Donna M. Walto with 133 votes. Tyer was the top vote-getter with 2,790 to 1,960 for Bianchi.

Turnout was 5,076, or 18.77 percent of the 27,049 registered voters.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

Pittsfield City Clerk Linda Tyer (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“'Very interesting' election shaping up for Pittsfield mayor”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 26, 2015

PITTSFIELD - For political observers, the healthy preliminary vote margin Linda M. Tyer piled up Tuesday over Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi drills down to two scenarios: The incumbent has tons of ground to make up by Nov. 3, and the challenger had better not slack off.

One local observer contacted this week by The Eagle noted the size of the city clerk's 830-vote victory over the mayor — 2,790 votes to 1,960 — saying it was "the largest preliminary margin in recent history."

But that same observer quickly acknowledged that Bianchi "has a chance to make it up because of the low percentage vote in the preliminary."

That turnout figure was 18.77 percent of the city's 27,049 registered voters, a figure Bianchi termed "very anemic" on Tuesday night.

While some of those interviewed preferred to speak without attribution, City Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso summed up the results this way: "I was not surprised at all. Linda had been out campaigning since April, and I haven't seen Dan [at campaign events] at all."

Amuso said she had wondered when the mayor might "rethink his strategy" of not campaigning hard until after the preliminary election, which set up an expected faceoff between Bianchi and Tyer, and also eliminated candidates Craig C. Gaetani and Donna M. Walto from the Nov. 3 ballot.

No matter the result Tuesday, Amuso said, "There are six weeks to go, and both of them have a lot of work to do."

Former Mayor Edward M. Reilly, a Bianchi supporter, said he admires both candidates and their campaigns and thinks the race to secure the city's first four-year mayoral term "will be very interesting."

Reilly said the race already has generated significant enthusiasm throughout Pittsfield. Many council candidates and other officials and former officials, he said, are — like the voters — splitting into one camp or the other.

"I was really surprised by the low turnout," Reilly said of the preliminary. He suggested that could indicate some voters were confident both Bianchi and Tyer would move on to November and didn't bother to go to the polls.

"I don't know that means," he said, adding, "I don't know how this will turn out."

Another observer who, like Reilly, has witnessed many mayoral elections in Pittsfield, said there could be a lesson in the 2009 race, in which incumbent Mayor James M. Ruberto lost to Bianchi in the preliminary but came back to win in November.

"The incumbency still brings with it some power," the observer said.

Tyer has "run a good campaign, with a lot of energy," an observer said. "The question is, how deep is that well" of voters for the challengers and how deep is the incumbent's true support.

A commonly expressed sentiment was: "It is really hard to come to a conclusion."

Some Tyer supporters were, however, enthusiastic and cautiously confident after her preliminary victory. They noted that if the clerk brought the same base of voters to the polls on Nov. 3, assuming a typical November election turnout, the mayor would need somewhere in the range of 55 percent of the remaining votes to overcome her total.

But "if" is always a big word, and as in sports, nothing is ever certain until the voters go to the polls. Observers on both sides of the race said a single comment or stance by a candidate could secure a victory or begin a slide toward defeat.

There currently is one televised debate scheduled, on Oct. 14 at Berkshire Community College, and another is planned, but both candidates have said they would welcome several more.

Bianchi said after the vote on Tuesday that he believes the voters will now focus more on the two finalists, and he plans to work hard to show he has the experience required to continue to lead the city. On Friday, he put out a release challenging Tyer to five debates before Election Day, and Tyer quickly accepted.

Tyer, in celebrating her victory Tuesday, cautioned supporters that they have to work "twice as hard" from now on to oust the two-term incumbent.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

“Support Bianchi for four more years”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, September 26, 2015

To the editor:

I was saddened and surprised by Tuesday's preliminary election results. I knew Linda Tyer would do well from observing the campaign she was running but didn't expect her to do so well. While she was out meeting people Mayor Daniel Bianchi was running the city. And having two other candidates drawing attention and time away from two viable candidates didn't help either.

I hadn't voted for Dan Bianchi in previous elections but voted for him this time because I believe he has a good record. The Berkshire Innovation Center at William Stanley Industrial Park, the Pittsfield Community Connection Program to combat youth gangs and violence, and a new high school comparable to McCann are just three projects that Mayor Bianchi has helped get off the ground. We will learn more when the candidates debate. Please watch the debates to get an accurate perspective on which candidate you feel deserves your vote.

As for problems in Pittsfield, please be aware that our problems are not unique. Sadly, and unfortunately, cities across the country are having the same problems. I believe this administration is doing what it can to stem the influx of drugs and engage young people so they won't join gangs.

I like meeting people so I can understand how easy it is to be pleasant when going door-to-door asking for votes. Being in the mayor's office is another story when you have to be all things to all people and must be frustrating at times. I remember hearing complaints about previous mayors being impatient on some occasions. This is the real world and I think we should be willing to accept and understand that it happens. When I asked for votes for another candidate in previous elections, I always heard from those supporting Dan Bianchi what a nice man he was.

Being city clerk is a far cry from the mayor's office, and, while that position is close in proximity to the mayor's office it doesn't compare in responsibilities and day-to-day issues.

Whoever wins the election will have a four-year term for the first time. Please give Mayor Bianchi the support he needs so he can run our city for four uninterrupted years.

Connie Dillon Yannone, Pittsfield

------------

“Fundraising in full swing in Pittsfield mayor's race”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, September 27, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Both candidates for mayor have healthy war chests and a demonstrated ability to raise campaign cash, judging from current reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office and on reports filed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi from past elections.

In the reports covering the pre-primary period from Jan. 1, 2015, through Sept. 4, challenger City Clerk Linda M. Tyer has thus far spent more than the incumbent. Tyer reported starting the year with $1,513 in a campaign fund and receiving $23,110 in contributions and other receipts.

She reported spending $16,191 on her first campaign for mayor, leaving a balance on Sept. 4 of $8,432.

Bianchi, who is running in his fourth straight mayor's race, reported starting 2015 with a campaign fund balance of $12,077. He reported additional receipts of $9,200 this year and expenditures of $7,918, leaving a balance in early September of $13,358.

Campaign financing reports from candidates also will be due in October, prior to the Nov. 3 election, and at the end of 2015. For detailed information on candidates throughout the state, visit the secretary of state's website at www.ocpf.us/Reports/SearchItems.

Candidates report donations and other receipts and such expenses as campaign office rental and overhead costs and supplies; fundraising expenses, lawn signs and stickers and media advertising costs.

In 2013, Bianchi was unopposed for re-election to a second term. It was a different story in 2011, however, when Bianchi faced a tough preliminary race and November election against City Councilor at large Peter M. Marchetti in the contest to succeed Mayor James M. Ruberto, who was retiring.

In 2011, Bianchi reported before the preliminary vote in September having spent $6,714 that year. In the pre-November election report, Bianchi reported spending $12,790 more on campaign related expenses, and in a year-end report in 2011, he reported another $17,885 in expenses.

The total expenses on the three reports totaled $37,389.

Over the same election period, Bianchi reported receipts of $39,360.

Contacted on Friday, Tyer's campaign manager Thomas Sakshaug said he expects her campaign will raise another amount similar to the $23,110 raised thus far over the course of the contest. However, he said such totals are difficult to predict.

He did say that "since Linda won so strongly [in the preliminary race], checks have been coming in," and there have been more than 20 new requests for lawn signs. "I believe this is saying: 'I think she's for real; I'll support her,'" Sakshaug said.

Bianchi said in a statement released on Friday: "Our campaign has raised over $21,000, with much more to come over the next several weeks. As we all know, our electoral process requires raising money in order to operate a campaign effort. And although I am financially prudent with our expenditures, spending $7,918 during the reporting period prior to the preliminary election, this also will increase."

He added, "I anticipate a high volume of fundraising, prior to the November election and have heard from many business people, homeowners, teachers and multiple professional groups, that they share and support the job I have done for our city and believe in the same vision I have for Pittsfield. The progress we have made over these past three and a half years, is both recognized and understood."

In addition, Bianchi said, "fundraising is very time-consuming and my job as mayor does not stop at 5 p.m. or on weekends or holidays. The transformation of our city, since I took office, reflects this kind of hard work."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

By the numbers ...

During the pre-primary campaign finance reporting period of Jan. 1 through Sept. 4 of this year, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi reported adding $9,200 in receipts to his already substantial campaign war chest. During the same period, the mayoral campaign of City Clerk Linda M. Tyer received $23,110 in receipts.



The incumbent

Bianchi received a $1,000 donation from Brian T. Harrison; $500 contributions from Patrick Muraca, Deborah Haddad-Holmes, Shaun Harrison, Floyd Passardi and Merrilyn Wojtowski; $300 each from former city Director of Administrative Services Donna Mattoon and Alan Righi; $250 each from Carpenters Local 108, Matthew Jarck, Dr. Basil Michaels and Patrick Muraca; $200 each from Pamela Sullivan, James Maxymillian and Patrick J. Larkin; $150 each from Berkshire Community College President Ellen Kennedy and former City Councilor Louis Costi; and $100 donations from Local 7 of the IBEW electrical workers union, Eugene Dellea, Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Albert Ingegni, Perri Petricca, Susan Santolin, former Mayor Edward M. Reilly, and several others.

Among donors of smaller amounts were City Councilor Lisa Tully and her husband, Mark; Michael Supranowicz, former Central Berkshire Register of Deeds Mary K. O'Brien; Community Development Board Chairwoman Sheila Irvin; and City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan.



The challenger

The Tyer campaign reported receiving $1,000 contributions from former City Councilor Christine Yon, Ernest Weider, her campaign manager Thomas Sakshaug; former Mayor James M. Ruberto, Anne Pasko, Allen Harris Jr., City Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, Rosemary Casey, Pamela Casey, Lawrence Casey, and Stacey Carver; $500 each from Laurie Tierney, Addy Courtney, former School Committee member Alf Barbalunga, Diane Clairmont, Eric Hill, and Walter Pasko; $265 in two donations from Marilyn Herrman; $250 each from Edwin Stevens, Peter Sibner and Normalyn Powers; $225 in two donations from former City Councilor and current council candidate Peter Marchetti, and $200 each from former state Rep. Daniel Bosley and former state Rep. Denis Guyer.

Bernard Auge, former city Director of Administrative Services Mary McGinnis and Denice Yon each gave $150 in two donations. There were two dozen donations of $100, including from Christina Barrett, a campaign spokeswoman; the Citizens for Mike Ward fund, Lynette Cornwell, Dawn Dellea, Jeffrey Hunt, Michael MacDonald, John Massery, Toni Massery, Michael Merriam, Beverly Milenski, Gary Scarafoni, James Wilusz and several others.



Craig C. Gaetani and Donna M. Walto, the candidates eliminated in Tuesday's preliminary city election, each reported no campaign receipts.

------------

"Abandoned voters have choice for mayor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 3, 2015

To the editor:

The turnout for the Sept. 22 preliminary election in Pittsfield represented just 18 percent of the 27,760 registered voters. The turnout consisted of the Good Old Boy Network and the special interest groups; police, fire, school employees and city workers, and their friends and relatives.

In every city and town in America, the special interest groups come out in force in preliminary elections and narrow the field to two special interest candidates. In so doing, they ensure that the candidate elected will continue to provide raises and support them. These groups have forced every city and town in America into the fiscal mess they find themselves in today.

The most important election in any election cycle is clearly the preliminary election. Most voters don't understand this. They skip the preliminary and vote in the main election where they have no choice because the special interest groups have their candidates in place.

Knowing this, is there an alternative in Pittsfield? Yes, there is. Every one of the 23,000 registered Pittsfield voters who did not vote in the preliminary can vote for a candidate as a write-in on Nov. 3. All the voter has to do is write in the name of the candidate they wish to become mayor.

I am running as a write-in candidate and hope that the 23,000 Pittsfield registered voters who didn't vote in the preliminary election will vote for me on Nov. 3. You 23,000 voters who didn't vote for the GOB, special interest group candidates now have a real opportunity to vote for a non-GOB special interest group candidate, Craig C. Gaetani.

You can see and listen to me every Friday on PCTV Channel 16 at 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m,, 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. I would ask that you watch my show and please vote for me as a write-in candidate on Nov. 3. My platform is simple — return the city to its rightful owners, the taxpayers. What you want you will get and more importantly, what you don't want won't be shoved down your throat.

I am a decorated Vietnam veteran and all others who have served in all American wars, especially our fallen military, have paid for your right to vote. Please don't squander your vote. We fought hard to give you that right. Please vote on Nov. 3.

Craig C. Gaetani, Pittsfield

------------

"Tyer is leader who will unite Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 4, 2015

To the editor:

A four-year term will provide the next mayor with the opportunity to set goals in sync with the needs of our citizens, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations, and most importantly provide an opportunity to implement these goals after building community consensus and support. Leadership requires a down-to-earth, effective communicator to educate the public and then get the job done. Toward that end, I'm supporting Linda Tyer for mayor.

In the way she's conducted her campaign, her passion for the people of Pittsfield, her comprehension of the issues, and her understanding of city government, I strongly believe under her leadership Pittsfield will continue to advance as the center of arts and commerce in Berkshire County.

I've seen Linda interact with individuals, small groups, and large groups. She's an outstanding listener. This skill will be tremendously important in leading and working with city employees, the City Council, business leaders, and the public at large.

We're all tired of bickering and political divisiveness in government. I'm confident Linda will bring people together to reach workable decisions in a collegial manner. This will be refreshing for those of us who observe too many win-lose confrontations that waste city time and money.

A four-year term provides adequate time to establish achievable goals, priorities and financially sound short- and long-term budgets. The key to successful leadership is a mayor we respect and trust with guiding the city's future. I'm all-in for Linda Tyer. Please join me in supporting Linda on Nov. 3.

Elie Hammerling, Pittsfield

------------

"Give paraprofessionals deserved contract"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 5, 2015

To the editor:

Pittsfield Public School paraprofessionals are presently in contract negotiations. Paraprofessionals provide a vital service to the students of Pittsfield. As a retired special education teacher from Pittsfield Public Schools, I worked closely with paraprofessionals for 35 years. I know how dedicated and essential they are to student success.

They provide both small group and individual instruction to students on a daily basis. Paraprofessionals assist students who have learning and behavioral difficulties. Students will often confide in and develop a close relationship with them. Paraprofessionals spend time learning academic curriculum and behavioral intervention strategies to promote learning and behavioral growth in students.

The paraprofessionals I have worked with often do this on their own time and at their own expense. They will create materials at home which they will bring to school to assist with student learning. paraprofessionals often provide the teacher with insights and strategies to assist particular students to thrive in the school environment.

These dedicated, skilled and competent individuals have been grossly underpaided for far too long. I urge the Pittsfield School Committee to offer the paraprofessionals a contract and salary which truly reflects their value to the students of Pittsfield.

Michael G. Connors, St. Petersburg, FL.

------------

“Tyer is prepared, will work with others”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 6, 2015

To the editor:

While I have known Linda Tyer politically and professionally since 2003, I have only known her, personally, for about three and a half months. I attended a neighborhood coffee hour in late June which was hosted by a neighbor. It was an opportunity to determine if she would actually be a reasonable alternative to the current administration.

She answered with ease some tough questions asked of her by the primarily senior residents of my neighborhood. Her attitude was upbeat and forward looking. She explained that there are current ordinances to address some of the concerns presented at the meeting. She said one of her goals was to allow and enable city employees to do their job. She clearly articulated her plans to improve how city operations function and are perceived by citizens. Her position on police staffing levels answered our concerns for safety here in the city and were well received. I left the meeting feeling hopeful.

I attended other public functions and the mayoral Forum at BCC and listened carefully. I did some research, speaking to Ward 3 residents and folks who had business with the city clerk's office. Comments I heard included positives regarding her preparedness, responsiveness and passion in dealings with those she represented or served.

In my opinion the very least Pittsfield's constituency should expect from their city leader is respect and a demonstrated ability to get along with city leaders on the City Council and city department managers in order to build the consensus that will make Pittsfield a better place in which to live, work and play!

In the preliminary election, 61 percent of those who voted demonstrated with their vote that they want a new mayor. I urge you to vote similarly on Nov. 3 and allow Linda Tyer to lead our community.

Wayne Meunier, Pittsfield

------------

Mayoral candidates Linda Tyer and Daniel Bianchi participate in a debate hosted by the West Side Initiative on Thursday at Conte Community School in Pittsfield. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Bianchi, Tyer in lively, wide-ranging first debate”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, October 8, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Leadership style took center stage Thursday during the first debate between Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and his challenger City Clerk Linda M. Tyer.

The evening event, sponsored by the West Side Initiative and shown over Pittsfield Public Television, was held before an audience of about 150. Jim Levulis of WAMC public radio was the moderator, and each candidate was asked questions, had opportunities for rebuttal and could ask questions of his or her opponent.

Over more than an hour in the Conte Community School gymnasium, the two-term mayor several times described himself as a leader who can get results without overburdening the taxpayer.

The mayor at one point referred to Tyer's proposals for the West Side community, including an emphasis on the unfinished River Walkway plan, a community center and housing rehabilitation, saying, "A mayor can't just talk about great projects. Some projects you have to pay for."

Tyer countered that Bianchi wanted voters to believe her proposals would "all be paid for with tax dollars," which she said was untrue. She called for "a reallocation of priorities" so that residents in areas like the West Side "get their fair share of resources."

The challenger repeatedly asserted that the West Side has not received a fair share of city funding for parks and playgrounds. She said she would make completion of the Riverway plan a top priority, saying it "has languished for four years" under the Bianchi administration.

The city already has numerous parks, including in the West Side, Bianchi said, adding, "When you're mayor you don't have unlimited dollars to throw at projects. We have to take care of what we have."

"I would challenge that," Tyer said. "The West Side has been forgotten."

Bianchi argued that parks are a priority for his administration and to contend otherwise "is totally inaccurate."

Tyer said she would take a more collaborative approach to leadership — one that encourages participation by all employees, other officials, organizations and residents to create a "shared vision" people could become invested in. As mayor, she said she would be committed to collaborating with the City Council and School Committee, even when there are disagreements, and to seeking "productive communication."

"I will not sideline someone who challenges me," Tyer said.

"My style shows in the things I have addressed," Bianchi said at one point, referring to a tax title auction that brought in long overdue property tax revenue and a change in health insurance carriers for city and school employees that resulted in significant savings.

Tyer, referring to the switch to a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, said there "may be some merit" in the switch but the deal "created distrust" because it was implemented without sufficient communication with council members and others in city government.

Concerning crime, Bianchi said his efforts to secure state Shannon Community Safety Initiative funding for the past three years to combat youth violence and gang influences produced community centers, a large-scale youth mentoring program and other efforts without having to greatly invest taxpayer dollars.

Tyer said she'd focus on a community effort to establish a community center in the West Side, saying, "It doesn't all have to be funded by taxpayer dollars."

The people there "have been struggling for years" to improve the neighborhood and the lives of residents, Tyer said, but she said city government hasn't responded.

After Bianchi had noted that the Shannon Grant programming was accomplished without a significant city tax investment, Tyer said that at this point in the city's history, anti-crime efforts should not be subject to "a cost-benefit" analysis because the need for action is "urgent."

"I will support any project that makes sense and is sustainable," Bianchi said of the community center idea. He added that the area already has churches, the Christian Center and the community school.

Tyer called for more of an effort to reduce blight and promote housing rehabilitation to "improve the lives of those living here right now." She also advocated involving the youth of the area, as well as advocates who have been working for change, more in any initiatives involving the West Side. "Give them the feeling that they matter," she said.

Concerning the more than 100 vacant properties in the city, the mayor said he has formed a task force of officials from involved departments to meet regularly to discuss the status of the buildings. He said the process is costly, but priorities are being continually assessed and actions taken.

He also blamed a Smart Growth incentive plan put in place by his predecessor, Mayor James M. Ruberto, for creating a glut of low-income housing in the city and resulting in numerous vacant structures.

Tyer said "that work [on vacant properties] hasn't produced any results." She promised to make addressing blighted areas a top priority toward "restoring community pride."

Asked about the Pittsfield Police Department in light of suits filed by two officers in U.S. District Court contending they were improperly denied promotions, Bianchi made a "pledge to taxpayers" that they won't shoulder additional costs because of the suits against the mayor, the city and the police chief.

In an apparent reference to the first suit filed in April by Police Sgt. Mark Lenihan, Bianchi termed it "a frivolous lawsuit," and said the officer "didn't prepare himself for promotion and does not deserve one."

Tyer said she was reluctant to respond, adding, "I would certainly not, as your mayor, in public, disparage an applicant for a job."

Bianchi said the officer had already gone to the media with details of his allegations.

In his closing statement, the mayor said he is "a hardworking, honest mayor," adding, "A mayor should not offer hollow promises" that are "not based in reality."

Tyer said Pittsfield has "great potential for our future, but it is time to get moving." She pledged to "lead a professional, collaborative effort" that focuses on what can be accomplished.

Tyer, 50, was elected to the City Council in 2003 and later was appointed clerk to fill a vacancy when Clerk Jody Phillips left mid-term to accept a job in the private sector. Tyer was later elected to two terms as clerk, the most recent in 2013.

Bianchi, 64, was first elected mayor in 2011 and re-elected unopposed in 2013. He previously served five terms as a city councilor and was finance director from 1998-92, during the administration of the late Anne Everest Wojtkowski.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

"Tyer has firm beliefs, collaborative approach"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 9, 2015

To the editor:

I met Linda Tyer six years ago when I was elected Ward 1 city councilor. I had the opportunity to work closely with Linda and quickly learned that she is extremely professional, highly organized, and articulate.

Linda has an in-depth knowledge of our city charter and ordinances and understands issues on multiple levels due to her experience in the Lenox School Department, her experience as the Ward 3 city councilor and now as a department head and city clerk. Linda has a genuine empathy for the problems facing our city and the unique ability to be strong in her beliefs, but collaborative in her approach, allowing everyone a seat at the table.

I wholeheartedly endorse Linda Tyer for mayor and ask you to support her on Election Day.

Christine Yon, Pittsfield
The writer is a former Ward 1 city councilor.

------------

SABIC Innovative Plastics plans to close the doors of its global headquarters on Plastics Avenue in Pittsfield by the middle of next year. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

“SABIC Innovative Plastics to shut Pittsfield global headquarters”
By Scott Stafford, The Berkshire Eagle, October 8, 2015

PITTSFIELD - SABIC Innovative Plastics has announced that it will close its global headquarters on Plastics Avenue next year as part of a plan to consolidate in Houston.

Officials declined to say how many local jobs would be transferred or eliminated.

The company employs about 300 people in Pittsfield, including the plastics division and the separate Polymer Processing Development Center, which SABIC said it would evaluate.

In a prepared release, the Saudi-based company on Thursday said it "expects to complete the majority of role relocations" by mid-2016.

"Exiting the Pittsfield site was a logical yet very difficult business decision knowing the important role our business and people have played in this community over the years," said Yousef Al-Benyan, vice chairman and acting CEO, in the release. "As SABIC continues to expand in the Americas, we need many of the talented Pittsfield employees to be part of our strong regional team. We are committed to a smooth transition for our people and look forward to welcoming many of them to our Greater Houston area office."

State and local officials agreed the announcement was a blow to the local economy.

"I'm shocked," said state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing. "I understand they are obligated to make their decisions based on their global strategies, and the cold comfort is that it had nothing to do with what we have to offer in Pittsfield. But that doesn't help the affected families."

Downing said his staff would be working to be sure the resources would be available to support the needs of the families of those who wind up losing their jobs.

He said he inquired with SABIC officials Thursday whether there was anything that could be done to retain some of the operation in the area. But given the strategic goals of the company, he said, there is nothing that could be done.

"It's going to have an impact on hospitals, schools, the housing market and the community," Downing added. "It is really very unfortunate."

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said he had no advance warning about the move.

"I understand it was a corporate decision — probably made halfway around the world," he said. "This is a company that goes back a long way in Pittsfield. Some of those employees grew up here, so this is not good."

Bianchi added that his office has been in touch with the state and federal legislative delegations to be sure the resources are in place to handle the needs of the displaced workers.

"Many of these employees are highly skilled and we hope that by supporting the other advanced manufacturing firms in the area, new opportunities will open up to allow those workers to continue to be employed locally."

"It was definitely disturbing to hear," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier. "Obviously the first concern is for the employees and their families. We want to support them as much as possible, but the ripple effect will definitely be felt."

She noted that the closing of what was once GE Plastics "marks the end of an era. But the commonweath and the Pittsfield area have a lot of potential in the advanced manufacturing sector. I have a lot of confidence in that."

"It's a tough day in the Berkshires," said Jonathan Butler, president of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. "It is devastating news — the loss of hundreds of jobs in the region. So we'll be working with our partners immediately to find a way for some of the affected employees to be able to find opportunities here. Keeping families in the Berkshires is a major priority for us."

He noted that aside from the loss of jobs, SABIC employees and the company have been generous charitable contributors of both volunteer hours and money in the community.

"In the Berkshires they are a key employer, so this is major news and it is challenging news," Butler added.

SABIC Innovative Plastics is one of the largest manufacturers of polycarbonates in the world. It purchased the former GE Plastics in 2007 for $11.6 billion. GE Plastics had been in Pittsfield for more than 73 years, eventually developing high-performance plastic materials used in a variety of products, including riot shields, astronaut helmets, CDs and stadium seating.

At that time, SABIC officials told The Eagle that the intention was to retain local employees — there were about 450 then — and to leave GE's U.S. plastics operations largely intact.

The Houston area, where SABIC already has a presence, is the largest center of the petrochemical industry in this hemisphere, and SABIC is looking to make further investments in the region surrounding Houston, making it a central hub for SABIC to serve its customers in both North and South America, according to Jodi Kennedy, SABIC's director of corporate communications in the Americas.

"We are committed to our business interests in the Americas and the growth of our operations in Houston," she said.

She noted that once corporate officials have completed their analysis of the need for the various Pittsfield operations in Houston, employees would be informed of their transitions.

"We'll work as quickly as possible to notify our people, but we also want to be as thorough as we can in determining our needs for further growth in the Americas," Kennedy said.

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301. sstafford@berkshireeagle.com @BE_SStafford on Twitter.

-----

“SABIC decision a painful one for Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 8, 2015

The decision of global petrochemical giant SABIC to leave Pittsfield is a major blow to the city and the Berkshires, one in a drumbeat of them over the decades.

SABIC Innovative Plastics makes up a portion of what remains of the city and county's once-booming manufacturing base. It's an employer providing the skilled, well-paying jobs that Pittsfield is trying to attract and, failing that, at least keep. The Saudi Arabian-based company, while generally low profile, is also an active member of the community, and when it leaves the city in 2016 it will be painfully missed on many levels.

SABIC purchased General Electric's Pittsfield-based plastics division in 2007, and from the beginning there were concerns that SABIC would move its isolated Pittsfield operation to a place where it has a stronger presence. Those fears were realized Thursday with the announcement that Pittsfield's operation would move to Houston, a hub of the petrochemical industry. SABIC already has three other locations in cities around Houston. The status of SABIC's Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield is uncertain.

The move was, as SABIC's Acting CEO, Yousef Al-Benyan said Thursday, "a logical yet very difficult business decision." That decision also ends a strong Pittsfield connection to the plastics industry that go backs to 1881. GE established its first plastics division in Pittsfield in 1930, two years after discovering the chemical's advantages as an insulator for the electrical equipment it manufactured. That proud history is evidently coming to an end, dealing a body blow to the local economy.

------------

During a press conference at City Hall on Friday, Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and Heather Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, discuss efforts already underway to help find new jobs for Sabic employees. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

Sabic Innovative Plastics will offer severance and health benefits to employees who are left behind when the company shuts its Pittsfield headquarters by the middle of next year and moves to Houston. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Sabic shutdown: Officials aim to help workers as deep economic toll looms”
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, October 9, 2015

PITTSFIELD - When Sabic Innovative Plastics shuts down sometime next year, it will not only cost the Berkshires hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic output — it will mark the end of an era.

During a press conference on Friday, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said the departure completes the long decline of multinational industry in the city, which began in the 1980s when General Electric drastically reduced its local operations.

"As one era ends, it's an opportunity for another to begin," Bianchi said. "I believe that we still have a very promising future with small and medium-sized advanced manufacturing companies."

Sabic Innovative Plastics announced on Thursday that it intends to dissolve its global headquarters in Pittsfield. The Saudi-based company plans to relocate its U.S. headquarters to Houston, the heart of the country's petrochemical industry.

While the company declined to say how many jobs would be affected, Bianchi envisioned a worst-case scenario of roughly 300 jobs leaving the area by the second quarter of next year.

Williams College economics professor Stephen Sheppard estimated that the total job loss to the region would be about 495 after factoring in the ripple effect on other industries. And he said that put the total hit to the Berkshire County economy at $166 million per year, a decline of roughly 3 percent.

Sheppard also drew upon the "end of an era" theme.

"If the only remnant of [General Electric] left in Pittsfield is the PCBs, then it's a sad legacy," Sheppard said, referring to the industrial pollution that continues to taint sites here and along the Housatonic River.

Looking ahead, Bianchi said, efforts will center on connecting former Sabic employees with the small- and medium-sized manufacturing firms that he says represent the city's economic future.

A state Department of Career Services Rapid Response team has promised assistance, Bianchi said, and city and county jobs specialists have begun working on data to inform efforts. The team eventually will hit Sabic's Plastics Avenue plant to work directly with employees.

Heather Boulger, executive director of Berkshire Regional Employment Board, also attended Friday's press conference in the mayor's office at City Hall. She said her organization, along with 1Berkshire, the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and BerkshireWorks, would assist in the job placement efforts.

"It's really imperative that we start today to really understand who will be transitioned to Houston and who will remain, and what those skill sets are [among those who stay]," Bianchi said. "We have an opportunity to help manufacturing and creative companies that are here to better understand their short-, medium- and long-term planning. There's unique talent at Sabic that could conceivably have an immediate, positive impact on businesses in the area."

He added, "The best thing we can do is help identify what the talents are and what the possibilities will be."

Sheppard endorsed the approach.

"A lot of [Sabic employees'] skills are transferable," he said. "It's a good opportunity for us to look at which firms are still working in that [industry], get in touch and ask, 'How can we be helpful?' "

Around 200 job openings in related fields — engineering, systems analysis and management — presently exist in the county, according to early estimates cited by Bianchi. The mayor's $500,000 small business fund, state investments in the life sciences industry and small business in general, and yet-to-be-identified state and federal resources, may be drawn upon to bolster efforts, Bianchi said.

"We will be over the next few weeks exploring the assets we have to assist companies in growing with the help of talent that might be available from Sabic," Bianchi said.

Sabic, too, plans to help out in the endeavor of finding ex-employees new opportunities, according to company spokeswoman Jodi Kennedy.

"Yes, this decision was tied to a natural business strategy, but it was still incredibly difficult for the company," she said. "This is personal for many people. It was not made lightly."

Severance and health benefits will be provided to employees in addition to job placement assistance, Kennedy said.

Though the decision made business sense, Sheppard said, he still found it "absolutely a disappointment."

"The decision that they've made means that, for them, being in a center of innovation [in the Berkshires] and offering a great lifestyle to employees is less important than being across the street from a major supplier," Sheppard said.

Sabic, through Kennedy, maintained that a separate Polymer Processing Development Center also located in Pittsfield, where an unknown percentage of the 300 employees work, remains under "evaluation" and could maintain some level of activity.

But Sheppard said "most of the people I've spoken to" believe "it's now just a matter of time before it's all gone," probably by mid-2016.

A top worldwide manufacturer of polycarbonates, Sabic bought the GE Plastics business in 2007 for $11.6 billion. The company leases both the main site at 1 Plastics Ave. and Polymer Processing Development Center from GE.

GE spokesman Dominic McMullen said his firm only learned of Sabic's decision on Thursday as well and had made "no decision" as to the future of the facilities, which Bianchi deemed "state of the art."

"It's way too early," McMullen said.

PCB remediation efforts "remain ongoing" at the sites, McMullen said, which U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations prohibit the company from selling before the cleanup's completion.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. pdemers@berkshireeagle.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter.

------------

“DeSantis offers a fresh perspective”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 13, 2015

To the editor:

Nothing beats lots of energy. Pittsfield needs positive energy and a true belief that there is a good future for us all. Taylor DiSantis has the energy and commitment to move Pittsfield forward with a positive change!

We need to get our young folks involved and dedicated to our community. There is no better way to start than voting for Taylor for city councilor at large. He has a fresh perspective that will bring new ideas and new debates to City Hall.

Remember your boundless enthusiasm when you were in your early 20s? We have that and more with Taylor DiSantis. He is smart, honest and he listens. He is just what Pittsfield needs.

Christopher Hodgkins, Miami, Fl.
The writer is a former state representative from Lee.

------------

Robert Snuck

"Pittsfield City Council unanimously OKs next airport manager"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, October 13, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The next manager of the Pittsfield Municipal Airport was unanimously approved Tuesday by the City Council.

Robert Snuck, who currently works with the Tennessee Department of Transportation, was recommended by city Airport Commission on Oct. 7. He is expected to begin in Pittsfield in November.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Snuck said, "I'm just really excited about getting back to the Northeast and to the airport."

With many years of experience working for the Federal Aviation Administration, based in Connecticut, Snuck has flown into the Pittsfield Municipal Airport many times in private aircraft, and is himself a pilot with a commercial aircraft rating.

Working with the commission, Snuck said one of his overall goals is to attract more business use of the airport, and he would like to oversee adding more hanger space for the facility.

He said he also will try to lure events such as fly-ins by aviation associations or groups or an experimental aircraft or similar weekends to expose the city airport to pilots and enthusiasts from around the region and create economic activity in the Berkshires.

Commission Chairman Christopher Pedersen said Snuck was unanimously recommended to replace longtime Manager Mark Germanowski, who left in June for a position at Modesto City-County Airport in California.

The new manager also was interviewed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and met with Personnel Department officials prior to the commission's vote, Pedersen said.

Snuck, an Army veteran who flew attack helicopters while in the service from 1977-81, has worked in managerial roles for Pratt and Whitney Aircraft in Connecticut, Jet Blue Airways and CSX Transportation, both in Nashville; as manager of tower control operations at an airport in Jackson, Tenn., and currently with the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

He was involved in airport inspections, training and other activities with the FAA from 1981-95 in Windsor Locks, Conn. Snuck also worked part time as a helicopter pilot for television stations in the Hartford, Conn., region.

He holds a master's in business administration from Union University in Jacksonville, Tenn., a degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and attended Manchester Community College in Connecticut. He is a 1971 graduate of East Hartford (Conn.) High School.

Snuck said he plans to move to Pittsfield on Nov. 1.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

"Mayor's track record earns him re-election"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 14, 2015

To the editor:

Mayor Bianchi understands what's at stake for our city's future. As a father of three adult children, he like so many of us want future families to experience the same great schools and safe streets while all along sustaining strong property values.

As a former city councilor I recognize the pressure that our local elected officials are under to make the right decisions that will continue to move our great city forward. The population in Pittsfield has evolved. Our young executives may have different priorities to those of our retired seniors. Private business owners also need an advocate and their outlook on the tax base, insurance and energy costs, as well municipal services may not be the same as a state or municipal employee. Nevertheless we all matter and we must continue to row the boat in the same direction.

I am convinced we have the finest public safety personnel in the commonwealth. The collaboration that exists amongst our law enforcement leaders is second to none. Before next summer, our downtown from South Street to Berkshire Medical Center will be complete and North Street once again will be something to be proud of as we host another July 4 Parade.

I'll say it again — our priorities vary, but another piece of the puzzle is our school system. When the commonwealth offers to pay you 80 percent of your cost to build a new facility, you do it. We owe that to all the children that live here now and those who will move here in the future.

With the devastating announcement by SABIC, the emphasis on a strong school system with modern technology is critical as we continue to pursue future jobs. More importantly, education as we know it is one of the catalysts in retaining our current employers.

There have been times recently that I, like so many have been seeing the glass half empty. Let's remind ourselves of where we live and the beauty that surrounds us. Let's continue to battle the criminal element that tries to erode our Berkshire fiber. Let's recognize the importance of our school system and the needs of our business community both large and small. Let's appreciate our community college with a future state-of-the-art athletic facility for our students to compete and let's re-elect Dan Bianchi to keep our city moving forward.

As we elect Pittsfield's next mayor to our city's first four-year term, be sure that person has proven qualifications. Join me as I vote for Dan Bianchi on Nov. 3 to continue to build on his proven accomplishments.

Francis B. Marinaro, Pittsfield
The writer is register of probate.

------------

“Tyer will put city on the right path”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 14, 2015

To the editor:

Pittsfield faces a host of challenges and problems and it is going to take a mayor with strong leadership qualities to help solve them. It's going to take someone who has a clear vision of what kind of community we aspire to be and can lay out a road map to get there. We need someone who can motivate and inspire people to help achieve our goals; who can get along with and work in collaboration with all kinds of people including those who voted for the other candidate; who can market Pittsfield's strengths and give potential new businesses the confidence to locate here.

I believe strongly that person is Linda Tyer. As our Ward 3 councilor she demonstrated her professionalism, her thorough understanding of the issues that came before the council and her willingness to work hard to address city-wide issues. In her time as city clerk, she has run a top notch office where all people are treated with respect and their needs are met. She is compassionate, yet objective, never loses her cool and goes out of her way to help people solve problems they are confronted with.

I believe Linda will be a great leader for Pittsfield, will listen and be receptive to people's ideas and will communicate well with state and federal officials. I think she will bring hope to the many people in our city who feel discouraged with the path we are on, are fearful of the future and see no real improvements on the horizon.

Please join me and vote for Linda Tyer on Nov. 3.

Roberta Lafayette, Pittsfield

------------

"Tyer will work with and respect others"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 15, 2015

To the editor:

Having had the opportunity to work directly with Linda Tyer, city clerk and candidate for mayor of the city of Pittsfield, I would like to say a few words on her behalf.

As a co-worker, I found her to be a valuable resource of information. I turned to her for advice on all things municipal. Her knowledge of day-to-day government operations as well as her understanding of its legal protocol was impressive.

As an elected official she serves the citizens of Pittsfield above and beyond the call of duty. She is respectful to the many people who walk into her office and always has time to research information if it is not readily available. She understands the true meaning of diversity and cultural competency and "talks the talk and walks the walk."

She understands that the members of the City Council act as the citizens' voice; including them in decision-making, especially when thousands of dollars are at stake, is vital if we are a true democracy. When they are disarmed, the citizens are silenced.

Linda values all opinions and encourages people to exercise their First Amendment rights. She knows that to reach solutions to difficult issues, it takes both teamwork and community input. From the people, comes valuable resources beyond imagination. Collectively there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

It is time for a change in leadership in our city. Linda Tyer is a breath of fresh air. She is ready and willing to step up to the task. I'm voting for Linda Tyer for mayor, I hope you will too.

Mary McGinnis, Pittfield
The writer is the former director of administrative services for the city of Pittsfield.

------------

"Keep going forward with Mayor Bianchi"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 15, 2015

To the editor:

I have lived in Pittsfield since 1968 and have been aware of the many changes that have taken place in this city. Having served on the Pittsfield City Council for six years I came to realize the dedicated service of certain members.

Mayor Dan Bianchi impressed me at that time and today he continues to do so. Among his many accomplishments, he has created a small business fund for local businesses and he has reduced the city's health insurance costs by $2 million while keeping good coverage. He is thoroughly committed to keeping strong financial support for public schools. His dedication to begin the new Taconic High School which will create new local jobs for young people is without equal. I urge you to vote for Mayor Bianchi so he may continue his steadfast and enthusiastic pursuit of economic development, public safety issues and community services.

Mayor Bianchi is devoted to making Pittsfield a proud community. Your vote for Dan Bianchi on Nov. 3 will enable him to continue his very worthwhile projects and keep Pittsfield moving in a forward direction.

William D. Barry, Pittsfield

------------

“Tyer will restore progressive approach”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 16, 2015

To the editor:

I was born and raised in Pittsfield. I left to pursue a college education and then accepted a travelling nurse position which brought me to UCLA Medical Center in California where I resided for 20 years.

I have always considered Pittsfield home. In 2001, I returned home to Pittsfield to discover things were very different. We were a pass-through city with no vibrant economic or cultural pulse, I found it disheartening.

Then slowly around 2004 there were green shoots of progress, such as the Beacon Cinema, the Colonial Theatre, Barrington Stage, Street Scape, and conversations for a new high school. Young entrepreneurs were starting to see a future in Pittsfield with the emergence of Dottie's Coffee Shop, Mission and various vibrant boutiques and eating establishments. Pittsfield was being noticed as far away as Boston and New York City; we were being written up in The Boston and New York papers as the "City of Renaissance."

During this time period Linda Tyer served on the City Council and was a positive vote for these initiatives which helped to bring these progressive ideas to fruition. However, this kind of vision for Pittsfield's future does not exist under our current administration and we have seen a steady erosion of forward momentum.

I see Linda Tyer as the agent of change that can reverse this current trend and once again nurture the green shoots of prosperity for our city. I ask you to join me on Election Day and vote Linda Tyer for mayor.

Denice Yon, Pittsfield

------------

“Experienced Bianchi is devoted to city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 16, 2015

To the editor:

We worked very hard to build a successful small business in Pittsfield. Along the way, we were lucky to surround ourselves with good employees who shared our work ethic and our commitment to many charities in the city.

We support Mayor Dan Bianchi for similar reasons. He has devoted many years of his life to improving Pittsfield, he has surrounded himself with some of the finest people in the city, and Dan has always been one of Pittsfield's most reliable volunteers when it comes time to help a worthy cause.

Character and qualifications matter. Pittsfield is a multi-million dollar business that we all pay for with our taxes. We want the most qualified, experienced person in the mayor's office.

Over the last four years, Mayor Bianchi has moved this city forward with major initiatives like the Berkshire Innovation Center. He has saved millions for taxpayers through the tax title auction, a better health benefit program for city employees, and through the award of state grants that have paid for necessary programs that have improved our parks and benefited our youth. This is the work of a smart businessman and we need four more years of this level of achievement.

We strongly believe in our mayor, Dan Bianchi, and ask that you support him on Nov. 3.

Tom and Penny Angelini, Pittsfield

------------

The new boutique hotel that salutes the city’s long history.

"Pittsfield gearing up as go-to destination once again"
By Jaci Conry, Boston Globe Correspondent, October 17, 2015

PITTSFIELD — My grandparents were born here. They met and married here, then raised my father and his siblings a few miles from where they’d grown up themselves. Later in life, my grandparents traveled extensively, but Pittsfield was always home. They lived their whole lives here, and considered their lives full.

Trips to Pittsfield, the largest city in the Berkshires, were highlights of my childhood. During the early 1980s, I’d walk along North Street, the downtown hub, with my grandmother. She’d point out landmarks, filling me with tales of the city’s glory days. We would stop at the red wagon in front of First National Agricultural Bank for a greasy brown paper bag of popcorn and she’d remember that the same wagon had sold popcorn by horse-drawn carriage when she was a girl.

In front of a long-shuttered venue, my grandmother often reminisced about a glitzy New Year’s Eve party there in the 1930s. I’d seen a photo of the night, my grandfather in a tuxedo, my grandmother, dazzling in a drapey white dress. I was mesmerized by the 19th- and early-20th-century stone buildings that presided over downtown. Stately and detailed, the structures spoke of importance and fine craftsmanship. There was glamour to the architecture, a mystique that hinted at a bygone era.

My grandparents were proud to live in Pittsfield; they’d come of age during the city’s heyday. But by the 1980s, the city was on a downward spiral. Pittsfield was incorporated in 1761 in a primarily agricultural area. By the early 1800s it was a center of woolen manufacturing and when the railroad arrived during the second half of the 19th century, Pittsfield evolved into a bustling metropolis.

In 1890, William Stanley Jr. put Pittsfield on the map when he developed the first electric transformer at his Stanley Electric Manufacturing Co. A decade later, General Electric acquired the company and opened three manufacturing facilities in town, employing more than 15,000 workers for 70-plus years. North Street was lined with banks, department stores, and specialty shops, all of which stayed open late on Thursdays, the day GE employees were paid.

In the late 1970s, GE began shutting down its operations in Pittsfield and over the next 10 years, the city lost its luster. The population plummeted, the once-thriving downtown became a dim stretch of vacant storefronts, and no one was coming to visit. My last visit was in 2003, and I found it to be dreary, depressing, and sad. I couldn’t wait to leave.

While many unsuccessful attempts to revitalize downtown Pittsfield have been made over the last two decades, word has spread that momentum is finally taking hold, that the city is gearing up to be a Berkshires destination. This fall, I ventured back to see for myself.

An integral component in the resurgence is the fact that there is finally an appealing downtown hotel. With both a hip aesthetic and a time-honored feel, Hotel on North (297 North St.,413-358-4741, hotelonnorth.com) is what residents have wanted for years, say owners David and Laurie Tierney. A while back the Tierneys — David runs Pittsfield-based construction company David J. Tierney Jr. Inc. — partnered with Main Street Hospitality Group, which owns notable Berkshire hotels including Stockbridge’s The Red Lion Inn and North Adams’s Porches Inn at Mass MoCA, to bring a boutique hotel to downtown Pittsfield. After years searching for the right spot, in 2014 they acquired two National Historic Register brick buildings that housed Besse-Clarke department store from 1909 through the early 1990s.

The 45-guest rooms are spacious with high ceilings. Luxe bedding and marble clad bathrooms are paired with the structure’s wide plank floors, exposed brick walls, and antique furnishings found at the Brimfield Antiques Fair. Lounge-like common areas are decked in jewel tones with plush contemporary seating and early-20th-century tables acquired from an old mill.

With long windows overlooking downtown, the hotel restaurant, Eat on North, features an oyster bar and cuisine inspired by various cultures. Dinner menu offerings include rotisserie duck with Korean barbecue glaze; chicken and waffles; and Scottish salmon. The breakfast fare reflects a similar inventive influence (red quinoa oatmeal; maitake mushroom hash).

If you’re looking for a more casual place to enjoy your morning joe, head to Dottie’s Coffee Lounge (444 North St., www.dottiescoffeelounge.com, 413-443-1792). With hard worn tables, mismatched chairs, and a blackboard that covers an entire wall with the coffee selections, it’s a favorite hangout of hipster families, students, and old-timers alike. Don’t let the laid-back atmosphere fool you, the food is thoughtfully conceived and unbelievably delicious, I had the best egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich on a homemade scallion biscuit I’ve ever tasted. As my husband said, “That’s a sandwich worth getting fat over.”

The buildings that captivated me as a child still strike me — a seasoned design writer — with awe. From Park Square, the 1.5-acre oval public green in the heart of downtown, you can view some of the city’s best architectural specimens: the white marble courthouse, built in 1868; the Victorian Gothic-style Registry of Deeds; St. Stephens Church, with its Louis Comfort Tiffany windows; and the elegant columned former First Agricultural National Bank that cost a whopping $250,000 to build in 1909.

A large part of Pittsfield’s allure is the now-thriving arts scene, which the city has put great effort into. Downtown’s state-designated Upstreet Cultural District includes the Tony-award winning Barrington Stage Company (30 Union St., barringtonstageco.org, 413-236-8888). Housed in a 1912 vaudeville theater, the company draws more than 50,000 visitors annually to see musicals, cabaret, classics, and new work.

Another place to see live performances is the Colonial Theatre (111 South St., berkshiretheatregroup.org, 413-448-8084), which hosted Sara Bernhardt, John Barrymore, and other legends in the early 1900s. It shuttered in the 1950s, but after it was made a National Historic Treasure, the community invested millions to refurbish the theatre. Today, the interior’s ornate, Gilded-Age glamour has been meticulously restored and the Berkshire Theatre Group hosts headliners who have included James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, and The Eagles. Opening in December, “A Christmas Carol” kicks off the city’s holiday festivities.

The 1903 Berkshire Museum (39 South St., berkshiremuseum.org, 413-443-7171) was opened by Zenas Crane, an owner of Crane & Co., the venerable paper manufacturer. Crane was entranced by the collections of the Smithsonian, The Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His concept was to blend the best attributes of their revered collections in his museum. Today, the museum exhibits remain diverse. A 10-foot-high stegosaurus outside the museum advertises the dinosaur gallery. Inside, visitors find paintings from the Hudson River School, the writing desk of Nathaniel Hawthorne, an ancient gallery featuring an Egyptian mummy, and a 30-tank aquarium. A National Geographic exhibit showcasing photographs of the American West runs through January.

Next door is a gem of a shop, Museum Facsimiles Outlet Store (31 South St., 413-499-1818) where the highlights include baby gifts, small leather goods, and wall decor. The array of beautiful frames, prints, and letterpress greeting cards are made in Ken Green’s factory down the road. Most impressive are the enlarged book spines of authentic editions of classics in beautiful frames. I went home with “Emma” for my daughter, whose name is also a Jane Austen heroine’s.

It used to be that downtown Pittsfield had scant few restaurants and none of them were memorable. The offerings have expanded immensely and there are now nearly 20 restaurants in a quarter of a mile. One of the standouts is District Kitchen & Bar (40 West St., district.kitchen, 413-442-0303), a new gastro-pub. With exposed copper pipes that run along the ceiling, steel chairs, and deep grey walls the decor feels both industrial and enveloping. If your appetite is small, there’s a fantastic a goat-cheese BLT with cucumber; if you’re in the mood for something more substantial go for the garlic and herb marinated strip steak. The Cuban-style corn on the cob is a must.

There’s a rustic, chic vibe at Methuselah Bar and Lounge (391 North St., www.methuselahbarandlounge.com, 413-344-4991) where the communal table is popular, but there are also nooks with private two-tops. The menu comprises cheese and charcuterie; small plates (the roasted butternut squash tacos are amazing); salads; and hearty, eclectic sandwiches. There’s a lively bar scene often accented by music from a talented guitarist.

Pittsfield is equidistant between North Adams and Great Barrington, the northern Berkshires and the southern. So it’s a perfect home base for travelers looking to explore the entire region. With weekend rates as low as $179 a night at Hotel on North, it’s significantly less expensive to stay in Pittsfield than in the higher profile towns.

On the way out of town I noticed, with the glee of a child, that the popcorn wagon is still there. Now owned by Berkshire Bank (99 North St.), it’s operated by participants in a Goodwill program that teaches business enterprise skills. As we drove away, I felt happy to have seen that the legacy of my grandparents’ beloved city is being preserved and that Pittsfield is evolving, poised to endure for a long time.

Jaci Conry can be reached at jaci@jaciconry.com.

------------

“Tyer makes blight a welcome focus”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 18, 2015

To the editor:

Bravo to Linda Tyer for continuing to take a bold stand on the issue of blight in the city of Pittsfield!

All you have to do is walk so many of our streets to see what a huge problem this has become. When I take walks, it breaks my heart to see the way that so many proud home owners and landlords take such pleasure in their property, only to suffer because some have been allowed to neglect all their responsibilities with impunity. In some cases, the city of Pittsfield itself is the culprit of delinquent property management.

Numerous studies have demonstrated all the many connections between this kind of blight and crime, business, public health, tourism, and every other issue in a community, but you don't have to read all the research to tell you what you can see walking around different streets and neighborhoods and parks in many cities. The more derelict the environment, the more bad behavior it attracts.

This kind of blight has been permitted to worsen the fabric of our community for too long and this has got to change. Linda's repeated championship on this issue is to be commended!

Kerry Sullivan, Pittsfield

------------

“White has shown commitment to city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 18, 2015

To the editor:

I met Pete White 10 years ago when he regularly attended the Pittsfield School Committee meetings to learn more about what was going on in our schools. Since then I have been hugely impressed by his devotion to improving Pittsfield.

Pete White has continuously been a stalwart supporter of Pittsfield. He truly cares about this city and makes it a routine part of his day to publicly support businesses, listen to citizens to learn what our concerns are, and take actions to make this a better, safer, and more connected place to live.

From his prior work as a city councilor, to his work on the parade committee, from him being a forming member of the Morningside Initiative, and his membership on the Board of Directors of the Tyler Street Business Group, to his being a recipient of the 1Berkshire Young Professional Making a Difference Trendsetter Award, and a current member of the affirmative action advisory committee of Pittsfield, Pete shows his caring and commitment to our city. His campaign slogan is not just words, but a reflection of who he is: Approachable, Accessible and Committed to Improving Our Community.

I am delighted that Pete White is running for councilor at-Large, and I give him my full support as I am certain that Pittsfield will be a better place with him helping to run it. Please join me in voting for Pete White on Nov. 3!

Daltrey Turner, Pittsfield

------------

“Unheralded street work demonstrates Bianchi's approach; Unsung street work shows mayor's style”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 19, 2015

To the editor:

Mayor Dan Bianchi this summer conducted a major road resurfacing program in which more than 20 streets were repaved with macadam. And a number of these were main thoroughfares: Elm, Fenn, Wendell, Crane, Pomeroy, Lebanon. Also resurfaced were Brooks, Dowse, Cooper, Marshall, Woodleigh, Savoy, Leona, Harryel, Elaine, Pine Grove, Bromback, Otis, Hampshire, Walden, Alcott and East Acres (on which I live). What's more the cracks were sealed on 41 additional streets.

Not since Don Butler in the late '60s and early '70s has Pittsfield undertaken such an ambitious street program.

All this badly needed work — some of it tackled by city crews and some by private contractors — was the result of the new pavement management system initiated by Bianchi.

For some reason this program, while large in scale, has received little attention from the press. But because of it's scope, these newly smooth streets have not escaped the notice of the driving public, drivers who may have wondered who to thank.

Under Bianchi's program, the city and Kiley-Horn and Associates teamed up to analyze what needs to be done on what streets. The idea is to make bad roads good again while keeping streets that are currently in good shape from deteriorating. The mayor gives much of the credit for the program's success to Highway Supt. Daniel Ostrander.

In the coming election a group of supporters of former Mayor Jim Ruberto — a man I admire for resuscitating a downtown that was dying — are trying to replace Bianchi with Linda Tyer. It's a time when Pittsfield is facing the daunting problems of gangs, poverty and the upcoming loss of the big SABIC plastics operation.

I'm not sure either candidate — or anyone else for that matter - can silence the guns, replace the jobs and reduce the income inequality. But because of the determined, analytic approach he has taken in office — the unheralded street work is a good example — I like Bianchi's chances much better than Tyer's.

Grier Horner, Pittsfield

------------

“Tyer will restore city's lost enthusiasm”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 19, 2015

To the editor:

Pittsfield is in need of a leader who can also be a cheerleader. I am discouraged and disappointed hearing about the negative trends in Pittsfield.

I have often said it takes years to build a momentum that propels a city forward but only a short time to turn it the other way. We need to bring back the positive enthusiasm that has been lost in the last few years.

I believe Linda Tyer has the ability to inspire and motivate city employees, existing and potential business owners, residents, and anyone who has an interest in seeing Pittsfield succeed — again — to return the growth and enthusiasm we were experiencing just a short time ago. She leads by example with an absolute focus, conciseness and clarity that facilitates collaboration with all stakeholders to solve problems and to get this city moving again — in the right direction.

Please join me in voting for a positive change Nov. 3, a vote for Linda Tyer for mayor.

William M. Hines, Sr., Pittsfield
The writer is the retired former President/CEO of Interprint Inc.

------------

“Pittsfield mayoral candidates trade jabs at BCC debate”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, October 20, 2015

PITTSFIELD - From their opening statements, the two candidates for mayor traded some stiff political jabs — and maybe a few roundhouse rights — during the second debate of the fall campaign season.

Challenger City Clerk Linda M. Tyer immediately attacked Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's prior assertions that he is a fiscally responsible chief executive, while Tyer's proposals would prove costly to taxpayers.

The mayor, for his part, cited a laundry list of accomplishments as evidence that he's been fighting hard for residents of the city and deserves re-election.

During Monday's debate at Berkshire Community College, the candidates answered a range of questions from moderator Larry Kratka before a live audience at the Koussevitzky Arts Center and viewers watching the debate on Pittsfield Community Television.

Bianchi "will recite dollar figures that are intended to scare you," Tyer said, "and he'll claim he was a good steward of your tax dollars."

But she asserted that the opposite is true: "Let's examine the record," she said. "During Mayor Bianchi's tenure, the city's budget has gone up by more than $18 million, and taxes have gone up by more than twice the rate of inflation.

"In my opinion, wasteful spending and wrong priorities have been a hallmark of his administration," Tyer said, citing an "unnecessary" suit settlement over a methadone clinic that cost the city $100,000; a project "to polish City Hall floors," costing $90,000, and "$500,000 to move half of City Hall to a privately owned building" — a reference to the mayor's decision to consolidate inspection offices at 100 North St., in part to vacate damp basement offices at City Hall.

"Imagine all the work that we could have accomplished by putting that money to better use," Tyer said. "I won't waste your money. I will use existing resources to pay for the initiatives I am proposing."

"You know, somebody once said that politics does not develop character; it only exposes it," Bianchi said in his initial statement.

The lawsuit settlements Tyer mentioned actually were settled for less money, Bianchi said, and the disputes were inherited by him from the prior administration of Mayor James M. Ruberto.

Saying people who run for office are exposed to "rumors and innuendoes," Bianchi added that he has heard those along with "outright lies" during the current campaign.

He addressed the long-standing criticism that he is "not a full-time mayor," because he still works part time from home for his longtime employer, Global Montello Group.

The mayor said he works 50 to 70 hours per week for the city and "about six hours a month, reviewing contracts on my own time, reviewing proposals," for his employer. "I took an oath of office to serve you and serve you well, and I have," he said.

The cost of his health and life insurance also is covered by the private firm, he said, saving taxpayers the expense.

Bianchi said he has "worked very hard as your mayor," and that is evidenced in a number of initiatives he pursued during his two terms. He noted the primarily state-funded Berkshire Innovation Center project, the Shannon grant-funded Community Connection program to combat youth violence and gang influences; a first-ever city tax title auction that brought in long overdue property tax revenue; encouraging approvals for the new Taconic High School project and market-rate housing projects that led to 50 units in the downtown; and reinstituting the dormant Affirmative Action Plan and Policy and advisory committee, and the Human Rights Commission and Youth Commission.

"I am proud of what I've done and I hope you agree," the mayor said.

The candidates also clashed over the planned Berkshire Innovation Center and progress at the William Stanley Business Park; whether retail development should be considered there, the mayor's role on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority board; police department staffing levels, blighted properties, relations with the City Council and transparency in city government.

Calling crime the issue most often mentioned by residents, Tyer said that right after taking office she would ask the chief of police for a plan for increasing the number of officers. She said a city Pittsfield's size should have 120 officers, but now has only 85, or seven patrol officers per shift, adding, "That is not enough."

She also advocated creation of a separate traffic bureau in the department, reorganization of the anti-gang unit and a renewed emphasis on community policing.

Bianchi said the department is authorized to have 91 officers, and the administration is working to fill the vacant positions. He also questioned whether the answer is to add significantly to the budget or whether addressing the underlying societal issues — such as through the Community Connection mentoring or other programs for at risk youth — is more effective.

The city can't expect to "arrest our way out" of the problem, he said.

Concerning the Stanley Business Park, Tyer called for hiring a professional development firm to bring companies to the former GE industrial site, and for removing the mayor's position from the PEDA board because it could allow in political influences concerning proposals for the site.

Bianchi said it would be "incredibly irresponsible" to remove the mayor from the board. He said he has worked to ensure a focus on good-paying industrial jobs and development and so that the city didn't "end up with a big-box store" in the park and low-income jobs.

"We are better than that," he said, contending the new Taconic High and its vocational program and other efforts are coming together to promote employment in advanced manufacturing and related sectors.

Tyer said an important consideration is that the Berkshire Innovation Center and other initiatives for the park site aren't expected to directly create new employment or add tax revenue.

She called for extending broadband service to all city industrial parks and other business sites, and for a more aggressive recruitment effort to attract taxpaying businesses to the city, along with regular meetings by the mayor with business community leaders to improve communication and learn how the city can help promote the economy.

Relations with the City Council have been a major issue in the campaign. Tyer, who promises more communication and collaboration with all council members, even opponents, said the mayor's decision to negotiate with unions and Blue Cross Blue Shield on a new health insurance contract for city employees without informing the full council created distrust and did not benefit from the full input of all officials, residents or employees. Participation by all would have resulted "in a better plan," she said.

Bianchi said the situation was one in which he believes it is a mayor's obligation to pursue a good deal for the city, which he said in that case saved Pittsfield more than $2 million in insurance costs. Involving the full council could have resulted in disputes and the agreement breaking down, he said, adding, "I wasn't going to let a couple city councilors trip us up."

He also cited several initiatives he has collaborated on with the council or School Committee. "There is a long list of things we've gotten done despite a couple members of the council," the mayor said.

Concerning housing or commercial building blight, which Tyer has made an issue in her campaign, Bianchi said a review and monitoring process he established for the approximately 100 vacant buildings in the city has resulted in 55 demolitions during his term. However, the process is complex and time-consuming, he said, especially when there are Land Court issues.

He also again blamed a "smart growth" initiative Ruberto implemented and Tyer voted for as Ward 3 councilor, but that the mayor opposed when he represented Ward 6 on the council. He said by encouraging large low-income housing developments, the plan caused the market to become flooded and resulted in many vacant or dilapidated properties.

Tyer countered that the program brought in new, modern housing for low-income families and blamed much of the blight on absentee landlords unwilling to invest in upgrading properties.

The candidates also were scheduled to debate Tuesday afternoon in the student lounge hosted by BCC's Service Learning department.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

“Tyer will end turnover of City Hall employees”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 20, 2015

To the editor:

I am writing in hopes that everyone I know will vote for Linda Tyer for mayor in the upcoming election.

As the former director of maintenance for the city of Pittsfield and one who has served the city under this current mayoral administration, I believe there is no other choice. Under this current administration there has been a steady turnover of department heads, several filed employment lawsuits, and resignations by dissatisfied employees. Basic fundamental management practices say good people don't leave organizations, they leave bad managers.

Peoples' relationships with their boss is the biggest determinant of their satisfaction in the workplace and the deciding factor of whether they leave or stay. Positive relationships in the workplace are a huge driver of performance. There is a large body of research which shows that helping people to understand how their work benefits others makes a huge difference to their motivation and performance.

Having had the experience of working with Linda Tyer, I know firsthand that Linda will and can create an environment for success for all employees in City Hall. Let's stop this revolving door of dissatisfied employees in City Hall and vote good management on Nov. 3 by casting a vote for Linda Tyer for mayor.

Greg Yon, Pittsfield
The writer is former director of maintenance, city of Pittsfield.

------------

“Tyer will renew Pittsfield's spirit”
By John Krol, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, October 20, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Our city is at a crossroads.

While the issues before the two mayoral candidates are wide and varied, and the candidates have very stark differences in management styles and how to prioritize our city's budget, I ask voters to step back and look at the bigger picture.

It is an important question every resident in Pittsfield needs to ask as we approach election day. It touches the core of where we are headed as a community. Please ask yourself: Do I feel as confident about Pittsfield as I did four years ago? Or more simply, "Do I feel good about my city?" That extraordinarily simple question, and its answer, needs to be in the heart of every voter on Nov. 3.

A decade ago, I chose to return to my hometown, completely changing my own career trajectory. I did it for one very simple reason: I was inspired and wanted to be a part of the truly special thing happening in this city. Since then, I have become deeply invested here, grown a family here and work as an engaged community member to realize a stronger Pittsfield. For me, it all began with an original spark of optimism a decade ago.

As I worked with Mayor Ruberto for two years in his office, and then for two years as a city councilor, I had the chance to experience how persistence and an excellent working relationship with the City Council and the wider community could lead to tremendous results. We proved the doubters wrong time and time, again. We became a model for success.

During this time I had the opportunity for the first time to work with then-City Councilor Linda Tyer. She always saw the greater potential in the public-private partnerships that landed Pittsfield with new attractions, jobs and tens of millions of dollars in new private investment.

I was impressed with her professionalism and her ability to respectfully challenge the administration, often making a proposal stronger. Give and take from councilors was welcomed and expected. We did not always agree on every issue, but we did the hard work to find areas of common ground and compromise where we had differences.

This is in stark contrast to the current administration's style. When you disagree with Mayor Bianchi, there is rarely an opportunity to seek compromise, and the perceived affront is not soon forgotten. In a recent debate, Ms. Tyer summed up the difference in communication style perfectly, saying, "Those who challenge me won't be sidelined."

In spite of his consistent opposition to some of the most important initiatives of the previous administration when he was a city councilor, I see Mayor Bianchi now attempting to take credit for several projects that started and gathered steam during the Ruberto tenure. In particular, Mr. Bianchi is now touting that he resurrected a stalled new high school project.

TACONIC BACKGROUND

As an eight-year member of the school building needs commission who has been involved in the dynamics of this project for many years, I would like to shed light on how we got to "yes" on a new high school.

In an earlier stage of the new high school process in 2008, then-Councilor Bianchi actually voted against the critical school project "statement of interest" to the state that allowed the process to continue. If a majority of councilors had voted the same way, the project would have been killed back then.

When the project did stall in Boston, the persistence of state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier got the project back on track. Then, it was building commission chairwoman Kathy Amuso and School Superintendent Jake McCandless, who diligently steered the ship to the final proposal.

At the most critical time of the process: to bolster community support and lobby the City Council to earn the essential eight votes for final approval of the project, Mayor Bianchi was precariously absent. Because of the efforts of a diverse committee of parents, School Committee members and other key supporters leading an organized effort, we did manage to earn a unanimous vote from the council in favor of the new school. This happened despite Mayor Bianchi's reluctance to lead from the front.

This is where the difference between Mr. Bianchi and Ms. Tyer is like night and day.

When you speak with Linda and hear her unwavering commitment to improve the city, there is a clarity that cannot be mistaken. Her type of leadership galvanizes support and will not leave people wondering where she stands on an issue. It's that kind of passion that is noticed in Boston when we advocate for state support and funding for strategic projects in Pittsfield. It's this kind of passion that inspires people to join in and invest in our city once again.

We once said, without any irony, that we aimed to become the "Greatest small city in the Northeast." Linda Tyer is clearly the only candidate that can renew this powerful spirit in the city of Pittsfield.

John Krol is city councilor for Ward 6.

------------

"Tyer will get Pittsfield moving forward again"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 21, 2015

To the editor:

Pittsfield can live in the same old, same old past, or move toward a progressive future. That is what I see as the choice we have in the upcoming mayoral election. One candidate continues to live in the past and talk about all his accomplishments even though the seeds of those accomplishments were sown by past administrations: Streetscape, the Common, and the airport improvements to name a few.

That candidate even spoke in a public forum about not approving of some of the financing for the airport, yet praised its completion. The current mayor touts the wonderful Pittsfield of the present that we live in, when in fact he had nothing to do with it.

It is time to have an all-inclusive administration that governs with transparency and cooperation, not behind closed doors and with "because I can" arrogance. To change the culture of this city and to once again move it forward, we need to have Linda Tyer as our next mayor.

When I first ran for office, I said that Pittsfield is not what it once was but it doesn't deserve to be what it is. The city did move forward and everyone took notice. Now we have taken two steps back over the past four years. Linda Tyer will fire the engine once again to move Pittsfield forward.

Lew Markham, Pittsfield
The writer is a former Ward 1 city councilor.

------------

“Bianchi a follower, not leader for city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 21, 2015

To the editor:

During elections opinions are often asserted as facts; this year's Pittsfield mayoral race is no exception. In a recent letter to the editor, Paul Jalacky gave Mayor Bianchi credit for several initiatives. Curious, I decided to "do my homework" and explore the record; I came up with the following information.

FICTION: Mayor Bianchi is responsible for the new Taconic high school, grant-funded in large part by the state.

FACTS: As a city councilor, Mayor Bianchi voted against the statement of interest to engage with the state's School Building Authority. He did not support this community investment initiated by Mayor Ruberto. Designing a new state-of-the-art high school and developing a modern education plan were the result of committed efforts by the School Building Needs Commission, the superintendent of schools, City Councilor Kathy Amuso, State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier and many volunteers.

FICTION: Mayor Bianchi is responsible for the week-on/week-off school schedule for vocational students praised by anticipated business partners.

FACT: This program was developed by the School Committee and led by the Superintendent of Schools. It grew out of the frustration felt by students, parents, and educators who wanted a more stable vocational experience.

FICTION: Mayor Bianchi added two officers to the police department.

FACT: Despite a recommendation made by his own Police Advisory Commission to add 10 police officers, Mayor Bianchi submitted a budget with zero new police officers. The initiative to add two policemen came from the City Council.

FICTION: Mayor Bianchi proposed the tax title auction, the first in the city's history, which recovered more than $2 million for the city.

FACT: This was first proposed in 2011 by Ward 4 City Councilor Chris Connell.

In addition, it's important to note that when Mayor Bianchi was a councilman, he voted against the development of the Colonial Theatre, the expansion of the Berkshire Museum, and the creation of the Office of Cultural Development.

Please don't ignore the facts. Vote for Linda Tyer for mayor on Nov. 3.

Myrna Hammerling, Pittsfield

------------

“Ignore empty words, re-elect Bianchi”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 21, 2015

To the editor:

With the mayoral election scheduled for Nov. 3, I often hear a lot of people talking about "change". There is a billboard sign that reads, "Time for change." Change is a vague term. What is the "change" you seek? Because change for one could mean something completely different for another.

Someone running for office will use the word "change" often. Then they will proceed to attempt to be all things to all people, promising to make many different issues a top priority in their administration. The reality, however, is that these promises ring hollow and become nothing more than empty rhetoric. It seems wonderful, but it is not realistic to someone who is in office and hampered by budget constraints and a limited tax base.

Much has been said about what Mayor Dan Bianchi has done in the four years he has been in office. What I would like to add is that, in him, we have a man who is honest, forthright, prudent, and fiscally responsible. Dan is fully invested in this community. His business background is a plus in his role as a mayor. Integrity in politics is in very short supply these days and we are fortunate enough to have these attributes in our current mayor.

Tyer supporters beware. Do your homework. Educate yourself on who is behind her campaign. The change you seek is nothing more than a return to the same old thing. Change? Change should come within each of us. Rather than point fingers, we can all do our part in bettering this city and help Mayor Bianchi to continue to move this city forward.

Scott Steinman, Pittsfield

------------

"DiSantis returned to city he believes in"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 21, 2015

To the editor:

What we do not need in Pittsfield are small-town political cliques. What we do need is someone young who has the drive to make this city what it once was, flourishing and safe.

Taylor DiSantis has this drive. His character and work ethic are one of the best I have seen in a long time. Taylor, like many of our children, went off to college and fulfilled his dream of getting a degree. The difference is that along the way, he thought of his roots, his family, and what makes the Berkshires great.

Upon graduating, he did what many of our young people do not do — he came back to the Berkshires. He has this drive to see our younger generation come back to the Berkshires and be successful or perhaps start a business, fall in love and raise a family.

Taylor is driven to be a positive in the political setting by putting people first. Please vote for Taylor DiSantis so our city still has a fighting chance.

Leah Ferro, Pittsfield

------------

“Tyer will rekindle hope and excitement”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 22, 2015

To the editor:

I support Linda Tyer for mayor of Pittsfield as I believe she will more effectively help revitalize Pittsfield.

The noticeable progress made in the 2000s has stalled in the past few years. We must rekindle that earlier hope and excitement. Pittsfield is a city, and cities come with problems, but problems have solutions that can be solved by communication, cooperation and compassion.

Linda has the temperament and desire to listen and inspire people to come together for the betterment of Pittsfield, its residents, businesses, visitors, neighborhoods and conservation lands. Her strong track record in public service and knowledge of how government works gives me confidence she can successfully lead the city for the next four years.

Let's work together with Linda to help Pittsfield address its problems and finally reach its true potential!

Libby Herland, Pittsfield

------------

“Fend off divisiveness in Pittsfield, North Adams”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 22, 2015

To the editor:

After reading Keith Bona's letter of Oct. 19 I remembered the late Yogi Berra's humorous statement, "It was like deja vu all over again."

The former administration in Pittsfield has been grooming Mayor Bianchi's opponent and schooling her in the ways of the past. Bona's letter described ways that former North Adams Mayor John Barrett made threats, engineered power plays, created enemies lists, waged war on dissenters, never allowed criticism and divided the city of North Adams. I was left with an eerie feeling that the whole county might be in danger of returning to the dark days of fear and retribution. Having lived in North Adams for a time during the Barrett administration I can attest to Mr. Bona's concerns. Imagine my shock when I moved to Pittsfield and witnessed the same type of activity here before Mayor Bianchi took office.

Voters beware! The similarities in North Adams and Pittsfield are startling. Keep that wall of divisiveness down. Vote for the incumbent mayors in both Pittsfield and North Adams and keep the whole county moving forward.

Phyllis Smith, Pittsfield

------------

“Election in Pittsfield matters to neighbors”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 22, 2015

To the editor:

To all the registered voters of Pittsfield, I am asking you to get out there on Nov. 3 and vote. There are many of us who pay property taxes and business taxes yet do not live in Pittsfield and therefore cannot vote. We work, socialize, shop and do business in Pittsfield. We too are concerned and affected by what happens in Pittsfield.

I was born and lived most of my life in Pittsfield. Except for the past 18 years I could vote. (I am a three-minute walk to Pittsfield so I did not move far). Until recently I had two small businesses with a total of 30-plus years. My concern has always been — when is Pittsfield going to expand its tax base with jobs replacing the losses we have had throughout 30 years? We did not just lose GE but many good employers and it is still happening.

We need broadband expansion, road infrastructure that makes sense, work-ready high school grads and jobs for college grads to come back to so we have an ample labor force to offer prospective employers. Sooner, not later. Now, not in 10 years! There is an exodus of sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters. Where is the balance if we cannot offer job opportunity for future generations? Not just where but when is Pittsfield's future? I see movement in some areas but there needs to be movement forward in the areas that will grow and sustain us.

One of my biggest concerns, especially when I had my businesses, was for safety and security in a community that has been terribly affected by drug addiction and all the residual effects that go with it. Whole families suffer. This is not new but it has not subsided but flourished.

For these reasons, if I could vote, I would vote for Linda Tyer for mayor! Not because she is a woman but because she is capable, qualified, hard-working, good listener whose approach is all-inclusive. She has a fresh passion for Pittsfield and the knowledge to make it work for all of its citizens. She is willing to take on a job that most of us would not dare accept.

Isn't it time to try to change our path with a "yes we can"? I keep asking "Why not Pittsfield?". You are a great community of talented people who give and give and give so why not have the city you deserve. You are smack dab in the middle of one of the most beautiful places in the US. You are the center of the Berkshires! Let's make it the center for everything positive and hopeful! Let's go only in the forward direction! Will there is a will, there is a way! Linda has that will!

So please get out there and vote!

Patty Simonetta, Lanesborough
The writer is former owner of Tahiti Takeout and Pateez Boutique.

------------

“Mayor's blame game wins vote for Tyer”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 22, 2015

To the editor:

I've lived in Pittsfield for five years and love the city, the many friends I've made and all the great amenities on offer here. Even though basic municipal functions like road maintenance and code enforcement have clearly gone downhill over the last four years, there's nowhere I'd rather live and work.

So it was distressing to tune into the Oct. 19 mayoral candidate debate at Berkshire Community College and hear the incumbent repeatedly blame the blight he hasn't tackled and the neighborhood decay he's failed to address on a predecessor who's been out of office for four years.

Mayor Bianchi's odd ramblings about the "unseen forces" only he can apparently see and oppose are the latest symptom of the paranoia and divisiveness he's instilled at City Hall.

We all deserve a mayor who'll keep sidewalks clear in the winter and the roads patched and passable in the spring, but more importantly we need a problem solver who builds broad coalitions, not a blamer who surrounds himself with cronies.

That's why I'll be voting for Linda Tyer on Nov. 3. I know many others who are interested in good, honest government will join me.

Igor Greenwald, Pittsfield

------------

“Marchetti helps city on and off City Council”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 22, 2015

To the editor:

On Nov. 3 we have a very important election for our city government. I hope you will join me in electing Peter Marchetti to our City Council as a councilor at large.

He has a proven track record, on and off the council. During his eight years on the council he served as vice president of the council and chair of the Finance Committee. He also served on the City Charter Commission, Traffic Commission, Conservation Commission, and School Building Needs, to name a few. His involvement in community organizations includes Berkshire United Way, Berkshire Community Television Board, Morningside Initiative, and a huge job, president of the Fourth of July Parade. We know that if you want a job done, you ask a busy person.

During his time in office some of the things that he supported included the relocation of Barrington Stage to Pittsfield, transfer to GIC insurance, refurbishment of the Rice Silk Mill into apartments and welcoming the LTI Smart Glass Company to the city. He voted for several projects which were completed after he left office four years ago, airport expansion, Streetscape, renovation of the Pittsfield Common, and the new Taconic High School.

Economic development, job creation, and neighborhood revitalization will be his top priorities. Peter will support educational initiatives as he did during his tenure in office. He feels that code enforcement, which was passed during his tenure in office, is necessary to ensure that safe, affordable, and quality housing is available for all of our citizens.

I have only listed some of Pete's activities and priorities. He runs the Youth Bowling League in Pittsfield, is manager for the Berkshire County Bowling League, and president of the State Bowling League.

Please join me in voting for Peter Marchetti as councilor at large on Nov. 3. This election is very important for our city.

Harriet Hunt, Pittsfield

------------

“Pittsfield to get $15K federal grant to fight poverty”
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, October 22, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A $15,000 Federal Reserve of Boston grant will go toward devising "complex, systemic changes" to stem poverty and build a fairer city, according to its administers.

The applicants, culled from 27 city organizations, discovered Wednesday night that Pittsfield would be one of 14 Massachusetts cities receiving Working Cities Challenge design grants. The others include Springfield, Chicopee, Worcester, Lowell and New Bedford.

Much of the work will focus on getting into specific neighborhoods — on the West Side, Morningside and the rest of the city — and talking to residents about what they perceive to be the most efficacious solutions to local poverty.

In six months' time, the grant's facilitators, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, among others, will prepare a second grant application requesting implementation funds — to the tune of $700,000 or more.

"As opposed to trying to get people to come to our meetings, we'll be going to where they already are," CBHH Executive Director Carolyn Valli said. "It's really going to be something to watch."

As part of the grant, five local participants plan to travel to Indianapolis to receive training in the Bridges Out of Poverty program, which according to its website specializes "in reducing the barriers to success posed by economic class differences among people and groups."

"A lot of people are very excited about bringing [Bridges Out of Poverty] to the Berkshires," Valli said.

She added, "We know that there are tons of barriers. We're going to be asking people what are those barriers and how can we really break them down. In an ideal world, it would bring about a more level playing field in our community, so everybody has equal opportunity, particularly for jobs, and a real stake in our community."

Problems those involved expect to tackle vary but, according to BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel W. Karns, include "educational issues, lack of transportation issues, health issues and employment issues.

"It's not more studies we need; most of us working on this understand the parameters. What we want is to have a much deeper discussion within the neighborhoods and with the people living in poverty about what will best serve their needs," Karns said. "It's about empowering people and getting them engaged to help themselves by being involved."

The grant, a new offering only in its second year, targets smaller-size cities, particularly those hit by declining industry. It intends to give resources to community leaders so they might "provide outcomes that benefit residents who are under-resourced."

The 14 cities awarded these $15,000 grants will compete for a smaller number of much larger three-year implementation grants in spring 2016.

Pittsfield Public Schools, Berkshire Health Systems, the local NAACP chapter, Berkshire United Way and Berkshire Community Action Council are just some of the organizations that will have representatives taking part in the forthcoming efforts.

"I think what's important is that it's a broad-based collaboration, and I am impressed to see who is at the table," said Pittsfield Housing Specialist and Fair Housing Officer Justine Dodds. "We know that the work ahead will help to eliminate barriers to resources, and that's a good thing for our community's residents."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. pdemers@berkshireeagle.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter.

------------

“Tyer will be a needed full-time mayor”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 23, 2015

To the editor:

As you enter the voting booth for the upcoming mayoral election I urge you to ask yourself just one question: Is Pittsfield going to be better in four years with the same "leadership" it has now? I've answered that question with a No. I'm concerned for the city that I grew up in.

We are losing yet another large employer and there is again nothing on the horizon to replace them. The ripple effect of this will impact our property values, our locally owned businesses and our schools.

Our schools aren't performing up to standards. Our teachers have taken to social media to ask people to buy books for their classrooms because they don't have enough for every student. How can we expect our children to compete when they can't even bring a biology book home to study because one book is being shared with several classes? We are losing our best and brightest students to school choice in our surrounding towns.

Our police and fire departments are expected to do more with less. There is a disconnect between City Hall and these departments. Our citizens don't feel safe or protected.

I believe our city will have a chance to reclaim itself with a mayor that is devoted full time to the job of running our city. A mayor who can take the time to visit employers, that won't be caught off guard and have time to formulate a plan.

I believe Linda Tyer is the right person for this full-time job. It's time for a change.

Karen Winslow, Pittsfield

------------

“Pittsfield can't afford not to re-elect Bianchi”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 23, 2015

To the editor:

As a senior citizen and homeowner on a fixed income I have been carefully weighing the platforms and qualifications of the two mayoral candidates in an effort to make the best choice possible in the upcoming Nov. 3 election.

I have come to the conclusion that I cannot afford to vote for Mayor Bianchi's opponent, because if you are "with her," you better bring your wallet! I cannot imagine what my tax bill would look like if she actually were to implement all of her so-called, "priorities." Priorities which include: universal Pre-K education (with a price-tag of $2.9 million); a Cure Violence Program, (costing $ 1.5 million); more police, fire and D.P.W. workers, more traffic bureau officers; a larger anti-gang unit; more sub-contractors to plow in the winter months; week-end garbage pick-up at the city's 29 parks; a new Springside dog park; a new Westside Community Center; the creation of a river walk and Riverside park in the West end; and my two particular favorites: a program to bring young professionals to the city for three or four days to "soak up" the culture and beauty of our area, (on my dime) and a new procedure for boarding up vacant properties with brand new doors and windows.

How on earth does she plan to pay for these frivolous expenditures? Can anyone say "higher taxes?" At the recent Conte Community School debate Mayor Bianchi correctly stated, "When you are mayor you can't simply throw dollars at every single thing that you want. You can't keep burdening the taxpayer."

Please vote to re-elect Mayor Bianchi on Nov. 3, we can't afford not to.

Diane M. Ferrero, Pittsfield

------------

“White is advocate of city businesses”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 23, 2015

To the editor:

I own two homes in Pittsfield and am a small business owner downtown. I care deeply about this city and know that it is time for a change. I know we can do better as a community but not without the help of a strong-minded, capable and caring city administration.

I am supporting Pete White for councilor at large because of his dedication to supporting local business. Pete stops in and discusses local issues with myself and other shop owners year round, election year or not. It doesn't surprise me to see the support he is getting from downtown business owners.

Pete knows this city and he knows the struggles its residents and business owners face on a daily basis and he truly cares. I ask that you please join me in voting for Pete White for councilor at large on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Pittsfield residents and business owners need and deserve this kind of support and dedication.

Rebecca Barnini, Pittsfield

------------

“Not a politician, Rivers is a public servant”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 23, 2015

To the editor:

When I think about the word politician a certain image comes to mind. I see a sterile figure, polished and proper, who tries to do the right thing, projects the right image and says exactly what the public wants to hear. When I think of the term "public servant" I see a completely different image. I see someone who not only works for the people but also works with the people for the betterment of the community.

In the city of Pittsfield, Donna Todd Rivers has proven to take a hands-on/front line approach when working with people in the community to make Pittsfield a better place.

Personally, I'm not looking for a politician to follow; I'm looking for someone to lead by example for the people of this amazing city. With that being said, my vote on Nov. 3 is going to be for Donna Todd Rivers, Ward 5 Councilor.

Ty Allan Jackson, Pittsfield

------------

“Gaetani will reduce budget and taxes”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 23, 2015

To the editor:

The Pittsfield mayoral election is fast approaching and if Linda Tyer or Dan Bianchi win the election it spells doom for the city's senior citizens.

With no COLA raises in 2016 for our seniors it means they will have to stretch their meager monthly checks even further. The city must start refiguring the cost of government here in Pittsfield.

Only one mayoral candidate has detailed specifics as to how to reduce the city budget dramatically. Craig C. Gaetani, a write-in candidate for mayor on Nov. 3, has zeroed in on the school budget as the area where drastic cost trimming must occur.

Mr. Gaetani has stated that if elected mayor he will reduce the city budget by seven percent per year for the next four years. Many think this is unattainable, but Mr. Gaetani has concrete plans to do just that.

Reducing the overall budget by 28 percent over four years is the only sound fiscal measure which will reduce the high personal and property taxes. If these two taxes are reduced, people will move to Pittsfield and so will new businesses that will employ more city residents and increase the tax base. In this way all of us can live here and paw fewer taxes as the tax base will be increased.

This may seem to be a drastic move but the drastic situation here in Pittsfield requires drastic moves. As Mr. Gaetani has said many times, to save our city will require sacrifice by everyone. Saving our city requires reduced property and business taxes — there is no alternative.

It is time to get behind Mr. Gaetani, a seasoned and successful corporate executive, for mayor.

David A. Gaetani, Pittsfield
The writer is the brother of Craig C. Gaetani.

------------

“Dedicated White will work hard for Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 23, 2015

To the editor:

I am writing to ask the citizens of Pittsfield to vote for Pete White for councilor at large on Nov. 3.

I have known Pete for over nine years now as a coworker, friend and a dedicated citizen of Pittsfield. He is always the first one to lend a hand in any capacity he can. He is genuinely a true gentleman who cares deeply for his city. Your city! With him you always get an honest answer.

He supports local venues every day and promotes them on his Facebook page. There is no doubt, Pete is proud of his city. He will listen to any concerns you may have, as well as, work to get a solution for the betterment of your city.

If you truly want someone who will work hard for your city, then please vote for Pete White. He will work with you and for you.

Ginny Coppola, Pittsfield

------------

“Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi 'disappointed' challenger skipped TV debate”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, October 23, 2015

PITTSFIELD - With no challenger to debate, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi answered questions in a one-on-one format on Friday afternoon at Springfield television station WWLP-22News.

"Today, I participated in an empty-chair debate at 22News," Bianchi said in a prepared release. The mayor said he was "extremely disappointed" in City Clerk Linda M. Tyer's decision not to take part.

WWLP-22News also hosted a debate in September in which three candidates on the preliminary ballot were present, including Tyer and Donna Walto, who was eliminated in the preliminary race.

"My opponent and I have agreed that the most important part of any campaign is the opportunity to discuss the issues facing our community, which is why, after the preliminary election, I immediately challenged my opponent to a series of debates," Bianchi said. "I was pleased that my opponent accepted the invitation immediately and, in fact, she was quoted in the local papers as saying 'Bring it on.' "

Tyer responded later Friday: "I agreed to five debates following the primary election and have confirmed participation in six." She listed debates or forums by the West Side Initiative, the Pittsfield Gazette, Berkshire Community College Service Learning, the United Educators of Pittsfield and Berkshire News Network.

"The final debate will be held on Oct. 29, hosted by Dan Valenti," she said. "I have eagerly participated in these important forums as I believe they are the best ways to have open, frank discussions on the many issues facing Pittsfield. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend today's debate, and that declination was provided to WWLP on Oct. 7. I am still working hard full-time to serve the people of Pittsfield as city clerk. I'm doing my best to manage all of my responsibilities as city clerk and mayoral candidate."

"While I understand the rigors of scheduling this late in the campaign," Bianchi said, "and certainly appreciate the challenges we each face balancing our responsibilities as public officials while campaigning, I believe that the voters in Pittsfield deserve every opportunity to hear from both candidates as often as possible before Nov. 3."

A spokesman for the mayor said he also plans to attend Thursday's debate, which will be the last in the mayoral race during the fall campaign season.

jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter

------------

“Pittsfield's momentum is readily apparent”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 24, 2015

To the editor:

In response to Denise Yon's Oct. 18 letter "Tyer will restore progressive approach," stating that under the current administration "a steady erosion of the city's forward momentum has occurred," I suggest Ms. Yon take another stroll through the downtown area.

In addition to venues she credited to the previous administration, she missed Studious Baker, Dominion Dealer Solutions, a British/Irish market called Brits R US, a new jewelry store, an ethnic market, the European delicatessen, Methuselah Bar and Lounge, the Yoga Studio, District Kitchen & Bar Restaurant, Jay Allen sports bar, the Shoe Medic, newly opened branches of Lee Bank and NBT Bank, Hotel on North, which has a new restaurant and 45 guest rooms, 25 units of upscale market rate apartments with more to come, a revamped and expanded farmers market, and the Common, newly renovated and host to Shakespeare in the Park. That is just some of what has been happening downtown under this administration — not what I would call a "steady erosion of the city's forward momentum."

In addition to downtown development, this administration has secured a grant to develop the Morningside area, helping businesses and housing, brought to fruition a state grant of $9.7 million intended for a life sciences center for the building of a Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) and brought the "conversation" for a new Taconic High School to reality.

Not only will the Taconic High School be built touting state-of-the-art technology and vocational training, it will tie in and partner with BIC and Berkshire Community college to educate our kids and give them 21st century skills to get good jobs here in the Berkshires. Other institutions that have signed on to be members are Williams College, MCLA, UMass, Suny College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering, RPI and Bay State Medical Center. General Dynamics will contribute $50,000, the Berkshire Bank Foundation provided $40,000, and in addition, will contribute up to $750 for each paid intern hired by BIC member companies.

How can anyone call the work done for Pittsfield by this administration a study erosion of the city's forward momentum is beyond comprehension. This is the most forward-moving vision this city has had since GE departed. Let's keep it going and re-elect Dan Bianchi for four more years.

Kathy Righi Pittsfield

------------

“Tyer prepared to be Pittsfield's first four-year mayor”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 24, 2015

To the editor:

One of the main purposes I supported extending the Pittsfield mayor's term to four years during the review of the City Charter was to allow the city's chief executive time to do the job that he or she is elected to do. This means leading the city through the vision articulated on the campaign trail, to fully evaluate city staff and resources to make sure they are allocated correctly, and to build momentum in moving the city forward on multiple fronts.

To me, there is no better candidate than Linda Tyer to become our first four-year term mayor. I had the pleasure of working with then Ward 3 City Councilor Tyer when I was first elected in 2007. Linda taught me by example how to treat the public and colleagues with respect whether our views were in line or not. I learned how to prepare for a meeting studying all angles of an issue with an open mind and then clearly, and articulately expressing a point of view.

I joined Linda and the majority of our colleagues in consistently supporting the School Building Needs proposals to the state to facilitate our ability to develop a partnership regarding a state-of-the-art high school. Linda showed her collaboration, one of her strongest skills, working with Councilor Jonathan Lothrop to evaluate the state of the city's health insurance plan. She researched all aspects and educated the employees and government alike of the pros and cons.

Linda worked tirelessly for Ward 3 and also looked to promote the city as a whole, supporting the efforts of the Colonial Theatre, the Beacon Cinema, and by supporting anti-blight measures.

As City Council president, I was fortunate to work with Linda in her role as city clerk as well. Linda was unfailing in her professionalism and her ability to foresee potential challenges and to seek resolution or next steps. In my time working with Linda, she has always been proactive and driven to find solutions, not reactive waiting for problems or issues to occur. She has provided a positive, energetic presence in all of her elected positions and I expect more of the same as mayor.

My family and I have chosen to live in Pittsfield as have many other young families. We need a mayor like Linda Tyer for the next four years to develop what will be our future going forward. We need a mayor who will understand our challenges but not accept them and who will focus on what Pittsfield can do as opposed to what it can't do.

Please join me on Nov. 3 in voting for Linda Tyer as the next mayor of Pittsfield and our first four-year mayor.

Kevin J. Sherman, Pittsfield
The writer is the former president of the Pittsfield City Council.

------------

“Rivers has shown her commitment to city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 24, 2015

To the editor:

The most important experience that a ward councilor needs is community involvement. That is what Donna Todd Rivers will bring to Ward 5. She has lived in the ward most of her life, serves on four community boards and is thoroughly familiar with the issues facing the ward and city, such as jobs, crime, blighted properties, and street maintenance.

In addition, Ward 5 contains some very important city properties, including the airport and Wild Acres. Donna knows that her neighbors want their voices heard in regard to these properties and other concerns. She is highly accessible, a great listener, caring, and an effective advocate.

Finally, we work with Donna on her Berkshire Viewpoint show on PCTV, and are always impressed with her willingness to address difficult topics, such as race and homelessness, in a direct and empathetic way.

We urge you to vote for Donna Todd Rivers for Ward 5 city councilor on Nov. 3. Her commitment to the community is second to none.

Brian and Kimberly Kelly, Pittsfield

------------

“Disturbed by mayor's anger, defensiveness”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 25, 2015

To the editor:

I have just finished listening to the mayoral debate on WBEC between candidate for mayor, Linda Tyer, and Mayor Daniel Bianchi, with Tom Conklin moderating. I am trying to understand how Mr. Bianchi has been the leader of our city for four years with the arrogant, unprofessional attitude displayed during this debate.

I have watched previous debates on PCTV or attended them in person. I have noticed with each debate, Mayor Bianchi has become more angry and critical of others who have held elected or appointed city positions. Today's debate brought to light the deep resentment that he has for people who disagree with him and to blame rather than find solutions. Does Mayor Bianchi take responsibility for any issue Pittsfield is facing?

It is clear to me that had I not already been a supporter of Linda Tyer, today's debate and the angry responses to questions by Mayor Bianchi would have made me change my mind. The debate assured me that Mayor Bianchi does not have the professionalism and the temperament to be "the face of Pittsfield." He is quick to blame previous administrations and councilors rather than take any responsibility for things that have not been done. Mayor Bianchi has had four years to turn the city around if, as he says, issues were not his doing – they were "inherited."

The mayor of Pittsfield needs to be inclusive and open to new and innovative ideas from staff, council, department heads, and city employees, as well as ordinary citizens of this and other communities. That office requires an openness and a passion to bring ALL ideas to the table.

In contrast to our current mayor, Linda has a very inclusive approach to issues. She will listen, evaluate, and coordinate with others. She is inspiring and has a very positive attitude in bringing our city back to being a safe, vibrant community.

Linda is excited about buckling down to work for all of us. Please give her your vote on Nov. 3. I'm with Linda now more than ever.

Isabel (Belle) O'Brien, Pittsfield

------------

“Mayor a good leader through tough times”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 25, 2015

To the editor:

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to talk about the ways that things could be better in Pittsfield, or for that matter, any other city in New England. It does, however, take a lot of practical ability to get the most done with whatever limited resources are available.

When I evaluate people or projects that I am considering, I always look beyond the talk and focus on what has actually been delivered. That helps better inform me as to what I can expect for future success. The same goes for politics.

The current political and economic climate is different than any that I have experienced or studied. As time has passed and more data has become available for analysis, it is becoming clear that the national economic "recovery" of the last five years has been anything but. We have falling job growth, real net unemployment increases, and a federal interest policy that has painted itself into a corner, along with a slumping world market that is affecting our country, our commonwealth, and our city.

Approximately 62 percent of Americans in a recent study now have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21 percent don't even have a savings account. Drug-driven crime as well as health and social service problems are growing in leaps and bounds across the U.S. I know of no city that isn't in trouble today with these exact issues and I know of no city that is handling these serious challenges any better than Pittsfield.

When I voted for Dan Bianchi it was a vote of confidence that he would handle problems as a thoughtful, capable, empathetic, and strategically skilled mayor. On Mayor Bianchi's watch we have seen tough decisions made about how to fight back against those things that degrade our quality of life. Mayor Bianchi is leading the way forward by making the difficult choices for a better long and short term future for Pittsfield.

It takes a skillful and experienced understanding of municipal budgets and planning to get the necessary jobs done while keeping the cost as low as possible. Mayor Bianchi has done that.

I've never known a harder working, more capable, or civic minded Mayor than Dan Bianchi and I hope that we'll all enjoy the continued benefit that his work brings to our city. Please join me in voting for Dan Bianchi for mayor of Pittsfield.

Terry Holland, Pittsfield

------------

“Rivers demonstrates why voting matters”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 25, 2015

To the editor:

I am a business women and owner in Pittsfield of KidZone Child Care Educational Centers, Inc. for 15 years, and KidZone Transportation division of 12 years. I am writing in regards to why I became a registered voter.

I was never into politics and never thought my vote mattered, so why bother? All that changed when I met Donna Todd Rivers. We met at her place of business when I started creating family memories with my grandchildren, along with working with her and her staff on activities for my business. We would talk about business in general and the issues going on in Pittsfield.

We became fast friends and found out we had a lot in common. When I heard Donna was running for Ward 5 city councilor, I knew that my vote did matter — and my trip to City Hall to become a registered voter had not been in vain!

I remember walking out of City Hall that day with a smile on my face knowing that I was going to be able to help a friend who is going to make a difference not only in Pittsfield, but also is making a difference in my life.

Please go and vote for Donna Todd Rivers for Ward 5 councilor on Nov. 3. I know she has my vote!

Susan J. Robert, Pittsfield
The writer is executive director of KidZone Child Care & Educational Centers.

------------

“DiSantis offers a fresh perspective”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 25, 2015

To the editor:

I have known Taylor DiSantis for over 10 years and he is a hard-working, loyal and caring person. Taylor is who you want in your corner as a teammate, a friend and our soon to be Pittsfield city councilor at large.

As a young adult building my future in Pittsfield, I'm eager to see Taylor join the City Council. A fresh perspective is exactly what Pittsfield needs to build a bright future that will encourage Pittsfield college graduates to return to the Berkshires. Taylor is experienced in politics but more importantly he has the drive to make changes in our community. Taylor will listen to Pittsfield residents and go to work.

Jessica Healy, Pittsfield

------------

"Change agent Lloyd will be good councilor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 25, 2015

To the editor:

I've been impressed with Kathy Lloyd's activism on a variety of important local issues in recent years. From food truck regulation to mosquito control and other environmental issues, Kathy has demonstrated a clear and common sense approach to change.

Kathy gets out and talks to people, she listens, and she does her homework on the issues, and therefore she's not afraid to stand up to local government when needed to champion logical, forward-thinking policy decisions in our city.

Kathy Lloyd is doing good things for us, and will do even more good things with us as our Ward 7 city councilor.

Tisha Giles, Pittsfield

------------

“Bianchi offers skill, a proven record”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 26, 2015

To the editor:

I am writing to support Dan Bianchi for mayor of Pittsfield.

I have had positive experiences working with Dan. As a former mayor and also having served the city in several capacities, I feel that I have a unique insight into the job of mayor.

I can attest to the fact that Dan has done well over the last four years, considering the divided City Council that he has had to work with. It should be noted that Dan previously served as city finance director and was responsible to plan the entire city budget, while his opponent's position as city clerk has little or nothing to do with the overall management of city operations and government.

While I respect the right of everyone to support the candidate of their choice, it appears that there is a group in the community including former city officials that is vigorously supporting Dan's opponent, and their goal may be to regain influence through that support. The voters in Pittsfield need to recognize that there are those who believe they are entitled to control the city's destiny.

We need to recognize Dan Bianchi's most notable accomplishments guiding the city through long-term issues such as dealing with Taconic High School to resolve that matter, a process that took years. Many residents may not be aware that the majority of the costs involved with re-building Taconic will be funded or reimbursed by the commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition, the city is being maintained with many road work improvements including the complete resurfacing of Pomeroy Avenue, Crane Avenue, Fenn Street, and Elm Street to name some that have been completed just this year.

He recognizes that many issues remain, while realizing that there is only so much money available for them. Over time, I am confident that with Dan's background dealing with budgets and forecasts, that the reasonable and appropriate issues can be prioritized and handled successfully to completion in a timely manner. He makes no promises to accomplish the impossible.

Pittsfield voters must remember that they are voting for a 4-year term for mayor and it is essential to have someone who has demonstrated the skill and ability with a proven record. We must not take a risk with a candidate who lacks the experience to do the job.

Join me in enthusiastic support on Nov. 3 to re-elect Dan Bianchi so he can continue his work toward Pittsfield's success.

Edward M. Reilly, Pittsfield
The writer is a former Mayor of Pittsfield.

------------

“Tyer is committed to a better city”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 27, 2015

To the editor:

In this year's city elections, Pittsfield voters must decide what direction the city will take in the future. I know I want a mayor who listens and cares about the people who live here. I want a full-time mayor who will work hard to improve the quality of life here in Pittsfield. I want a mayor who is committed to addressing our city's issues neighborhood by neighborhood and street by street.

I don't like negative politics and I don't like outsiders telling us who to vote for, I am fully capable of making up my own mind. On Election day I will proudly cast my vote for Linda Tyer for mayor.

Joseph H. Engwer, Pittsfield

------------

“Elect a progressive, positive mayor in Tyer”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 27, 2015

To the editor:

When I moved to Pittsfield in 2003, local government, and especially the City Council, was in disarray. Negativity was everywhere.

A group of Pittsfielders decided to do something about the sorry state of affairs. They thought electing positive, progressive women to the council would be a great start. And so they founded WHEN, an acronym for Women Helping Empower Neighborhoods (though some say it really stood for "we've had enough nonsense.") Its first public meeting was overwhelmed with enormous enthusiasm and support. It was truly time for change in Pittsfield.

That year, WHEN interviewed a number of women interested in running for City Council, and chose three to support: one of them was Linda Tyer. The selection process was rigorous: they were looking for candidates who were smart, progressive, collaborative and positive: willing to work hard to change our community for the better.

Not only did WHEN support three candidates for City Council, it inspired other new candidates to run. In late 2003, seven new city councilors won the election, and a new era in Pittsfield politics began: one where the city's elected officials worked together to make good things happen in Pittsfield, and to turn the tide on the negativity that had threatened to swamp this beautiful city.

Linda Tyer was elected to Pittsfield City Council that year, and re-elected twice more as Ward 3 councilor. In 2009 she was appointed to the full-time position of city clerk at Pittsfield City Hall, heading up a busy department that includes overseeing elections, licensing, boards and commissions, and ethics.

She has served full-time in that position, "the hub of government for the general public, all city departments, and numerous federal, state, and local agencies," according to the city of Pittsfield's own website, for over six years, and has been elected and then reelected three times. She has continued to be a voice for intelligent, thoughtful change and progress, from advising the charter commission, to securing our municipal archives and running over a dozen elections.

We have been very fortunate to have Linda Tyer serving Pittsfield through elected public service for the past 12 years. Linda has the experience, the passion, the smarts, and the vision needed to lead us as mayor. She will bring back the positive, progressive and collaborative spirit our community must have to succeed in the coming years.

Please join me in electing Linda Tyer as our next mayor of Pittsfield on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Megan Whilden, Pittsfield

------------

“Pittsfield taxpayers have third choice for mayor”
By Craig C. Gaetani, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, October 27, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Dear city residents: The Nov. 3 mayoral election is fast approaching and unfortunately the two Good Old Boy special interest group candidates, Tyer and Bianchi, are the only two who will have their name on the ballot for mayor.

During the entire primary season neither ever mentioned anything of any significance. Both of these weak candidates sent out flyers to city voters which were supposed to detail their experience and plans for the city. Tyer's brochure was one of the poorest pieces of political punditry I have ever seen. It said absolutely nothing. Bianchi's mailing was a series of self-accolades with many disputable statements.

Many Pittsfield residents feel that with such poor candidates running for mayor they might just stay home and not vote on Nov. 3. This would be the worst thing any voter in the city could do as this would play into the game plan of the two weak candidates, the Good Old Boys and special interest groups; police, fire, school department, and city workers and their friends and family.

SPECIAL INTERESTS

With either Tyer or Bianchi it will be business as usual for the special interest groups. They will continue to get yearly raises, excellent medical coverage and plum retirement packages, all paid for by the taxpayers. This will be their reward for electing either of them mayor.

How big of a voting block are these special interest groups? Just under 5,000 citizens voted in the preliminary election. We can be certain that at least 95 percent of those who voted were the special interest groups and their families, friends and relatives. With 27,760 registered voters in the city of Pittsfield the special interest groups voters represent just under 18 percent of registered voters.

This means that there are 82 percent of we the registered voters who didn't vote in the primary and we can be certain that we are not part of the GOB and special interest groups. Said another way, 23,000 of the non-GOB special interest groups did not vote.

If we can get to the polls and vote for me, Craig C. Gaetani, as a write-in candidate for mayor Nov. 3 we will accomplish something not seen here in Pittsfield for the past 40 years and we will end the era of our city being run by the Good Old Boys, their money and the special interest groups. We need to break the stranglehold of these groups feeding at the public trough with we the taxpayers picking up the bill.

So you see, you 23,000 registered voters out there, those who didn't vote in the primary, you definitely have a choice on Nov. 3 with me as a write-in candidate for mayor. I have stated in detail what I plan to do as mayor to make the city better for all of us taxpayers. My plan includes reducing the present city budget of $150 million by 7 percent per year for a total budget reduction of 28 percent by the end of my four-year term. This will bring the personal property and business taxes down to a range which will be attractive to new people and new businesses, which will unquestionably broaden the tax base and make it easier for all of us to survive here.

Cutting 28 percent from the current budget over four years will indeed take sacrifice on everyone's part, but is the only logical solution to put the city back on a sound fiscal foundation. The alternative it Is to just let city spending go unchecked as it is now and sooner rather than later Pittsfield will be forced to have to file bankruptcy.

Detroit, Sacramento and several other large cities have gone the bankruptcy route because salaries, medical coverage, and plum retirement packages promised to the special interest groups during better fiscal times just couldn't be sustained under tough economic times and the cities had no other alternative other than bankruptcy.

Presently our cities OPEB account (Other Post Employee Benefits) promised to all past and present employees is short buy $416 million. This is the same account that forced Detroit and Sacramento to file for bankruptcy.

EXPERIENCED MANAGER

Now, city residents, it should become clear to you that Pittsfield is on the brink of disaster. I am an experienced corporate executive with vast managerial experience, having worked for many years as a corporate biologist, physicist, chemist, and world wide director of technical marketing for Krofta engineering corporation, Krofta Waters Inc. and presently a corporate executive in my business Gaetani, Wang scientific and engineering consultants

Let me put my 40 years experience of executive managerial experience to work for you as your mayor. Please vote for me as a write-in candidate for mayor on Nov. 3. On Jan. 3, 2016 we will start to turn our city toward prosperity again. We will do it together.

Craig C. Gaetani is a write-in candidate for mayor of Pittsfield.

------------

“In spite of his foes Bianchi did his job”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 27, 2015

To the editor:

Many of us have observed Pittsfield politics at its worst over the past four years. A few city councilors who seem to grasp all the media attention did everything possible to disrupt Mayor Bianchi's administration. They dug deep and viciously to find fault with all he was doing for Pittsfield, and kept it up to the point where it was hard to watch the City Council meetings on PCTV. Despite all of this, Mayor Bianchi just kept doing his job, and his accomplishments to date are impressive.

The same group of city councilors is backing his opponent's campaign. I have watched the debates and I'm stunned that an individual who has no experience, qualifications, and has never shown herself to be a leader can criticize a mayor with a record like Dan Bianchi's.

Advances in our infrastructure, roads, PEDA, and the new high school are all moving ahead because of the hard work of Mayor Bianchi, a few of Pittsfield's city councilors, and committees that Dan Bianchi has put in place.

I am supporting Mayor Bianchi because he is immune to politics, he makes well thought-out decisions in the best interest of the city, and is a proven leader. I urge the Pittsfield voters to join me in supporting Mayor Dan Bianchi.

Kevin Dondi, Pittsfield

------------

“The buck never stops with Mayor Bianchi”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 27, 2015

To the editor:

Shortly after I left the Massachusetts legislature I moved from Dalton back to Pittsfield. I am a 1984 graduate of Pittsfield High School and my family has been here for three generations. As I represented 21 cities and towns, I think I offer a unique perspective on what makes a successful municipal leader and what does not.

In my lifetime I cannot recall an election for mayor where the stakes have been higher and the differences between the two candidates more stark. Currently, we have an incumbent mayor who, sadly, seems limited and ineffective by his ongoing and puzzling Nixon-like vendetta against those he deems political foes. A mayor who has no compunction about showing up to cut the ribbon on a completed project or taking sole credit on a future project like Taconic High School — projects that as councilor he previously voted against.

Despite the recent election year flurry of road projects, I will not soon forget the poor condition and inept maintenance of our roads. I also cannot forget the number of blighted properties which plague our city or that we ran out of road salt in the middle of winter. Mayor Bianchi does not hold himself or his staff accountable and his answer to any criticism is to blame the previous mayor or his opponents on the City Council. The Truman buck never stops with him.

Any mayor's job is ensuring basic services are provided, crime is addressed, economic development ideas are initiated and city codes and ordinances are enforced fairly. Mayor Bianchi has failed completely on all fronts.

I support Linda Tyer because she has made it clear that she wants to lead the city in a more progressive and collaborative direction. Linda shares my concerns and views that city government has a role to play in encouraging business expansion and crime prevention. Linda's ideas on PEDA development and early childhood education are bold and fresh ideas that we need to pursue in order to move our city forward.

As Ward 3 city councilor and city clerk, we know Linda's style as mayor will be collaborative, not isolating; inclusive, not petty. I am energized and excited by the prospect of Linda becoming mayor.

Please join me in moving Pittsfield forward and vote for Linda Tyer on Nov. 3.

Denis Guyer, Pittsfield
The writer is a former Berkshire state representative.

------------

“A dedicated dad, councilor, mayor”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 27, 2015

To the editor:

My name is Madeline Bianchi, a resident of Pittsfield for 22 years, former Taconic High School attendee, and a recent college graduate. I am writing to you on behalf of my Dad, Dan Bianchi. I thought before the city takes to the polls they would want to know what it's like for my family during these elections, which have always been a part of my life.

For a long time my Dad juggled three young kids, a full-time job, a wife with a full-time job, and numerous official and elected city positions. He was Pittsfield's director of administration and finance during the four-year span his three children were born (my poor mother), and he was a councilor for 10 years. However, he never missed a game, play, or a parent-teacher conference; whatever it was, he made it.

What I remember regarding city politics is holding big red Bianchi Ward 6 signs in my soccer uniform and that Dad would be home late because of City Council meetings. I remember dropping off new bikes on the West Side at Christmas time, a part of Pittsfield my Dad took personal ownership of.

Then he joined a bigger race and it was a completely new ballgame. After a tough loss, and then another hard race that ended in victory, he was in. I could see he was elated, but I learned quickly that as a mayor, you can't please everyone. One thing I can say confidently is that I have never been embarrassed to say that my Dad is Mayor Dan Bianchi. He has never "trash talked," isn't dishonest, nor does he lie to further his own interests.

It's hard having your Dad constantly being talked poorly of, especially when it is not based in fact, but for my brothers and I, that happens during these elections. To me, and I am hoping for all of you, come Nov. 3 — the choice is clear. I can honestly say, there won't be another person who cares as much for our city as the man you have sitting in that office today, and it will be a real loss to the city if someone without his experience, credentials, and moral compass, takes his place.

Madeline Bianchi, Pittsfield

------------

“Pittsfield can't afford Tyer as its mayor”
By Melissa Mazzeo, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, October 28, 2015

PITTSFIELD - During the course of this campaign season, Linda Tyer has promised millions of dollars in new spending without providing one detail about her plans, where the money will come from, or what city services will be sacrificed to afford her campaign promises.

Her first promise: implementing Cure Violence where its national director told us that the program costs $350,000 annually, and requires a three-year commitment. By contrast, Mayor Bianchi secured a Shannon Grant, which has been renewed and increased every year, has the same goals as Cure Violence — and doesn't cost the taxpayers a cent.

COSTLY PRE-K PROGRAM

Candidate Tyer moved on to a campaign promise to implement a Universal Pre-K program that will also cost millions. Again, no details about what educational programs will be cut to afford this new initiative, or what will happen to the many pre-schools in Pittsfield — and all of their employees — who already provide this service.

From there she moved to a new Community Center for the West Side, a Riverwalk, a major parks initiative, 27 new police officers (this alone will cost in excess of $2 million a year) a very expensive blight program, hiring a recruitment agency to promote Pittsfield, and more.

Tyer has an obligation to explain to taxpayers why we should spend so much money when many of these programs are already underway with the Bianchi administration, and at a better price for taxpayers. Without specific financial details, these are meaningless promises that should alarm every voter in Pittsfield.

While Tyer has a lot to say about what she will build, implement and create once she becomes mayor, she hasn't said a word about jobs — which is what this city needs way more than another community center, riverwalk, or hiking tour with her recruitment team. And what kind of change can we expect when former Mayor Jim Ruberto and most of his campaign team are now running Tyer's campaign?

Meanwhile, what has Mayor Bianchi promised during this campaign season? He has promised to continue the successful initiatives he launched four years ago. He has raised millions by collecting unpaid city taxes out of respect for all of the citizens who pay their fair share every year; has strengthened small businesses by expanding the GE Economic Development Fund; is in the midst of creating the Berkshire Innovation Center, is making successful strides with the new Taconic High School, and so much more. Most of this is being accomplished by state and federal grants and not out of the pockets of city tax-payers.

I've listened to every debate as Linda Tyer has lectured the mayor about his failures on the West Side, in education, and in other areas of city government – all from a candidate who has never attended one West Side Initiative meeting, one School Committee meeting, one Senior center meeting, but mostly, no attendance at veterans events until she began running for mayor.

In contrast, well before being mayor, Dan Bianchi had a long and well-documented history of public service with St. Mark's Church, community groups that help worthy causes, as well as all of the initiatives that have been part of his political life for decades.

UNFAIR CRITICISM

He has a four-year degree in business, was the city's former director of Administration and Finance, sat on the state Finance Board, has negotiated multi-million-dollar contracts and has given a lifetime of service to this city. Yet, he must now endure unfortunate criticism from an opponent who has none of his qualifications, experience, or dedication to public service.

I deeply appreciate and respect the work ethic, integrity and character of our mayor. I like what I've seen over the past four years and I very much hope that you join me in voting for Mayor Dan Bianchi next Tuesday.

Melissa Mazzeo is the president of the City Council.

------------

“Tyer a success as councilor, city clerk”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, October 28, 2015

To the editor:

During my tenure as a member of the Pittsfield City Council and as the City Council president, I had the opportunity to observe both Councilor Dan Bianchi and Councilor Linda Tyer.

In the 10 years that then-Ward 6 Councilor Bianchi and I served as colleagues I cannot recall any meaningful petition that he submitted to advance economic development or the quality of life for city. In fact, he consistently voted against many of the initiatives that were intended to expand our economy. Now, as mayor, he blames previous administrations for his failures, but happily takes credit for the work of others.

In contrast, then-Ward 3 Councilor Linda Tyer was willing to take risks and vote for proposals that revitalized our downtown and supported business expansion and job creation. Linda was always well-prepared and articulated critical points that led the discussion and built compromise. Her work with Councilors Jonathan Lothrop and Peter Marchetti to usher in cost-saving health insurance measures while being transparent and open in the process was a highlight of her tenure.

I was pleased when Linda became Pittsfield's city clerk. She and I worked closely together to manage the City Council agenda. Linda often offered excellent procedural suggestions. Under Linda's leadership, the office is well-run and highly professional. She has maintained productive relationships with state agencies and is committed to an open, supportive communication style.

That's why I'm supporting Linda Tyer for mayor. There is no one who is more hard-working and dedicated to their responsibilities as an elected official. Linda was an excellent city councilor, is a highly competent city clerk, and will make an excellent mayor. Please join me in voting for Linda Tyer on Nov. 3.

Gerry Lee, Pittsfield
The writer is a former Pittsfield chief of police and former City Council president.

------------

“Linda Tyer for mayor of Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, October 28, 2015

If Pittsfield is to successfully confront its challenges over the next four years while moving forward as a community, a team effort based upon openness and mutual respect will be required. For that to happen, there must be new leadership in City Hall.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi is certainly not unskilled. His financial acumen is proven, his budgets are on time and well-defended, and the tax increases he has proposed have been justified. He would be a good city manager.

As a leader, however, he has fallen short, and those failings are rooted in his defensiveness and intolerance of disagreement. Ward Councilor Bianchi regularly challenged mayors but councilors who challenge him are written off as dissidents, creating a destructive divide in city government.

Moving City Hall basement offices to 100 North Street and changing the health insurer for city workers weren't necessarily bad ideas but in doing them unilaterally the mayor shut off the legislative branch of government and by extension those who voted for their city councilors. A needless change of leadership at BerkshireWorks resulted in a disastrous hire and discord in an important agency. These and other unforced errors created problems for a city that should be solving the problems it has.

The mayor's routine playing of the blame game in relation to city issues has heightened during the campaign. The portrayal of Ms. Tyer and her supporters as an evil cabal by the mayor's allies is insulting. Tyer advocates, like the supporters of Mayor Bianchi, want what they believe is best for the city they care about.

The lack of transparency in the Bianchi administration is exemplified by the near absence of press conferences during his tenure. Instead there is a needless and restrictive press policy that puts a wall between the mayor and the people he is elected to serve.

While Mayor Bianchi is quick to point fingers at his predecessors and political foes he is equally quick to credit himself with their initiatives, with the new Taconic High School serving as the best example. The mayor opposed the plan at its roots when he was a city councilor, and while his support as mayor was welcome, jumping on the bandwagon does not constitute leadership.

As a Ward 3 city councilor, Linda Tyer was a strong backer of the progressive initiatives, like the Colonial Theatre and Streetscape, that Mr. Bianchi opposed or signed onto belatedly. Her work on the blight problem in the ward lends credence to the anti-blight effort that has been a key part of her campaign.

As city clerk, an office that is connected to all facets of city government, she and her employees have earned high marks for efficiency and transparency. The brief controversy over the scheduling of the preliminary election on Yom Kippur ignited by the mayor proved to be revealing of Ms. Tyer's methodology, as it turned out she had done her homework, contacted relevant parties, and made a well-reasoned decision.

We hope voters will not subscribe to scare tactics about the alleged financial burden of Ms. Tyer's proposals. Some are short-term, others are long-term, some may qualify for state grants and there is no reason to believe any will be embarked upon irresponsibly. The new Taconic, paid for primarily with state money, is the kind of program we would expect Ms. Tyer to support – from the ground up — because they are necessary investments in a city that will stagnate if it is not progressing.

We would also expect Ms. Tyer to welcome differing opinions and not write off anyone who disagrees with her as a life-long enemy. Pittsfield confronts tangible problems like crime, job creation and education funding, and intangible ones, such as defeatism and cynicism. Ms. Tyer's positive, transparent approach will enable Pittsfield to take on all of its problems and challenges cohesively in the four years ahead. The Eagle endorses Linda Tyer for mayor.

------------

Linda Tyer: "It's time for a change"
By Linda Tyer, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, October 29, 2015

PITTSFIELD - My vision for Pittsfield has been strengthened by many knowledgeable, inspiring, and engaged citizens. People and organizations all across Pittsfield are devoted to improving the quality of life for every person, young and old. Government must also pledge its resources to promote success in our community.

As your next mayor I will give Pittsfield my full-time undivided attention. There is a lot of work to do. Our city is not safe. Businesses are struggling. Budgets are strained and tax revenue is limited. Roads and infrastructures are crumbling. Students are opting-out. I will approach every obstacle with the attitude of "how can we" become a modern government that meets the needs of a modern city.

We recently learned that SABIC, one of Pittsfield's major employers, will be shuttering its facility. The long-term consequences to our city's viability are serious. Where do we go from here and whom do you trust to lead us there? Let's examine the record.

During my five-year tenure as the Ward 3 city councilor I consistently supported job creation strategies. I said yes to the use of economic development funds for the restoration of the Colonial Theatre, creating construction, theater, and management jobs for Pittsfield's tourism economy. I said yes to business expansion for Petricca Industries' Unistress division, creating design, production, and manufacturing jobs for a family-owned, home-grown business. I said yes to tax incentive financing for LTI Smart Glass when it brought new manufacturing jobs to Pittsfield. Mr. Bianchi said no to all of these critical job creation opportunities.

I will promote Pittsfield as a welcoming destination for new and expanding economic prosperity. While encouraging business newcomers I will also target resources toward our small businesses. Establishing a business mentoring program for creative economy start-ups and a new recruitment program for young professionals to visit Pittsfield and explore the virtues of living and working in our city will inspire next generation enterprise.

All of this is possible only when our city is a safe place to live, work, and play. We must acknowledge the greatest threat to our community — crime and violence. I will hire more police officers, expanding the current force as opposed to replacing retirees. New strategies for fighting crime will be implemented including enhancing the anti-gang unit and re-establishing community policing.

Confronting the underlying issues of crime and violence will be an important complement to law enforcement. "Cure Violence" declares that violence is an urgent public health concern. Its programs offer unique approaches for strengthening the city's public health resources for confronting crime and violence. Implementing methods established by the "Bridges Out of Poverty" model will provide opportunities for people to move from poverty to self-sufficiency.

Properties that have fallen into disrepair hurt neighborhood pride and provide a place for criminal behavior to hide. I will lead a task force to fairly yet aggressively demand that irresponsible property owners respect public health and safety regulations. Inviting our local housing developers to tour our neighborhoods and ask them to imagine investment opportunities for improving the condition of Pittsfield's housing will be a key feature in turning blight to bright.

Under Mayor Bianchi's tenure there have been multiple serious lawsuits filed by employees from several city departments. Improper personnel interactions have exposed our city to litigation, will likely result in significant losses of your hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and will culminate in higher insurance premiums. Implementing better management and personnel practices will be a daily commitment.

Employees want to excel at their work. Their success begins with establishing a shared vision, setting priorities, providing support and demanding accountability. Professional development opportunities will be encouraged so employees can build upon their strengths. I am committed to collaborating with the City Council and the School Committee. Together we will build a modern government for our modern city.

Over the course of this campaign I have offered many new ideas for a next generation Pittsfield. For the next four years I will lead our city with the energy and enthusiasm that you deserve. Pittsfield will be a vibrant and compassionate place to live. It will be a center of innovation and the heart of the Berkshire art and culture scene. Pittsfield will be economically and environmentally sustainable.

Please vote for me, Linda Tyer, on Nov. 3 to be your next mayor. It's time for a change.

Linda Tyer is a candidate for mayor of Pittsfield.

------------

"Linda Tyer defeats Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi: 'New generation': Pledges to take a more inclusive, progressive approach"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, November 3, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Linda M. Tyer's call for a more progressive, inclusive and less divisive city government won a resounding endorsement on Tuesday, when the city clerk decisively derailed incumbent Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's bid for a third term.

Winning citywide with 6,661 votes to 4,502 votes for Bianchi, she won all 14 precincts and earned 59.14 percent of the vote to 39.97 percent for the mayor.

"Wow, look what we did," Tyer told loudly cheering supporters at Hotel on North after the results were official. "I did not walk this journey alone. We did it together. This was a grass-roots movement of people who care about the city of Pittsfield and believe in our great potential."

Tyer said she considered it an honor "that I have been entrusted by the people of Pittsfield to lead their government for the next four years."

The mayor-elect added, "We've got a lot of work to do, and I am very, very excited about our future and hope you are too. We had support all across the city. ... We are going to be a new generation Pittsfield."

Tyer went on to thank key campaign aides, saying, "First of all, [Councilor at large] Barry Clairmont," with whom she is in a relationship. "Barry gave me the courage to take this risk, and he stood there with me — I owe him a debt of gratitude."

She expressed thanks to her mother, Rosemary Casey, who was "my first campaign donor," who worked tirelessly on the campaign; her campaign manager Thomas Sakshaug, publicist Christina Barrett, event organizer former City Councilor Christine Yon, and strong early supporters former Mayor James M. Ruberto, former state Rep. Denis Guyer, Brian Johnson, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop and others.

Bianchi told supporters meeting at the 7 Grille following the election, "The job doesn't end. We have to be hopeful for the future and continue to be engaged and work hard."

He added, "We were up against it, obviously. There was a crew of people who were working for the last couple of years to make sure tonight ended the way it did."

Bianchi said his opponent "had a crew of people who spent the last couple of years not being terribly truthful. We have a local newspaper, and I think they've been gunning for me for four years. And they succeeded."

Asked if it was a difficult time, the mayor said, "Nobody wants to be in this position, but in politics you have to be prepared for any eventuality. That's just the realities of political life."

He added, "I wish [Linda] success, because her success will be the city's success."

"Obviously it's a big huge day for Pittsfield, as far as I'm concerned," Lothrop said. He said Tyer "presented herself as a change candidate," and one would work to be more inclusive even of those who don't agree with her positions.

The turnout on a balmy, sunny November day had 11,373 voters casting ballots from a registered voter list of 27,242 — or 41.74 percent of the total.

On Tuesday, Tyer followed up on a stunning win in the preliminary election on Sept. 22, in which Tyer defeated him 2,790 votes to 1,960. The mayor had noted that the turnout in that election was an "anemic" 18.77 percent of registered voters, leaving him an opening to turn around the result if his supporters came to the polls in the general election. But that was not to be.

Tyer, 50, has now secured the first four-year term in Pittsfield's history, following a 2013 government charter change.

The race, which also pitted the mayor and his longtime supporters against Tyer and numerous supporters of former Mayor Ruberto, grew more heated as the campaign ground on through six debates and several public clashes over issues like crime or spending. That continued with charges and counter-charges flying over the final weekend and into Tuesday.

As a Ward 6 councilor for 10 years, Bianchi often opposed Ruberto initiatives during his mayoral tenure, from 2004-12, and the two had faced off in 2009 with Ruberto winning a close race for his final term by just over 200 votes.

In this year's contest, Tyer painted Bianchi as divisive and prone to take actions like negotiating a new health insurance contract for city employees without consulting the full City Council, and she charged he shut his perceived political enemies out of the governmental process.

The clerk promised to take a more inclusive, progressive approach and said she would open the process even to those who opposed her initiatives.

The mayor denied Tyer's allegations but insisted there are times when it is the "responsibility of a mayor" to take immediate actions if that would prove a benefit to the city. He said at one point in a debate, "I wasn't going to let a couple city councilors trip us up."

The mayor stressed his longer experience in government and attacked Tyer as a big spender, repeatedly attaching high dollar figures to her proposals and contending that taxpayers "could not afford" Tyer as mayor.

Tyer said the mayor was engaging in scare tactics and wild exaggeration of costs, and said her plan was to change his spending priorities, which she deemed sometimes wasteful, and seek grant funding she contended the mayor has failed to pursue. Tyer's proposals focused on adding police officers, expanding early childhood education opportunities, eliminating blight and creating an expanded anti-youth violence program.

A flyer the mayor released during the last week of the campaign attaching multi-million price tags to Tyer proposals touched off a flurry of counter-charges from the Tyer camp and a protest rally of supporters on Saturday. But Bianchi insisted his estimate of the costs of her proposals was accurate.

Things got rougher in a Bianchi press release on Monday, in which, amid a point by point statement on the alleged high cost of Tyer's proposals, the mayor added a comment concerning Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, who is in a relationship with Tyer.

The release stated: "Councilor Clairmont, who is front and center in her campaign, has promised raises to dozens of current employees. For fear of retribution of the folks who shared the information with us, we will not disclose who they are. With that said, raises have most definitely been promised."

"I am confident that neither Councilor Clairmont nor anyone else from my campaign promised raises to anyone," Tyer said in an email Tuesday afternoon. "In fact, just days before this claim was made, it was rumored that I was going to fire everyone. It's unfortunate that employees are being used in this manner."

On Election Day itself, the Bianchi campaign released a statement contending: "This morning, Bianchi headquarters was notified that someone has been creating false Facebook pages of Bianchi supporters. This person or people are pulling images of supporters off of their Facebook profile and recreating a fake profile posing as though they are the supporter. They have been then posting negative comments on the official campaign page for Mayor Dan Bianchi and other places impersonating our supporters."

Tyer responded: "I have no knowledge that anyone involved in my campaign created any fake Facebook pages. If such pages were created they were done by people acting alone and not a coordinated effort."

Tyer was first elected as Ward 3 city councilor in 2003 and was appointed by Ruberto to fill a vacancy in the city clerk's post in 2008. She won two subsequent terms as clerk before announcing in April she would challenge Bianchi for mayor.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

“Tyer wins a mandate for change in Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, November 4, 2015

Pittsfield voted for change Tuesday night and decisively so, giving Mayor-elect Linda Tyer a strong mandate as the city's first four-year mayor.

Pittsfield's recent history of hotly contested mayoral elections made Mr. Tyer's roughly 60 percent to 40 percent victory over incumbent Daniel Bianchi all the more significant. Ms. Tyer, the current city clerk and a former ward councilor, has considerable potential as mayor, but this decisive a victory must be interpreted in large part as a referendum on the job performance of the incumbent mayor.

Mr. Bianchi, who ran unopposed two years ago, essentially had a four-year term as mayor. Those four years were marred by a lack of transparency, pointless discord and a reluctance to acknowledge that political opponents had a right to a differing opinion. City voters essentially had their minds made up by the preliminary election, and a general campaign in which the mayor emphasized the blame game rather than sell his administration wasn't going to change any minds.

Ms. Tyer's first challenge will be to pull the city together, a project she is well-suited for. Rather than re-fight past political battles, we expect her to move forward in a positive manner, at first by reaching out to supporters of Mayor Bianchi. Politics and governing will produce disagreement, but it never needs to be personal, which it so often is in Pittsfield.

In North Adams, Mayor Richard Alcombright, who had a battle on his hands going into the general election, won a solid victory over former Mayor John Barrett III. The incumbent emphasized an open conciliatory approach as mayor and in the campaign and it carried the day.

Pittsfield and North Adams confront severe challenges, none of which a mayor can make a dent in without an open, inclusive approach. Voters, especially in Pittsfield, made it clear that they expect to see that in the years ahead.

------------

“Pittsfield officials take stock after tense election season”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, November 4, 2015

This story has been modified to correct a quote from Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who said the new City Council will be "diverse."

PITTSFIELD — City councilors say they hope Mayor-elect Linda M. Tyer's call for more a collaborative relationship within city government becomes a reality in 2016.

"A lot of people who are really positive about Pittsfield got elected," said Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo, a day after a new mayor was chosen by voters, two former councilors were returned to office, and a new Ward 5 councilor was elected.

Citing former ward Councilor Peter White's return as an at large councilor, Caccamo said he believes White has prior government experience and has "his finger on the pulse of the community."

Caccamo said he looks forward to cooperating with White and others on initiatives that might have a citywide focus, adding that he knows and believes he can work well with new Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers, and is acquainted with and likes Councilor at large Peter Marchetti, who returned after a four-year absence from the council.

The Ward 3 representative said he hopes Tyer, the current city clerk who on Tuesday decisively ended Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's bid for a third term, can fulfill her pledge for more conversation and collaboration with all members of the 11-member council.

He added that he expects "there might be some shakeup as to who leads the council," and he will be hoping for committee assignments "with more teeth" in them, such as on the Ordinance and Rules Committee.

Current council President Melissa Mazzeo finished second in the seven-candidate race for four at large council seats, behind Marchetti, the top vote-getter overall. Marchetti, a strong Tyer supporter who in 2011 lost a close race for mayor to Bianchi, received 7,229 votes to 5,821 for Mazzeo, who was a prominent Bianchi supporter.

Incumbent Kathleen Amuso finished third in the at large race with 5,671 votes, and White was elected with 5,423 votes.

In other changes as a result of the election, incumbent Councilor at large Churchill Cotton finished fifth and was defeated in a bid for another term. And Councilor at large Barry Clairmont did not seek re-election.

In the race to succeed Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop, who also decided against another campaign, Rivers outpolled former Councilor Richard Scapin, 743 votes to 730. A spokeswoman for the city clerk's office said, however, that paperwork to request a recount in that race was taken out but hadn't been returned as of closing time Wednesday.

Mazzeo said she is disappointed that the mayor was defeated, but won't allow that to deflect her from her goals for the city.

"I am hoping that everything that has been in the pipeline will continue, like the BIC (Berkshire Innovation Center) and Taconic High School," she said. "I'm confident it will. We are all hoping to get the same things done."

Referring to calls for greater collaboration, Mazzeo said, "I'm looking forward to everybody doing this. I know I intend to work hard. I plan on keeping up my end toward the common good."

In backing a candidate for mayor, Mazzeo said, "You go with the person you think can get the job done." If they lose, she added, "This is what elections are all about: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

The key, she said, is to keep your own focus on helping to move the city forward.

"I think it will be a new day for the city of Pittsfield," said Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who like Caccamo, was unopposed for another term.

Krol, a vocal Tyer supporter, said, "I think the approach of the new mayor is one in which she understands that often the administration will be challenged, and that's OK."

He said he looks forward to an approach that allows "spirited conversations on important issues that come together in better, stronger proposals. We will have a diverse City Council; we'll all have our voices, but I think we are all going to have our voices heard."

An open dialogue among officials and community members is what he would like to see, Krol said. Having once served as public affairs coordinator under former Mayor James M. Ruberto, the councilor said he knows that office "is where people come first with ideas," and it is imperative that "there is someone there who can help those ideas blossom."

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, the council vice president, said, "I want to get everyone to try to work together," adding that his natural tendency is to reach out even to those who he knows disagree with his position.

"I can work with anyone, even if they have not worked with me," Connell said. "I would still reach out."

Connell said he tried to remain neutral in the hotly contested mayor's race, "and never endorsed either candidate." He said another reason for that stance "was to protect my ward," against any negative fallout from his involvement in a mayoral race.

"As always it will be wait and see," Connell said, but he hopes Tyer will work to expand communication between the mayor's office with the council and in meeting time with councilors.

One initiative he hopes gets consideration, he said, is a task force study he has been involved in that has developed some recommendations on whether the city could benefit from public-private partnerships to handle operations of the city wasterwater and water systems.

The new councilors are people he knows, Connell said, and he foresees no problems working well with them.

City voters also re-elected all six incumbent School Committee members.

Chairwoman Katherine Yon said Wednesday that she was "delighted we are all back. I think we put together a great team," which she said has only had two years on the committee and will benefit from another term.

"I am excited to work with the new administration and the new councilors," Yon said. "I always pride myself on being able to work with people."

"Education is the bottom line for us," she said. "We are not about politics. We do our best work collaboratively with all our elected officials."

Yon said, "I have enjoyed working with Mayor Bianchi, and I'm looking forward to working with Mayor Tyer."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

“Message of Lorax applies to Pittsfield”
By Laurie Tierney, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, November 7, 2015

PITTSFIELD - I happen to think Theodore Geisel was one of the most brilliant, profound writers of our time. More commonly known as Dr. Seuss, writer of rhyming, nonsensical books we read to our children, but many of his stories have adult messages and reflect social issues.

One of my favorites is "The Lorax," in which the main message is about the sacrifice of our environment and our forests for the sake of making a clothing fad called a thneed, "which everyone, everyone needs," the consumerism which drives the destruction of the precious Truffula Trees and drives the Lorax and his friends away.

This story could relate to any environment, but I want to focus on the message of the Lorax, a creature who did all he could to stop the ruination, by warning the Once-lers that they needed to stop or there would be no trees, animals, clean air or happiness.

The Lorax was ignored, the land ruined and he and the animals fled, but his message was given to a young boy — the future — by the Once-ler. His message was simply, "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

EVERYONE JUMPS IN

My husband and I renovated a building in downtown Pittsfield. We opened a boutique hotel, restaurant, bar and small retail store. We took a leap; we took a chance; we took a risk. We are not heroes; we are not visionaries; we are not wealthy; we are not smarter, better than anyone else.

We took a big step with this little hotel with a revolving door and gorgeous lobby and fabulous restaurant that serves fresh, local yummy food and the bar that is friendly and fun to sit at, and a store, Dory & Ginger — but you see, none of that matters without everyone, everyone jumping in with us.

We have been overwhelmed, rendered speechless and touched to the core by the outpouring of generous praise for this risk we have taken. We have been put on a pedestal of sorts, wined, dined, written about, interviewed countless times, rewarded, awarded and touted by many to others.

We are so very flattered and humbled by the support, but this hotel/restaurant/bar/store cannot revitalize this city alone, nor can it survive alone. We are not enough. Pittsfield will not truly be revived without every one of you doing something.

Whether investing, doing business locally, reclaiming our streets, or saying no to injustices, use your voices and please use them positively. Stop the negative behavior/talk/headlines/moaning — it is contagious.

We have people come into our store and ask if North Street is safe. We are ambassadors of sorts, sending visitors to local restaurants, coffee shops, stores and saying "of course our streets are safe" — but are they?

They aren't pretty — peeling paint on buildings, cigarette butts littering sidewalks, trash blowing around, garbage cans overflowing, people loitering in doorways smoking and yelling out to friends, grown men riding bikes down the main sidewalks and people who don't look/act/seem friendly.

I would love it if our investment was a wake-up call and a rethinking of what it is to be a resident of this city. Unless...

UNLESS we stop pining for the days of General Electric. It's gone folks, along with smoking in restaurants, 50 cent hamburgers and martinis in the office — let it go, let's move on. We have a world class medical and cancer facility, we have theaters and art venues, we have General Dynamics and so many passionate people who truly care about this city.

UNLESS every single business owner in downtown takes one tiny step — mows the grass in front of their business, picks up the trash, scrapes and paints their building, sweeps the sidewalk, lights up and washes the windows, becomes vigilant and voices concerns about unsavory activities, stays open just a little bit later so our street looks alive again, gets involved and demands your city government work to make our streets safe and attractive.

UNLESS others who want to invest take that risk, then our city is just a city. Come on people, think outside that little box we have all made for ourselves where it's warm and cozy and dark — come out into the light and think creatively.

FIGHT FOR THE CITY

UNLESS the people in our city regain some of their pride and fight back against anything or anyone who either stands by while conditions worsen or makes our downtown less desirable, then why would anyone love and believe. If you don't love or believe in Pittsfield, then how can we expect people who visit us to see its beauty?

UNLESS we all support these local businesses and urge others to do the same, either by word of mouth or going on social media or Trip Advisor, then they will disappear like the Trufulla Trees and the Lorax.

UNLESS all who put us on this pedestal heed this message and encourage the same thing I am encouraging, then this city of ours will not get better. We have incredible places on each end of North Street with a sprinkling in the middle — let's fill in these blanks. Let's take these beautiful old buildings with their intricate architecture and coax them back to life, light and a future.

I thank each and every person who has supported our hotel/restaurant/bar/store/venture, but remember the Lorax — "The word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back."

Laurie Tierney is co-owner of Hotel on North.

------------

“Baba Louie's owner says he'll close Pittsfield restaurant”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, November 19, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Running three restaurants in two states for five years proved to be too much for Paul Masiero.

Saying he needs more time to be with his family, Masiero on Thursday said he plans to close Baba Louie's popular Pittsfield restaurant at 34 Depot St.

Baba Louie's two other restaurants, in Great Barrington and Hudson, N.Y., will remain open.

Known for its wood-fired sourdough crust pizza, Baba Louie's Pittsfield location will officially close on Wednesday. Masiero opened the restaurant in 2010.

"My wife (Eileen) and I just want to have a better life," Masiero said. "We have three little kids and our quality of life is really important to us, and having our family is really important to us. Having three restaurants and trying to run all three has just become a little too much.

"I have two years left with my daughter before she goes to (college)," he said. "I just want to see my kids, and watch them grow."

Masiero said he ruled out hiring someone else to run the Pittsfield eatery for him. "It would still take up a lot of my time," he said. "No one runs it better than the owner, you know what I mean?"

Deciding to close or stay open would have been easier if both he and his wife weren't involved in the business.

"It would be one thing if it was just one of us, and the other one could deal with the kids," he said. "But it takes both of us to run all three of them.

"The hardest part is saying goodbye to the staff," he said.

Baba Louie's has some 30 employees in Pittsfield.

"We're trying to transfer a few of them to our other restaurants, those with cars than can make it down there," he said. "The rest of them are going to be looking for jobs."

A bakery with four employees at 34 Depot St., which Baba Louie's maintains to make pizza crusts and bread for its three locations, will remain open after the Pittsfield restaurant is closed.

Masiero said Baba Louie's Pittsfield location was "very sound" financially, and that he had a good relationship with city officials. He said it was hard to walk away from a business that is successful.

"But there are just things in life that are just more important than money, to me," he said. "Not for everybody, but to me.

"This was a very tough, hard decision that my wife, and I have been tossing around for three and a half months."

Baba Louie's five-year lease with Whaling Properties expired in June, but discussions about the restaurant's future went on all summer, said Masiero and GCR's President George Whaling.

The two men declined to make the decision public until now because they didn't want to blindside Baba Louie's Pittsfield employees.

Whaling said Masiero had been given options to extend the lease.

"I was obviously hopeful that he would stay." Whaling said. "You know, this is not a lovefest. But if we in our portfolio ever had a AAA credit tenant it would be Baba Louie's.

"There was just no question about the professionalism, conduct as a tenant as far as paying bills and running a tight ship."

Whaling has already begun to advertise Baba Louie's space, which has up to 9,000 square feet. He's hoping to have another restaurant fill the space by the first quarter of 2016.

Masiero, who lives in Richmond, said it made more sense for him to close his Pittsfield restaurant than either of his other two eateries.

"They're older and more established," he said. "We own our building in Hudson too, so that wouldn't make sense. And the Great Barrington store is 20 years old, so we've got a solid foundation there.

"Saying goodbye to the staff who had our back and worked really hard to make this a successful restaurant, and saying goodbye to the customers who were so loyal is definitely the hardest part."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

------------

Mayor-elect Linda Tyer is preparing for a smooth transition to mayor. She plans on meeting with department heads prior to her Jan. 4 inauguration. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield mayor-elect plans for a smooth transition”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, November 24, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayor-elect Linda M. Tyer has asked city department heads to supply her with a briefing package on the operations they oversee and plans to meet with each manager prior to her inauguration on Jan. 4, 2016.

Tyer, the current city clerk, defeated Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in the Nov. 3 election and will serve Pittsfield's first four-year term as mayor, following a charter change approved in 2013.

She stated in a release on Tuesday, which also was sent to city managers: "With Mayor Bianchi's support I am beginning to organize and plan for the mayoral transition."

As part of the transition, Tyer said she has requested written briefing packets that will include:

"The department head's resume, including the professional development programs that they have participated in during the last three years; professional associations of which the department/department head is a member and any community organizations and volunteer work in which the department head is involved."

The mayor-elect said she also wants to hear about "the top three department initiatives that are underway; the top three department initiatives that are pending;" and "the department's top three 'wish' list ideas and/or initiatives," along with "an overview of the department's strengths and areas for improvement."

Following the Thanksgiving holiday, Tyer said she will schedule individual meetings with municipal department managers "to discuss the information they provided in their briefing packets as well as their ideas to grow and improve Pittsfield."

She added in a release: "I'm eager to hear from the men and women who lead our municipal departments about the opportunities and challenges that they face every day. It is important to me and for our city residents that the professionals leading our departments have an opportunity to share their perspectives. Many of them have years of municipal knowledge and expertise that we can tap to enhance and expand the good work happening in Pittsfield."

Asked whether she has plans to appoint any new department heads, Tyer said in an email, "I am not at a point in the transition to make any decisions about department head replacements."

She added that for now, "The first focus will be developing a more meaningful community engagement process for transition (more details to be released on this once I have formalized the process); hiring and strategic planning for the police department, and a thorough review of the status of this year's budget."

Asked about her transition team, she said that has not been formalized at this point but she plans to release information on that process in the near future.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

"Columnist overlooked Pittsfield's positives"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, November 25, 2015

To the editor:

Alan Chartock's latest column ("I Publius: Great Barrington has the best Berkshire's have to offer" Nov. 21) rated several Berkshire towns in search of "..which town is the best in the Berkshires"? Lo and behold Mr. Chartock proclaims his beloved Great Barrington to be just that with his primary justification for this title being:

* "We still have too many drugs but the situation does seem better."

* "Great Barrington boasts a wonderful little hospital......."

* "It has the Triplex Cinema."

* "It has Lake Mansfield and civic leaders to keep it pristine."

* "It has good bagels."

* "It has Guido's."

* "It has a lot of great restaurants and coffee shops."

* "It has Bard's College at Simon's Rock."

* "It has great public schools...."

And my favorite.....

* "It used to have the best Friendly's in the world....."

Reading further, Mr. Chartock's rating for Pittsfield simply states, "Pittsfield has a long way to go....it has the Colonial Theater. It has a fine museum. But it has way too many drugs and too much crime."

I do not disagree that Great Barrington is a nice town, amongst many in our Berkshires. I simply would like to enlighten Mr. Chartock on just some of the many attributes of Pittsfield that unquestionably make it one of many nice towns/cities that comprises this great county:

* Pittsfield has a large, state-of-the-art, renowned teaching medical center.

* Pittsfield has a beautiful and modern cinema, the Beacon.

* Pittsfield has beautiful Pontoosuc Lake and Lake Onota.

* Pittsfield has grocery shopping galore, from big chain markets like Price Chopper, Stop & Shop, The Big Y, to specialty stores like Berkshire Organics.

* Pittsfield has many great restaurants, pubs, diners and coffee shops.

* Pittsfield has Berkshire Community College.

* Pittsfield has the Barrington Stage Theater.

* Pittsfield has a newly renovated downtown and is getting better all the time.

* Pittsfield has arguably the newest and nicest hotel in Western Mass., Hotel on North.

* Pittsfield has historic Wahconah Park.

* Pittsfield will soon have the carousel.

* Pittsfield has one of the best small city July 4 parades in the nation.

* Pittsfield has the wildly popular Third Thursdays, ethnic fairs, art walks.

* Pittsfield boasts five golf courses with spectacular views of those beautiful Berkshires.

And if Mr. Chartock has a hankering for a good burger and some delicious ice cream...

* Pittsfield still has one of the world's best Friendly's!

TJ Chiaretto, Pittsfield

-----

“Don't divide Berkshires into rival communities”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, December 4, 2015

To the editor:

In response to Alan Chartock's column ("I Publius: Great Barrington has the best Berkshire's have to offer" Nov. 21) and TJ Chiaretto's rebuttal as to the merits of Pittsfield, I think both are overlooking that comparing Great Barrington and Pittsfield is not very constructive.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census Great Barrington had 7,527 residents with a median household income of $95,490. Compare that to Pittsfield's population of 45,793 people with a median household income of $35,655. Pittsfield has 6 times the population with about 1/3 of the wealth.

Mr. Chartock makes the claim that by choosing the "best" town in the Berkshires other towns will have a model to look to for guidance. I think this is a wonderful idea. Let's look to increasing wages and the standard of living in Berkshire County's largest city to match that of Berkshire County's "Stars Hollow." After all, his complaints about Pittsfield are that "It has way too many drugs and too much crime," things easily correlated to the economics of an area.

The real issue with the column and the letter is that they aim to further divide the Berkshires. We've always separated Berkshire County into divisions; north, central, south, towns vs. cities, Pittsfield vs. North Adams. Why some towns aren't as "good" as others isn't the question we should ask. The question should be "Why aren't we trying to make all of the Berkshires equally great?"

Pittsfield's crime and drug problem shouldn't just be Pittsfield's. Great Barrington's success shouldn't just be Great Barrington's. Whether you live in North or South County doesn't matter, you still live in Berkshire County and there should be pride in that. People visit the Berkshires to see a lot of it, not just one town. So, why don't we work on making it so they want to see all of it?

Joshua Weatherwax, Pittsfield

------------

“Three good reasons to shop downtown”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, November 25, 2015

To the editor:

With all the hype about "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" I wanted to share three wonderful experiences I had in downtown Pittsfield shopping for Christmas.

First, R. J. Stohr Diamonds and Fine Jewelry have treated me with the utmost respect and professional courtesy. Having bought many items in recent years, I again returned to find great service and reasonable prices. They always have that special gift I need for my wife and they are right on North Street.

Second, I needed a pair of work boots for my son and tried all the "box" stores to no avail. They either didn't have the exact style my son wanted or they didn't even carry the brand. I decided I needed to shop locally.

I called Jim's House of Shoes, also on North Street, and not only did they have what I wanted they put them aside for me and the price was lower then buying directly from the manufacturer.

Third, I was trying to repair two old faucets from a 1950s sink. Again, I went to the big box stores both here and in the surrounding area. No one could help. They all suggested I buy new faucets. This was not acceptable.

Finally I went to Carr Hardware, also on North Street. I should have gone there first. I went downstairs to the plumbing department, was immediately asked if I needed help, and within a few short minutes I left with all the parts I needed to repair the "antique" faucets.

Please shop locally, as downtown Pittsfield's merchants have everything. They are professional, courteous, and have what we need, want, and desire at competitive and many times lower prices.

Just the time and money I saved on gas was well worth my continuing to shop locally.

Ross B. Dindio, Dalton

------------

"Pittsfield Sets Tax Rate; Holds Back Money For Reserves"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, November 25, 2015

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts — The average single-family homeowner can expect to see his or her tax bill rise by 3.98 percent.

The increase is slightly more than anticipated after the City Council opted to keep more in reserves than previously approved. In crafting the budget, the City Council chose to use $2.25 million of the city's certified free cash to offset the tax rate. On Tuesday, however, the council took back $750,000 of that to save for future years.

The drive to keep more in the coffers stemmed from the fact that the city's tax ceiling is now lower than the tax levy limit, meaning the city's ability to tax could be limited in a few years if property values stagnate.

"The budget in four years from now will still need to go up but we won't have the ability to tax anymore. We will be at that ceiling," said Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont, saying that the budget will continue to rise while the ceiling would remain around the same amount. "My big concern here tonight is the future."

Essentially, Clairmont says four years down the road that free cash reserve could be needed to maintain services because the city won't be able to raise taxes. Because of the new ceiling the city lost the ability to raise additional taxes of about $1.7 million in the last year, he said.

According to Director of Finance Susan Carmel, the city will receive between $4 million and $4.5 million in certified free cash, which is unspent money from previous years that the state certifies after closing the books and other additional revenues. That total is about as much as the city received last year but was buoyed by a tax title sale.

By reeling back $750,000 from the previous year, that total will rise. Carmel said the city should keep between 3 to 5 percent of the city's budget worth in that account.

Clairmont worked his way up until he got the votes needed. He started by pushing for the city to use just $870,000 in free cash to lower the tax rate and keep some $1.5 million more in the account — pushing the percentage closer to 5 percent of the city's budget.

Mayor Daniel Bianchi opposed that, saying it would force residential homeowners to pay too much.

"When we set the budget, a majority of you approved the use of free cash at $2.25 million, that would mean a 3.5 percent increase to the taxpayers. You are jumping from 3.5 percent to 6 percent," Bianchi said of that first proposal. "A 6 percent increase to residential is significant. It is a significant impact."

Bianchi called for using around $2 million in free cash to offset the tax rate instead. He sought to find a compromise with the City Council between the first $2.25 million number and $1.75 million, which is what he said he was told the council wanted.

Other factors in the free cash discussion included the looming Taconic High School project in which too low an amount of free cash could negatively impact the city's bond rating, property values remaining level in recent years, and that opportunities to rebuild the account through another tax title auction wouldn't be as effective.

"We are at this critical junction that we need to address. I really feel we need to look at all options of cost savings so we can maintain services," Vice President Christopher Connell said.

The compromise came at using $1.5 million to offset reserves and pulling back $750,000 into the free cash account. That change set the tax rate at $18.76 per $1,000 of value for residential property owners and $38.07 for commercial owners. As first proposed with using $2.25 million, the residential rate would have been $18.70 and commercial would have been $37.27.

The new rates represent a 70 cent increase on the residential rate and $1.44 increase on the commercial rate.

The average residential home is valued at $176,234, which means a 3.98 percent increase on the tax bill for $126.42. An average commercial property valued at $517,000 would see a $1,193 increase or 6.44 percent.

But, Carmel and Paula King, chairman of the Board of Assessor, said commercial properties have such varying values that an average isn't very helpful. The median commercial property is valued at $199,000 so the increase isn't nearly as dramatic to the majority of business owners, she said.

Overall property values increased by .34 percent for a total increase of $11 million to the tax rolls. Carmel said she'd anticipate values to remain somewhat level for the next few years.

Many councilors said debate over the free cash levels doesn't solve the problem but instead budgets need to be reduced to ease the tax levy. The tax rates are set to raise the needed $76 million approved in the city's budget.

"I have tried for over a year to look at our budgets, review our budgets, and reduce our budgets," said Councilor at Large Kathleen Amuso. "We have to have a full overview of the city's budget. ... If there isn't growth, there has to be some reduction."

Amuso said department heads should start looking to cut budgets to ease the tax burden in the future.

"The time we should be preparing for the future was last June. When the budget was brought forward, that was the time," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli.

Carmel, however, said the budgets are already lean. In recent years, the amount of unspent funds in the budget lines have been nearly cut in half as the costs to operate have risen at a rate faster than budgets are increasing.

"There is no fat in those budgets. Those budgets are lean," Carmel said. "We already have very thin budgets."

Nonetheless, the new tax rates were set with a 9-2 vote, with Simonelli and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi voting against it.

------------

“Pittsfield residents to see 4 percent increase in property taxes”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, November 25, 2015

PITTSFIELD - The amount used from surplus city funds to reduce this year's tax rate increase was the hot topic as the City Council approved the new rates on Tuesday.

The bottom line for taxpayers was a $126, or 3.98 percent hike, for a residential property at the average valuation of $176,234, and a hike of $1,193, or 6.44 percent, for a commercial property of average value at $517,812.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi had based his tax rate calculations on the proposed use of $2.25 million from the free cash account to reduce the rates, but councilors cut that figure to $1.5 million, citing concerns over the city's long-term fiscal health.

Bianchi said the amount of free cash he proposed would allow a residential tax rate of $18.70 per $1,000 in valuation and a $37.27 rate for commercial or industrial property.

After a lengthy debate, the council approved using only $1.5 million from surplus funds and retaining more in reserve, which meant slightly higher tax rates — a residential rate of $18.76 per $1,000 of valuation and a commercial rate of $38.06 per $1,000.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont and others expressed concern that too much was being deducted from the surplus amount to lower the fiscal 2016 tax rate in light of stagnant property values in Pittsfield. "My concern tonight is for the future," he said.

Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso also declared at the start of the debate that she intended to propose a $1.5 million free cash figure, adding that Pittsfield has to find ways to make government more efficient and reduce spending.

"I think [department] directors have to come up with a decreased budget," she said, calling for an overall review of city spending.

And Councilors Kevin Morandi and Anthony Simonelli reiterated their prior calls to reduce spending in June when the annual budgets are approved, rather than in the fall when the tax rates are set.

Clairmont cited the potential effects of annually rising budgets and the city's falling Proposition 2½ tax levy "ceiling" — a figure based on the total amount of property valuation in a municipality, which in the city's case hasn't shown significant growth in recent years.

Clairmont noted that the city's auditor, Thomas Scanlon Jr., of Scanlon & Associates of Deerfield, has referred to a decline in the Proposition 2½ ceiling figure since 2009.

The ceiling number is derived from the annual 2.5 percent tax increases allowed under Proposition 2½ plus the increase in overall property valuation.

Last year, the city had about $8.5 million in excess levy capacity it could use if needed, Clairmont said, but the number for this year is about $7.5 million. Should property values remain at current sluggish levels, the average annual tax increases of 2.5 to 3 percent Pittsfield has approved recently could eat up the city's levy capacity in about four years, he said.

The mayor indicated he was open to amending the free cash figure after hearing last week that some councilors favored something lower than the $2.25 million approved along with the budget plan in June.

But he said the figure should be in the $2 million range to avoid a spike in the tax rates, especially on residential properties. "We have to consider the taxpayers," he said.

Clairmont first proposed using only $875,000 from free cash, which was rejected. He next proposed using $1.25 million in free cash, which also was shot down, and finally $1.5 million, which was approved on a 7-4 council vote.

The new tax rate figures compare to the fiscal 2015 rates $18.06 per $1,000 for residential property and $36.63 for commercial property.

Overall, the new rates will support a total city tax levy of $76,785,455 for the current July-to-June fiscal year, up from the $73,514,528 level approved last year.

City Treasurer and Finance Director Susan Carmel said the free cash amount is expected to be certified soon by the state at approximately $4 million to $4.5 million. The average amount taken from free cash to lower tax rates has averaged about $1.9 million over the past decade, she said.

In answer to question, Carmel said a surplus amount of from 3 to 10 percent of a municipal budget is generally recommended, adding that the city has retained a reserve of 3 to 4 percent of the budget in recent years.

Paula King, chairwoman of the Board of Assessors, said that if the new rates were figured as a single tax rate for all property that would be $22.97 per $1,000 valuation, up from $22.07 last year.

She said the total valuation of city property is $3,343,164,997 this year, compared to $3,331,646,372 in fiscal 2015.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

Tax rates in Pittsfield, per $1,000 in assessed property value:

Fiscal 2016

Residential: $18.76

Commercial: $38.06



Fiscal 2015

Residential: $18.06

Commercial: $36.63

-------------

“A surplus of issues lie beneath surplus funds”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, November 27, 2015

The use of reserve and surplus funds emerged as an issue in both Boston and Pittsfield this month.

Standard & Poor's, one of the three major bond rating agencies, downgraded the state's credit rating from stable to negative largely because the state's stabilization fund declined as the economy improved. The agencies prefer to see the opposite.

The Baker administration blames its predecessor, the Patrick administration, as is customary. However, building up the surplus account while adding proposed new programs and maintaining necessary spending for education and other efforts without raising taxes will provide a real challenge for the governor.

On Tuesday, the Pittsfield City Council voted 7-4 to use $1.5 million from surplus funds to lower the tax rate as opposed to the $2.25 million proposed by Mayor Daniel Bianchi. This will result in a 3.98 percent hike in the residential property tax and a 6.44 increase in the commercial property tax.

Tax hikes are never welcome, especially in a sluggish economy. But the city's long-term economic health is of consequence as well.

Pittsfield hasn't had to concern itself with the Proposition 21/2 limit in some time, and the city had about $8.5 million in excess levy capacity available a year ago. However, as Councilor at large Barry Clairmont observed Tuesday, the 2 1/2 ceiling will come down in part because of stagnant property values. It is difficult to imagine voters passing a 21/2 override, but dipping into surplus funds is not a long-range funding solution. It also leaves the city vulnerable in the case of a financial emergency.

Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso, an advocate of the $1.5 million limit, said the city must look for efficiencies and spending reductions. This should be discussed in June when the budget is approved, not in September, when tax rates are set, as has too often been the case with the City Council. Councilors Kevin Morandi and Anthony Simonelli say they will bring this issue up next June, promising a difficult but much-needed debate.

-------------

"Adding transparency to Tyer transition"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, November 29, 2015

To the editor:

Applause to Mayor-Elect Linda Tyer for her transition plan to include department heads' briefing packages (Eagle, Nov. 25) in advance preparation for her taking over the mayor's office Jan. 4.

Great idea for her to gather insight into her leadership team's credentials and experience before defining the priorities and expectations for their city departments going forward.

An addition to her commitment for greater transparency and increased community participation in the governing process would be to "post" these reports online for the community to share along with the monthly update reports that follow. This would be a giant step forward in the inclusion process for the Pittsfield community to better understand how our city government is meeting its stated objectives and expectations.

It would appear that this process would put everyone on the same page and reduce the element of surprise as she proceeds with her four-year term as mayor. Drawing back the curtain on governing would be of value to her and her efforts to create inclusiveness for the community.

This transparent process would certainly break the mold of the historic governing procedures and move her to the forefront of "open thinking and communications" among governing leaders.

Barry Hollister, Pittsfield

-------------

Sabic plans to closing its Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield and moving the operation to Selkirk, N.Y., by the end of 2017. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Sabic to close Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, December 2, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Sabic has confirmed it will close its Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield within two years and move those operations to Selkirk, N.Y. by 2017.

The announcement on Wednesday was expected in the wake of October's news that Sabic Innovative Plastics was shuttering its Pittsfield headquarters and consolidating in Houston, Texas.

"Many of the employees will hopefully be commuting to Selkirk," Sabic spokeswoman Jodi Kennedy said.

Selkirk is a hamlet in the town of Bethlehem, N.Y., which is located on the west bank of the Hudson River just south of Albany.

It remains unclear how many employees would be affected by the move to Selkirk, but the company since October has said a total of 300 Pittsfield employees would be affected by consolidation, including those at the development center.

Citing competitive reasons, Sabic declined to specify the breakdown of employees at each of its Pittsfield facilities: the corporate offices at 1 Plastics Ave., and at the development center, which is Sabic's research and development arm.

Moving the center out of Pittsfield is part of a larger company move to consolidate its technology and innovation operations in Pittsfield and Exton, Pa. at Sabic's Selkirk facility.

The consolidation will happen once modifications to the Selkirk facility are made sometime in 2017. When that occurs, Sabic will close its facilities in Pittsfield and Exton.

"Because it's very early in the process we will be starting the process to assess the capacity of the three locations and what will be required in the future to support the business going forward," Kennedy said.

"We have some fabulous scientists, and we're looking forward to them being with us," she said. "But a lot needs to be done before we have clarity on actual numbers."

In October, Sabic announced that it planned to move the corporate offices that it maintains on Plastics Avenue to Houston sometime in 2016. Houston is the hub of the global conglomerate's operations in the Americas.

Any announcement regarding the future of the development center and its employees in Pittsfield was not made in October because the situation was still under review, Kennedy said.

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said city officials have been expecting an announcement from Sabic regarding the development center employees.

"We knew that there was going to be a change there, and we knew it would happen; we just didn't know where," Bianchi said. "A lot of the people who work out of here, I believe, worked in Selkirk at one point in time.

"We hope that people will continue to live in Pittsfield and commute to New York, which is about a 45 minute drive," he said.

"The nice thing is it's not like they're consolidating in western New York," he said. "It's here."

Bianchi said the city is waiting to receive more information from Sabic before it can assist all of the local employees who may be affected by the moves to Houston and Selkirk.

"We met with them a few weeks back," Bianchi said. "They said as they learn more and have an understanding of our needs that they will inform us. We'll put that together in a rapid response program."

Consolidating all of its three Northeast technology and innovation facilities at a single site will make the company more efficient, a Sabic official said.

"This integration will not only drive important efficiencies, it will also merge material science, process engineering, and application development into a collaborative environment that will lead to new innovation breakthroughs," said Awadh Al-Maker, the executive vice president of Sabic Technology & Innovation, in a statement.

Sabic came to Pittsfield in 2007 when it purchased GE Plastics world headquarters for $11.6 billion. The company rents both 1 Plastics Avenue and the development center from GE.

GE also owns several other buildings in Pittsfield that are located adjacent to the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

-----

“Sabic moves sharpen Berkshires job focus”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, December 2, 2015

The second Sabic announcement that dropped Wednesday didn't constitute a surprise, but that doesn't lessen its impact on Pittsfield and the Berkshires.

The company announced that it will close its polymer processing development center in Pittsfield within two years and move its operations there to Selkirk, N.Y. This comes in the wake of an October announcement that Sabic would dissolve its world headquarters in Pittsfield and relocate it to Houston next year that made Wednesday's news all but inevitable.

The longer time frame involving the polymer processing development center closing gives employees there more time to explore job options. Selkirk is about 40 miles away from Pittsfield along Route 87 so it is possible that some employees who live in the city or the Berkshires will be able to keep their jobs and make the commute. The two Sabic operations in Pittsfield employ about 300 people combined.

The second Sabic closing, although not unexpected, does return the focus to the serious economic challenges facing the city and county. The region has been hammered with job losses for decades and the steady loss of population, particularly that of young people, has been demoralizing.

Attracting new business is challenging, in part because communities everywhere are doing the same and many have selling points, such as a good road network, that the county lacks. In a Nov. 5 opinion page piece, David Allen, president and CEO of Sinicon Plastics and a member of the Berkshire Innovation Center board, made the point that the Berkshires' largest companies and employers for the most part began here and then expanded. He argued that efforts should be focused on helping current local businesses follow the same route. That's an approach that local and state elected officials should pursue.

-------------

"Unlike other large Berkshire manufacturers, Crane here to stay"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, 11/28/2015

DALTON - It’s just the latest in a string of departures by longtime Berkshire manufacturers.

First, Sprague Electric Co. emptied its massive North Adams factory. Then General Electric Co., long Pittsfield’s largest employer, sold off its last local division to Sabic Innovative Plastics.

And last month, Sabic announced it will pull up stakes by mid-2016.

Can Crane be far behind? The Dalton company, which has manufactured U.S. currency paper since 1879, already has made a number of moves in recent years that some interpret as warning signs.

Not to worry, executives say.

“Crane is very committed to the Berkshires,” said Richard E. Rowe, the president of U.S. Government Products at Crane (the company’s stationery division is based in North Adams). “The currency business is a very strong business. It’s integral to the overall business. And the know-how and expertise in the Berkshires is second to none. This is the foundation on which we were built.”

None of those other employers had roots in the Berkshires that are as deep as Crane’s, which date back to 1801.

Still, the last four years have seen major shifts in the company’s operations and holdings.

Crane hired a CEO from outside the firm for only the third time in its 214-year history; it moved its global headquarters to Boston; it renovated, then sold, its technical materials division in Pittsfield; and it instituted a voluntary retirement initiative in the currency division.

But that currency division is the lifeblood of the entire company, Rowe said, and it’s staying right where it is.

“These are assets that are custom-made for what we do,” he said. “To replicate them anywhere else would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. To replace the know-how and the people here would really be impossible.”

The changes at Crane, which has been the sole supplier of currency paper to the federal government since 1964, have come about due to the evolving nature of the currency industry.

Currency has become heavily dependent on technology as counterfeiting has gotten more sophisticated. Countries have responded to this problem by embedding increasingly sophisticated, state of the art security features into bank notes.

In the United States, the currency market is now expanding. In October, Crane signed a five-year contract — the longest in company history — to remain the sole supplier of currency paper for the federal government.

In 2013, following a two-year delay due to an unanticipated creasing problem, Crane released the revamped $100 bill, which Rowe said is the most distributed bank note in the world.

According to USA Today, the next generation of American currency bills, which will feature a woman on the $10 bill for the first time since the 19th century, will see the most “complete overhaul” of U.S. currency in almost 100 years. The new bills are expected to include a number of security features, some of them secret, along with additional items like tactile features for the blind.

“Counterfeiters are becoming more and more sophisticated,” Rowe said. “That requires more advanced products. So Crane has really moved from a paper maker to a high-tech manufacturer of substrate (the material that currency is printed on) and security features that are generally made in our New Hampshire facility.”

Substrate is made of cotton and linen, the traditional foundation of U.S. currency paper, but it is high-tech enough to hold the technology for the security features that are woven into the material.

Crane still manufactures the substrate used for currency paper in Dalton, but the company’s security thread production and research and development are done at its plant in Nashua, N.H. Crane conducts fundamental research on micro-optics technology at another company facility in Alpharetta, Ga.

Crane also has a fourth facility in Tumba, Sweden, that manufactures paper, prints bank notes, and houses the company’s international sales team and design services.

Crane’s currency operations maintain 350 employees in Dalton, the second-highest among that division’s four plants (375 are employed in Sweden, with 150 split between Georgia and New Hampshire).

When Stephen P. DeFalco was hired as Crane’s CEO in 2011 from a life sciences company in Toronto, more than half the company’s revenue came from foreign operations. DeFalco was brought in to help Crane continue to expand globally, company officials said at the time.

Moving Crane’s global headquarters from Dalton to Boston in 2012 was also done to make business operations more accessible to the international market.

“From a profile point of view for the international business it’s more recognizable,” said Craig Conrad, Crane’s director of communications, regarding the decision to move the global office to Boston. The Boston office has only 10 to 12 employees.

“It’s also easier for customers to come visit us,” Conrad said. “We can bring them into Boston, and a lot of them will want to visit Nashua.

“They can get a sense of where we are going,” he said. “We can talk a little bit about the extension of our micro-optic security feature technology.”

The changes at Crane have not gone unnoticed in Dalton, where the company and the town’s history are intertwined. Crane employees have served as volunteers on town boards and committees for many years. The Crane family’s generosity to Dalton throughout the years is noticeable.

“The town hall I’m sitting in was originally a gift to the town from the Crane family,” said Dalton Town Manager Kenneth E. Walto. “They were very philanthropic.”

Walto referred to Rowe’s comments on the Crane currency division’s commitment to the area as “good news for the town and Berkshire County.

“They’re still almost the (top) manufacturer in Berkshire County, I think,” Walto said.

From the town’s perspective, Crane appears to be “downsizing,” Walto said. The company recently sold the Stationery Factory on Flansburg Avenue along with property at Asheulot Park.

Crane also has begun putting large tracts of undeveloped land within Dalton on the market, including The Pines, a 41-acre parcel bordered by High and Pleasant streets that the company has owned since it acquired the Byron Weston Co. in the 1950s.

The town recently voted to purchase that parcel, a favorite local hiking spot casually referred to as “Happy Land,” to prevent it from being developed.

The company has also donated a 685-acre undeveloped parcel known as “The Boulders,” which is located in Dalton, Lanesborough and Pittsfield, to the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

Walto said the town has “made some inquiries” into Crane’s recent selling spree, but isn’t worried about the practice.

“We wish they would increase their operations here,” Walto said. “That’s what we would like to see.”

In response to a reduced paper demand from the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Crane in early 2014 instituted a voluntary retirement incentive for 8 percent of its local currency workforce.

“We feel really good that everyone who was downsized was allowed to retire early,” Rowe said. “We’ve added back about 15 to 20. We’re probably going to add a few more.”

“We are growing,” he said, referring to Crane’s new currency contract with the U.S. government.

Like many large local employers, Rowe said Crane struggles with finding qualified employees who live in the Berkshires.

“We certainly struggle with some elements of that,” he said. “We won’t hire under duress. We wait for the right person. Sometimes it takes several months or a year to find the right person.”

But he said Crane has been working with Berkshire Community College and McCann Tech to find local employees who fit their qualifications.

“We’ll work with our employees to develop their talent,” he said.

Rowe also has heard the rumors that Crane is more interested in developments outside of the county than inside of it.

“I grew up in Dalton,” he said. “My dad worked for Sprague. I raised a family here. This is a strong business, and I certainly have a great incentive to continue and make sure these jobs stay in the Berkshires.

“That’s what helps me get up every morning and drive here.”

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com, @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

“To replace the know-how and the people here [in the Berkshires] would really be impossible,” said Richard Rowe, president of U.S. Government Products at Crane.

Crane’s currency division in Dalton makes the substrate material on which U.S. currency is printed. This sheet of $100 bills is a sample provided by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing for the company to test and inspect.

-------------

Roberta McCulloch-Dews

Catherine VanBramer

“Mayor-elect Tyer names two to office staff”
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, December 6, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayor-elect Linda M. Tyer has named two women to help manage the corner office at City Hall when her four-year term begins Jan. 4.

Tyer announced Sunday evening that Roberta McCulloch-Dews will serve as Director of Administrative Services and Catherine VanBramer will be the new mayor's executive assistant.

"As I promised residents during the campaign, it is my intent to restore their faith in government which includes assembling a team of the very best and brightest," Tyer said in a prepared statement. "Catherine and Roberta are knowledgeable, energetic, accountable and committed to improving Pittsfield, and I am thrilled to have them as part of my team."

McCulloch-Dews has recent experience in the mayor's office as she temporarily filled in for Julia Sabourin, outgoing Mayor Daniel Bianchi's top administrative assistant. In August, Sabourin gave birth to her first child and went on a 12-week maternity leave. Bianchi hired McCulloch-Dews to work a few days per week to handle office communications and other work normally overseen by Sabourin — experience McCulloch-Dews says will come in handy after Tyer is sworn into office.

"It gave me insight into the operations and constituents and what they needed," she said in an Eagle interview. "It gave me a perspective I can build on."

A former newspaper journalist of 15 years, McCulloch-Dews is the founder and CEO of RMDews Media, a company that specializes in communications, public relations, and social media services. She said her business will be on hold as her new position is full-time.

Prior to establishing RMDews Media, McCulloch-dews was the assistant director of communications and assistant to the president at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. She currently serves on several commissions and boards including the Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women, the educational group Berkshire Compact and the Elizabeth Freeman Center.

McCulloch-Dews is the wife of Warren Dews, regional vice president of audience development, sales and marketing for The Berkshire Eagle and New England Newspapers Inc.

VanBramer, the senior clerk in the City Clerk's office, will continue to work under Tyer, currently the City Clerk. She has also held the role of clerk for several city boards and commissions including the Charter Review Study Committee, Ordinance Review Committee, and Human Rights Commission. In 2013, VanBramer participated in the Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact (LIPPI), through the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts. She graduated last year from the Berkshire Leadership Program and now serve's on the program's steering committee. VanBramer also volunteers as a second-grade religious education teacher at St. Joseph's Church.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter.

-------------

Mark Tully: “Proposition 2 ½ and its effect on Pittsfield's Finances”
By Mark Tully, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, December 9, 2015

An extremely important milestone in Pittsfield's history has come to pass the other week with little media attention. At the Pittsfield City Council's tax rate review on Nov. 24, the Proposition 2 ½ levy ceiling became the levy limit. The levy is the amount of money a city raises through property taxes to fund the budget. In accordance with Prop 2 ½, there are limits to the amount a municipality can tax.

First, I'll provide a brief background on Prop 2 ½. The law was voted on in 1980, the same year Ronald Reagan won election, and enacted in 1982. At that time, property taxes in Massachusetts far exceeded the national average and there were no controls on levy increases. The passage of Prop 2 ½ was truly a taxpayer revolt. The levy limit was calculated at 2.5% of the community's fair market assessed value and allowed to increase 2.5% each year. Prop 2 1/2 also created the Massachusetts Division of Local Services to record, track and report tax levy information on every community.

Under Prop 2½; a municipality is subject to two property tax limits:

• Levy Increase limit: The annual increase of the property tax levy cannot exceed 2.5%, plus new growth; which is the taxable amount from new real property.

• Levy Ceiling: The total annual property tax revenue raised by a municipality shall not exceed 2.5% of the assessed value of all taxable property contained in it.

Since Prop 2 ½'s enactment, Pittsfield's tax levy reached its levy limit once, temporarily in the early 2000's; but the levy has always remained below the levy ceiling. Many communities in the state consistently function at their levy limit and depend on the 2.5% annual increase and new growth values in order to increase their budgets. If a community is at their levy limit and needs more money to fund their budget, an override request can be placed on the ballot to raise the limit permanently. A community may also request that voters approve a specific debt service or capital project cost that is outside of the limits. These provisions are called "debt exclusions" and "capital overlay expenditure exclusions" and are very specific on how the increased taxes would be used. Since fiscal year 2004, Pittsfield's property tax levy increased less than the allowed levy limit creating "excess levy capacity." If a community doesn't increase its levy to the full limit, the balance becomes excess levy capacity and may be used in the future, without a voter approved override.

As I mentioned earlier, the Levy Limit is one component of this law. The Levy Ceiling is the other component. The Levy Ceiling represents 2.5% of the assessed value of all the taxable property in Pittsfield. Our community experienced a rapid increase in assessed values starting from 2004 at $2.1 billion until 2008, where we ended at $3.4 billion. This represented an unprecedented 63% increase over that 5 year period. It is debatable whether this increase was real or speculative, but that's an argument for another day. The important fact is that since 2008, the total assessed value has not grown annually, but has decreased to $3.3 billion. This is where the levy ceiling comes into play.

At the Nov. 24 city council meeting, the tax rate was set and $1.5 million of free cash applied to the levy. The result is an excess levy capacity of $6.8 million. If history is an indication of the future, the excess levy capacity will disappear in 2 years because budget increases require that we raise the levy $3-4 million each year. There are no more annual 2.5% increases to the limit, because our levy limit is now the ceiling. Once the excess levy capacity is consumed by FY2019, increases in any city department's budget will have to be offset by a decrease somewhere else. When our tax levy reaches the levy ceiling, it cannot be raised even with a voter approved override. Pittsfield will not be able to increase property taxes. The only voter approved overrides allowed will be "exclusions" for items such as a specified debt or a capital project.

What is the answer? The answer is that we must increase our tax base with new businesses and residences while simultaneously reducing the cost of city government. That's an easy statement to make, but has been difficult, if not impossible, to implement. I have been studying the Prop 2 ½ limits on Pittsfield's levy for the past several years and am grateful to see that, at least, the conversation has begun. I am optimistic that this conversation will continue publicly through the next budget session.

Once we all understand our limits to growth, I am confident that solutions will arise.

Mark Tully is a resident of Pittsfield, and the sales manager for Fenwal Controls, an appliance control manufacturer.

-------------

“Fired BerkshireWorks employee alleges retaliation for discrimination complaint”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, December 20, 2015

PITTSFIELD — A longtime employee at the BerkshireWorks Career Center contends he was forced into retirement after reporting allegations that a former executive director had sexually harassed female employees.

Daniel Collins, of Clarksburg, said he recently gave up on negotiations with BerkshireWorks management toward a settlement of issues surrounding his "forced retirement" in April, when he said he was given the choice to retire or be fired over alleged job performance issues.

Collins said he now wants to make public what happened to him, which he termed "retaliation for doing my job" as the financial and human resources manager at the BerkshireWorks center.

Collins, 68, said he also believes part of the alleged retaliation against him stems from an age discrimination complaint he filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. He applied for the executive director's post in late 2013 and wasn't granted an interview, he said.

Ultimately, Collins blames his alleged mistreatment and retaliation on the agency's executive director, Kenneth Demers, and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi — who by virtue of his office appoints BerkshireWorks' executive directors — possibly in concert with officials at the state level.

Demers and Bianchi reject Collins' assertions.

Bianchi stated he was "absolutely not" involved in the actions or decisions that led to Collins' departure. He denied retaliating against Collins and said he has had little or no involvement in the operation of the BerkshireWorks office, beyond appointing the executive directors.

Bianchi said he was made aware last winter, however, that state officials had raised concerns about the fiscal management of the office, and he understood that Demers would be dealing with the situation.

"It is discouraging that Mr. Collins continues his vengeful crusade to interfere with BerkshireWorks' mission, especially given that BerkshireWorks allowed him to voluntarily retire from the agency in lieu of terminating him for poor performance," Demers said in a statement to The Eagle.

Collins maintains that he never received a negative job performance review or warning in his 40 years with BerkshireWorks, the county's employment and job training agency.

RECEIVED COMPLAINTS

Collins said that in early 2014 he investigated several allegations of "inappropriate behavior" and "sexual harassment" brought forth by female employees of BerkshireWorks against their boss, William Monterosso, whom Bianchi had appointed executive director that January. At the end of his investigation, Collins told the city that Monterosso should "resign or be terminated."

But Pittsfield Personnel Department officials "just didn't believe" the harassment allegations, Collins said.

At least two of the women have since filed sexual harassment complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against Monterosso, BerkshireWorks and the city, according to Collins. Those complaints and his age discrimination complaint all are pending, he said.

MCAD does not comment on its active investigations. Monterosso's attorney, [Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr.], at the time called the employees' allegations "baseless."

Collins said he believes city officials blamed the allegations against Monterosso on employees who were unhappy that Bianchi had replaced John Barrett III as BerkshireWorks' executive director when his contract ran out in late 2013. Barrett, the former North Adams mayor, was appointed to the position by the previous Pittsfield mayor, James M. Ruberto.

Collins said he sent 11 employees to the city's Personnel Department to discuss the alleged sexual harassment.

Monterosso, a city native who had previously worked for 15 years in workforce development and headed agencies in Kentucky and West Virginia, was placed on paid administrative leave in April 2014. On May 19, 2014, he resigned and left with a severance package that included pay and health insurance through July 31, 2014, and a confidentiality agreement that prevents anyone involved from discussing the settlement publicly.

"All of this started when they hired Monterosso," Collins said of the sequence of events that led to his leaving BerkshireWorks. But the situation was complicated, he said, by the fact that Bianchi replaced Barrett — who Collins said had unanimous support from the office staff to continue — with Monterosso.

Both Collins and Barrett have contended that the decision was primarily political in nature because Barrett had been appointed by former Mayor Ruberto, a Bianchi rival who had defeated Bianchi in the 2009 contest for mayor. Bianchi denied that allegation, saying he wanted to find a director who had more professional experience in the employment and recruitment field than the former North Adams mayor.

Collins said that, in addition to sending employees to the city Personnel Department to register their complaints, he at one point refused to approve paychecks for Monterosso, and then that approval authority was taken over by the city treasurer's office at the direction of the mayor. Although the BerkshireWorks office operates employment and training programs in the region receiving annual federal and state funding, the mayor appoints the directors and federal funding passes through the city to the employment office.

In a follow-up query from The Eagle, Demers declined to comment on details of Collins' allegations.

"I do not believe it would be appropriate for me to respond to these questions at this time," Demers said.

STATE REVIEW

After returning from a vacation in April 2015, Collins said he was notified that alleged deficiencies in his performance, stemming in part from an annual state Department of Career Services financial management review, would be used terminate his employment if he did not agree to leave on his own. Collins said he was immediately placed on administrative leave and never returned to the office, while severance and settlement negotiations commenced between attorneys.

The Eagle obtained a copy of the Department of Career Services' financial management review of BerkshireWorks for fiscal 2014. The report followed an on-site DCS review conducted in April 2014, during Monterosso's tenure with the office.

The state review doesn't name any employees, but it lists several procedural and fiscal issues and makes recommendations to fix them.

Among items mentioned were checks issued "without following the documented procedures," multiple checks that "lacked proper backup documentation," a "travel voucher's supporting backup was not signed by the director," and "the supporting backup for the travel voucher was not signed by the director."

The DCS review stated that the local office had been "conditionally certified," pending responses to the issues noted and a follow-up review.

Collins said he received the annual review report from the state in 2014 and responded within 30 days to the items noted in it, as he had done after every annual review during his 20 years as financial manager. He said it is typical of the state review "to find something," such as a mistake on a voucher or a procedure that must be updated, and then to work out with the local employee or employees whether changes were required going forward.

"It's all little things," Collins said. "It's no big deal."

He said the types of issues are the same typically noted after each annual DCS review, and are identified at other employment offices in the state as well. Normally, he said, the items are resolved through a dialogue between the office and DCS officials, but that process did not occur after the fiscal 2014 report.

He said that this time he responded as usual, but he never got a reply from the state before being placed on administrative leave seven months later.

"They were holding it over my head," he said.

Colleen Quinn, a spokeswoman for state Department of Career Services Director Alice Sweeney, stated in an email to The Eagle that "DCS has no record of receiving a response from BerkshireWorks," concerning the fiscal 2014 report.

Collins said he definitely did file his written response to the review, as he had in all other fiscal years.

Asked why he thought he wasn't simply fired if there were serious problems, Collins said, "Because it was all bull----."

He said of the typical deficiencies noted on the reports that there was "nothing fraudulent and nothing that could not be resolved. There was never any wrongdoing." In addition, he said, there are audits of the office performed by an independent firm annually and no fraud or other no serious problems were identified.

MONITORING REQUIRED

In a March 13, 2015, letter, Edward Bartkiewicz, the manager of field management and oversight for Department of Career Services, stated that the fiscal 2014 review of BerkshireWorks had identified "multiple fiscal findings" in the areas of "accounting systems and reporting; cash and grant management; cost allocation and cost classification methodology, and property/inventory standards." The letter was addressed to Bianchi, Demers, Sweeney, Berkshire County Regional Employment Board Executive Director Heather Boulger and others.

The letter also stated that the Berkshire Training and Employment Program had been "designated as a high-risk grantee" program, and that the DCS would require BTEP "to provide more detailed financial reporting," and noted that "additional monitoring by DCS may be necessary."

The letter stated that DCS would impose a "prior approval/special condition" designation, "requiring pre-approval of the procurement of any new contracts," and require "BTEP to submit payment requests [with the exception of their weekly payroll] to the DCS for prior approval."

Those restrictions on BerkshireWorks operations were lifted by the DCS as of Aug. 31, Quinn said.

Collins said he doesn't remember being shown the March 15 letter, but believes that "whatever they found was all correctable." He said he took the fact the state did not respond to his written responses to the fiscal 2014 review as indicative of a plan to eventually use the report against him.

Asked about concerns identified at the state level about financial management at BerkshireWorks, Sweeney said in a telephone interview that the DCS reviews both financial and program operations at the state's 16 regional employment and training offices and reports to the entities with management responsibility — in Berkshire County that being the Pittsfield mayor and the regional employment board.

Sweeney added that, while the annual review reports are given to those overseeing each employment region, any "personnel determinations" are made at the local level.

"We make fiscal recommendations," she said, "not personnel recommendations."

Boulger, the head of the county employment board, said that board oversees local employment and training programming but also is not involved in personnel decisions at BerkshireWorks.

Collins also speculated that public disputes that erupted between Barrett, when he was director at BerkshireWorks, and DCS officials could have played a role in what he sees as retaliation against him because he was associated with Barrett.

MANY ADMINISTRATIONS

Collins said he has worked in the BerkshireWorks office during several administrations, beginning with Mayor Charles L. Smith (1980-88), but he has never seen such disputes erupt involving an administration or any significant involvement in the office by a mayor, except to appoint a director as needed.

After finding no one he thought qualified for director in an initial search, Bianchi initiated a second job search, which led to Monterosso's hiring in January 2014, and both Collins and Barrett applied. Barrett, whose contract had expired in September 2013, also had applied previously, and he had agreed to stay on as an interim director during the second search process.

Barrett said he was one of two finalists in the first search, and the other candidate withdrew from the process.

If Barrett, who had been in the position since May 2011, was going to be replaced, Collins said, "there is no question I was the most qualified" after many years in the office.

Barrett said that when Ruberto appointed him in 2011, in part to help address federal and state policy and procedure compliance issues at BerkshireWorks, Collins was "most cooperative" in assisting with efforts to bring the office procedures into compliance.

Barrett added that Collins "never got negative reviews" during his long career, including throughout Barrett's tenure as executive director.

"I was disappointed that Dan Collins was not treated better. He was a dedicated employee for more than 38 years," Barrett said.

ENDED TALKS

After Collins left BerkshireWorks in April, his job settlement negotiations dragged on until October, Collins said.

Collins said that in early October, he became "fed up" with the negotiations and told his attorney, Richard Dohoney, of Donovan & O'Connor, to end the talks with the attorney representing BerkshireWorks.

The bottom line, he said, was that the other side offered him just $5,000 — to be paid by the city of Pittsfield — and he would have had to agree not to talk to the media about the issues or pursue a lawsuit, among other things.

Collins said he had misgivings about the settlement as it was, but the relatively low payment amount was a final straw. "I decided that it's not worth signing [a nondisclosure agreement] for $5,000," he said. "I said, 'No, thanks.' "

Collins said he received three weeks' severance pay, and he contrasted that with the separation agreement for Monterosso, who left after six months of total employment, including time he was on paid leave.

The amount paid after Monterosso's resignation reportedly totaled at least $20,000. Monterosso's annual salary was reported at $88,600.

"After 40 years, I got three weeks [of pay]," Collins said.

In addition, Collins said Demers appealed his application for unemployment insurance, but the appeal was rejected at the state level. Collins said he now is receiving jobless benefits. Demers did not respond to a question concerning Collins' statements about his unemployment application.

Collins said he had planned to work a few more years before retiring. In addition to his age discrimination complaint against the city and BerkshireWorks, he said he's considering a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination and retaliation.

The draft proposed settlement agreement Collins supplied to The Eagle, which was to have been signed by Collins, Bianchi and Demers, would have barred Collins from a lawsuit or other actions over the disputes involved in his departure and would resolve any job-related allegations against him.

He would receive $5,000 and any job performance issues concerning his work as financial manager would be resolved.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Former Community ReStart employee charged with stealing rent money”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, December 21, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A former employee of a Community ReStart transitional housing program is facing charges he collected rent from three tenants over several months and failed to submit the money for deposit in the organization's bank account.

Joseph Kirvin, 59, is believed to have stolen about $6,135, according to a police report. Questions also have been raised about $2,000 in donated plants to another Community ReStart program that were not received, but which the donating company said were delivered to Kirvin.

Community ReStart, a nonprofit organization, owns five houses in Pittsfield and operates a transitional housing program for low-income people. Rents are set at below market rates.

Pittsfield Police Officer Jeffrey Arena reported that he first spoke with Paul Deslauriers, then executive director of the group, on Sept. 1, and he was told that while other tenants send their rent money to the organization's office, three had rent money collected for them by Kirvin.

Deslauriers told the officer that Kirvin, when confronted about the unaccounted for rent money, first said the tenants had not paid the amounts. However, the three tenants provided proof they had paid, according to the officer's report, and it was determined by Community ReStart that $5,100 was unaccounted for involving rent over five months.

Kirvin was employed for about 18 months, Deslauriers told police.

In a subsequent interview, Deslauriers later amended that total to $6,135, Arena reported.

He also told the officer that Kirvin later admitted taking $3,700 and keeping the money, and that it was being kept at his house. Subsequent attempts to retrieve the money were unsuccessful, Deslauriers said.

Deslauriers said Kirvin also had signed a statement in front of him and two ReStart board members in early September that said he would repay $3,500, but no payments were received.

Kirvin was arraigned in Central Berkshire District Court in October on a charge of larceny over $250 from a single scheme. He was released and is due back in court next on Dec. 24.

ReStart board member James Conway, who now is overseeing the housing component of the ReStart community service programs, said all tenants are now required to directly pay rents to the office.

The ReStart organization, formerly known as Berkshire Co-Act, is amidst a managerial dispute between Deslauriers and his supporters and current board members over the future of its programs.

On Dec. 15, more than 40 people who have worked or volunteered with the nonprofit since its founding in 2008 met with Deslauriers and others and ultimately voted 38-0 to express no confidence in the current board president, the Rev. Ralph Howe.

Deslauriers, who was removed from the post of executive director in October by the board, has called for Howe to resign. Howe said after the meeting that the no confidence vote was not legally binding as the nonprofit is managed by a self-perpetuating board of directors — not as originally was the case by a membership of volunteers who worked with the programs.

Howe also has said he discovered mismanagement of programs after he joined the board about a year ago. He said he is determined to stay on as president until the nonprofit's tax status and other issues involving Community ReStart are resolved.

Among major issues, Howe said, were the revocation by the Internal Revenue Service of the nonprofit's 501(c)3 status, in part because several required annual forms had not been filed.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Marchetti, Krol seen as favorites for Pittsfield City Council leadership posts”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, December 22, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Most city councilors were in agreement this week that Peter Marchetti seems to have more than enough votes to become the next council president on Jan. 4.

The officials surveyed also agreed that Ward 6 Councilor John Krol is the front-runner to become the next vice president.

Councilors were expected to debate on Tuesday night the method of selecting a vice president — whether appointed by the president, as has been the tradition, or elected by fellow councilors — but Krol was considered the favorite to win in either case.

Councilors, including new members elected on Nov. 3, have for several weeks privately predicted that Marchetti — a former at large councilor who is returning to the council in 2016 — could be assured of from seven to nine votes when the council reorganizes for the coming term.

Marchetti, elected to one of the four at large council seats and the top vote-getter, had said prior to the election that he would seek the post if he received the most votes and if City Clerk Linda M. Tyer, whom he supported, was elected mayor — both of which occurred.

Marchetti received 7,229 votes to 5,821 for current council President Melissa Mazzeo in the Nov. 3 voting. Incumbent Kathleen Amuso finished third in the at large race with 5,671 votes, and Peter White was elected with 5,423 votes.

Tyer defeated incumbent Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who was seeking a third term, and she also will be sworn in on Jan. 4.

Marchetti said this week that he doesn't want to comment yet on the president's post, except to say, "I am going to seek the position, and it will be an honor to serve if I'm elected."

Mazzeo, a strong supporter of Bianchi in the election, has said she is still considering whether to seek another term as president but has not made a decision. A majority vote of the 11-member council will decide the issue at the reorganization meeting held on inauguration day.

Previously, the person elected council president would then pick a vice president. Mazzeo chose Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell for the role in 2014.

If the vice president is elected, two options were being floated prior to the council special meeting on Tuesday evening — having the president nominate a candidate or allowing open nominations for vice president.

Krol has said he'll be a candidate for vice president and added, "Certainly, I favor Pete Marchetti as president."

Connell said he also would like to continue as vice president, saying, "I am going to be campaigning for it."

He said he has tried to redefine the role of vice president beyond a ceremonial one by working closely with other elected officials and with city department heads on issues before the city. "I also have the ability to meet during the daytime with department heads," he said.

Connell said he has always tried to work with everyone in city government, regardless of their political leanings. "I think people know that about me," he said.

Newly elected Councilor at large White said it is difficult to know anything for certain about the presidency or vice presidency before Jan. 4, but he intends to support Marchetti and Krol for vice president.

"I've been a Marchetti supporter and worked with Pete on committees for 12 to 14 years," White said.

"I like John for it," White said of Krol. "He has the background and I think he can do the [vice president's] job."

Both were Tyer supporters who should able to work well with her administration, White said.

Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said he is strongly leaning toward Marchetti as president. "He rallied the voters and put up some impressive numbers," Caccamo said.

He added that Krol "is one of the senior councilors at this point, and I am good with [backing him for vice president]."

An ability to work with Tyer should be a key factor in selecting the council leaders, he said.

Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully said she has thought for some time that she'd support Mazzeo if Bianchi had won another term and Marchetti if Tyer won on Nov. 3, hoping that the council president and mayor could work well together for the good of the city.

She declined at this time to publicly support a candidate for vice president.

Contract Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Pittsfield City Council vice president is important job”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, December 22, 2015

To the editor:

The vice president of the United States is a member of the executive branch, second highest only to the president. The power of the vice president is granted under Article Two, Section One of the Constitution.

The vice president is the first person in line to succeed the president in the event of resignation, removal, or death. He/She is also the president of the Senate and a member of the National Security Council. However, the office has been viewed by the public as simply a figurehead with few duties.

John Adams, the very first, was quoted as saying about his office "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Richard Nixon, in contrast, reinvented the office by taking the reins of foreign policy. In a visit to the USSR, Nixon debated with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev the merits of capitalism and democracy which helped Nixon as well as the office of the vice president gain prestige in the eyes of the public.

So, you may ask, why the condensed historical version of the role as vice president?

I believe that there are lessons to be learned from history relating to the role of vice president of the City Council. Since the debate has come up recently if the office should be elected by the council or appointed, I have had several individuals ask me how important is this issue? Many have said that the office of vice president is mostly ceremonial. I have to respectfully disagree.

The office of the council vice president is what that individual makes of the responsibilities, similar to what many of the vice presidents of the US have done. I was honored to be appointed to the position two years ago by President Mazzeo. My goal was to try to redefine the position by working closer with the president and to be involved in as many of the conversations as well as decision-making that went on in the city.

Fortunately, both myself and the president had flexible schedules so mayor could involve us in some of the discussions when City Hall was open. Our schedules also enabled us to discuss with department heads items that were coming up on the council agenda and to get questions answered so that we could better inform our fellow councilors. The vice president should also be available to assist new councilors at the beginning of their term (when needed) to help navigate City Hall and respective departments.

My opinion is regardless if the vice president is elected or appointed, that person needs to devote the time and energy to the role they play in city government and hopefully that position will always be viewed as a leadership role by the public and not simply a ceremonial one.

Chris Connell, Pittsfield
The writer is vice president of the Pittsfield City Council.

-------------

“Bianchi campaign pays state $1,000 to resolve finance reporting violations”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, December 23, 2015

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's campaign committee was required to pay the state $1,000 to resolve a finance reporting violation that undervalued an in-kind contribution of campaign office space.

In a letter sent to the mayor on Dec. 18, a copy of which was obtained by The Eagle, Michael Sullivan, director of the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said that after a review stemming from a complaint, the office concluded that "the [Bianchi] committee did not comply with Sections 8 and 18 of the campaign finance law."

The review followed a complaint to the office that stated that "the [Bianchi] committee, when reporting an in-kind contribution in the form of office space for a campaign office, significantly underreported the value of the space," Sullivan wrote.

The Bianchi committee had its campaign headquarters in the Elm Street Shops center at 180 Elm St., in space that had been vacant, the letter states, and it was occupied from Sept. 15 through Nov. 14. The owner of Elm Street LLC, Jay Newhouse, provided the space as an in-kind contribution, Sullivan said, and that was valued by the campaign committee in a finance report at $150 per month.

Section 8 of the campaign finance law, Sullivan states, says that business entities "may not directly or indirectly give, pay, expend or contribute, or promise to give, pay, expend or contribute, any money or other valuable thing for the purpose of ... promoting or preventing the nomination or election of a person to public office." He said it also bars political campaign committees from soliciting or receiving "any gift, payment, contribution or promise to give, pay, expend or contribute for any such purpose."

Section 18 refers to the timely and accurate reporting of campaign contributions.

Bianchi could not be reached Wednesday for comment on the decision.

Sullivan said that based on his office's review, and based on a new assessment by the Bianchi committee of the fair market value of the space, which was requested after receipt of the complaint, "the in-kind contribution as initially disclosed ($150) per month was substantially below market value, even for use of a vacant space by an at-will tenant."

He stated that a "more accurate estimate for the value of the space was approximately $400 per month." The approximate amount of the contributions was $1,000, Sullivan said, adding that "to resolve this matter, the [Bianchi] committee has paid the Commonwealth $1,000, the approximate amount of the in-kind contribution received."

The letter also states that "the receipt of an in-kind contribution from an LLC did not comply with Section 8. In addition, the value of the in-kind contribution was not accurately disclosed, in violation of Section 18."

Asked Wednesday about the amount of rent the mayoral campaign of City Clerk Linda Tyer paid during her successful race against Bianchi, her campaign manager, Thomas Sakshaug, said the campaign paid $500 per month plus utilities for office space on East Street near Park Square.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

The mayoral elections in Pittsfield and North Adams landed at No. 1 in The Berkshire Eagle's list of top stories in Berkshire County in 2015. Others included violent shootings in Pittsfield, the announcement of Sabic Innovative Plastics' departure, and the heroin epidemic. (BERKSHIRE EAGLE FILE PHOTOS)

“Here are Berkshire County's top stories of 2015”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, December 26, 2015

PITTSFIELD - One incumbent mayor fought off a challenge to stay in office, while the other suffered a resounding defeat.

Two violent incidents — including a mass shooting — occurred in the span of a month in Pittsfield last summer, while the epidemic of opioids that has affected New England in general continued to ravage the Berkshires.

These are the top three stories of 2015 as selected by the staff of The Berkshire Eagle.

The list of top stories also included Sabic Innovative Plastics' decision to leave Pittsfield, the continuing controversy over Kinder Morgan's proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline project, and three major renovation projects in North Adams.

General Electric's decision to reject the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan to clean polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield also made the list, along with the approval of local and state funding for the construction of the new Taconic High School in Pittsfield.

Several situations involving local Police Department personnel; and last winter's frigid weather that depleted snow removal budgets and caused a shortage of road salt in Pittsfield round out the list.

1. Elections: In Pittsfield, City Clerk Linda M. Tyer soundly defeated two-term incumbent Daniel L. Bianchi in November's mayoral election earning 59.1 percent of the vote by sweeping all 14 precincts and all seven city wards.

Tyer is the third woman to hold the office since Pittsfield began electing mayors, and will be the first mayor in city history to serve a four-year term following a 2013 charter change. She also defeated Bianchi in the four-way preliminary election in September. Bianchi ran unopposed in 2013.

In North Adams, three-term incumbent Mayor Richard J. Alcombright was soundly beaten by former Mayor John Barrett III in a three-way preliminary election in September, but he rebounded to beat Barrett by 400 votes in the general election.

Alcombright had ended Barrett's 26-year tenure as North Adams mayor in 2009. Barrett swept all five city wards in the preliminary election in his 15th run for office, but lost in the general election as 52 percent of the electorate cast ballots.

2. Violence: Two violent incidents were reported in Pittsfield last summer, while a fourth took place in December.

On the night of July 4, a mass shooting occurred on Linden Street in Pittsfield, injuring four and killing Ronald Pinel, 25, of Pittsfield. No arrests have been made in the case, and what sparked the dispute remains a mystery. The Pittsfield case is classified as one of the country's 353 mass shooting incidents to date in 2015.

Three weeks later on July 30, Keenan S. Pellot Jr., 18, of Pittsfield, was killed and a 17-year-old man was wounded in a mid-day shooting that occurred in front of a barber shop on Tyler Street in Pittsfield. A warrant was issued for the alleged shooter, 18-year-old Thomas Lee Newman Jr., on July 31. He was arrested in Utica, N.Y., the following day. According to Pellot's mother, Newman had been dating Pellot's 16-year-old sister, and the dispute that led to the shooting was a "family issue."

3. Heroin epidemic continues: After losing at least 1,089 people to overdose deaths statewide (25 of them in Berkshire County) last year, heroin continued its deadly trend in Massachusetts and in the Berkshires in 2015.

In November, Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless joined his counterparts from around the state in supporting Gov. Charlie Baker's legislation to help curb opioid abuse in Massachusetts.

Provisions in the bill include restrictions on the number of opioid painkillers as doctor may initially prescribed to patients.

In a statement, Capeless criticized physicians whose overprescribing of painkillers contributed to the epidemic and members of the Massachusetts Medical Society who have balked at the restrictions on their practice that they feel the bill would impose.

During a stop in Pittsfield in December, Attorney General Maura Healey urged a continued hard focus on treatment, enforcement, legislative and other initiatives to battle the problem of opiate abuse and overuse of prescription pain medications.

Also in December, police in North Adams arrested a Connecticut man that they believed sold heroin linked to a recent string of fatal overdoses, one of them fatal. Brian Ducksworth, 25, of Hartford, had been under investigation since March, according to police.

4. Sabic, Best Buy, and the BIC: In October, Sabic Innovative Plastics announced that it would be moving what was left of its world headquarters in Pittsfield to Houston sometime next year taking some 300 well-paying jobs out of the area. In December, Sabic announced that it would close its polymer processing center in Pittsfield within two years and move those operations to Selkirk, N.Y., outside of Albany,

Sabic had purchased GE Plastics in Pittsfield for $11.6 million in 2007. GE had been in Pittsfield for 73 years.

On Aug. 31, Best Buy announced that it had declined to renew its lease with the Berkshire Mall's parent company and would close its outlet in the mall on Oct. 31. The company had 63 employees, 28 of them full-time. Best Buy is the first anchor store to close in the mall, which was sold in 2014.

Construction of the 20,000-square-foot Berkshire Innovation Center in the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires was originally scheduled to take place in October, but was postponed when a $600,000 funding gap developed between the facility's estimated and budgeted construction costs. Officials are still working on bridging that gap. The groundbreaking is now scheduled to take place in the spring.

5. Kinder Morgan controversy: The discussion over Kinder Morgan's proposal to run part of a 412-mile natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to Dracut through seven Berkshire County towns continued in 2015 as several developments took place.

In July, Kinder Morgan obtained an option to purchase an 89-acre parcel on Peru Road in Windsor to construct a compressor station associated with the pipeline project. According to Town Clerk Madeline Scully, the majority of Windsor residents oppose the pipeline project.

In August, the Berkshire Gas Co.'s Connecticut-based parent company, UIL Holdings Corp., announced that it planned to invest $80 million in the $3.3 billion project to transport gas from the pipeline.

In September, Northeast Energy Solutions, an environmental advocacy group with 1,600 members in Massachusetts, appealed the state Department of Public Utilities decision to allow three distribution entities, including Berkshire Gas, to transport gas from that project to the Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court. Two other organizations, the Pipeline Awareness Network of New England and the Conservation Law Foundation have also taken legal action against the DPU's decision with the SJC.

On Nov. 20, Kinder Morgan filed a 6,000-page document with FERC seeking formal approval for the pipeline's construction.

On Dec. 8, federal regulators asked the project's developers to consider alternative routes for the pipeline, including one along the Massachusetts Turnpike that the company had previously dismissed. Regulators have also asked Kinder Morgan to respond to 28 comments on the project filed between Oct. 19 and Nov. 25 that include issues raised by state Attorney General Maura Healey's office.

6. Mills, motels and museums: On Dec. 5, Thomas Krens, the visionary behind the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, officially proposed transforming a section of Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams into a massive multimillion-dollar extreme model railroad and architecture museum.

The former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Krens has also proposed renovating the Mohawk Theatre on Main Street and building a 160,000-square-foot contemporary art museum at Harriman-West Airport.

In July, a New York City based property development company purchased the former Cariddi Mill on 508 State Road. Principals Salvatore Perry and Karla Rothstein hope to transform the 340,000-square-foot complex into artisan workspaces, event space, a restaurant, and hotel and residential space. The Historical Commission approved the first phase of Latent Productions' renovation project for the now Greylock Mill project in December.

In April, a developer purchased the former Redwood Motel, located across the Hoosic River from the Blackinton Mill. Besides renovating the hotel, Broder Properties LLC has also expressed an interest in renovating the mill. Plans call for the two properties to be developed into a lodging and recreation facility.

7. EPA, GE and PCBs: In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its "intended final decision" to the General Electric Co. on its massive 13-year, $613 million plan to clean PCBs from the Housatonic River south of Pittsfield.

Plans include the excavation and capping of most PCBs located in a 10.5-mile stretch of the river between Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield and the heavily contaminated Woods Pond in Lenox.

In October, GE rejected the EPA's plan by invoking an appeal procedure known as an "informal dispute resolution," a day before the 30-day deadline that started the appeal process was scheduled to begin.

In December, negotiations between GE and the EPA moved into a decisive phase on the scope of the Rest of the River cleanup. GE is required to release a written position statement on the dispute by Jan. 19, with the EPA required to respond by Feb. 29.

8. Funding for new Taconic High School approved: In April, the City Council approved bonding up to $45 million for the city's share of the cost in constructing the new Taconic High School on Valentine Road.

In June, the Massachusetts School Building Association approved the city of Pittsfield's $120.8 million design plan for the new high school building project, which has been under discussion for several years. The MSBA has issued approval for $74.2 million in state funding for the project.

In December, Pittsfield's Community Development Board approved the new high school's site plan. The 246,520-square-foot structure, which will be built adjacent to the current high school, is expected to be completed by 2018.

9. Police issues: In June, former Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis was convicted of extortion but cleared of 10 other charges following a trial in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

Buffis, who had been charged in 2014, was found guilty of soliciting $4,000 from a couple in Lee in exchange for dropping pending criminal charges against them. In September, Buffis' attorney, Lori Levinson, filed a motion seeking to have the extortion charge dismissed, but it was denied by the court in early December. Sentencing for Buffis has been delayed twice and is now scheduled for January.

In November, Pittsfield Police Officer Jeffrey Coco was fired for allegedly stealing $150,0000 from two Pittsfield police unions over a three-year period. Coco, a former president of the police union, had been placed on paid administrative leave July 3 pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation. On Dec. 1, Coco announced that he intended to appeal his dismissal.

Two other veteran Pittsfield Police officers, Sgt. Mark Lenihan and Patrol Officer Christopher Kennedy, filed whistleblower lawsuits against the Police Department and the City of Pittsfield alleging that they had been passed over for promotions then retaliated against for pointing out discrepancies in hiring polices and other practices within the department.

On Nov. 16, a federal lawsuit filed against five Pittsfield Police Department officers and two Department of Children and Families employees in August 2011 was settled before a word of testimony was heard in a trial in Springfield.

Debra and Joline Simonetta of Pittsfield alleged that the five officers and two DCF employees violated their constitutional rights, and that police assaulted them, when they took custody of the Simonetta's granddaughter on Aug. 14, 2008.

10. Frigid weather: In February, Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood and Highway Superintendent Kevin Swail appeared before the City Council to answer questions after a flurry of complaints were received by the city regarding snow plowing issues between Feb. 14 and Feb. 17.

A blizzard and frigid conditions over that three-day time span resulted in more than 60 minor accidents and left sections of many city streets covered with either snow or ice, or appearing to be unplowed for lengthy periods of time.

Harsh winter weather leading up to that time span had left the city with less than 600 tons of the 2,500 tons of road salt that had been budgeted for the winter.

In Lenox, the town's snow removal budget was exhausted by Feb. 20. For the winter, Pittsfield's total snow removal budget was exceeded by $650,000.

Honorable mention: On July 4, Alexander Ciccolo, 23, the estranged son of a Boston Police captain, was arrested at his apartment in Adams and charged with plotting a terrorist attack.

It is alleged that Ciccolo, who had used the name Ali Al Amriki, had acquired weapons to conduct a terrorist attack on a college campus in the name of the Islamic State, according to police.

Alexander's father, Robert Ciccolo, had alerted law enforcement authorities to his son's activities in the fall of 2014.

Alexander Ciccolo was arraigned in federal court in Springfield July 28 on charges of illegal possession of a firearm and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. His next court appearance is scheduled for February.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

-------------

Michael Moore, owner of Persnickety Toys on North Street in Pittsfield in 2014. According to a Facebook post, Persnickety Toys will be closing at week's end. It is the latest of several downtown business closings in recent months. (Eagle File photo)

“Persnickety Toys closing Pittsfield store”
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, December 28, 2015

PITTSFIELD - A five-and-a-half year run is over for the downtown's only toy store.

Persnickety Toys at 137 North St. is closing at week's end, according to the owner's posting on Facebook Monday afternoon.

"I did have the option to not close dependent upon the outcome of the holiday season, but I'm afraid that while it was pretty busy, it just wasn't busy enough,' wrote Mike Moore.

Moore refused to comment about the social media announcement, which made clear the original Persnickety Toys in North Adams, owned by Monique and Whitney Suters, will remain open.

The Facebook posting goes on to state that the Pittsfield inventory will be transferred to North Adams, and those with gift certificates bought at the Pittsfield store can redeem them in North Adams, as has always been the case.

The Suters originally opened the Pittsfield Persnickety Toys in June 2010, with Moore taking ownership a couple of years ago, according to local business officials.

Downtown Pittsfield Inc. Executive Director Kristine Hurley wasn't "completely shocked" by the news, but still saddened by the sudden closing.

"We've done everything we can to promote the store," she said in a phone interview with The Eagle. "It was really nice to have such a unique toy store on North Street."

Persnickety Toys is the latest of several downtown business closings in recent months, most notably Baba Louie's on Depot Street.

Known for its wood-fired, sourdough crust pizza, Baba Louie's Pittsfield location closed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, also ending a five-year presence in the downtown. Masiero told The Eagle, the closure was for personal reasons, and he continues to operate his restaurants in Great Barrington and Hudson, N.Y.

Hurley said she's anxious to see another restaurant open in the Depot Street space, once home to the Pittsfield Brew Works which closed in March of 2010, replaced a few months later by Baba Louie's. She said Downtown Pittsfield Inc. is currently working on a strategy that includes dealing with business turnovers in the city center.

As for Moore, he wrote on Facebook that he'll miss his customers.

"I have enjoyed being a part of your lives & of your children's lives as well," he wrote. "The last five years have been a lot of fun!"

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter.

-------------

“Building a brigade to take back Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 1, 2016

To the editor:

Pittsfield is handcuffed by the four special interest groups (SIGs): The School Department personnel, the Police and Fire Dept. employees, and all other city workers. Candidates for all city offices pander to them during the election cycle and once elected, satisfy the SIGs' demands beyond their wildest dreams. All of this, of course at the expense of all other citizens (taxpayers) who don't work for the city.

I proved beyond any doubt in the recent mayoral election that a person such as myself, who calls a spade a spade and who does not pander to the four special interest groups, has no possibility of ever being elected to city government in Pittsfield. I am trying to build a brigade, made up of non-Good Old Boys and SIGs, to rival the GOB-SIG network. The only way that this city can be returned to its rightful owners, the city's taxpayers, is to rid ourselves of the present GOB-SIG network.

How long can the city afford to pay the four SIGs the remarkable salaries they enjoy at our expense? Nationally, wages have risen no more than 1 percent per year. Compare that to what the four SIGs received in past years and what they are going to get in the coming years. Teachers in Pittsfield will get raises of 18-21 percent over the next three years while members of the City Council were under the impression that the teachers were only going to get raises of 1-2 percent per year, Well, they were partially right. In addition to the teachers' large step rate increases they are going to get new raises of 1-2 percent per year.

We are riding ourself of an incompetent Mayor Bianchi, but we have elected another individual, who was duped by the school department, the newly elected Linda Tyer, who knew nothing of these raises.

The only way to put a stop to this runaway spending by city officials is to build a non-GOB-SIG brigade. Considering that city taxpayers who are not connected to the GOB-SIG network are in the plurality over the GOB-SIGs, it should be crystal clear that if we unite, we can end the 40-year rule of these GOBs and SIGs. who have ruined this city.

Dan Valenti and I have our own TV shows, and Dan has a daily blog at www.planetvalenti.com. Jonathan Levine has his newspaper, the Gazette. We have ample ways to reach all the citizens who are non-GOBs and SIGs and we can build this much-needed brigade.

This is a unique opportunity to return the city to its rightful owners, the taxpayers. I stated over and over again during the mayoral campaign that the stranglehold the GOB-SIGs have had on this city must be broken. If large numbers of taxpayers can be convinced to act, the GOB-SIG network can be defeated.

Everyone should do everything they can to make sure this brigade is built. If not, you can say goodbye to Pittsfield. Soon, there will not be a choice to decide whether you want to stay in Pittsfield. You will have to move because you will not be able to live here financially.

Craig Gaetani, Pittsfield

-------------

Pittsfield Mayor-elect Linda Tyer will be sworn in at an inaugural ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. Monday at City Hall. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield officials lay out hopes, goals for new administration”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 2, 2016

PITTSFIELD - As Mayor-elect Linda M. Tyer prepares to take the oath of office on Monday, a brief survey of other city officials found a mixture of optimism and wait-and-see attitudes at the prospect of a new administration.

Tyer, the current city clerk and a former city councilor, defeated Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in the Nov. 3 election and is set to begin Pittsfield's first four-year mayoral term following a government charter change approved in 2013.

The inaugural ceremonies also will see 11 councilors, City Clerk-elect Jody Phillips and six School Committee members sworn in to begin new terms.

Asked about the pending change, Ward 1 City Councilor Lisa Tully said on Friday: "I am looking forward to the new administration in the mayor's office. I think this new administration will be more open and communicate better with the City Council. I am looking forward to a hands-on mayor with each of her departments."

She added, "Good management in all departments will be a cost savings for the city. I am looking forward to crime and blight being addressed so we can be proud of our city. I am also looking forward to a mayor who moves our city forward while being mindful of the cost to the taxpayers. I think it's going to be a great four years."

"I hope there will be good conversation and communication skills between the mayor and council," said Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi when asked about the new administration. "I also would like to see that projects and programs that are already in the pipeline are followed through on, such as the Berkshire Innovation Center, the Transformative Development Initiative planned for the Tyler Street/Morningside area; the parking management plan for downtown, and the mentoring program for at risk city youth. ... I also would like to see an overall review of all city departments, and also the school department, and to look to provide for more cost saving measures for our taxpayers."

"It's exciting to be working with a new administration that could provide some fresh perspectives and insights on issues," said School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon.

"I'm sure she [Tyer] will be an active member of the School Committee," Yon said, adding that she hopes the new mayor spends time in all of the city schools to become familiarized with each.

A jump-start course in the operation of the 12 city schools could come during the committee's first meeting of the new term, on Jan. 13, Yon said, when a day-long budget session is planned at City Hall. Each principal is expected to do a presentation on their school and its budgetary needs.

"My concerns are public safety, road improvements and controlling the budget," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli. "I feel an increase in public safety personnel, both police and fire departments is needed. As you know, both have overtime in the range of $1 million. I feel this is unacceptable and puts a stress on manpower."

Simonelli said he also is eager to see more streetwork in Ward 7, as it is one of three wards deemed most in need of work in a pavement management study last year.

"While maintaining services is important, control of the escalating budget is a priority," he added. "We cannot continue to spend without taking a closer look at consolidation and reducing spending."

Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said he's "excited to see if Linda does keep to the notion of a more inclusive government."

During the Bianchi administration, he said, "I was on the council, but I rarely felt part of the government," and was rarely consulted on issues.

Caccamo said he hopes Tyer will closely examine "the inner workings" of city departments with an eye toward "cross-collaborations and efficiencies," and he would like to hear more information on such topics in the new mayor's inaugural address.

"I'd like to see some good, positive energy over the next four years," he said.

"Quite honestly," said Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso, "I would like Mayor Tyer to present a vision and a strategic plan [in the address] for us on what she would like to see. I think our most important needs are public safety and economic development. And I would like to see us all to work respectfully and professionally together, and with the people who come before us."

The inaugural ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall. Phillips will be sworn in as clerk, and she will then administer the oath of office to School Committee members and to the new City Council.

Council members will hold an organizational meeting for the new term, electing a new council president and vice president, both of whom will then be sworn in for those posts by the clerk.

The council will follow this by approving the rules for council proceedings and drawing council seat numbers for the new term.

Tyer will afterward be administered the oath of office and give the inaugural address.

Other officials to be sworn in are at large councilors Amuso, Peter Marchetti, Melissa Mazzeo and Peter White, and ward councilors Tully, Morandi, Caccamo, Christopher Connell, Donna Todd-Rivers, John Krol and Simonelli.

School Committee members are Yon, Daniel Elias, Pamela Farron, Cynthia Taylor, Anthony Riello and Josh Cutler.

Children will lead the Pledge of the Allegiance during the ceremonies, and the Taconic High School Honors Chorus will sing the national anthem.

The proceedings will be shown on Pittsfield Community Television's Channel 18 and available online at www.pittsfieldtv.org.

Following the event, Tyer will host a reception for the public at the Berkshire Museum on South Street, featuring refreshments from local restaurants and shops.

Entertainment at the reception will be provided by the Pittsfield High School Chamber Orchestra, Cantarella School of Dance, and the Youth Alive! Step Team. Attendance is free and all are welcome.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Linda Tyer gives her inaugural speech to a large audience in the City Council Chambers on Monday morning.

Peter Marchetti takes the oath after being elected City Council president.

John Krol, center, is elected vice president.

Jody Phillips is sworn in as city clerk.

The City Council reforms.

The Rev. Peter Gregory gives the benediction.

The School Committee takes the oath of office.

New to the council this year are Donna Todd Rivers and former Councilor Peter White.

Rabbi Joshua Breindel gives the benediction.

Breindel congratulates Rivers.

“Pittsfield's Tyer Takes Over Corner Office”
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, January 4, 2016

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Linda Tyer didn't just vow to serve as mayor on Monday morning. She vowed to "devote every day" to crafting a modern government.

"To the people of Pittsfield I make this vow: I will devote every day to protecting our neighborhoods, to creating a community where every person thrives, and to shaping a modern city where prosperity is for all," Tyer said.

Tyer, the city's first four-year mayor under the new charter, was sworn into the mayor's office Monday in front of a large crowd. In a brief inaugural address, the former city clerk promised to work with and for all residents in the city.

"It is for all of you, our senior citizens and our young learners, our business leaders and their hardworking employees, our artists and cultural leaders, our dreamers and achievers. It is for all of you I devote myself to building a modern government that seeks opportunity and races toward it," Tyer said.

Tyer defeated two-term incumbent Daniel Bianchi in November. She took office Monday with the ceremony and a following reception at the Berkshire Museum. While Monday may be more celebration than work, Tyer said she will work closely with the School Committee and City Council to move the city forward.

"I am deeply humbled that I have been entrusted by the people of Pittsfield to lead our city for the next four years," she said. "In my heart, I carry with me a great deal of respect and admiration for those of you who have blazed the trail of excellence. I aspire to the great traditions of loyalty to purpose, dedication to principal, and perseverance to struggle."

Both the new School Committee and City Council as well as new City Clerk Jody Phillips, returning to a position she held prior to Tyer's tenure, were sworn in on Monday. The School Committee is all incumbents: Joshua Cutler, Daniel Elias, Pamela Farron, Anthony Reillo, Kathleen Yon, and Cynthia Taylor.

The City Council has three new members: former Councilors Peter White and Peter Marchetti and newcomer Donna Todd Rivers. The other councilors sworn in are all incumbents: John Krol, Nicholas Caccamo, Kathleen Amuso, Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo, Anthony Simonelli, Kevin Morandi, Lisa Tully.

The council elected Marchetti, the top vote-getter in the at-large race, to serve as president and Ward 6 Councilor Krol to serve as vice president.

"I am confident we will have an inclusive and collaborative city government moving forward," Marchetti said.

To the council and its new leadership, Tyer promised her collaboration and said Marchetti and Krol's "wisdom" will lead the council in the right direction.

"The people of Pittsfield are counting on us, you and me, to bear them in mind as we build mutual respect for one another in order to create our future and realize our shared destiny," Tyer said.

She voiced similar support to the School Committee in her address.

"Our children are counting on us, you and me, to create safe schools that give them every educational, social and cultural advantage. It is our obligation to ensure that every child is recognized for his or her extraordinary potential," Tyer said. "Every moment of childhood is an opportunity to strengthen the hearts and minds of Pittsfield's youngest citizens."

The ceremony included the Pledge of Allegiance led by area children; invocation from Rev. Peter Gregory of St. Charles' Church; the Taconic High School Honors Chorus singing the national anthem and "So Happy Together"; and concluded with benediction from Rabbi Joshua Breindel from Temple Anshe Amunuim.

"We are united in honoring our past and inventing our future," Tyer said.

-------------

Mayor Linda M. Tyer extends her hand to Councilor Nicholas Caccamo as she greets the City Council following Monday's inauguration ceremonies in City Hall. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)


“'Deeply humbled' Linda Tyer takes reins as Pittsfield's mayor”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 4, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Linda M. Tyer became Pittsfield's new mayor on Monday amid expressions of hope for a more inclusive and collaborative city government.

The former city clerk and ward councilor took the oath of office shortly after a new City Council, School Committee and clerk were sworn in at City Hall. As expected, Councilor at large Peter Marchetti was unanimously elected as council president, as was Ward 6 Councilor John Krol as vice president.

An overflow crowd of about 200 residents and current and former municipal and state officials and city employees filled council chambers and spilled into the surrounding hallways.

"I am deeply humbled that I have been entrusted by the people of Pittsfield to lead our community for the next four years," Tyer said in her inaugural address. "In my heart I carry with me a great deal of respect and admiration for those of you that have blazed the trail of excellence. I aspire to the great traditions of loyalty to purpose, dedication to principle and perseverance in struggle."

Both Marchetti and Krol were elected unanimously and were the only nominees for council leadership. Former council President Melissa Mazzeo and Vice President Christopher Connell did not seek re-election and supported the new council leadership team.

"I am confident we will have an inclusive and cooperative city government going forward," said Marchetti, who returned to the council after four years as top vote-getter in the Nov. 3 election.

He and Krol, whom he nominated for vice president, were strong supporters of Tyer in her successful campaign against Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, which began in the spring.

Jody Phillips took the oath as the new clerk, replacing Tyer and returning to the office she held prior to leaving for a job in the private sector. She was sworn in by Rudolph A. Sacco, retired justice of Berkshire Probate and Family Court, while Richard A. Simons, first justice of Berkshire Probate and Family Court, administered the oath to Tyer.

A major change stemming from adoption of a new governmental charter in 2013 was a four-year term for mayor, intended to allow a new mayor more time to pursue his or her agenda; and Tyer will be the first in the city's history to serve the longer term.

A reception for the new mayor and other officials was held afterward at the Berkshire Museum.

According to tradition, the mayor is invited to the council chambers after its members have concluded their organizational meeting. Krol led Tyer into the chambers shortly after 10:30 a.m., and she was greeted with a standing ovation.

In her 12-minute address to the council, the new mayor welcomed the new, returning and former officials, offering congratulations to each in turn.

"Our children are counting on us, you and me, to create safe schools that give them every educational, social and cultural advantage," she told School Committee members.

To the 11-member council, she said, "The people of Pittsfield are counting on us, you and me, to bear them in mind as we build mutual respect for one another in order to create our future and realize our shared destiny."

To Phillips, Tyer said, "Congratulations, Madam clerk and welcome back. We are in your good and trustworthy hands for all things Pittsfield."

Of Marchetti and Krol, Tyer said, "Your steady hand, wisdom and experience will serve us well as you undertake the significant responsibilities on behalf of our colleagues and our citizens."

"Pittsfield is our home," Tyer said. "Here at home we create opportunity for those who seek prosperity, we strive for economic justice, we have compassion for struggle, we celebrate success, we maximize our talent, and we build a future for this generation and the next."

The new mayor also thanked her campaign team and supporters for helping propel her to a decisive election victory that included vote majorities in each of the 14 city precincts.

"I brought with me a team of highly dedicated friends and family who devoted an entire year to this adventure," Tyer said.

Those included her mother, Rosemary Casey, campaign manager Thomas Sakshaug, publicist Christina Barrett, former City Councilor Christine Yon, Brian Johnson, Anne Pasko, Marilyn Herrman, and former Councilor Barry Clairmont, with whom she is in a relationship.

"You are the one who saw my unspoken aspirations and then gave me courage," she told Clairmont.

She also cited a "deep and broad grass-roots movement coming from every neighborhood in Pittsfield. They opened their front doors when I knocked. Some held signs in the freezing cold. You cheered at rallies. You wrote letters. You voted."

Of city residents, Tyer said, "I will remember you when I am faced with difficult decisions. I will celebrate you when you succeed. I will honor you in all that we endeavor to achieve. I will listen. I will learn. I will lead."

At the reception, Tyer said she had "resisted the temptation to give a list of projects" in her address, and tried to lay out what she termed "our guiding principles."

Fostering a collaborative atmosphere, Tyer said, is one of her overriding goals. "I am making a commitment to them," she said of city officials, "and I hope they will extend themselves to me."

Asked how it felt to become mayor, Tyer said her emotions welled at times, particularly as she thanked her parents, Larry and Rosemary Casey, during the address, saying in part: "Thank you, mom and dad, for your constant vigilance. I am here today, in this chamber, as Pittsfield's mayor because of you."

Councilors for the coming term are Marchetti, Mazzeo, Peter White and Kathleen Amuso, serving at large; and ward councilors Lisa Tully, Kevin Morandi, Nicholas Caccamo, Christopher Connell, Donna Todd Rivers, Krol and Anthony Simonelli.

The School Committee members are all incumbents — Daniel Elias, Katherine Yon, Anthony Riello, Cynthia Taylor, Pamela Farron and Josh Cutler. Tyer, as mayor, will be an ex officio member of the committee.

The Taconic Honors Chorus sang the National Anthem and the 1960s pop song, "So Happy Together," by the Turtles.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

The Albany Berkshire ballet performed Monday at a reception at the Berkshire Museum, following the inauguration of city government officials in Pittsfield. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

The Pittsfield High School string ensemble performed Monday at a reception at the Berkshire Museum, following the inauguration of city government officials in Pittsfield. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Enthusiasm for new mayor, council leadership following inaugural events”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 4, 2016

PITTSFIELD - The prospect of a new leadership team for city government had many local officials feeling optimistic that the next few years will prove productive ones for Pittsfield.

Speaking during a reception at the Berkshire Museum Monday after Mayor Linda M. Tyer took the oath of office as the new chief executive, observers said her inaugural address marked a positive first step.

Also during the inaugural ceremonies, Councilor at large Peter Marchetti was elected council president, and Ward 6 Councilor John Krol was elected vice president after being nominated by Marchetti. Both were strong backers of Tyer's candidacy in her race against former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, a two-term incumbent whom she defeated in the Nov. 3 election.

"I'm absolutely thrilled and optimistic," said Jeffrey Hunt, a member of the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, who is married to Marchetti. "I think Linda is going to be a magnificent mayor. I look forward to all the collaboration with all the groups and committees coming together to move the city forward. I love it."

"I just felt that the energy in the council chambers was really positive and uplifting," said former Councilor Christine Yon, a member of the Tyer campaign team. "She will be a great mayor."

"Very good, very uplifting, very upbeat," said Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski of Tyer's address. "We have a new leader in the city, and we are looking forward to working with her and hopefully bettering public safety in the community for both the police and the fire side, and working along with our EMS friends, to make sure we do a good job of taking care of the city as they would expect it to be."

Marchetti said: "I share the people of Pittsfield's optimism. As I said earlier today, we all boarded the bus to move the city forward in a positive direction. If you choose to get off the bus, it won't be up to me or Mayor Tyer to put you in line; the voters of Pittsfield will put you in line two years from now. We all campaigned on a more inclusive, a more collaborative government that knows how to compromise and knows how to communicate."

"There's lots of positive hope for the city," Mary McGinnis, a business owner and former city director of administration services, said of Tyer. "She's got great, great ideas, and with a team behind her, she can't go the other way. She is going to make a big change for Pittsfield."

"I am so excited," said new Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers. "I thought today was really a start for a new Pittsfield. There was an energy in the room that I haven't felt for a long time. It was positive. People are looking forward to change. And I thought the speech was inspiring. I think she is going to bring everyone together."

As the newest member of council, Rivers said she felt "already included" Monday. "I think we were already coming together. There was a lot of camaraderie ... I think we are going to be able to agree even when we disagree. So, I'm looking forward to it."

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, who served as council vice president for the past two years with Melissa Mazzeo as president, said of Tyer's address, "I think it was inspiring. It was hopeful without listing specific goals," which Connell said can wait until Tyer becomes more familiar with her new position. Connell said he and Mazzeo both voted with the majority for Marchetti and Krol for the leadership posts "because that is best for the city. It is a sign of unity for the city."

He added that he hopes the new mayor and council can successfully address the city's difficult fiscal issues over the next few years, trimming back on unnecessary expenses and keeping the tax rate in check.

Speaking during the reception, Tyer said she isn't ready to announce any personnel decisions or other changes in city government. But for the next month she plans to meet with department heads and go over briefings on their duties she had requested during the mayoral transition period.

Asked about her press policy in light of a controversial policy Bianchi imposed during his last term. "One of the things I want to do is have more press conferences," Tyer said. "We will certainly be more open and transparent with better relations with the media overall."

The new mayor said she wants to examine the press policy to better understand it and its intent, "and then see if we can modify it so it works more effectively."

Tyer said she was pleased to see Marchetti and Krol in the council leadership roles. "I think the three of us share a common progressive, collaborative attitude," she said. "And I was very happy that the votes were unanimous," which she said could indicate a coming period of cooperation among officials.

The Pittsfield High School Chamber Orchestra, Cantarella School of Dance and the Youth Alive Step Team provided entertainment for the reception. Food was provided by Brenda's Catering, Flavours of Malaysia, La Fogata, Mezzie's Variety and Mary's Carrot Cake.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“New mayor establishes right tone”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 4, 2016

Linda Tyer established a gracious and optimistic tone Monday in her inaugural speech as the first Pittsfield mayor elected to a four-year term in City Hall.

The tough decisions and budgetary realities will come soon enough. Inauguration day involves sending a message, which the new mayor did in congratulating other elected officials and expressing gratitude toward the many who contributed to her victory.

As Ms. Tyer observed, "There is a deep and broad grassroots movement coming from every neighborhood in Pittsfield." Her decisive victory last November gave her a strong mandate for change. Voters not only want someone to confront the city's many challenges they want a positive, inclusive approach absent the finger-pointing and needless political battles that have distracted the city from real issues.

We expect that from Mayor Tyer, and the Pittsfield City Council's new leadership team of President Peter Marchetti and Vice President John Krol should contribute to this positive approach. Mr. Marchetti's best-in-the-city vote total, which could be interpreted as an apology from city voters for failing to elect him mayor four years ago, put him in position to win the presidency. We see him as an ally but not a rubber-stamp for the mayor, and a president who will discourage council divisiveness and appoint committee chairmen based on background and expertise, not political loyalty.

The city faces challenges on a variety of fronts, and so do Mayor Tyer, the City Council and the School Committee. To solve them or lessen their impact, city officials must work together, and when they inevitably disagree, they must do so respectfully and constructively in pursuit of a satisfactory compromise. That approach has been missing in Pittsfield for four years, and the city looks forward to its return.

-------------

January 5, 2016

Sara Hathaway worked for Nuciforo, who set her up to follow Gerry Doyle's mayoral debacle. She was "a breath of fresh air" after Gerry Doyle lost millions of public dollars that are still unaccounted for, sent the city government into state government receivership, and signed the flawed Consent Decree. Mayor Sara Hathaway served only one 2 year term because she was ousted by Jimmy Ruberto, who moved from Texas back to his mother's home in Pittsfield. Jimmy Ruberto put his mother, who had alzheimer's disease, into a nursing home and thereby usurped his mother's Pittsfield home. I believe this was a terrible act of elder abuse and showed Jimmy Ruberto's character: A total unethical slimeball! Jimmy Ruberto sold Pittsfield as a businessman with a "rolodex" that would bring economic growth to Pittsfield. However, the opposite happened during the 4 term 8 year long Jimmy Ruberto regime! Pittsfield saw thousands of people move away along with thousands of jobs lost. Jimmy Ruberto's rolodex turned out to be a roll of toilet paper! Jimmy Ruberto's failed tenure brought Pittsfield 2 terms or 4 years of Dan Bianchi, who continued Pittsfield's downward spiral, blaming everything on his predecessor, Jimmy Ruberto, and taking no accountability for his lack of leadership to solve Pittsfield politics many problems. The lovely Linda Tyer, backed by Jimmy Ruberto's G.O.B.'s, promised to be a leader who will bring change to Pittsfield by instituting an open, fair, and inclusive municipal government. But the gag is that all of the Good Old Boys and insiders are part of the lovely Linda Tyer's political organization. Peter Marchetti has been auditioning for Pittsfield politics Good Old Boys operations man for years now. John Krol is still paying his dues. Pittsfield politics is still on a downward spiral and things are only getting worse! Sabic Plastics is moving to Texas and Pittsfield is going to lose between 300 - 500 jobs. The financing for the new Taconic High School will begin soon. That will add millions of dollars annually to Pittsfield's property tax bill. Pittsfield is nearing it property tax levy ceiling with no new growth. Pittsfield politics is facing tough times!

- Jonathan Melle

-------------

“Macy's at the Berkshire Mall to close, company says”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, January 6, 2016

LANESBOROUGH - Macy's — an anchor tenant of the Berkshire Mall since 1994 — will be closing, the company announced on Wednesday.

The Berkshire Mall Macy's is among 40 stores nationwide that will close in the coming months, according to the national department store retailer. The company operates 770 stores.

The local store's 58 employees were informed of the company's decision on Wednesday.

In September, Macy's announced that it planned to close "underperforming" stores in early 2016. Four of those stores located in Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have already closed. The remaining 36 will start clearance sales on Monday, Jan. 11, that will run for the next eight to 12 weeks.

Macy's is the second of the Berkshire Mall's anchor stores to close in the past four months. Best Buy closed on Oct. 31 after the company declined to renew its lease with the mall's management company.

The Berkshire Mall Macy's contains 110,000 square feet of space.

The mall's management company, Dallas-based real estate holding company COMM 2005FL10 Berkshire Mall LLC, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

In a statement, Macy's said the nationwide store closings are part of a series of cost-efficiency and process measures to be implemented early this year that will reduce SG&A expenses by $400 million, while still investing in growth strategies, particularly in omnichannel capabilities at Macy's and Bloomingdales.

SG&A is an accounting term that refers to selling, general and administrative cost, a major nonproduction cost that is presented in an income statement, according to a business website.

"In light of our disappointing 2015 sales and earnings performance, we are making adjustments to become more efficient and productive in our operations," said Macy's Chairman and CEO Terry J. Lundgren.

"Moreover, we believe we can operate more effectively with an organization that is flatter and more agile so we can pursue growth and regain market share in our core Macy's and Bloomingdale's omnichannel businesses faster and with more intensity," he said.

In a separate announcement, Macy's stated that comparable sales on an own plus licensed basis declined by 4.7 percent in November and December, compared to the same time period in 2014.

About 80 percent of the company's year-to-year decline in comparable sales was attributed to shortfalls in cold-weather goods such as coats, sweaters, hats, gloves and scarves, Lundgren said.

"The holiday selling season was challenging, as experienced throughout 2015 by much of the retailing industry," Lundgren said. "In the November/December period we were particularly disadvantaged by the historically warm weather in north climate zones where Macy's and Bloomingdale's are well represented."

Regionally, Macy's is also closing its store at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield, and a main store, and two stores in Enfield, Conn.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

-------------

“Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer seeks new legal representation for city”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 7, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Linda M. Tyer is moving quickly to bring in new legal counsel for the city — seeking to replace Solicitor Kathleen Degnan with the firm, Donovan & O'Connor.

The mayor has submitted the change to the City Council as part of its Tuesday meeting agenda — the first under the new administration and council. Tyer seeks to hire the law firm on an interim basis through June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Asked about the change Thursday, city Director of Administrative Services Roberta McCulloch-Dews stated in an email: "Mayor Linda Tyer is pleased to present the firm of Donovan & O'Connor, LLP, to the Pittsfield City Council for interim legal services for the city of Pittsfield. Donovan & O'Connor has a depth of experience representing municipalities and government entities, and previously provided legal services to the city under the administrations of former mayors Sara Hathaway and Jim Ruberto."

The statement continued, "As such, the city looks forward to a robust working relationship ahead. Many thanks to Attorney Kathleen E. Degnan for her service and work on behalf of the city of Pittsfield, and we wish her all the best in her next endeavor."

Asked whether the solicitor had resigned, McCulloch-Dews said, "We deeply value the privacy of our employees, and for that reason, we will not comment on personnel matters."

It was expected that Degnan, a strong public supporter of former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi's campaign for re-election, would be replaced by the incoming mayor. Degnan was hired at the start of Bianchi's first term as mayor in 2012.

Former Assistant Solicitor Darren Lee, also a supporter of Bianchi in the campaign, resigned the part-time post shortly after the Nov. 3 election, saying he wanted to allow Tyer to bring in a new legal team.

In a proposal cover letter from Richard Dohoney of Donovan & O'Connor, which was submitted to the council, he states in part, "The proposal is designed to provide efficient, comprehensive and cost-effective legal services to the city and is consistent with models that have been used both in Pittsfield and other municipalities."

The firm's proposal is a flat-fee arrangement that calls, according to the paperwork, for an attorney to be present from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays at City Hall and at other times as needed, such as to attend meetings.

The fee is $8,500 per month, and the city agrees to pay for costs incurred and out-of-pocket disbursements by the firm. The city would be notified for approval of any single cost in excess of $100 or of total costs in excess of $1,000, according to the proposal.

Dohoney notes in his cover letter that the firm current represents North Adams and the towns of Egremont and Great Barrington in various matters.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“New Pittsfield City Council president announces committee assignments”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 7, 2016

PITTSFIELD - New City Council President Peter Marchetti has announced subcommittee assignments for the coming term.

The assignments, posted in paperwork submitted to the council for its Tuesday meeting agenda, indicates a bipartisan approach, as promised by both Marchetti new Mayor Linda M. Tyer.

Marchetti, elected again to an at large council post after a four-year absence following his mayoral election loss to Daniel L. Bianchi in 2011, was elected president of the 11-member council during inaugural ceremonies on Monday. Ward 6 Councilor John Krol was elected vice president.

Marchetti named former council President Melissa Mazzeo to the chairmanship of the important Ordinance and Rules Committee, and former Vice President Christopher Connell as chairman of the Public Works Committee.

Other chairpersons selected were Kathleen Amuso, of the Community and Economic Development Committee, Nicholas Caccamo, of the Buildings and Maintenance Committee, Lisa Tully, of the Public Health and Safety Committee. And Marchetti will be chairman of the Finance committee.

The committee assignment lineup is as follows:

Ordinance and Rules: Mazzeo, Peter White, Caccamo, Krol and Donna Todd Rivers.

Community and Economic Development: Amuso, Krol, Caccamo, Mazzeo and White.

Buildings and Maintenance: Caccamo, Connell, Amuso, Rivers and Anthony Simonelli.

Finance: Marchetti, Connell, Amuso, Kevin Morandi and Tully.

Public Health and Safety: Tully, Morandi, Mazzeo, Simonelli and White.

Public Works: Connell, Morandi, Rivers, Simonelli and Tully.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Pittsfield Police announce command staff restructuring; Captain Barry to move on”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 8, 2016

PITTSFIELD - The Pittsfield Police Department is restructuring its command staff and the supervision of key functional areas, Chief Michael Wynn said Friday.

The chief said in a press release that the changes follow recent "personnel departures, changes, and requests," and mean that several key command officers will be taking on new assignments.

A key change was the departure of Capt. Patrick Barry, a 27-year veteran of the department and commander of the Detective Bureau, who announced his decision to retire in late 2015, Wynn said, and whose retirement was effective on Jan. 3.

He added, "Captain Barry's departure has presented us with an opportunity to make some changes, mix things up, and interject some fresh perspective into our organization and operations. We wish Chief Barry well in his new endeavors, and I'm looking forward to the energy that these new assignments will bring to the department."

Wynn also said that Barry "will continue to serve in law enforcement as the chief of police of another local community."

He said in a subsequent email that Barry's appointment has not yet been made public.

Wynn said the retirement led to an opportunity for internal discussion and some personnel assignment changes. "For both the betterment of the department, and for the professional development of some key personnel," he said, the staff changes will become effective this week.

At his request, Capt. David Granger will assume command of the Administrative Services Division, effective Sunday, Wynn said. In that capacity, Granger will have responsibility for a wide variety of administrative functions, including records, procurement and human resources.

Granger will also serve as the department's primary Public Information Officer.

Granger is a 31-year veteran of the department and has served the past 10 years as commander of the Uniformed Patrol Division. Prior to that, Granger spent many years in both the Detective Bureau and the Drug Unit, ultimately supervising both units. He also served as a Patrol supervisor.

Capt. John Mullin, a 29-year veteran of the department, has spent the past eight years as the commander of the Administrative Services Division, Wynn said. Prior to that command, Mullin served as a shift commander and patrol supervisor in the Uniformed Patrol Division.

Effective Sunday, Mullin will transfer to the Uniformed Patrol Division as the division commander. He will be in command of all Patrol functions, to include all three patrol shifts, Traffic, K-9, and special events.

Mullin also will continue as department liaison to the Traffic Commission, the Pittsfield Community Connection through the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative and Shannon grants, and the Elizabeth Freeman Center through a Violence Against Women Act grant.

Lt. Michael Grady, a 21-year veteran of the department, has been named the interim Detective Bureau commander, filling a vacancy created by Brady's retirement.

Grady has served for the past five years as the detective lieutenant (second in command) of the bureau on the evening shift. Effective Sunday, Grady will assume command of the Detective Bureau, Drug Unit and Crime Scene Services, pending the completion of a formal civil service promotional process.

Grady will be assisted by the current Drug Unit supervisor and a temporary detective sergeant.

"The department's senior commanders have spent between five and 15 years in their current assignments," the chief said. "While each division commander assignment places various requirements and demands on the commander, they all present significant challenges, time commitments, and personal investment."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer addresses the City Council on Tuesday in City Hall. After some disagreement, the council approved the mayor's plan to hire an outside firm to handle legal services for six months. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

City Council President Peter Marchetti presides over Tuesday's council meeting — the first with the new mayor and council membership. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield City Council OKs mayor's bid to hire firm for legal services”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 13, 2016

PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda M. Tyer's first extended debate before the City Council came about 35 minutes into her first meeting on Tuesday.

The new mayor was vigorously challenged on her plan to hire the law firm Donovan & O'Connor as counsel to the city to fill the role of the city solicitor. The change, which was proposed on an interim basis through June to allow time to evaluate the solicitor's position, was approved about 50 minutes later on an 8-3 council vote.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi argued that such an arrangement would be contrary to the government charter approved in 2013 and would make access by councilors and other officials to legal services more difficult. They said the proposal should at least be reviewed in subcommittee before implementation.

Mazzeo noted that she was "vocal against this" when former Mayor James M. Ruberto hired the same firm to represent the city. "I'm a little surprised we are going back in that direction," she said.

Former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, whom Tyer defeated in the Nov. 3 election, had hired Kathleen Degnan as solicitor four years ago, and also hired a part-time solicitor, Darren Lee, who left that post shortly after the election.

Referring to the city's government charter, Mazzeo insisted that the proposed change would be creating "a temporary vacancy" in the solicitor's job, which was one of the situations that prompted a charter review two years ago and adoption of a new document. One charter section seeks to restrict a mayor's ability to keep temporary appointees in place indefinitely.

Mazzeo said a 90-day mayoral appointment is allowed with council approval, and then possible extensions up to 60 days.

Morandi said he found the charter language issue "really troubling," and he objected to the proposed six-month contract with the law firm because it calls for an attorney to be in the solicitor's City Hall office only two days per week while available at other times by appointment.

Although the contract for legal services, which calls for a flat fee of $8,500 per month, totals less than the salaries of the solicitor and assistant solicitor plus benefits, Morandi said the lack of a full-time office presence at City Hall means the agreement is not as cost-effective.

"I'm concerned having a law firm isn't going to give us what we need from a solicitor," he said.

Mazzeo said she believes having a law firm represent the city during the Ruberto administration was more costly than having a full-time solicitor, and said she'd like to have time to research those costs.

The solicitor's job recently paid $77,472, and the assistant solicitor's salary was listed at $35,218.

Tyer said the proposal is a contract for legal services, not an appointment to replace the solicitor. She said her plan is to consider over the next six months whether there should be changes in the structure of the office and bring a proposal to the council for the next fiscal year — beginning on July 1.

She added that she doesn't believe there is any prohibition in the charter to the arrangement or that there has to be a person in the solicitor's post, but said she'd review that along with other aspects of the current department structure.

Tyer and attorney Richard Dohoney, of Donovan & O'Connor, said he or other members of the firm would be available daily via telephone or email, and appointments could be set up any day in the City Hall office. Dohoney is to be the lead attorney under the firm's contract with Pittsfield.

Concerning contract provisions for expenses beyond the $8,500 per month fee, Dohoney said there typically were few for copying, filing fees or other services when he worked for the city in the past, since the city has an office with its own expense budget. He also noted that any such payments would be made to a third party, not the firm.

The contract sets limits of $100 per single expense and an aggregate expense limit of $1,000 before approval of the mayor is required.

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell proposed a compromise in which Dohoney would essentially be named to the solicitor's post, and that the appointment be limited to 90 days initially with the prospect of extensions for another 60 days — or five months.

Council President Peter Marchetti said he disagreed that the change amounted to an appointment. He said it was a contract for legal services, which the city has entered on numerous occasions, such as during employee contract talks.

Ward 3 Councilor Peter White said he might have reservations about the arrangement in future discussions but is willing to give the mayor six months to develop a permanent plan for the solicitor's office.

Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers, an attorney who once served in the solicitor's office, said she's comfortable with having a law firm represent the city, saying it allows for a range of expertise in different areas of the law. Rivers said she believes it a good idea to review the department and consider changes long-term.

Council Vice President and Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said he has "never had the expectation" officials could drop by the solicitor's office without an appointment, and the situation shouldn't change with the law firm.

He added that "people want us to look at things differently," with an eye toward finding a more efficient or effective format. Six months is a reasonable time frame for such a review, he said.

Along those lines, the council also voted unanimously Tuesday to refer to the mayor's office Councilor at large Kathleen Amuso's proposal for an independent review of city departments to point out inefficiencies or duplication of effort.

Connell said he would like to see a task force, rather than a consulting firm, undertake such a review of department operations.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer calls the recent rash of robberies in the city "unacceptable" and assured citizens that the police are hard at work investigating them. (Eagle file photo)

“Pittsfield Mayor Tyer says police hard at work solving rash of robberies”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, January 13, 2016

PITTSFIELD — Calling the citywide rash of recent robberies and incidents like them, "unacceptable," Mayor Linda Tyer on Wednesday assured citizens the police are hard at work investigating all nine of the open cases.

"We recognize and understand the community's deep concerns regarding a string of robbery events that have occurred in the city of Pittsfield," she said in a statement released Wednesday.

"Incidents that compromise the safety and well-being of our city's residents are unequivocally unacceptable," Tyer said. "As ensuring the security of the people of Pittsfield is our highest priority, the Pittsfield Police Department is hard at work investigating the 10 robberies that have occurred in the city since November 2015."

According to police, suspects are being sought in nine of those robberies. Ivy Rogers, 30, was arrested and charged in the remaining case; the unarmed robbery of Zuke's Soups & Variety on Dec. 10.

Tyer said officers within the department who would normally be carrying out special patrols such as traffic and gang details have been tasked with assisting in prevention of future robberies and investigation of current ones.

"The police department's beat officers are making it a point in-between calls to be visible and conduct patrols in and around businesses," she said.

In a statement released last week, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn said the department believes the robberies being investigated up to that point were all committed by different suspects.

Since that statement, two more armed robberies occurred, one of Peaslee's Package & Variety Store on Jan. 9 and the other of the KwikMart on West Housatonic Street on Tuesday evening.

Pittsfield Police have not released any information on those most recent robberies.

Almost all of the robberies to this point have targeted businesses, including the North Street branch of the Greylock Federal Credit Union on Dec. 30.

The exception is a Dec. 4 robbery in which a pizza delivery driver was held up on Parker Street.

"I would like to affirm that the strength of our city's local economy lies in that of our small businesses," Tyer said. "Every day in our city, small-business owners work hard to provide essential goods and services to not only our community, but throughout Berkshire County and beyond."

Anyone with information on any of the open robbery investigations is asked to contact the Pittsfield Police Detective Bureau at 413-448-9705.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-------------

Pittsfield School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless listens on Wednesday during a building needs presentation to the School Committee in City Hall. From left are Anthony Riello, McCandless, Joseph Curtis and Kristen Behnke. (Photos by Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield principals report on needs, programs at city's 12 schools”
High hopes: Based on past budgets, not all requests will be met
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 13, 2016

PITTSFIELD — After hearing from city school principals about their budget requests for fiscal 2017, School Committee members, Mayor Linda M. Tyer and Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless were effusive with praise.

"I am overwhelmed with pride," committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said of the presentations from 12 principals and other educators and their commitment.

The principals gave "powerful presentations" during the daylong session that reflected their dedication to the schools and students, McCandless said.

He added that the mayor — an ex officio member of the committee — and the committee members showed their dedication as well — "in probably one of the worst uses of vacation time ever."

The meeting, held at City Hall, began at 8 a.m. and didn't conclude until shortly after 3 p.m. It was recorded by Pittsfield Community Television and will be shown again and be made available online through the PCTV website.

Handheld radios, security cameras, lighting and door locking systems; building repairs and paving; additional teachers, paraprofessionals and special education instructors — these items and more were prominent among the requests submitted to the administration and the committee.

The list of requests painted a striking picture of what the principals consider the unmet needs in Pittsfield schools. The reality is that, based on past budget years, the requests will far exceed the final budget figures.

Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said the total of new budget requests was approximately $2.8 million, which if funded in their entirety would result in about a 4.9 percent school budget hike next year. Annual budget increases have averaged about 2.7 percent.

The requests are separate from raises for any of four employee groups now negotiating new contracts, and before the total in state aid to schools is known. Behnke said Gov. Charlie Baker's budget plan, due on Jan. 28, could give an indication of where aid levels to schools is headed. She said there are indications that the level of Chapter 70 aid will decline.

Last year, the administration's preliminary budget trimmed the total new requests from principals by about $3.5 million before the superintendent's budget was submitted to the committee. The budget typically is whittled down further during the committee's review, which aims to produce a new budget in April.

Tyer termed the session Wednesday "very informative" and "full version" public education, adding that it gave her a deeper understanding of school operations and budget needs.

The mayor also praised the collaborative process through which the budget needs were evaluated at each school while ideas were shared throughout the district.

She urged the committee and administration to also consider identifying "things you can let go of so that we can address critical areas" of the budget.

Committee member Anthony Riello recalled that when forced to make budget cuts last year, school officials were creative and focused in keeping the impact of cuts to a minimum. He said he hopes similar approaches can be identified if needed this spring.

Daniel Elias said that if requested new staff members are hired, "we should make sure that it is sustainable" in future budgets.

One goal of the public session, according to McCandless, was to provide residents with an overview of the state of the programs and the funding needs at each school, especially in light of an ongoing districtwide school improvement plan.


Pittsfield School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless listens during the presentation.

SCHOOL REQUESTS

Taconic High School
Three full-time-equivalent (FTE) permanent substitute teachers; one career counselor; handheld for staff; no major facilities request in light of new Taconic High construction project.

Pittsfield High School
Two FTE permanent substitute teachers; an additional vice principal, a math specialist, reading specialist; career counselor and case manager; 0.2 FTE physics teacher; five paraprofessionals; new security camera system; classroom window shades; push bar emergency door alarms; public address system repair; new lockers; handheld radios for staff; creation of diagonal parking on Appleton Avenue; window repairs; auditorium house light repairs; projectors and whiteboards for classrooms; updating the mock apartment for transition program; create language lab; and remodeling student bathrooms.

Herberg Middle School
Two FTE special education teachers; two FTE permanent substitutes; an art teacher; a 0.5FTE librarian; stipend for an additional team leader; swipe card entrance system for cafeteria; interior doors within science rooms; refinish gym floor; additional parking near main entrance; blacktop for areas near outdoor athletic courts; drainage work in main parking lot; relocation of the auditorium sound system.

Reid Middle School
Two FTE special education teachers; a 0.2FTE art teacher; a team leader for the School Improvement Plan effort; a registered behavioral tech; a mediation coordinator; 0.5FTE custodian; 0.4 orchestra teacher; two FTE permanent substitutes; a security camera; a crosswalk and stop sign at North Street; provide a second auditorium stage exit; handheld radios for staff; sidewalk repair near the theater doors; sidewalk from parking lot to building; handicapped parking near front entrance; kitchen floor resurfacing; repair grease trap in kitchen; handicapped parking at rear of building; refinish gym floor; install new auditorium lights.

Williams Elementary
A 0.5FTE math coach; three FTE special education paraprofessionals; a permanent substitute teacher; phone system upgrade; a schoolwide radio/ intercom system; classroom clocks; widen road with curb cut at south entrance; a sidewalk from south driveway to school.

Stearns Elementary
A 0.5FTE math interventionist; a permanent substitute teacher; playground equipment repairs; painting in hallways, classrooms; repave rear playground area; improve phone system; handheld radios for staff. Morningside Community School
A vice principal; one FTE special education teacher; one caseworker; one Grade 3-4-5 paraprofessional; one Grade 1-2 paraprofessional; one permanent substitute teacher; security window shades; patching and painting walls; new carpeting throughout; replacing ceiling tiles throughout; paving in two areas; repair heating system; replace clock system; telephone system upgrade.

Egremont Elementary
One pre-K teacher, one pre-K paraprofessional; 15 additional minutes daily for four kindergarten paraprofessionals; three instructional paraprofessionals; a 0.5 FTE English Language Learners (ELL) teacher; adjust secretary hours to 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; one permanent substitute teacher; outside lighting; enhanced front entry system; security cameras; handheld radios for staff; address odor in Grade 2 section; begin replacing carpeting; paint hallway molding; replace chalkboards with whiteboards; paint classrooms.

Crosby Elementary
One teacher, 0.5FTE ELL teacher; 0.5FTE special education teacher; a permanent substitute; paraprofessional; 0.2 FTE psychologist; three paraprofessionals; swipe card system on inside office doors; handheld radios for staff; security camera for back lot, playground; replace broken windows; remove all asbestos tiles; intercom/ security system; window blinds; heating system work; remodel bathrooms; add parking spaces; energy efficient windows.

Conte Community School
A Grade 2 teacher; three paraprofessionals; permanent substitute; extend secretary hours; an academic vice principal; additional lunch supervision support; 93 shades for entire building; handheld radios for staff; new phone system; replace carpeting on first floor; replace ceiling tiles throughout; install window screens; door weather stripping; repair 12to 18windows; repair front sidewalk.

Capeless Elementary
A 0.6 FTE health and physical education teacher; one academic interventionist; one paraprofessional; a permanent substitute; extend secretary hours; fencing near parking lot; intercom and phone system.

Allendale Elementary
One dean of students; additional behavioral tech; one academic interventionist; one permanent substitute; extended hours for secretary; handheld radios for staff; swipe card entrance for kindergarten hallway; repair clocks throughout; replace chalkboards with whiteboards.

jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.


Pittsfield High School Principal Matt Bishop makes a presentation in front of the School Committee in City Council Chamber at City Hall, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle

-------------

"Pittsfield deficient in clearing sidewalks"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 17, 2016

To the editor:

I would like to point out how many homes and businesses do not clear their sidewalks. I have lived here in Pittsfield for a few years now and have slipped a couple times on ice or compacted snow in front of people's homes.

I see people walking in the street with baby carriages and others in wheelchairs. Besides the obvious danger, it is the law (Papadopoulos v. Target Corp.) to shovel, sand and salt sidewalks, and I would like to see this law enforced.

John Despard, Pittsfield

-------------

"Right egregious wrong of low paraprofessional pay"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 16, 2016

To the editor:

It has come to my attention that paraprofessionals in the Pittsfield Public Schools are paid well below minimum wage. An exemption for municipalities in the state minimum wage law allows cities to do so.

Paraprofessional educators are an essential part of our education system. As we worry about the plight of fast-food workers we ignore those dedicated to our neediest students.

Most paraprofessionals that I know work at least two jobs just to make ends meet. While increasing their pay to minimum wage will not solve their financial circumstances, it would show that we appreciate them at least as much as the people waiting on us at McDonald's.

This in an egregious wrong that must be rectified.

Jonathan Douglas, Pittsfield

-------------

“Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer to replace finance director, other department heads”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 22, 2016

PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda M. Tyer is replacing three more department heads who served under the administration of former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

The new mayor has submitted to the City Council for its meeting Tuesday the names of replacements for Finance Director Susan Carmel, Personnel Director John DeAngelo and Director of Building Maintenance Peter Sondrini.

Proposed as new members of the administration are former city councilor and current Richmond Town Administrator Matthew Kerwood as finance director, former state Rep. Denis Guyer as building maintenance director, and current Personnel Technician Michael Taylor as personnel department director.

"We thank them for their service and wish them all the best," Tyer said Thursday of the officials being replaced. "Looking ahead, we look forward to working with Michael, Matt and Denis."

The mayor said she doesn't envision any changes in the duties for the new department heads, adding that funding for the salaries "will be covered within this year's budget."

Termination of department heads is at the discretion of the mayor under the city charter, but new appointments must be approved by the council. Tyer previously replaced former City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan on an interim basis for this fiscal year with the law firm Donovan & O'Connor, with Richard Dohoney as the lead attorney working with the city.

Kerwood, who served as a city councilor at large from 2000 to 2010, has been town administrator in Richmond since January 2009. He served as Blandford town administrator during 2007-08, and operated a business consulting firm in Pittsfield from 2003-07.

He was regional director with the Massachusetts Office of Business Development from 1998-2003, and he served as a legislative aide to former state Sen. Jane M. Swift from 1992-96.

Guyer, of Dalton, worked for 12 years with Crane & Co., negotiating purchase and service contracts for the Crane stationery division, monitoring supplier performance and contracts relative to quality specifications and delivery expectations, and performing other duties.

He was state representative in the 2nd Berkshire House district from 2004-11, representing 21 towns in three counties and Precinct 1B in Pittsfield.

Guyer also served on the Dalton Select Board from 2001-04.

Taylor has been in the technician's post since 2013, working on a number of aspects of the department, including employee recruitment and hiring, contract negotiations and investigating employee complaints.

Tyer also is submitting to the council the name of Laura Catalano for reappointment as an assessor for another term.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

related link: www.iberkshires.com/story/51058/Tyer-Seeks-to-Replace-Key-City-Hall-Employees.html

-------------

“Two more armed robberies bring Pittsfield total to 12”
By Derek Gentile, The Berkshire Eagle, January 24, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Two local eateries were hit by armed robbers on Saturday evening, boosting to 12 the total number of city businesses thieves have targeted since early November.

According to Pittsfield police, the Subway sandwich shop at 381 Tyler Street and Angelina's on 133 Elm Street were robbed within a half-hour of each other — possibly by the same person.

At about 7:43 p.m., the thief, dressed in a grey hooded sweatshirt, light-colored mask, dark pants and dark gloves, entered Subway and demanded money. A witness said he brandished a dark handgun. The suspect fled on foot after stealing an undisclosed amount of cash. There were no injuries.

The thief was described as a pale-complexioned white male, about six feet tall, weighing 200 pounds.

About 24 minutes later, a similarly-attired individual struck at Angelina's, police said in a Facebook posting. The second thief was described as being about 5-10, 175 pounds, wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt, light-colored mask over his face, with dark pants and dark gloves. He also had a dark-colored handgun.

The robber left the store with an undisclosed amount of cash and again, no injuries reported during the heist. Police believe that the same person carried out both robberies, although in the case of the Angelina's robbery, the suspect may have got into a pickup truck on Northumberland Road.

The description of Saturday's armed robber seems similar to the one who struck at small businesses in Bennington, Vt., on Jan. 8. According to the Bennington Banner, a masked armed robber struck at the Subway shop in Bennington at about 11:45 p.m., then struck Paulin's gas station a few minutes later.

In those robberies, an individual wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt, dark gloves, grey sneakers and a scarf around the bottom portion of his face hit both stores. He too, had a handgun and fled on foot after the robberies.

Although police in Pittsfield believe Saturday's robberies were carried out by the same individual, the department has said they believe several different individuals are carrying out the Pittsfield thefts.

Since Nov. 8, city police have responded to a dozen store thefts, all but one being investigated as armed robberies. The lone arrest has come in the unarmed robbery of Zuke's Soups and Variety on Dec. 10.

Mayor Linda Tyer has called the rash of thefts "unacceptable" and has assured the residents of the city that the department is devoting a large number of resources to the investigations.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251. dgentile@berkshireeagle.com @DerekGentile on Twitter.

-------------

“Pittsfield mayor's appointments approved; Guyer nomination questioned”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 26, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Only one of the department heads proposed to the City Council Tuesday by Mayor Linda M. Tyer prompted questions, but all were approved unanimously.

Councilors Kevin Morandi, Christopher Connell and Melissa Mazzeo raised concerns about the choice of former state Rep. Denis Guyer for city director of maintenance.

Connell said he believes the job "should require a general contractor's license," adding that he had been told by Tyer prior to the meeting that the license could be a professional development matter.

"I think this should become a qualification for this position," Connell said. The license course, he said, requires only six weeks and is not a difficult requirement to meet.

Mazzeo said she would support the mayor's vision for her administration, but would like to have the qualification added for the future. In addition, she recommended a review of definitions and qualifications for all department heads.

The city has 14 school buildings and numerous other buildings, Morandi said, adding, "I do hope that a contractor's license is something that will be pursued."

"I don't want anyone to get the impression that Mr. Guyer is not qualified," said Councilor John Krol.

He noted Guyer's "experience on Beacon Hill" as a plus for the city, saying that taken together with his work at Crane & Co., the new director of maintenance could "take it to the next level."

Councilors voted 11-0 to approve Tyer's three proposed department heads, including Guyer as director of maintenance; former city councilor and current Richmond Town Administrator Matthew Kerwood as finance director, and Personnel Technician Michael Taylor as the new personnel department director.

The new mayor named those officials to replace Finance Director Susan Carmel, Personnel Director John DeAngelo and Director of Maintenance Peter Sondrini, all of whom served under former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

Termination of department heads is at the discretion of the mayor under the city charter, but new appointments must be approved by the council.

Tyer previously replaced former City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan by hiring the Donovan & O'Connor law firm, with Richard Dohoney as lead attorney working with the city, on an interim basis through the end of fiscal 2016 on June 30.

The mayor plans to review how the solicitor's office should be structured going forward and submit a proposal to the council in the spring.

Guyer, of Dalton, worked for 12 years with Crane & Co., negotiating purchase and service contracts for the Crane stationery division, monitoring supplier performance and contracts relative to quality specifications and delivery expectations, and performing other duties.

He was state representative in the 2nd Berkshire House district from 2004-11, representing 21 towns in three counties and Precinct 1B in Pittsfield. Guyer also served on the Dalton Selectboard from 2001-04.

Kerwood, who served as a city councilor at large from 2000 to 2010, has been town administrator in Richmond since January 2009. He served as Blandford town administrator during 2007-08, and operated a business consulting firm in Pittsfield from 2003-07.

He was regional director with the Massachusetts Office of Business Development from 1998-2003, and he served as a legislative aide to former state Sen. Jane M. Swift from 1992-96.

Taylor has been in the technician's post since 2013, working on a number of aspects of the department, including employee recruitment and hiring, contract negotiations and investigating employee complaints.

Laura Catalano was reappointed Tuesday to the Board of Assessors.

Also approved were Jonathan Lothrop and Nicholas Caccamo to the Conservation Commission; Joseph Durwin to the Park Commission, Maurice Peoples to the Human Rights Commission; Chris Flynn, Albert Ingegni, Jeff Doscher and Melissa Bowler to the Council on Aging.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Building a coalition to take back Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 29, 2016

To the editor:

Dear city residents and more importantly, taxpayers. One of the most serious problems facing the Pittsfield government is the individuals sitting on many of the city's boards, commissions and departments. If you have a limited individual holding the mayor's office, as we have, it is understandable that her appointments will be individuals with limited skills also. Her appointment of Dennis Guyer as director of maintenance is an example.

People like City Councilor Kathleen Amuso making some of the biggest decisions which will affect the taxpayer is ludicrous. She is the main reason why we might build a new Taconic High School. Her votes on the School Committee and City Council were instrumental in pushing this needless project forward. She should be on every taxpayer's radar and be the first one voted out in the next election.

In the next, and in all future elections, I will vet the candidates who seeks any public office in Pittsfield and the state also. This will at least give the taxpayer some idea as to who will be spending your hard-earned tax dollars.

This City Council, with the exception of a few new faces, is the worst in the city's history. They told us that they are going to be building a new THS and never gave the taxpayer a say. Do not worry, my fellow taxpayer, you will have your say on the new THS. I am working to give you a voice at the ballot box on how you feel about this needless project. I am going to do every thing I can to insure your tax dollars are spent on things you want, and more importantly, to make sure that we don't spend money on projects you don't want, like the THS project.

Remember that OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) for government workers is the sleeping giant, which will gobble Pittsfield up and yet there is not one city official who has a clue as to how to solve this unfunded liability, which is some $420 million in the red. How to solve it? Start reducing the city budget by 7 percent per year or more in the next four years and start eliminating the many high-paying positions which are unnecessary. The school department alone has over 100 of these positions, costing the taxpayer $7 million a year.

These were just a few of the things I promised I would do if elected mayor. Many people said I lost the mayor's race and they are wrong. A political GOBSIG (Good Old Boy, Special Interest Group) network bought the election across the board. The city taxpayer will feel much pain because of it. I am building a NON-GOBSIG network and I intend to educate the public as to how little say it has in city government weekly on my TV show that airs on PCTV CH-16 on Fridays at 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

In the next city election there will be many new faces coming forward who will have the needs and concerns of the taxpayer on their minds. The new group I am building now is called Citizens 4 Sanity and it should be fully built by the time the next election comes around. Take notice city officials — a new day is coming for the over-burdened taxpayer and many of you who hold office now will not be around after the next city election.

Craig Gaetani, Pittsfield

-------------

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer gives the keynote speech at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's Good News Business Salute on Thursday at the Country Club of Pittsfield. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jonathan Butler speaks at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's Good News Business Salute on Thursday at the Country Club of Pittsfield. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

Members applaud Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer following her keynote speech at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's Good News Business Salute on Thursday at the Country Club of Pittsfield. (Gillian Jones — The Berkshire Eagle)

“Pittsfield Mayor Tyer gives keynote speech at Chamber 'Good News' event”
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, January 28, 2016

PITTSFIELD - A monthlong "listening tour" in the rear view, new Mayor Linda M. Tyer said at a Thursday night Berkshire Chamber of Commerce gathering that she and her administration are well-equipped to morph Pittsfield into "a great city, a modern city that's thriving and dynamic."

One cannot wait on elusive entrepreneurs to drop money-bombs downtown, Tyer said. City "resources, efforts, energy, enthusiasm" instead belong with "the businesses that are here right now."

"The businesses that turn on their lights every day, employ people, produce a product, provide a service," she said. "We need to turn the [old] equation on its head. The government that I lead is committing its resources to your small businesses, so you can grow and employ."

She added, "That is our next great potential."

In the economy-minded address, Tyer hit on broad issues — the Berkshires' natural advantages, the problems of poverty, addiction, crime and safety; the needs of the burgeoning local economy and more — offering her most complete vision to date on Pittsfield's potential and her administration's goals.

Tyer gave due to two stalwart Pittsfield businesses — the restaurant Flavours and Unistress Corp., which invested millions in its local operation last year — and she gave play to the much talked about creative economy.

One of the greatest needs of the new economy will be broadband access in all Pittsfield's commercial centers and all over the county, Tyer said, to applause from the room full of local business owners and employees who gathered for the chamber's annual Good News Business Salute.

Saluted during the event were the Kiwanis Club of Pittsfield, the Town Players of Pittsfield and the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.

"Our strength, our future lies in the creative economy," Tyer said. "How do we build an economy around architects, engineers, software designers, film and media? We have an emerging and dynamic art and culture community. We should be investing in it."

She added, "People in those lines of work want to live in a place that's interesting. And isn't the Berkshires interesting? We have a beautiful natural environment, and now in Pittsfield some hip urban living spaces and a fabulous downtown. Let's capitalize on those strengths. That's where our next great economic prosperity lies."

Tyer also emphasized connecting 1,600 local job openings with the 5 percent of local people who are unemployed, or others from outside the area.

Older businesses and manufacturing firms like Unistress will also need a boost, she said, pointing to difficulties the latter has in transporting heavy materials through downtown Pittsfield on the way to New York.

Regarding crime, Tyer praised Pittsfield Police for arresting a 30-year-old city man this week in connection with a spate of armed robberies dating back to early December. She said police are working hard to keep putting away such offenders, and take seriously "our obligation to protect your investment."

The first city mayor elected to a four-year term, Tyer was inaugurated on Jan. 4 amid expressions of hope for a more inclusive and collaborative city government.

The host of the event, M. Christine Macbeth, CEO of the Brien Center, summed up Tyer's words.

"The bottom line of what I heard is, most importantly, under your leadership, we are going to be celebrating Pittsfield," Macbeth said. "You want to grow businesses, you want to make sure we have the infrastructure there, you want to keep the young people here and you want to keep people safe."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. pdemers@berkshireeagle.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter.

-------------

The fiscal 2017 school budget will include cuts to important programs, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless warned School Committee members Wednesday, saying that reflects a trend among similar size districts around the state. (Eagle File photo)

“McCandless warns of budget cuts, answers harsh criticism”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, January 28, 2016

PITTSFIELD - The fiscal 2017 school budget will include cuts to important programs, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless warned School Committee members Wednesday, saying that reflects a trend among similar size districts around the state.

McCandless also responded to harsh and sometimes disparaging attacks on the level of spending and on school officials in the "blogosphere" and from a former committee member — apparent references to blogger Dan Valenti, former board member Terry Kinnas and others.

During the meeting, McCandless presented figures on average teacher salary, per-pupil spending by school districts and student losses because of school choice departures, which he said counters inaccurate comments about the Pittsfield school system.

"We are not cutting easy things anymore," McCandless said of the ongoing budget process for next year. "We are now choosing between things that are vital."

Rising costs, state aid increases that are smaller than in past years, state and federal mandates and other factors continue to squeeze districts like Pittsfield's with limited potential to raise taxes, McCandless said.

He added, "We know we cannot even provide a level-services budget, based on budget realities."

McCandless said the administration is now preparing the first version of the fiscal 2017-18 budget for the first of the committee's budget sessions Feb. 10. A final school budget is due by May 1.

As was the case when some $2 million in reductions were required last spring despite a tax increase, he said administrators are honing in on the central focus of public education — revolving around "the centrality of the classroom."

That means, he said, looking to expand partnerships begun in recent years with local organizations to provide services the district has traditionally offered, such as teen parent or adult education programming.

Those core services, he said, include books, technology, school building maintenance, well-educated and trained teachers, course variety, safety, and discipline and order.

The focus, McCandless said, has to remain on the district's core mission of giving teachers what it takes to provide quality education in the classroom. But he said there is also "the centrality of the mandate," which requires the district — for both legal and moral reasons — to provide certain services.

On that score, he listed numerous state mandates for special education plans, standardized testing, evaluation of teachers and other administrators and "dozens of bureaucratic requirements" he said he declined to include because of how long that would take.

Kristen Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance, reported on the latest estimates for state Chapter 70 aid to schools, saying Gov. Charlie Baker proposes a $122,000 hike for the district. But she said other language in his proposed budget indicates a significant cut in grant funding for kindergarten programming the district received in the past, which had funded teaching positions and other expenses.

McCandless said he wants to "revisit how [state aid to education] is distributed" in the overall city budget, as Chapter 70 funds come first to a municipality, not directly to the school district.

McCandless also said he wants to dispel rumors that Pittsfield school officials are like "Daddy Warbucks throwing money around," adding, "I would like to publicly start the conversation on this."

He displayed state statistics for 2013-14 that show the average teacher salary in Pittsfield schools was $64,762, which ranked 10th of 16 county districts, with Williamstown and Mount Greylock Regional first and second, at $73,965 and $73,305, respectively.

Over the years, McCandless said, Pittsfield's salary average has been "around middle-ish" in the area. The city is "not the league leader in this," he said.

Rejecting harsh criticism of the recently concluded three-year teacher contract — especially concerning the uniform 3 percent annual step raises that were included — McCandless said making the step hikes uniform for the first time will actually save "tens of thousands" over the course of the contract compared to prior varied step raise contracts.

In addition, he said Pittsfield requires 19 annual steps to reach the top salary, compared to 10 or 12 for many other districts.

Examining per-pupil expenditures for the same year, McCandless noted that Pittsfield was at $13,755, below the area average of $14,580. Eight local districts had per-pupil spending figures above $15,000 that year, three above $16,000 and two above $18,000 per pupil.

He said that were Pittsfield to spend to the county average, that would add $12.7 million to the budget, and if to the state average per pupil, that would add $5.36 million to the Pittsfield schools budget.

Responding to criticism of Pittsfield's loss of some $2.5 million in state school aid funding because of students going outside the district — compared to only $500,000 coming in with choice students — McCandless said Pittsfield actually has a comparatively low percentage of students choicing out.

For 2013-14, 13.3 percent of the 6,461 potential students living here went elsewhere to school or were homeschooled, he said. For the other larger Berkshire communities, the percentage ranged from 17.49 to 26.89 percent, according to the figures.

The percentage of possible city students opting for another public school or a public charter school was 8.23 percent that year, he said. Only Dalton had a lower percentage going to other public schools, while other districts ranged from 8.21 to 19.68 percent going to other public schools.

The comparatively high dollar figure of state funding flowing out of Pittsfield is because it is the largest local district with around 6,000 students, he said, adding that Pittsfield compares well to similar size districts in the state.

"I challenge anyone who thinks differently to really dig into the numbers around the commonwealth," McCandless said.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

Mikes9152 wrote:
When he talks about costs of education per student, comparing it to other districts. How many of these districts are building $120 Million dollar high schools for aprox. 731 students? How many of these districts have poverty rate of 60%? What are the medium incomes in those districts? These and many more questions should be answered. We need to look at apples to apples not apples to oranges. If this city gives the schools all the money they want and claim they need, what assures us these students will be better educated? If the tax rate continues to rise how long will it be before the middle class that is left can afford to live here, or better yet how many more businesses will leave or close, which will further erode jobs? When and if that happens what will the school budget look like then? I bet not very good. We need middle class jobs and growth that is the only way the schools will ever hope to get more money. Anything other than that were only fooling ourselves.

Riollo wrote:
Guy with a million dollar contract claiming that there is nothing that can be cut. Uses false comparisons of spending in dissimilar communities to distract form his budgetary mismanagement and corruption, while rejecting comparisons of test scores with those communities to distract from his educational mismanagement and negligence. At this point it's worth buying out his contract just to be rid of him, he's costing families millions and having a negative effect on kids' entire lives. Of course government representatives all think he is wonderful, almost as great a public benefactor Evan Dobelle.

-------------

“City Council considers changes to its rules, including VP election”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, February 2, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Election of City Council vice presidents and a public comment session at the start of subcommittee meetings are among changes under consideration as part of an ongoing review of the council's rules and orders.

The council Ordinance and Rules Committee, which is conducting the review with help from city attorney Richard Dohoney, met Monday and will meet again on the topic next month before making amendment recommendations to the full council.

Council President Peter Marchetti, who had asked for a review of the rules under which the council conducts its meetings, proposed the direct election of vice presidents rather than having them nominated or chosen by the president. The issue had been debated under the former council in December, when two councilors asked for a change from the traditional method of having the newly elected president at the first session of the new term simply name the vice president.

At the time, a compromise was reached in which the newly elected president would then nominate a vice president. Ward 6 Councilor John Krol was Marchetti's choice for vice president during the council's organizational meeting on Jan. 4, and he was approved in a subsequent vote.

Marchetti said Monday that direct election of vice presidents was the intent of the 2013 charter study commission, of which he was a member, and the commission included that language in a draft of the new city governmental charter that was approved in November 2013. The 2016 organization meeting was the first under which the new format took effect.

He said Monday that he favors direct election, rather than appointment of the vice presidents by the new president — saying he believes that would keep any political considerations out of the decision.

Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo, the president during 2014-15 and now the Ordinance and Rules Committee chairwoman, reiterated her prior opposition to election of vice presidents. "I am totally against that," she said, adding, "A president needs someone they can work with ... we don't [separately] elect the vice president of the United States."

Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo agreed, saying he believes the issue was thoroughly debated at the December meeting and the "compromise was better than the original petition [for a change]."

Councilor at large Peter White asked Dohoney if anything would prevent the new president from putting forth a nomination for vice president, and the attorney said, "I'm not aware of any prohibition."

Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said she saw no problem with having a vice president with some views different from the president, in part because "we are all here to work together" and capable of acting professionally.

Krol said he does not have "a super strong opinion on this," but he would like to see it spelled out in the rules that the president can offer a nomination for vice president.

The committee voted 3-2 to approve the change, subsequent to a review next month after Dohoney has drafted the proposed amendments to council rules.

The other significant change discussed Monday was to allow a public comment session prior to the council committee meetings, such as is now allowed during full council meetings. The concept was approved but the exact wording will be considered more fully at the March committee meeting.

Options discussed were whether any time limit for public comment should be specified, and whether the person would be allowed to speak on any subject. By consensus, the topics allowed would be only those on the committee's budget for that meeting.

Under the rules today, people attending the subcommittee meetings for a particular agenda item are asked to speak by the chairperson, but there is no open comment session at the beginning.

The current city council rules and orders are posted on the Pittsfield website here.

www.cityofpittsfield.org/government/city_council/uploads/Council_Rules_and_Orders.pdf

Contact Jim Therrien at 412-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Mayor Linda Tyer

Mayor Linda Tyer says her administration is focused more on helping and growing existing busineses, not luring someone “out there.”

"Mayor Linda Tyer Embarks on First Term in Pittsfield"
By Jaclyn Stevenson on February 9, 2016 in Community Spotlight - BusinessWest.com The Business Journal of Western Massachusetts

BusinessWest spoke with Pittsfield’s Mayor Linda Tyer on day 11 of her administration.

Only 1,450 days to go.

That’s notable because Tyer is serving Pittsfield’s first-ever four-year term, and, as such, she’s in the beginning stages of laying out a map for the long haul that pinpoints high roads, trouble spots, destinations for the future, and plenty of pit stops in between.

The journey began for Tyer last year, while she was still serving as city clerk. She’d served as a member of the City Council for five years prior to taking the clerk’s position, and watching the inner workings of Pittsfield’s government had her mulling a run for its top office.

“I saw the city’s potential being lost to old ways of thinking, governing, and leading,” she said. “It was time for a new generation of leadership, and I wanted the residents of Pittsfield to really think about what they imagined for themselves. I offered an alternative in every way: from gender to voice to style.”

Tyer announced her candidacy for mayor on the City Hall steps in March, and defeated two-term incumbent Mayor Daniel Bianchi in November. Since then, she’s pledged more communication and relationship building between the mayor’s office and all its stakeholders, from elected officials to Pittsfield’s residents and business owners.

“The plan is to have constant, regular communication, both incoming and outgoing,” she said, noting that this will include regularly scheduled public updates on some key issues — among them public safety, workforce development and retention, and ongoing work to create a hip, walkable urban center in the heart of Berkshire County. “We need to invest in public safety and, as part of that, address the underlying issues that are the source of crime, including poverty and feeling disenfranchised.”

Tyer added that there are strategies at play in these arenas, starting with youth initiatives such as a city-wide mentoring program for high-risk young adults. That program has recently been expanded through grant funding to include job training and workforce-development opportunities for men ages 17 to 24, which is one way Pittsfield is also addressing the dual issue of workforce training to fill the area’s job vacancies.

“The business community cares that its investments are being protected, but it also cares about filling the gap that exists between marketing their jobs and finding candidates with the right skills,” she said.

Abandoned sites scattered across the city and outdated technologies are other barriers to recruiting and retaining great talent in Pittsfield, Tyer noted.

“Neighborhood blight and business blight make it very difficult to market our city; it affects community pride, and potential investors aren’t going to announce their arrival so we can show them our best sites … they’re going to be stealth,” she said. “And we need access to broadband in our commercial centers. We have the infrastructure, but we’re not yet plugged in. A modern-day creative economy has to be global.”

Ultimately, that creative economy is what Tyer hopes to nurture through all of these initiatives: a diverse business landscape powered by human capital.

“Our transportation system is not conducive to big manufacturing — that’s not our strength,” she said. “What we can do is ensure that we’re providing young professionals with the tools they need to succeed so we can continue to cultivate the vibrant community we have here.”

To that end, Tyer’s plans for the first leg of her four-year tour of duty include targeting resources to Berkshire-based small businesses; ‘Blight to Bright’ initiatives, such as requiring that vacant buildings are maintained for aesthetics and safety; street-improvement plans; and strategies for expansion of early-childhood education.

It’s a packed itinerary, but Tyer said she has the drive.

“I am motivated by a belief that the city has great potential,” she said.

— Jaclyn C. Stevenson

-------------

"Former Pittsfield Mayor Charles L. Smith laid to rest"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/12/2016

PITTSFIELD — Former Mayor Charles L. Smith was lauded during his funeral service Friday as a man whose positive influences endure through the lives of those who knew him — both within the political arena and outside it.

Smith, who died Sunday at 82, was remembered during a morning service at St. Charles Church attended by current and former city and state officials and many friends and members of his large and extended family.

Beyond serving four terms as mayor, Smith, along with his wife, Patricia, were foster parents to more than 100 children, in addition to raising seven children of their own.

He "was a distinguished and honored and dear friend of mine," said the Rev. Peter Gregory, pastor.

Gregory quoted Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, saying, "The deepest wisdom man can attain is to know that his destiny is to aid, to serve."

"That quote," Gregory said, "certainly speaks volumes to the man that we honor here today," and whose life and values wove "a fabric of so many lives."

Among those he inspired, Gregory said, were the Smiths' children, foster children over about two decades, 18 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren, and countless others who came to know Charles Smith before and after his years on the City Council and eight years in the mayor's office during the 1980s.

Gregory praised Smith for "devoting an extraordinary amount of time and talent in this life," including being willing to shoulder the responsibility as mayor during the 1980s, which were "challenging times for the city of Pittsfield."

Perhaps his most enduring and remarkable trait, Gregory said, was that "if anyone ever attempted to recognize him for a job well done, even to just say, 'thank you,' he found a way to distract it and give credit to someone else."

A U.S. Marine presents Patricia Smith with the flag representing her husband, Charles L. Smith, Friday at St. Charles Church in Pittsfield. Charles Smith,

For nearly 64 years, Gregory said, the Smiths together were "modeling steadfastness, modeling for us stability, trust, affirmation and every quality and virtue that we try to attain here on Earth so that one day we can find our reward."

Mark O'Brien, a grandson, said Smith "was more comfortable interacting with people than anyone I have ever known."

He said his grandfather looked people in the eye and truly communicated with everyone, giving them his undivided attention and trying to understand their concerns.

"Most politicians make it seem they care; Charlie truly did," he said, adding that Smith "understood what leadership really is, and that's service. That was the secret to the greatness of this man: He cared."

O'Brien said Smith was equally generous with his time in private life and as mayor. He described walking down North Street as a child with his grandfather and Smith meeting person after person and listening to what each had to say, "treating them as equals, valuing the source of their ideas ... He was a true democrat, hearing every voice."

O'Brien said Smith was "a great teacher whose lessons live on inside of us."

A granddaughter, Emily Smith, traced the broad details of Smith's life, from losing his father to an auto crash just before he was born to his enlistment in the Marine Corps and later efforts to support an orphanage in Japan while he was deployed at a military base nearby; to a visit by the Smiths to the same orphanage decades later and the subsequent adoption of a son.

She also noted that the former mayor considered the major city water system improvement project he pushed for during his tenure his greatest achievement in the office — casting that effort in light of water system contamination now in the news in Flint, Mich., and Hoosick Falls, N.Y.

"He will always be in my life as my inspiration that you can make a difference," she said.

Among those attending the service were former mayors Daniel L. Bianchi and Gerald S. Doyle, former City Council presidents Thomas Hickey and Joseph Ryan, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and other current or former city officials or employees.

Also in attendance were members of the Marine Corps League, and a Marine Honor Guard escorted the casket and played taps at the conclusion of the service.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“New contracts to help General Dynamics add 100 employees this year”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/15/2016

PITTSFIELD - Bolstered by two new contracts that have been awarded during the first two months of 2016, General Dynamics Mission Systems is expecting to add 100 new employees in Pittsfield by the end of this year, a company official said on Monday.

The U.S. Navy recently awarded a new contract that will allow General Dynamics to continue its work on nuclear-ballistic missile submarines for both the U.S. Navy and the United Kingdom's Royal Navy.

In January, General Dynamics received a U.S. Navy production contract to provide upgrades to an electronic warfare system that provide greater detection and identification of threats to combat ships.

No new positions were added because of January's contract. There were no specific job numbers attached to the most recent contract that was announced on Monday.

Exact numbers are hard to pin down because, "we move people from to one contract to another," said Carlo Zaffanella, general manager and vice president of General Dynamics Mission Systems' Maritime and Strategic Systems

"There absolutely are going to be more positions added in Pittsfield," said Zaffanella, a Pittsfield native. "Over the course of 2016 we should have well more than 100 people than we started the year with, and this contract is certainly a big part of that."

He said General Dynamics currently has 90 open requisitions for available positions in Pittsfield, he said.

Most of the new work is in engineering fields, Zaffanella said.

The new contract adds to the scope of work that General Dynamics has been conducting on nuclear-ballistic missile submarines since the work was first awarded in December 2014. The contract's total potential value is $440 million over seven years.

The new work will allow General Dynamics to deliver support and modernization of the existing SSBN strategic weapon systems including fire control subsystem installation, maintenance, sustainment, training and repairs to navigations and launch subsystems, according to the company.

Under the new contract, General Dynamics will also develop the fire control system for the U.S. Navy's Ohio Replacement submarine and the Royal Navy's Successor-class ballistic missile submarine along with the production of new systems for the Royal Navy's first-of-class SSBN 09 submarine and Trident Training Facility.

Work on the development and sustainment of the U.S. Navy's Ohio-class guided missile submarine attack weapon is also part of the new contract.

"What we do for the Ohio class submarine is we make the fire control system command and control system network of computers that controls the launch of the missiles," Zaffanella said. "Our largest contracts are Ohio submarine contracts."

The work awarded to General Dynamics in December 2014 was for the development, production, installation and deployed-systems support of U.S. and U.K. Trident submarine strategic weapons systems and subsystems. The majority of that work has been done in Pittsfield.

General Dynamics has been supporting strategic systems for the U.S. Navy since the nuclear submarine program began 60 years ago.

"We knew this was coming," Zaffanella said, referring to the new contract, "and we've been working on it. Part of our ramp-up with people is due to this contract.

"Generally speaking, we're growing at a controlled but comfortable clip in Pittsfield."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: “City manager government will help fix broken Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 3/4/2016

To the editor:

I believe the time has come for the city to go to the city manager type of government. For the past 40 years, the city has been run by the Good Old Boy Network, which has placed our city in the perilous position of going bankrupt in the not-too-distant future.

The mayor-City Council type of government was supposed to be a check-and-balance system but has morphed into a rubber-stamping style of government with no real checks and balances. In city elections the Good Old Boy Network not only chooses a mayor but they elect a City Council and School Committee to insure total city dominance with the taxpayer being the ultimate loser who has to pay the bills for these big spenders. They support the special interest groups with exorbitant salaries and perks which make them some of the highest earners in the city. The average taxpayer is a week's paycheck from disaster.

We must put a stop to this type of city government as quickly as we possibly can. What must be done to turn this city back to fiscal responsibility is to vote out of office every present city official at the nearest possible time and for the average city resident who doesn't vote to be educated and brought up to speed as to what we as a group can do to take back our city.

The people I am talking about are you the taxpayers who haven't been involved in city government for a very long time. The city's future lies in your hands.

We see what the present city government has brought us, which isn't good, and we must ban together to change things for the better for everyone who lives and pays taxes in Pittsfield. We need to explore the city manager type of government as a viable alternative to what we have now, which is a failing leadership team holding city positions of great importance.

We need to put an end to the reign of the rich at the expense of we the middle class and poor. Many people we know have given up hope to change things here but this plays right into the game plan of the present city administration and allows it to continue to tax us to death and ultimately forces city residents to move to other locations because they can not afford to live here any further. We must unite and put an end to this once and for all.

Craig Gaetani, Pittsfield

-------------

“Tyer seeks ordinance change on solicitor, project funding”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 3/6/2016

PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda M. Tyer is seeking an ordinance change to allow her to appoint either a single attorney or a law firm to handle duties of a city solicitor.

The mayor also plans to submit to the City Council a request to borrow $2 million as part of a grant- and city-funded improvement project to upgrade the intersections around the William Stanley Business Park.

In a proposal she will submit to the council at its meeting Tuesday, Tyer requests new language that would allow greater flexibility in securing legal representation for the city. The proposed amendment states in part that "the mayor shall appoint a city solicitor or enter into a legal services contract with a law firm for the purpose of providing city solicitor services for the city."

The related language now in the city charter states in part, "the mayor shall appoint a city solicitor."

The ordinance change was drafted by Fernand Dupere, of Dupere Law Offices of Westfield, which represents the city in employee contract and other matters.

In replacing former City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan after taking office in January, Tyer obtained council approval to hire the firm Donovan & O'Connor, with Richard Dohoney as lead attorney, to represent the city through June 30, the end of fiscal 2016.

She said she will be considering whether to recommend a solicitor and/or a part-time assistant solicitor for the office or hire a law firm, or propose another format for legal representation.

Donovan & O'Connor was approved by the council on an interim basis, but not before a debate that focused on the relative merits of having a solicitor or a law firm representing the city, and whether such an arrangement conformed to wording in the city government charter approved in 2013.

The mayor also seeks authorization from the council to borrow $2,027,157 for the design, construction and installation of intersection and traffic signal improvements at the intersections of East Street and Woodlawn Avenue and Tyler Street and Woodlawn Avenue.

Tyer said in a letter to councilors that the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the city are applying for a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration. The funding would be used to cover intersection improvements and install traffic signals at the intersections.

The city would contribute half the total cost, according to the grant agreement.

Tyer said government and city investments for the work will support future growth at the William Stanley Business Park and the planned Berkshire Innovation Center there by improving access to the business park.

In addition, she said the improvements "will create a value-added connection to the work being undertaken by the Tyler Street Transformative Development Initiative."

The grant application includes a requirement that the city contribute a 50 percent match, or just over $1 million.

If the grant is not obtained, Tyer said she will ask the council to withdraw the authorization to borrow.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Pittsfield council committee rejects changes to public comment rules”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 3/8/2016

PITTSFIELD - Two petitions seeking to change the City Council's rules on the public comment portion of meetings were rejected Monday by the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee.

In addition, council President Peter Marchetti, who attended the meeting, indicated he intends to begin enforcing rules or policies against "insulting comments" and "bad behavior" during the public session at the beginning of meetings.

Residents Craig Gaetani and Alexander Blumin, both frequent commenters during council meetings, had submitted separate petitions calling for changes in the rules governing the public comment sessions, and both were referred to the committee for review.

The tradition has been to ask speakers to sign up in advance to participate, to limit comments to three minutes per speaker, and that the entire comment period be limited to 15 minutes. However, committee members noted that the council president or a subcommittee chairperson can always set other limits or allow more time to speakers.

Blumin told committee members Monday that limiting the time to three minutes is "violating people's rights," and he asked where in council rules or city code that limit is written.

Gaetani, who over the past three years has often argued vociferously with the council president when told he had reached the three-minute time limit, specifically asked in his petition that the comment limit be extended to seven minutes. He also alleged that the limits imposed were contrary to the U.S. Constitution and to case law decisions in the courts.

"People feel they have no say in their government," Gaetani said, adding that he sees himself as "a representative of the taxpayer" at council meetings and his voice should be heard.

Councilor John Krol, a member of the committee, commented at one point that he has never had a citizen complain to him "that Craig Gaetani has not had enough time to speak. I think we give everybody ample time."

Krol also asked city attorney Richard Dohoney whether the council rules governing public speakers violated the constitution or civil rights. Dohoney said there "is no legal requirement" to allow any comment at a public meeting, except during public hearings. He said there are a number of boards in the state that do not allow any public comment.

A board is allowed to determine the parameters of the comment session through its president or subcommittee chairman, he said.

During the debate Monday, committee members noted that the 15-minute public session has been extended when a large number of people attended concerning an important issue, and there has been an effort at all meetings to ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak.

"I think it [the rule relating to public comments] has worked well," said Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo. "I'm content with that."

Caccamo and others on the committee also said that, during subcommittee meetings, residents or others who have brought a petition to the council and had it referred to committee are typically given much longer to present their argument.

Gaetani and Blumin both spoke extensively on their petitions on Monday.

Gaetani eventually was told by committee Chairwoman Melissa Mazzeo to wrap up his comments in that he was repeating himself. "I am going to be fair to you, Mr. Gaetani, and give you one more minute, but there is nothing new in this."

Councilor at large Peter White then called for a vote on the issue, which led to a discussion among councilors and eventually to a unanimous vote to file Gaetani's petition.

White and Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers had earlier expressed a desire for the council to revisit the three-minute time limit and other aspects of the rules and policy to ensure that the public understands them and has ample time to be heard.

Caccamo argued that residents have ample other opportunities to express their opinions, through letters to the editor, social media and through public television programming — and by contacting councilors via email or telephone.

Along with the extra time allotted petitioners at subcommittee meetings, the issue of time limits becomes "a moot point," he said.

Marchetti told committee members he doesn't believe there is a reason to change the current time limit parameters, as in some cases it would mean the business of the council — the principal reason for the meetings — would not begin until late in the evening. There is always the option of the president allowing more comment, he said.

Marchetti added that he wants to also look at enforcing a policy against "personal attacks" by speakers. "Why are we going to reward bad behavior?" he said. "Enough is enough."

The committee also continued on Monday a discussion of all council rules and is expected to recommend some revisions to the full council.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

"Pittsfield warned that leeway to tax without an override disappearing"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, March 23, 2016

PITTSFIELD - The city's auditing firm is once again warning that stagnant property values and rising taxes are bringing Pittsfield ever closer to its maximum tax levy ceiling under Proposition 2 ½.

In briefing the City Council on audit figures for the fiscal year completed June 30, 2015, Thomas Scanlon Jr. on Tuesday said the city's taxing leeway continues to disappear. He said the levy ceiling is $6.79 million for the current fiscal year, down from $8.45 million the previous year, and well below the cushion of $22 million from fiscal 2009 — when the recession began to negatively affect property values.

That means the city's ability to raise its tax assessment without a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote could disappear within a few years if annual tax increases continue according to the recent average. The city's levy ceiling already has fallen $1.7 million below the annual 2.5 percent increase normally allowed under Proposition 2 ½.

Scanlon, of Scanlon & Associates of Deerfield, said Pittsfield is the first of the many municipalities the firm works with that has reached its levy ceiling, although others are in a similar position because of stagnant property values since the recession.

In setting the current city tax rates in November, the council approved a tax levy of $76.78 million for the current fiscal 2016, up from the $73.51 million level approved for fiscal 2015.

In November, the total valuation of city property was reported at $3.34 billion compared to $3.33 billion in fiscal 2015.

Acknowledging on Tuesday that "I don't have to run for office in the city," Scanlon once again recommended raising additional taxes over the next two budget years before the tax ceiling and the annual tax levy meet, and placing that money into a stabilization fund.

Scanlon said bonding companies take note of a municipality's taxing capacity and consider it an asset when issuing a bond rating, which can affect the rate of interest the city would have to pay in borrowing.

Raising taxes to place money in a stabilization fund could prove an extreme challenge, as the city faces numerous project or programming needs, such as for roadwork and wastewater treatment system upgrades, and calls for more police officers and firefighters and equipment, as well as for maintenance work on school buildings and City Hall.

Asked how much growth in total property valuation would significantly raise the city's debt ceiling, Scanlon said it would take about $39 million in new growth — such as construction of a casino — to raise the debt ceiling by $1 million.

"I think you will be there for a while," he said of stagnant property valuations.

Meanwhile, the School Committee is beginning its review of the fiscal 2017 budget, which now reflects a possible $2 million tax increase.

Matthew Kerwood, the city's director of finance and administration, told councilors Tuesday that the administration of Mayor Linda M. Tyer is exploring all options for creating a climate that fosters growth in Pittsfield while efficiently managing expenses, including cutting costs where necessary.

Kerwood said the situation is not a simple one of making cuts or increasing taxes, adding, "It is much more complicated than that."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

"Pittsfield Schools Prelim Budgets Calls For $2.29M Increase To City"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, March 25, 2016

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Department's preliminary budget calls for a $60.7 million city appropriation for fiscal 2017.

The appropriation is $2.29 million more than this year, which is a 3.91 percent increase. That appropriation is eyed to be mixed with about $620,000 in tuition revenues to create a $61.4 million budget, which is up by 3.72 percent over last year.

However, Superintendent Jason McCandless says there may be more changes coming before the public hearing on April 13. After the hearing, the School Committee will be asked to approve the final number.

"This should not necessarily be considered the absolute document we will be coming into the public hearing with," McCandless said. "We will be coming into the public hearing with likely a slightly different variation of this."

One notable change is for special education tuition. Director of Business and Finance Kristen Behnke has penned in a $438,315 increase, which is a 23.7 percent increase over this year. The increase represents an increase in the number of students needing placement.

However, that line could be additionally hit hard in the wake of the closing of Eagleton School, which five of the district's children attended. Behnke said she was informed on Wednesday that the state is placing those students in other schools on an emergency basis.

Eagleton was typically $50,000 less in tuition than other alternative schools and one student could be going to a school nearly $200,000 more costly. Behnke said the emergency placements are being done without full team meetings but that the district has made it clear school officials want a seat at the table in deciding long-term placements. Without knowing exactly where and when these placements will occur, that line-item figure is still an unknown.

"We are working closely with the state and our special education director to make longer-term placements," she said.

Other aspects contributing to the budget increase includes $1.68 million in contractual agreements. The city has contracts in place with the United Educators of Pittsfield, the Educational Administrators Association, and the bus drivers and attendants. The School Committee is in negotiations with the paraprofessionals, clerical, custodians, and cafeteria. Those contracts call for increases in salaries.

In the teacher's contract — United Educators of Pittsfield — this year employees are being merged from one pay scale to another. The new matrix has even 3 percent steps while the previous contract ranged from 2.5 percent to 4 percent. Behnke said once all employees are moved to the new scale, the district will start to see a cost savings compared to the previous contract.

"By year three, we'd expect a $100,000 decrease per year," she said. "We're going from an uneven scale to an even 3 percent scale."

The administrators are attributing a $32,000 increase in those obligations.

Another driver of the cost is in three community coordinator positions. Behnke said there is a $228,000 increase on the city's budget because grant funding no longer pays for the positions in Crosby, Conte and Morningside schools.

"This isn't an actual add to the district. These are positions that have been in the district for a number of years," Behnke said. "These are three staff members who are in the district now, it is just a change with how we are paying for them."

The city is also seeing the decrease of a kindergarten grant to the tune of $152,000 and the federal e-rate program is providing $35,000 less than last year.

The district is seeing some savings this year, particularly with gas and electricity. Behnke said there is some $460,000 in saving anticipated because of contracts with utility providers.

The School Committee previously held a daylong meeting with school principals to hear the wants of each school. The proposed budget accounts for some of those requests.

A dean of students for Allendale School is being added at a cost of $68,000; the elementary school's office staff will see increased hours in the morning and afternoon to the tune of $13,000; permanent substitutes are being implemented with a $90,000 increase; and career counselors at Taconic and Pittsfield high schools are being added. The district is also looking to add a half-time English Language Learning teacher at Crosby Elementary school.

At Capeless the request to exchange a .4 full-time equivalent in the library for a physical education teacher is also being honored.

"It is a direct exchange. It is something they looked at for program reasons," Behnke said.

While some positions are being added, three positions are being reduced. A districtwide information management tech, a bus mechanic, and a staff member in the technology maintenance department are all being cut. Those represent a reduction of $140,000.

Taconic High School will also be under construction in 2017 and graduation will have to be held off site. Behnke penned in a $11,000 increase to pay for that. The district will also be adding $20,000 to continue its summer school program.

"This is really a good return in our investment in terms of drop out prevention," she said.

The building maintenance line is also increasing by $35,000 to leverage a federal grant to upgrade all of the wireless access points in all schools. The city will pay $40,000 for the project and the federal government will contribute $160,000.

"We have a $40,000 wireless access point upgrade project we are looking to do," Behnke said.

Pittsfield School Budget FY2017:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/305870651/Pittsfield-School-Budget-FY17

-----

"Pittsfield administrators to review school budget prior to April 13 public hearing"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, March 24, 2016

PITTSFIELD - The School Committee on Wednesday received a line-item summary of the administration's fiscal 2017 budget proposal and will hold a public hearing on the spending plan on April 13.

The preliminary budget for next year reflects a tax levy increase from $58.5 million to $60.8 million, or 3.91 percent, but Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said he expects changes prior to the public hearing. He said meetings are planned for next week involving administrators and school principals to review all sections of the budget.

"It will likely be slightly different from this," he said of the proposal.

McCandless added that the administration "certainly intends to bring back a budget that is respectful of the community" — a reference to his prior pledge to always consider both the needs of the school system and the city's ability to provide funding.

At the committee meeting Wednesday, Kristen Behnke, the assistant superintendent for business and finance, went over the line-item budget she had prepared and highlighted changes from the current year.

One of the unknowns at this point, Behnke noted, concerns the possible forced closing of the Eagleton School in Great Barrington, which would require the emergency placement of five Pittsfield students in other programs, probably at a higher cost for the school system this year.

She said the administration was notified Wednesday by state officials of the pending change, with discussions involving the specific student placements expected during future meetings.

Some of the cost of any tuition increase for those students might be covered by the state's "circuit-breaker" provision, allowing funding reimbursements for higher-than-normal or greatly increased special education costs, officials said.

Eagleton School has been under investigation by state agencies after reports earlier this year of aggressive and abuse treatment of students by some staff members. Five staff members were arrested following a raid by police and state officials and they now face charges and were subsequently fired.

The state Department of Early Education and Care on March 17 began a notification process that could lead to revocation of the private school's license to operate a residential program.

Eagleton is expected to appeal any decision to revoke its licenses to operate a residential program for male students 9 to 22 years of age with developmental or behavioral problems.

The school "has generally been a lower cost placement" than other program options, Behnke said, which is the reason for the projected increase in tuition cost for the Pittsfield district.

There are several significant factors that could impact the budget for next school year, including the final level of Chapter 70 state aid the district receives — as a number of lawmakers are pushing for an increase from the amount in Gov. Charlie Baker's state budget plan. Those factors include the level of grant funding for kindergarten education, which was reduced in the governor's budget but could be added to during the budget process; the overall cost of special education, which can change significantly with one or a few student placements in expensive programs; and the final cost of employee raises for four groups still in negotiations with the School Committee — custodians, cafeteria workers, clerical workers and paraprofessionals.

Raises next year for those groups, as well as for contracts settled previously for teachers and administrators, account for approximately $1.68 million of the projected 2017 budget hike of $2.29 million, according to a presentation McCandless provided the committee at a prior meeting.

Behnke also noted positive news in the next budget, including contracts the district concluded for natural gas and electricity, which are expected to result in savings of $400,000 and $60,000 respectively next year.

Mayor Linda M. Tyer, an ex officio member of the committee, has said she wants to examine the priorities of each city department before deciding on a recommendation for the schools in the overall city budget.

The committee is charged under the city charter with approving a budget by May 1 for submission to the mayor. The mayor would then submit an overall budget to the council, which will hold hearings on each department request before voting in June, prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Behnke said Wednesday that the annual informational Pittsfield Public Schools Budget Book, containing extensive information on educational programs, costs, personnel, enrollment, spending in comparison to other districts in the state; state aid and grant funding levels, and more, is now posted online on the Pittsfield schools website, under www.pittsfield.net/district_info/business_office

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

"Working Cities Group Unveils Findings On Pittsfield"
By Joe Durwin, iBerkshires Correspondent, March 24, 2016

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Input from hundreds of local residents collected over a three-month period will help inform a coalition effort to obtain grant funding that proponents say will help to address many of the poverty-related issues impacting the community.

During a summary meeting held at Conte Community School on Monday, members of the Working Cities group outlined what they've heard through a process that has spanned 11 meetings and included more than 200 residents, and how it will help position the city competitively for aid through the commonwealth's Working Cities Challenge.

"This movement is only possible with your participation," coordinator Nicole Eigbrett told the group of about 50 people assembled Monday. "We want you to be part of the decision making."

Introduced in 2013, the Working Cities Challenge leverages state funds with those from the private sector, and local and national philanthropic organizations to address issues impacting low-income communities. In October, Pittsfield was one of 10 cities awarded with $15,000 to develop the "collaborative team" and further grant applications for a multiyear allocation of $475,000 to fight poverty-related problems.

Since January, "Working Cities" meetings have been held at a range of locations, including the Berkshire Athenaeum, Brien Center, First United Methodist Church, the Christian Center, the Senior Center, Ministerio Cristo Puede, the Gladys Brigham Center and several local schools, discussing areas of strength and weaknesses on issues such as crime, jobs, transportation, youth, diversity, and education. Information from these "community conversation" sessions will be used to inform the specifics of the group's application to the Working Cities program, due in May. Pittsfield is in competition with nine other "Gateway Cities" in the commonwealth for funding.

"Already, we're unique in that we're turning to the residents first, and involving them at the table now," Eigbrett told iBerkshires.

A total of 269 attendees have participated thus far, "including some voices in the community that have maybe never been heard from before," according to Eigbrett, who is community outreach director at Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity.

This includes significant participation from the local Latino community represented at these meetings, which have conducted bilingually.

That kind of inclusion, or the lack thereof, has been one of the most prevalent topics of discussion. In a preliminary report, approximately 29 percent of participants cited issues related to inclusion among things that Pittsfield could improve upon, about three times as many as mentioned housing, youth problems, and issues with "Resource access, collaboration and communication."

Education and school system issues, however, got the most mentions in a final round of comments Monday.

In particular, social issues such as bullying, class dissonance and shortcomings in overall cultural competency predominated the discussion.

"It feels like there is a culture of shaming that is allowed in the schools that's disturbing," offered Vicky Smith.

"I don't have children in the schools but it's clear from the mass exodus we're seeing that there's a problem," added Cecilia Rock.

Dennis Powell took issue with the absence of any teachers or school administrators present at the summary meeting, though it was noted that a contingent of educators had attended one of the previous listening sessions.

"We can talk about this all we want, but if the people that need to hear it aren't there, nothing's going to change," said Powell.

Commentary from previous meetings has already been tabulated into a preliminary report of findings, where a variety of concerns heard were broken down into fourteen general categories and a percentage assigned according to the frequency of mention.

In response to queries about things currently "not working" in Pittsfield, public safety topped the list at 19 percent, followed by inclusion problems (15 percent) resource access and collaboration (14 percent), youth (opportunities, engagement, etc) (14 percent), economy (8 percent), transportation (7 percent), education (6 percent), government (5 percent), housing (5 percent), family (4 percent), environment (2 percent), food security (1 percent), arts & culture (1 percent).

When it came to how to solve these issues, however, "Resource access, collaboration and communication" topped the list by far with 34 percent of comments hitting on this theme. Many felt that even where resources and social services are available in the community, they are not well communicated to those who may need them.

Members of the group spearheading the Working Cities effort, most of them employees of various local social service institutions, see healthy participation as being not only being key to securing grant funds, but to correctly using them to make change.

"What I envision happening is, we get groups of people who are passionate about these issues together to implement the ideas emerging in this plan," said Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Carolyn Valli.

More information about the grant application and public input process can be found on the Working Cities Pittsfield webpage.

http://workingcitiespittsfield.org/

-------------

Wild Orchid, a novelty store on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield, has appealed the city ZBA's rejection of its application for a special permit to sell adult merchandise. The appeal, initially filed in Massachusetts Land Court, has been moved to U.S. District Court because of civil rights claims made by the applicant. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

“Pending appeal in federal court, Pittsfield shop opens sans adult merchandise”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 4/3/2016

PITTSFIELD - A shop called Wild Orchid has opened on West Housatonic Street where an affiliated enterprise was rejected last fall after city officials determined it required a special permit to sell adult entertainment products.

Meanwhile, an appeal of the Zoning Board of Appeals' determination concerning the original shop — called the Amazing Intimates & Smoke Shop — is continuing in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

At issue during a Sept. 30, 2015, ZBA hearing on the proposed store was whether the shop met the definition of an Adult Paraphernalia Store under a city zoning ordinance regulating such establishments — and likely not allowed at the proposed site, 1575 West Housatonic St.

The proposed business had drawn significant opposition from residents of the neighborhood, who spoke during the board meeting.

The company appealing that ZBA decision, Capital Video Corp., has operated the Amazing.Net store on South Street since 1995. That store, one of about two dozen similar company stores in New England and New York, was approved to sell adult items, such as videos and adult sex toy items.

Amazing.Net currently has a "liquidation" sale in progress, according to a sign on the front door, and the shop is in the process of closing.

The intent of a new Pittsfield shop, according to Lesley Rich of Cranston, R.I., an attorney representing Capital Video in its appeal, was to replace the 1021 South St. shop with a different type of business on West Housatonic Street — one that features some adult material but focuses mostly on items like clothing, smoking paraphernalia (though not tobacco); lingerie, costumes, lotions, gag gifts, marital aids and massage oils.

He added that, overall, the company has been transitioning away from stores that feature primarily adult video — as that business has largely gone to adult websites — and to fewer adult toys or similar paraphernalia.

After the ZBA's determination a special permit was needed for the proposed new shop, Capital Video Corp. first appealed in October to Massachusetts Land Court. However, the matter was moved to U.S. District Court in Springfield at the city's request, because the issues include company allegations of civil rights violations.

The case was assigned to Judge Mark Mastrioianni.

Nate Joyner, the city's permitting coordinator, said last week that Wild Orchid has opened in the small retail complex on West Housatonic Street under a regular retail permit, which is a by-right use in that zone.

Currently, the store sells clothing, smoking merchandise and other items. It is not authorized without a special permit to sell adult products, Joyner said, and inspectors have confirmed it is in compliance.

Capital Video contends in a motion filing in federal court that the city incorrectly identified the proposed shop as an Adult Entertainment Establishment under city zoning, in part because those must have at least 20 percent of its stock in adult items or films or gross sales in excess of 20 percent in those items under the ordinance.

The company contends that several of the items used by the city to determine the 20 percent threshold may have been reached also are sold at pharmacies, department stores and elsewhere in Pittsfield without those companies required to have a special permit.

Among the allegedly misclassified items are costumes, lotions, gag gifts, marital aids and massage oils, the company contends in its filing.

The original plan for the store proposed "certainly less than 20 percent" of the stock to be those items meeting the adult definition in the zoning provision, the company contends. Those items would include adult "devices, objects, tools, toys or electronic media."

In addition, the appeal alleges civil rights violations, claiming that the company was denied the rights other companies have been granted and that the zoning board "exceeded its authority, acted contrary to the credible evidence, made errors of law, and acted in an arbitrary and capricious fashion, thereby requiring the decision to be annulled."

The company also seeks a preliminary injunction that would allow the shop to open as originally proposed pending a decision on the appeal in federal court.

For its part, the city and its liability insurance carrier, represented by attorney Nancy Frankel Pelletier, of Robinson Donovan of Springfield, has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, listing a number of errors or omissions in the appeal filings.

Frankel Pelletier could not be reached for comment.

Rich said that, should the company win its appeal, the Wild Orchid shop might shift at some point toward the originally planned store format. He said the two businesses are affiliated.

But the attorney added that the company "was willing to work with the city" concerning issues relating to product stock and displays. "But they just said 'no.' ''

The company's South Street store was to have been closed down, according to the court complaint, and the lease was not renewed, necessitating that the firm pay a higher monthly rent to remain in operation. The situation represents a continuing loss for the business, the company contends.

At the September hearing, ZBA Chairman Albert A. Ingegni said the issue before the board was whether the shop would meet the definition of adult entertainment under the city ordinance and require a special permit, or whether it is a normal retail operation and therefore a by-right use under local zoning.

If a permit for adult entertainment is required, the shop would also need to meet minimum setbacks requirements — 400 feet from a residential zone, school or church — and other zoning specifications.

Attorneys representing the owners of Amazing Intimates & Smoke had first been denied permits in July 2015 for a retail operation and signs, based in part on Pittsfield's adult entertainment ordinance. They then appealed the denial to the ZBA, arguing that the business did not meet the definition of an adult entertainment venue under the city's ordinance.

Former City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan provided a written opinion to city inspectors and the ZBA on whether the store met the adult entertainment definition. In it, the solicitor stated in part: "Because the application's classification of their merchandise is so vague, the board should ask the applicant for a more specific description of the items to be sold. Without said information, it is not unreasonable to consider the items potential use as being associated with sexual activity, and therefore, it is not unreasonable to opine that it is more probable than not that the applicant is operating an adult paraphernalia store."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.


Wild Orchid, a novelty store on West Housatonic Street in Pittsfield, has appealed the city ZBA's rejection of its application for a special permit to sell adult merchandise. The proposed business had drawn significant opposition from residents of the neighborhood, who spoke during the board meeting. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

-------------

"Pittsfield City Council narrowly approves proposals on solicitor, refinancing"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, April 13, 2016

PITTSFIELD - After two marathon debates within a three-plus-hour meeting, the City Council approved a code change Tuesday allowing consideration of a law firm for the role of city solicitor and gave the treasurer the nod to pursue a bond refinancing process that could save $425,000.

Finance Director and Treasurer Matthew Kerwood and Mayor Linda M. Tyer sought approval to begin preparing to seek bids to refinance $4.26 million in long-term city debt, which Kerwood said could result in lower interest rates over the next 10 years and save the city more than $40,000 annually.

He said the move was recommended by the city's bonding consultant for bonds that date to 2008, when the interest rates were much higher at the beginning of the Great Recession. But a number of councilors objected to the request because Kerwood sought approval Tuesday so the bidding paperwork could be ready to be posted by June 1, prior to the busiest weeks of the city's annual budget season.

"We had very limited time to look at this," said Councilor Kathleen Amuso of material not in the council meeting packet received last week, which had been sent to councilors on Tuesday.

"I don't want to keep bypassing the committees," she added, referring to instances in recent years when mayoral requests involving finances that came in seeking immediate approval.

"This has happened more than I would like it to over the past two years," Amuso said.

Councilors Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin Morandi and Anthony Simonelli argued for sending the proposal to the council Finance Committee for a full vetting prior to any decision. They said the committee could meet next week and make a recommendation for the next meeting of the full council.

Mazzeo argued at length that, although the proposal seemed a good one, she had many questions about the bond bidding process and about the projects the bonds were originally taken out to fund before she could approve the plan.

"I need more questions answered," she said, adding that she only received the updated information from Kerwood late that morning.

"We have council rules and we need to follow them," Morandi said, referring to a rule requiring any large financing proposal from the mayor to be sent first to committee for review.

"This is like putting the cart before he horse," Simonelli said.

Speaking against a referral to committee, John Krol noted that Kerwood had said he will return in May with the full details of the bonding plan, and the proposal could then go before the Finance Committee.

"He is asking us to set this in motion," Krol said. "We are not voting on any final figures."

After about an hour of debate, the motion to refer to the Finance Committee failed on a 5-6 vote. A subsequent motion to authorize Kerwood to begin the process passed unanimously.

Tyer said rebidding the loans to gain a better interest rate "is a very important step" in what she hopes will be a number of changes to help stabilize city finances

"Every opportunity to save money, I am going to take a shot at it," she said.

Kerwood said he previously worked on a similar refinancing proposal while town administrator in Richmond, which saved the town on a long-term school construction loan.

Also Tuesday, the council approved Tyer's proposal for an ordinance change to specifically allow Pittsfield to consider either a law firm or a person for the role of city solicitor. After another lengthy debate, councilors voted 7-4 to approve the change.

However, Mazzeo reiterated her contention at prior meetings on the subject that the city government charter that voters approved in 2013 specifically refers to a person as solicitor, not a law firm. She argued that a charter change, not an ordinance change, would be required for the city to consider installing a law firm in that role.

Earlier this year, Tyer had won council approval to hire the firm Donovan & O'Connor, with Richard Dohoney as lead attorney, for six months while she considered whether to recommend hiring a firm or another solicitor for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1.

Solicitor Kathleen Degnan was not retained when the Tyer administration took office in January, after Tyer had defeated former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in the November election.

Tyer said Tuesday she wants it to be clear in city code that a law firm can be chosen for the solicitor's role. The mayor and attorney Fernand Dupere, the city's labor relations counsel, said they don't believe a charter change — taking six or more months and approval by the state Legislature — is required in this case.

Mazzeo, Morandi and Simonelli argued, however, that three members of the city Charter Review Study Committee that drafted the new charter — attorneys William Barry and Michael McCarthy and former Judge Edward Lapointe had previously agreed with Mazzeo that a charter change would be required in order to hire a law firm.

"We are not following the charter," Mazzeo insisted, adding that since Degnan was not retained, the city has had a vacancy in that post and the charter provisions for filling it also haven't been followed.

Dupere said he was offering a personal opinion after a request from the mayor, not a formal legal opinion. But he noted that some 200 communities in the state are represented by a law firm, although he recommended designating one attorney from the firm as the solicitor.

He, Tyer and supporters of the proposal said it is difficult for one attorney to be knowledgeable in all areas of municipal law, which is a reason communities have chosen that method of representation.

Mazzeo and Morandi said they believe having a person as solicitor is preferable in terms of the availability of the attorney at City Hall and in terms of overall cost for the department. "I think we get more bang for the buck for the city," Morandi said.

Tyer said her intention now is to seek both proposals from law firms to represent the city next budget year and candidates for solicitor, in order to compare the two options. In response to councilor comments, she said daily office hours at City Hall could be part of her request for proposals for law firms.

Councilor John Krol said he believes it is important to give the mayor and the city "all the options we could possibly have" to choose Pittsfield's legal representation.

Tyer has said she will return to the council with a recommendation as part of her fiscal 2017 budget proposal.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Officials lay out challenges for Pittsfield budget for fiscal 2017”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, April 29, 2016

PITTSFIELD - A report by the Tyer administration on the city's financial condition has prompted some city councilors to call for reductions in the fiscal 2017 budget.

In a presentation Thursday before a joint meeting of the council and School Committee — an annual requirement in the city charter — Mayor Linda M. Tyer, city finance officials and outside advisers described Pittsfield's budgetary trends.

"Fiscal [2017] and beyond will present us with serious challenges that we must address with a number of strategies that control costs, foster growth and encourage collaboration," the mayor said in her report.

Those challenges were laid out during the session by Finance Director Matthew Kerwood, Board of Assessors Chairwoman Paula King, the city's outside auditor, Thomas Scanlon of Scanlon & Associates, and actuary Michael Frank, of Aquarius Capital Solutions Group.

The budget restraints cited include annual city tax increases coupled with stagnant growth in property valuation, a shrinking level of excess Proposition 2 ½ levy capacity, along with only small annual increases in state aid and local revenue from excise and other taxes and fees.

"Without substantial growth in the tax base, the levy ceiling will be driving the bus for a long time," Kerwood said, referring to the city's shrinking ability to raise taxes without an override vote.

"This is an eye-opener, especially for the people watching at home," said Councilor Kevin Morandi, following the presentations.

He said the city must look at cutting costs and possibly city positions when the council deliberates the fiscal 2017 budget next month.

Councilor Kathleen Amuso said she has asked for spending restraint for the past two years but budget requests have steadily increased. "This time, I will be looking for reductions," she said, adding that "Some positions might need to go unfilled."

Scanlon, as he had at a recent council meeting, provided highlights of the annual city audit, which focused in part on the level of cash reserves, and a steady annual decline in Pittsfield's ability to raise taxes without a Proposition 2 ½ override vote.

The auditor said stagnation in the growth of total real estate valuation since the Great Recession, coupled with annual budget increases, has caused the amount the city can raise without an override to plummet in recent years — although it still would allow a tax hike of up to approximately $5 million to $6 million without an override.

He told the officials that having such excess levy capacity is, in fact, rare among the more than 80 municipalities his firm works with. Many, he said, are already at their tax levy limit (allowing increases of 2.5 percent per year, plus the annual increase in property valuation).

In answer to questions from councilors, Scanlon said having excess levy capacity shows financial flexibility and is seen as a positive by bond rating agencies, which allows the city to receive favorable interest rates when borrowing.

He added, however, that at the current rate of tax increases, the excess levy capacity could vanish in two or three years, requiring an override vote for any tax hike and possibly causing rating agencies to reconsider the city's A+ bond rating.

Scanlon has recommended raising taxes while excess levy capacity remains and placing the funds into a stabilization account. He said the city's stabilization accounts now total $1.8 million, but that figure has remained stagnant for five years, and he advised adding to the city's funding reserves.

Tyer and Kerwood said the city hopes to soon receive state Department of Revenue approval to release $1.65 million in a restricted fund set up during Pittsfield's financial crisis of the early 2000s, when the state stepped in to help resolve the problems.

They said the plan is to place that $1.65 million in a stabilization fund.

Kerwood said the major expenses driving city budget increases include the salaries, raises and benefits for 2,127 full- and part-time school and city employees, plus pension and benefit obligations for retirees.

He also cited the state and federal mandates associated with special education, environmental requirements and other programs, especially in light of state aid levels that "are staying flat" and likely to remain so next year.

The finance director said the city's overall debt load of about $95.4 million, with interest included, is not unusual for a community of its size.

Frank reported on unfunded, accrued obligations, such as for pensions and retiree health insurance, which now must be shown on annual municipal reports as liabilities, although those costs have always been calculated on other reports.

Charts displayed during the presentation show unfunded accrued liabilities for retiree health insurance — including costs projected out long-term for current workers — now are estimated at $234.5 million. Frank and Kerwood said the new employee and retiree health insurance contract for Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage that began last July has, however, helped to control those costs.

Kerwood said Friday that the city's long-term unfunded retiree health insurance costs are not unusually high for a city of Pittsfield's size and do not raise immediate alarm bells.

However, he said the Tyer administration is planning to address it. He said that includes continuing to add annually to a trust fund set up last year with a $100,000 appropriation to help control those costs and to work with an investment advisor to increase the trust fund amount.

Total assessed property valuation in Pittsfield is down $129.4 million since fiscal 2010, King said, leaving a total citywide valuation of $3.34 billion. However, she said overall values have slowly risen in the past two years and are expected to do so again this fiscal year.

To significantly raise the city's excess levy capacity figure, though, Scanlon and other officials said that would require major economic growth. Scanlon said it would have to be comparable to a casino opening in Pittsfield.

Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said of the financial reports, "This is incredibly serious. I have a little bit of a tentative stomach over this."

She said city officials might have to consider "what goes and what stays" in the next budget, adding, "We can't have it all."

School Committee member Cynthia Taylor said, "This is very sobering, to say the least. We really heard the hard numbers tonight."

However, Taylor, who has advocated strongly for maintaining school spending levels, said one option for city officials is to join the battle for increased Chapter 70 state aid to school districts.

"We can really have an impact on this legislation," she said, referring to a proposed overhaul of the Chapter 70 program.

The School Committee on Wednesday approved a fiscal 2017 budget with a 2.91 percent increase.

Tyer is still preparing her overall city budget, which will include the school budget, for submission to the council for review during June. A new spending plan is due before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: “School budget increases must end in Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/2/2016

To the editor:

In reading the recent Eagle headline, it is clear the Pittsfield School Committee continues to ignore fiscal responsibility and the impact on the taxpayer by unanimously approving the new school budget.

Scott Eldridge's perception that this is an income problem, not a "spending problem," couldn't be farther from the truth. With a shrinking taxpayer base, school committees all over the state are faced with the reality that you can no longer do business as usual and you must pool resources and reduce administrative costs, as the Adams-Cheshire school district has painfully but realistically determined.

The budget is now at $60 million and we have at least five people within the school district who make over $100,000. The superintendent makes approximately $157,000 a year managing a $60 million budget, but the mayor, who manages a budget twice that size with more employees, has a salary of under $100,000.

In response to Dan Elias's argument for paying $73,000 a year for what is basically a truant officer position, getting kids to school is the responsibility of the parents and is the law in Massachusetts. In my view, this position is wildly overpaid for that responsibility.

I work for one of the largest employers in Berkshire County and there were years when we got no salary raises, but the school budgets continued to rise anyway because of rising costs that are passed on to the taxpayer. Every time the City Council or citizens try to push back and rein in this spending mind-set, cuts are made in sports, music, arts, and after-school activities that inflame the parents and put pressure on to reinstate these reductions.

Jake McCandless, by all accounts an outstanding superintendent, can show all the slides he wants about the average wages in the state and how we are below them, but that is irrelevant. We live in Berkshire County, and if you think you can get a better job near Boston because the salaries are higher, I urge you to seek that job.

I challenge the City Council, and in particular my Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo, to review this budget and make cuts that do not remove teachers from the classroom, but pare down exorbitant salaries and outside services, and do not add positions funded by grants unless there is a planned revenue stream to support them.

I bought my house in 2007 and my taxes have gone up 35 percent in 10 years, and the school budget is the main driver. It is time to look at providing a quality education based on the taxpayer's ability to pay, and not just keep passing along annual increases without concern about the impact to the community.

Carmen Simonelli, Pittsfield

-------------

“Pittsfield mayor seeks continued tax benefit for Beacon Cinema”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, May 12, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Linda M. Tyer is proposing that a Tax Increment Financing agreement benefiting the Beacon Cinema owner be extended for another five years.

"The Beacon Cinema is a unique downtown historic landmark and serves as a catalyst for increased pedestrian engagement in the downtown area," Tyer said in a letter to the City Council, which on Tuesday voted to send the proposal to its Finance Committee for review.

The mayor said the restoration of a formerly distressed building on North Street and opening of a state-of-the-art cinema has drawn people to the downtown, boosting surrounding businesses as well.

The proposal, which would involve a real estate and personal property tax reduction agreement through fiscal 2021, would amend a similar TIF agreement that has been in effect since fiscal 2008 but is due to expire next month.

Several supporters were on hand Tuesday to urge the council to approve the proposal, including Jesse Cook-Dubin, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., and the organization's executive director, Kristine Hurley.

Ty Allen Jackson called the Beacon Cinema "a flagship in Berkshire County," one he often visits, and "an important place if we want to attract millennials" to the city.

Warren Dews, vice president of audience development at New England Newspapers Inc., which owns The Berkshire Eagle, noted that the cinema has exceeded employment and investment goals cited in the original nine-year TIF agreement and called the businesses "an anchor" for the downtown.

The tax request is a modest one, Dews said, adding, "It's common sense that, if a place like the Beacon fails, Pittsfield will be soon to follow." He said he hopes to see the theater still in operation 30 years from now, "because we supported it."

According to a letter to the mayor from Janis Akerstrom, the city's Community Development director, when the TIF was created it was limited to nine years because the Downtown Pittsfield Economic Opportunity Area had a life span that would end on June 30, 2016. However, since that time, the state Legislature has eliminated a requirement that such projects had to be located in an EOA to qualify for a TIF.

She wrote that under the TIF, North Street Cinema committed to an investment of $11.9 million at the 47-55 North St. building and to create 25 full-time-equivalent jobs. As of Dec. 31, 2015, the business reported $20.2 million had been invested and 30 full-time-equivalent jobs created.

The proposed new TIF agreement calls for real estate and personal property taxes to be forgiven at a declining percentage over five fiscal years, down to 10 percent in the final year. A projected $41,978 in real estate tax and $30,252 in personal property tax is estimated to be forgiven over the period, according to paperwork submitted to the council.

The projected total real estate tax to be paid is estimated at $225,191 over five years, and personal property tax to be paid is estimated at $72,276 over the five years.

The council Finance Committee will review the TIF proposal at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

Also Tuesday, the council approved a 20-year tax agreement with East Acres Solar, which is developing a 3.6 megawatt solar generation facility on former YMCA Ponterril camp property off East Acres Road, near Pontoosuc Lake.

Unlike with a TIF, the agreement covers the amount of taxes to be paid on personal property — primarily the solar panels — but not real estate taxes on the 77-acre property. The solar array is expected to be located on about 22 acres.

What the agreement does is specify the exact payment owed for personal property in each year, which averages around $50,000 each year and totals $960,558 for the 20 years, according to paperwork submitted to the council.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

------------

Our Opinion: "Renewed Beacon TIF is right for Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 5/18/2016

The strong support for a renewed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement for the Beacon Cinema is encouraging. The cinema is that important to downtown Pittsfield.

Mayor Linda Tyer has proposed a five-year extension of a real estate and personal property tax reduction for the cinema through 2021. This would continue a similar TIF agreement from 2008 due to expire next month. The Finance Committee has recommended the City Council approve the tax extension, with Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi observing that forgiving roughly $72,000 in taxes over five years is a "wise investment." (Eagle, May 17.)

A number of residents and officials, among them Berkshire Chamber of Commerce CEO Jonathan Butler and Berkshire Theatre Group CEO and Artistic Director Kate Maguire, came before the City Council and Finance Committee to attest to the considerable value of the movie theater. The theater has succeeded in bringing people downtown, to the benefit of neighboring restaurants and businesses. Owner Richard Stanley has exceeded the requirements of the original TIF, according to the mayor, by investing more than $20 million in the project and providing 31 full-time-equivalent jobs.

Mr. Stanley acknowledged to the Finance Committee that Beacon attendance slumped after the Regal theater in the Berkshire Mall was upgraded with stadium-style seating. Mr. Stanley told the Finance Committee that he plans a similar upgrade of Beacon seating. That's the nature of competition, but it is important to consider that money spent at a Regal chain cinema is almost entirely heading back to corporate headquarters. Money spent at the Beacon — or the Triplex in Great Barrington, Images Cinema in Williamstown, or at the Berkshire Museum's Little Cinema — is remaining at home.

------------

Letter: "Support proposal to boost Beacon"
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/16/2016

To the editor:

As a recent recipient of a TIF for Hotel on North in Pittsfield, first we want to thank the community for taking a chance along us. Your enthusiasm is contagious. Since opening a year ago, we have been able to put many local people to work and reinvest millions of dollars into our community.

This public/private partnership is an integral tool to aide local businesses whose passion is to make a difference in our downtown. We need to encourage these endeavors and business people who are investing and working to improve our city. We believe that North Street is a better place due to the fact that we have a wonderful movie theater.

We applaud our mayor and our city for realizing the importance of this request and strongly urge the City Council and residents to support our downtown and a local business.

David J. Tierney III, Pittsfield
The writer is owner of Hotel on North.

------------

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer addresses the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority board Monday. Tyer said during her campaign she would not serve on the PEDA, and she kept her promise saying, 'I feel strongly that the board needs to do its work without a political influence.' (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

“Tyer will not serve on Pittsfield Economic Development Authority board”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, May 13, 2016

PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda M. Tyer has kept her campaign promise not to serve on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's board of directors.

Tyer helped introduce the board's three new members before Monday's PEDA board meeting, and repeated why she declined to join the panel of the quasi-public agency that is charged with the development of the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.

"I feel strongly that the board needs to do its work without a political influence," Tyer said at the meeting, which took place at 1Berkshire.

She added, however, that her administration plans to work closely with PEDA's 11-member board.

"I look forward to being your partner," she said.

Tyer is the first Pittsfield mayor since Sara Hathaway in 2002-03 to not serve on the PEDA board. Both of Tyer's immediate predecessors in the corner office, Daniel L. Bianchi and James M. Ruberto, were active board members. Bianchi, who served two four-year terms, expanded the board from seven members to its current 11 during his first year in office. Ruberto served four terms as mayor.

The board's three new members are Krystle Gallo, Churchill Cotton and Barry Clairmont. They replace Larry Tallman, Patrick Reuss, and Bianchi. Their appointments were put forward by Tyer and recently approved by the City Council.

Gallo and Clairmont received two year terms, and Cotton a one-year term. Term limits for PEDA board members are staggered, meaning the duration of their service varies.

Cotton and Clairmont are former city councilors. Gallo, who holds a masters in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, is a senior systems engineer with General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, who spent three years in the company's engineering leadership program. Cotton has also served on the Pittsfield School Committee.

"I think with three new members and all of you there's diverse representation in thought, ideas and experience," Tyer said, addressing the board as a whole.

The PEDA board also re-elected officers on Monday. Maurice Callahan was re-elected board chairman; Christina Barrett, vice chairwoman; Michael Matthews, chief financial officer; and George Whaling, secretary. They were all elected unanimously.

In other business, PEDA Executive Director Cory Thurston said construction of the new $3.6 million CNN Railroad Bridge on Woodlawn Avenue that crosses the Stanley Business Park is "on track" for completion. An opening ceremony may take place at the end of June, he said.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

-------------

Kristine Hurley, executive director of Downtown Pittsfield, Inc., presents the five year plan to develop the downtown area last week at The Berkshire Eagle. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

“Downtown Pittsfield releases 5-year plan to increase attractiveness of city center”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, May 15, 2016

PITTSFIELD — Downtown Pittsfield Inc. has released a new five-year strategic plan designed to make the center of the county's largest city safer and more attractive to a broader range of people.

The plan, which has four central strategies, includes recommendations on how to increase the "walkability" of the city's center, and ways to improve promoting its strengths. It also calls for the creation of an economic development officer in the mayor's office.

A nonprofit organization, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., has been the recognized leader, facilitator and primary advocate for downtown Pittsfield since 1983. The group currently has 208 members.

The population in the Berkshires continues to decline — the county is currently losing more people at a higher rate than any other county in Massachusetts, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Downtown Pittsfield President Jesse Cook-Dubin said the new plan was developed with strategies designed to make downtown Pittsfield more appealing to the younger employees that area employers are hoping to attract.

People who tell the group they don't want to come to Pittsfield also say they are perfectly comfortable walking around New York City, which "objectively is much less safe than Pittsfield," Cook-Dubin said.

"The problems that Pittsfield has are not on that scale at all," he said. "We do think that's it's largely a perception issue, but there are some problems that are getting worse.

"While we don't spend a lot of time dwelling on them, there's currently an opioid issue, and there's youth gang issues," he said. "So there's got to be some sustained effort by the city of Pittsfield so that those issues get solved."

Kate Maguire, who chairs the public safety committee, said Downtown Pittsfield is willing to work with and support city officials as they deal with downtown public safety issues.

"I think what we are finding is that we need more police officers," she said. "We're trying to support the city in how do we create a budget for that, where do we go to. Public safety is the No. 1 issue for any government."

The new strategic plan is also designed to have the downtown area appeal to a broader range of people.

"It's not about making Pittsfield highbrow," Maguire said. "It's not about exclusion. It's about inclusion, and how do we accommodate a diverse population. That's what makes a truly great downtown."

The younger employees that major employers like General Dynamics, Guardian-Berkshire Life and Crane are hoping to bring to the Berkshires don't want to live in a "suburb," Cook-Dubin said.

"Married with no kids, or single, they want to live in a downtown area," he said. "So, what do we need to attract those people here? What are we missing?

"We've got no shortage of restaurants now, a couple of great live theaters, a movie theater, there's some nightlife, (but) there's still not a lot of day life," he added. "When you walk around North Street at noon you wonder where everybody is. What are the ways for us to meet that challenge?"

The plan's four strategies deal with public safety issues; ways to increase the quantity and diversity of everyday foot traffic to broaden the potential customer base for retail businesses; means of promoting the positive aspects of downtown Pittsfield throughout the region; and how to improve the appearance, convenience and walkability of the downtown area to create a safe, healthy environment for all.

Maguire said those strategies were based on the four areas that kept getting highlighted while the plan was being formulated. The new plan was developed through feedback from 150 stakeholders over a period of four months, Cook-Dubin said.

After the information was compiled the new strategic plan, "pretty much wrote itself," he said.

During a meeting with The Eagle this week, members said the 10-page document builds on the goals listed in the organization's previous five-year plan, which was released in 2010.

"That plan was definitely the foundation for this one," said Maguire, who is the artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group.

Downtown Pittsfield's new strategic plan is the second follow-up piece to the organization's 1997 downtown development study. The 2010 plan was compiled by a 15-member Downtown Pittsfield Strategic Planning Committee with help from a private consultant.

Cook-Dubin said the current plan was developed through feedback from 150 stakeholders that was obtained over the last four months. Deb Blatt of Group Restoration served as the project's strategic facilitator.

"What we're focused on is how does Pittsfield, especially the downtown area, become the engine that it really needs to be in order for the rest of the city and the surrounding regions to thrive," Cook-Dubin said.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

The South Street gateway in Pittsfield is an attractive corridor leading into the downtown area. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

DOWNTOWN STRATEGIES

Highlights of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.'s new five-year strategic plan:

Strategy 1: Public safety in the downtown area

Chairwoman: Kate Maguire, Berkshire Theatre Group.

A. Advocate for significant increases in police patrols throughout the city.

• Create a task force of business and community leaders; hold quarterly meetings between task force and police chief.

B. Improve collaboration with and among law enforcement agencies.

• Strengthen roles with all agencies playing a role in central Berkshire law enforcement.

C. Encourage honest dialogue about public safety in order to convey truthful information and promote the public's trust.

• Assist merchants and other downtown stakeholders in building relationships with the Police Department.

D. Continue to improve and expand the Downtown Pittsfield Ambassador program.

• Evaluate program's strengths and weaknesses.

E. Work with police and others in city government to enact and implement enforceable ordinances for the protection of public health and pedestrian safety,

• Examples: speed limits; crosswalks; smoking; bicycles etc. on sidewalks.

Strategy 2: Increase the quantity and diversity of everyday foot traffic to broaden the potential customer base for retail business.

Chairperson: Kate Stinchcomb, Berkshire Theatre Group

A. Identify resources and implement initiatives.

• Advocate for the creation of a business development officer position in City Hall.

B. Collaborate with developers and landlords to expand safe, quality housing options.

• Create and prioritize a list of target locations and properties for housing development/redevelopment; publicize website and hotline for reporting Housing Code violations.

C. Advocate for zoning and building code modifications that support first floor retail, commercial development and increase and productive upper floor usage; aim to assist those negatively impacted by zoning changes.

• Support the efforts of Pittsfield's Department of Community Development to update the city's zoning bylaw and related ordinances.

D. Increase the frequency and range of entertainment and event options.

• Reach out to businesses to get buy-in for downtown events; research quality and nature of downtown events in other communities.

E. Create an inclusive environment

• Seek more diversity in DPI board of directors; serve as liaison between downtown business community and social service agencies.

Strategy 3: Promote the positive effects of downtown Pittsfield throughout the region.

Chairperson: Gary Levante, Berkshire Bank.

A. Develop branding and promoting to promote all Pittsfield has to offer through a targeted outreach plan.

• Seek and study similar cities' "bright spots" to identify possible branding, marketing and messaging strategies; create more cooperative marketing opportunities.

B. Develop a communication plan to promote Pittsfield's good news

• Utilize and promote downtownPittsfield.com as a one-stop shop or aggregator for downtown Pittsfield information.

Strategy 4: Continue to improve the appearance, conveniences and walkability of downtown Pittsfield to create a safe, healthy and attractive environment for all.

Chairperson: William Mulholland, Berkshire Community College.

A. Advocate for improvement of infrastructure

• Pursue the expansion of streetscape work to side streets and alleys; hold city government accountable for continual maintenance of crosswalks and related markings; advocate for reduction and posting of speed limit on North and South streets.

B. Collaborate with property owners, business owners, city government and others to achieve upkeep of buildings and sidewalk areas

• Update and push enforcement of ordinances requiring building owners to remove snow from sidewalks, and maintain cleanliness, etc.

C. Reduce loitering and other inappropriate behavior

• Encourage the city to re-post signs and enforce ordinances regarding skateboards, bicycles, and scooters on the sidewalk, including maintaining effective signage.

Photo Gallery | Downtown Pittsfield, Inc. launches strategic plan for city


Ernie Jordan sets up his hot dog stand last week on North Street in Pittsfield, starting his 19th season. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

Reader's comment:

“W.E. Coyote” said:
Downtown Pittsfield used to be extremely "walkable." From what I discern the problem is "diversity." Pittsfield has lost over 30,000 residents and of those who remain, the city has swapped many middle class folks for "diverse," low income, high service consuming types. Downtown is never going to be what it was, England Brothers and the other locally owned and operated businesses are gone - and they are not coming back. There is far more retail space than can be reasonably filled. Just as there are far more residential units than there are residents.

-------------

Letter: “Include public murals in downtown project”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 5/16/2016

To the editor:

I was surprised after reading the front page article May 15 in The Berkshire Eagle that there was no mention of downtown Pittsfield's public mural program. ("Nonprofit releases 5-year plan for city.")

During the years that I was Pittsfield's commissioner of cultural affairs, I oversaw the creation of 10 public murals painted by world-class master muralist, Daniel Galvez, from Oakland, Calif., who came to Pittsfield and together with scores of local artists changed our community into the envy of communities all over the Northeast. Since 2005 these many murals have fallen into disrepair because of the lack of municipal upkeep. But now they can be fully restored using improved techniques if the community can be convinced to do so. They should then be fully protected from the harmful rays of the sun by coating each of them with ultraviolet sealants.

After the murals are fully restored and protected, new public murals depicting everyday life and the history of our community can be created on additional walls throughout the city, like the huge wall under Victory Hill and in neighborhoods throughout the West Side or on walls in downtown alleyways such as those between the Beacon Cinema and the Central Block or in the Elm Street and Tyler Street business districts.

Communities all across America such as Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Thousand Palms, Dublin and Oakland have all created public murals that have increased their visual quality of life while eliminating signs of graffiti and cutting down the element of crime in their communities.

Anyone who lived here knows that public murals changed Pittsfield between 1985 and 2005 and public murals should be included as a part of the new plan to make Pittsfield more attractive and safer in the many years to come.

Daniel M. O'Connell, Pittsfield
The writer was the city of Pittsfield's commissioner of cultural affairs, 1984-2005.

-----

Letter: “Public art is thriving in Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/27/2016

To the editor:

This letter is in response to the "Include public murals in downtown project" letter to the editor on May 16.

The Downtown Pittsfield Inc (DPI) Strategic Plan does include "Develop a strategy for expanding, promoting and maintaining public art downtown" under one of its objectives. There are currently several collaborations between DPI, Artscape and the city of Pittsfield's Office of Cultural Development underway.

Artscape has just finished installing five new sculptures for the 2016 season from artists around the region. Artscape is also spearheading the inaugural Pittsfield Paintbox Project, sponsored by Berkshire Money Management, which will have artists transform eight electrical load boxes into works of art. The committee received 59 submissions to the call for art for this project. The installations will take place in July and be unveiled during the 3rd Thursday Street Festival.

The Office of Cultural Development is currently working with a downtown business owner to redo a mural on the back of the Shipton Building located at 150 North St. There are many other business and cultural partners talking about the installation of murals on their buildings and walkways. We are happy to report that public art is alive and well in Pittsfield!

Kristine Hurley, Alex Reczkowski, Jen Glockner, Pittsfield
Kristine Hurley is executive director, Downtown Pittsfield, Inc.; Alex Reczkowski chairs Artscape; and Jen Glockner is director, Office of Cultural Development.

-------------

Letter: "Low-income taxpayers earned break, not Beacon"
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/20/2016

To the editor:

Now that Linda Tyer has been elected mayor by low-income taxpayers, she is picking up where the defeated ex-mayor left off. The people I talk to do not want to give the Beacon Cinema a tax break or a new school built in place of the old one. We wanted the old one repaired to save us taxpayers dollars — it should have been put on the ballot so we could turn it down.

I don't read in The Eagle the names of low-income taxpayers who want to give the Beacon a tax break. We want a tax break for supporting the city of Pittsfield all these years. We can't afford toys for the rich like a new baseball stadium, a new school, a new cinema so they can make money off us.

When General Electric left Pittsfield, so did 10,000 jobs. We are a retired community now, and the sooner you people realize it, the better off we low-income taxpayers are going to be.

The mayor has to be reminded of the low-income people here that are scraping for money just to pay for their medications to stay healthy and the taxpayers who are scraping for money to pay their taxes so they can keep their homes.

Anthony P. Litano, Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: "Give homeowners a break in Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/20/2016

To the editor:

Employees of Pittsfield departments get raises, pensions, and benefits. The Taconic school project is underway, the Berkshire Innovative Center got a tax break, and now the mayor seeks a tax break for the Beacon.

Give us Pittsfield homeowners a break!

Gregory Jones, Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: “Health Department hurting Pittsfield's economy”
The Berkshire Eagle, 5/20/2016

To the editor:

I am writing in response to the situation with the Pittsfield Health Department. Does it not realize that the city is in an economic crisis and that any business that wants to come here should be considered and not turned away because of a tobacco permit? I realize that they are trying to curb underage smoking and it certainly is toxic to your health, but that doesn't mean chasing business away either. The reality is it won't stop people from smoking. They can just go to another town or get someone else to buy it for them.

The people who bought the area on East Street should have been an exception for a permit. It seems that due to a lack of communication, the city lost out again on new possible connection in the business community. Perhaps if shown some leniency on this matter at some point they would have opened up something bigger. Unfortunately, now it will never be known.

The Health Department in Pittsfield has way too much control over this city. It is costing this city money that it so desperately needs. We have so many other problems here we don't need to add pushing businesses away. We need to let real people on these subcommittees and not people who are looking behind rose-colored glasses.

I really feel with all of these rules it is going to make Pittsfield a less attractive place to businesses, residents and visitors. No one wants to go to multiple stores when they can go to one place to buy what they need. It's all about convenience for people.

If this new requirement goes forward and the age is raised to 21 for the purchase of cigarettes, then at least make an exception with proper ID for the men and women who chose to put their life on the line for their country. If they are old enough to make that type of decision, then they can make the decision to smoke at 18.

We need to take back our city and give the Health Department a lesser role.

Tammy Ives, Pittsfield

-------------

During a press conference at City Hall on Monday, Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer pledged to propose an additional 936,000 in her police budget for the coming year to bolster the police department, which Chief Michael Wynn has deemed understaffed. "Not one more day will this plea for help in personnel go unanswered," she said. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

“Pittsfield mayor, police chief pledge robust response to violence”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, May 23, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Linda M. Tyer on Monday promised a major investment in police personnel and equipment as part of a comprehensive response to a rash of shootings and other criminal activity.

The mayor, flanked by Police Chief Michael J. Wynn and a dozen public safety officials and others in City Council chambers, said she'll propose an additional $936,000 in her fiscal 2017 police budget.

Describing a city police force that has been doing a good job while significantly understaffed, Tyer said officials have long heard from Wynn and others that a city of Pittsfield's size normally would have 120 officers, but the officer total now is 82.

"Not one more day will this plea for help in personnel go unanswered," she said.

Despite being shorthanded, she said, the department has made a number of arrests, including the rapid apprehension of a man charged with firing multiple shots Thursday in the Pecks Road-Wahconah Street area.

"There is a great deal of anxiety in our city," Tyer said, referring to a rash of "shots fired" police calls that already this year has reached the number received during all of 2015.

The city must acknowledge "gang and gun violence is real," she said.

But the mayor added, "I want to be very clear: I have had enough. And I will not allow the city of Pittsfield to be overrun by this or any other criminal element. To all those who threaten our city: I am not going to stand down while you terrorize our neighborhoods."

She said the gathered officials and community leaders in the packed council chambers and city residents "will not tolerate your criminal activity ... We are going to make it very uncomfortable for you to engage in criminal behavior."

Tyer said 11 trainees are going through the state police academy, and she proposes sending another dozen others for training in the coming months. But she also noted that, given the lengthy vetting process for officers, the need to meet Civil Service requirements — and given some pending officer retirements or transfers — her proposals "will only keep our staffing levels stable" in the near term.

The officers going through the recruitment and training process are not expected to be available until the fall.

The mayor said officials have also explored hiring officers with experience in other local departments to fill the Pittsfield vacancies, but the lower level of pay offered here has proven an obstacle.

Her long-term goal, she said, is to add to the police budget over the next three budget years.

Asked following the press conference whether she will be adding $936,000 to her proposed city budget for fiscal 2017, Tyer said she'll propose balancing cuts in other budget areas and new spending to address the policing needs.

The mayor will submit her city and school budget plan to the City Council for review on June 1. The next budget year begins on July 1.

What the administration now is pursuing vigorously, she and Wynn said, are collaborative efforts with local police departments, state police and the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office. And Tyer hopes to meet soon with Daniel Bennett, the state secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, to learn what additional funding or support the state can provide.

Community organizations and programs, such as the multiyear Shannon Grant-funded Pittsfield Community Connection anti-youth violence program; a similar effort targeting youth in their late teens and 20s, and programs to combat the opioid addiction crisis also are components in the city's response to violence, Tyer said.

The need for involvement by the public "is not just a phrase," she said. "It is a call to action."

"PCC needs more mentors. Will you step up?" she asked.

Wynn and Tyer said the recent arrests of a suspect in a string of robberies over the winter and the quick arrest of a man in the shooting incident on Thursday likewise point to the critical role witnesses and residents phoning in tips to police can play.

In answer to a question about immediate responses by Pittsfield Police, Wynn said the department is restructuring its units in an ongoing process, and he has called for recommendations from his lieutenants on staffing needs.

He is creating or restructuring traffic, anti-crime, youth services, downtown patrol and K-9 units, adding that a goal is to have a full-time anticrime unit working in addition to regular patrols.

The city also participates in a "robust mutual aid" program, involving every community in the county, state police, the sheriff's department and other entities, Wynn said, and the Pittsfield Police Department works the probation and other state departments. But he said officers from other departments can be called only on a case-by-case basis, and do not represent a full-time patrolling option in the city.

The department, he said, is reaching out to the community through Neighborhood Watch meetings and other events and social media and building relationships with residents.

Wynn was asked about the influence of gangs on the rash of incidents involving calls of "shots fired," which he said now totals 30 for this year, the same as for all of 2015.

"What we are seeing now is locally formed street gangs," the chief said, "forming in response to nationally associated gangs." He said the department "is still trying to get a handle on those numbers [of local gang members]."

An immediate goal, the chief added, is to identify and "arrest as many of these players as we can over the next two weeks."

Tyer also stressed a commitment to protect the "many great things that happen in our city every day," mentioning the Pittsfield Suns baseball season, and downtown theaters and community events. "I am confident they will be safe and lively experiences," she said.

Wynn, asked after the press conference to compare Pittsfield's crime problems with other small cities in Massachusetts, said the problems are similar. Some cities, he said, have essentially "given up" trying to effectively police some neighborhoods, but that isn't the case in Pittsfield.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-486-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.


Flanked by Berkshire law enforcement, dignitaries and elected officials, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and Police Chief Michael Wynn take a stand against the recent spike in gang violence in the city. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)


Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer is joined by law enforcement, school and community leaders for a press conference in Pittsfield City Hall Monday, [May 23, 2016]. (credit to Jim Levulis of WAMC).

-----

Our Opinion: “Facing reality of Pittsfield's crime problem”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 5/24/2016

Addressing Pittsfield's crime problem means acknowledging its reality and accepting that it will cost money to address. Mayor Linda Tyer on Monday did both.

At a press conference, the mayor said she would respond to a rash of recent crimes and shootings by proposing an additional $936,000 to her fiscal 2017 budget for police personnel and equipment. The police department has long been grievously understaffed, its 82 officers far short of the 120 that would be appropriate for a city of its size.

The immediate problem is that the lengthy recruitment and training process means that additional officers will not be available until what after what may be a long, hot summer. Hiring officers from other communities is difficult because of Pittsfield's low level of pay.

Pittsfield has saved money over the years by keeping its police department staff levels and salaries artificially low, but there was a price to pay for doing so and the city is paying it. The mayor said Monday she will balance the nearly $1 million in expenditures for the police department within her overall budget proposal, but that level of cuts will almost assuredly afflict harm elsewhere within the city. Keeping spending low in the short-term can, and has been, costly in the long term.

Mayor Tyer said Monday that the city must acknowledge that "gang and gun violence is real," and her insistence that the city face that uncomfortable reality is critical to changing it. In recent years, the crime problem was downplayed and assurances routinely made that crime was confined to certain (low-income) neighborhoods. Allowed to fester, it did. A problem anywhere in the city is the entire city's problem, and Pittsfield can't put its head in the sand or fixate on counterproductive attempts to protect its image when it must confront tangible and serious challenges.

The criminal violence in Pittsfield or any American city is dramatically compounded by the ready availability of guns (Eagle editorial, May 23). Unfortunately, there is nothing any mayor can do about a mess that Congress, largely bought off and intimidated by the National Rifle Association, refuses to address.

Within the limited parameters of what she can do, however, Mayor Tyer appears determined to take significant action. The mayor's acknowledgement of the seriousness of the city's problem is in itself an important step toward solving it.

-------------

“City Council OKs new tax incentive for Beacon Cinema”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, May 25, 2016

PITTSFIELD — The City Council has overwhelmingly approved a new five-year Tax Increment Financing agreement proposed by Mayor Linda M. Tyer for the owner of the Beacon Cinema.

After a lengthy debate, the council voted 7-2, with Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Donna Todd Rivers opposed and Council President Peter Marchetti and Christopher Connell recusing themselves from the debate.

Among those speaking in favor, Councilor Peter White cited the investment in effort and financing the building's owner, Richard Stanley, has made to restore the distressed North Street property, which opened in 2009 amid a severe national recession.

Supporters termed the building one of three anchor structures that led to a revival of the downtown area, including The Colonial Theatre and the Berkshire Museum.

White stressed the importance of "investing in Pittsfield," especially in light of Stanley's promise to spend $550,000 on luxury seating for the theater to help it compete with popular new seating installed at the Regal Berkshire Mall Cinema 10 complex.

"We are now losing these people to Lanesborough," White said, arguing that the city will lose more in the long run if downtown business generated by the six-screen theater declines or closes.

Councilors White, Lisa Tully, Kathleen Amuso and others noted that the TIF agreement, which will follow an original nine-year tax forgiveness agreement for the theater project set to expire in July, is not a complete tax abatement. The five-year TIF calls for the property owner to see a total real estate and personal property tax reduction of about $72,000 during the period while paying about $300,000 in taxes. The level of tax forgiveness will decline to 10 percent in the fifth year.

White said he felt many of those who told him they were opposed to the TIF for the Beacon did not fully understand the terms of the tax forgiveness agreement and how it is related to new investment.

Mazzeo praised the investment Stanley has made in the downtown, but she contended that the city should hold the developer to the original TIF agreement. She argued that it is unfair to other businesses and developers who have not received a TIF.

"I think the city went above and beyond," Mazzeo said, adding that Pittsfield is facing a tough budget year and cannot afford to forgive tax payments.

"We need new tax dollars," she said.

Rivers said she has been a strong supporter of the downtown and doesn't believe it should be considered "anti-downtown" to oppose the Beacon's new TIF agreement.

Because of the city's worsening budget situation, she said, "I believe the tough decisions have to start tonight."

In addition, Rivers argued that all businesses should be expected to take steps to survive in the marketplace, and the building owner was aware that the current TIF agreement would end after nine years and had time to plan ahead.

Supporters said the restoration of the 47-55 North St. building by Stanley, in cooperation with the city, was extraordinary, and moved forward a complex and difficult project involving local banks, grants and a concerted effort by city officials and residents.

Attorney Michael MacDonald and others noted that a downtown revival initiative in the 1990s sought to create anchors for an arts and entertainment district, including a downtown movie theater, and Stanley — developer of the Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington — was the only experienced business person to respond to Pittsfield's request.

According to Peter Lafayette, who traced the history of the cinema project, "we kind of dragged Richard into it."

Stanley has not made a profit on his investment, as anticipated in the original agreement, MacDonald said, but he has not abandoned the project.

Supporters of the new TIF pact noted that an $11.9 million investment and an employment goal of 25 full-time-equivalent workers were stated targets in the first agreement, but that the actual investment was $20.26 million and there were 31 full-time equivalent employees as of December 2015.

Jesse Cook-Dubin, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., the organization's executive director, Kristine Hurley, and Jonathan Butler, CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, all spoke in favor of the TIF agreement.

Butler said the restoration of the building to historical tax credit standards and the theater itself created "one of three projects that transformed downtown Pittsfield."

Hurley read letters from downtown businesses that supported the TIF for the Beacon, and she and Cook-Dubin said the seven restaurants and other businesses located in the vicinity of the theater illustrate the positive effects of the additional foot traffic created.

Laurie Tierney, co-owner of the Hotel on North, which also received a TIF agreement when that building was renovated, said all the similar projects in the downtown "are local projects" and should be supported. "We cannot afford to lose anything else in the downtown," she said.

Councilors Kevin Morandi and Anthony Simonelli each said they had strong reservations about the TIF at first but were persuaded the agreement is a positive one for the city. Both said the city should gain tax revenue in the long term and would lose more if they theater struggles or closes.

"I don't want to go back to that," Morandi said, referring to the downtown with numerous largely vacant or deteriorating buildings.

Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said the city was making "a modest investment that will pay dividends in a number of ways."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

"Drop in jobs, income sparks interest in new master plan"
Last master plan completed in 2001
By Phil Demers, The Berkshire Eagle, May 30, 2016

DALTON - A 46 percent dip in town manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2013 has contributed significantly to "quite a rise in poverty," a $4,000 fall in annual per capita income and a 5 percent increase in unemployment.

That sobering data was detailed in a 157-page draft report that will help shape a new Dalton Master Plan, the first revision since 2001, in hopes of turning around the town's economic slide.

"I was surprised by the increase in the poverty rate of families and individuals, which jumped from about 2 percent to 10 percent," said Town Manager Kenneth Walto. "In 2000, Dalton was relatively more affluent than surrounding communities, but now is the least affluent, excluding Pittsfield. Median household income has actually declined over that time when adjusted for inflation."

The report, which was presented during a recent public meeting, was compiled by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission in consultation with a 14-member Town Hall Steering Committee. The $10,000 cost of the study came from grants and community development funding.

It is designed to facilitate the revision of the town's master plan, a document that will guide Dalton's general direction for the next 10 to 20 years.

"We're trying to come up with a vision," said commission planner Mark Maloy, "What we want to do is improve the life of residents, support the town's base of small and large businesses and increase visitor traffic."

Residents, too, are encouraged to participate. The final version of the report won't be completed until early fall.

"It is open for public comment until the draft is complete and adopted by the Planning Board," Walto said, and elements of the plan will start to be implemented "as soon as it's done."

Some of many recommendations in the report include encouraging business collaboration, dealing with vacant buildings and former mills, consideration of tax plans to encourage growth or job retention, rezoning certain town lands to make them developer-ready, support start-ups and technology companies with "flexible workplaces," reach out to farmers, improve the cellular single in downtown, provide cheap broadband Internet and continue to invest in education.

Another issue: The Massachusetts Broadband Institute's "Middle Mile" goes "right down Main Street, but it's too expensive for businesses to connect to," Maloy said.

Infrastructure repairs — including road, sewer and water — comprise a "major," but very necessary, town expense, the report says.

"In my view, economic and demographic issues predominate as the population is aging, manufacturing jobs have declined significantly and there is not a lot of room physically for new growth," Walto said.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214. pdemers@berkshireeagle.com @BE_PhilD on Twitter.

-------------

"Tyer Proposes $6 Million Budget Increase for Pittsfield"
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, June 01, 2016

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer is calling for a 4.2 percent increase to the city's budget.

The order calls for a $151,293,951 operating budget, which represents an increase of $6,070,410. The mayor says that will cost the average single-family homeowner an additional $230.47 per year.

The capital budget calls for the borrowing of $11,948,000 for capital expenses, which is about $1.7 million than last year.

Recognizing the city's financial limitations recently presented by the Auditor Thomas Scanlon, who says the city's levy ceiling is now lower than the levy limit restricting the amount the city will be able to tax, Tyer says the city's budget makes investments in priorities and positions the city to grow the tax base in the future.

"The first step in developing the FY17 budget strategy was to understand what our fiscal challenges are. A decade of declining property values and inadequate growth are the primary factors that effect the city's levy limit," Tyer said.

"However, even in a down cycle we must plan for the future by making smart, long-term investments to be better positioned for increasing property values, inspiring new growth and creating a fiscal safety net for the city."

The levy situation left the city with room to raise taxes by about $6 million. If the fiscal 2017 budget proposal goes untouched by the City Council, that capacity will be at $2.4 million.

Among the six members of the City Council who received the budget Wednesday afternoon, sending the orders to the council as a whole for a series of hearings, at least two councilors showed an appetite for cutting expenses.

Councilor at Large Kathleen Amuso motioned to cut the operating budget by $3.2 million and send it back to the mayor, a move made just moments after the council was given copies of the proposal. She was joined by Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli in supporting that but the other councilors voted against such a cut so early in the process.

"I think there are a couple of departments we can make some changes that'll hurt but is doable," Amuso said. "I would really like the mayor to go back to the department directors and find a way to cut $3.2 million."

The City Council has little control over line items and Amuso wanted to send the administration back to the drawing board to come back with a proposal more in line with her desires.

"I really want them to do the work and I think they can," Amuso said,

Amuso tried to do the same with the capital budget, calling for a $2 million cut there and sending it back to the administration. Again, she was joined by only Simonelli and the motion was defeated.

Both Council Vice President John Krol and Councilor at Large Peter White spoke against making such cuts and said having the council review the budgets with department heads over a series of meeting was the proper way to make changes if desired.

"This is the mayor's budget. That is the starting point," Krol said.

Council President Peter Marchetti added that if the budget is sent back to the mayor at this point, the entire process outlined in the charter would have to start over. The fiscal year starts on July 1 and the council needs the budget for at least seven days before debating can start. Additionally, the public hearing that was already scheduled would have to be rescheduled.

The City Council will hold five budget hearings, each reviewing different departments, starting on June 13.

Tyer's budget is mostly driven by an $1.8 million increase for the School Department, $1.3 million for health insurance increases, and $936,208 for Police Department personnel and equipment — a vow she made at a recent press conference to develop specialized units in the department with additional staff to combat an uptick in gun-related incidents.

"The FY17 budget is fundamental in ensuring that our city has the services it needs to raise property values, to keep educational standards at a premium, and to make public safety priority No. 1," Tyer said.

"As we move forward beyond the FY17 budget, I am committed to undertaking a number of strategies that I believe will further position us for cost containment, financial planning, increased efficiencies, and consolidations. We must be better stewards of our finite resources."

Additional drives include $329,049 increase for the health insurance mitigation fund; $521,833 increases in retirement contributions; and $489,249 increase in long-term debt principal payments. From there, Tyer said the budget calls for "modest" increases to some budget lines while decreases to eight other lines.

"This budget places a high premium on investments in core services. Subsequently, we assessed the programs and services in relation to their capacity to foster increased real estate values and inspire new growth through private investment," Tyer wrote in a summary letter to the council.

Tyer is also asking to use $2 million in free cash to offset the tax rate despite the auditor's recommendation to put the money into reserves. Scanlon advised the city against using free cash to offset the tax rate because it is a "non-reoccurring" funding source and shouldn't be used for operations. Further, he said the city needs to build reserves for the future and free cash would better be used in stabilization accounts.

Instead, the mayor is hoping to get the state Legislature to release some $1.6 million the state has restricted for the city's stabilization reserves.

"As we have learned the city's reserves are too low. It was a difficult decision to utilize free cash to offset the tax rate; however, stabilization reserves will be funding in the amount of $1,720,000 and is comprised of an appropriation from balances remaining in the overlay account and by transferring Chapter 28 restricted stabilization funds," Tyer wrote.

The $11.9 million capital budget calls for a number of projects including $250,000 for a site analysis and design for a new police station — a project begun a few years ago with a feasibility study and a part of Tyer's focus on public safety. The biggest project is a $2.6 million runway project reconstruction at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport, a project which will likely be nearly entirely reimbursed by the FAA as is typical with airport projects.

The capital budget calls for some $2.5 million in street improvements. $1 million in stormwater improvements; $775,000 for new equipment in the Fire Department; and $378,000 for equipment in the Police Department.

Overall, the capital budget as presented is close to 20 percent higher than last year. However, any FAA reimbursement is not factored in, which is likely more than 90 percent of the $2.6 million being expended.

Coupled with the budget, water and sewer rates are asked to be raised. Those two operate on enterprise accounts funded by the users. The water rates are proposed to increase by 2 percent while the sewer rate is expected to rise by 6.7 percent.

"Both increases are driven by the increase in debt service from recently completed capital projects and the retirement board fees associated with enterprise employees," wrote Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood.

A total of $570,000 for various improvements at schools, many of which were discussed during the School Budget process.

The mayor is also proposing putting $100,000 into the other post-employment benefits trust account.

-----

Mayor Linda Tyer presents her new budget plan Wednesday during a special city council meeting at Pittsfield City Hall. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

City Councelor Kathleen Amuso makes a motion to decrease Mayor Linda Tyer's new budget plan by at least 3 million Wednesday during a special city council meeting to present the plan at Pittsfield City Hall. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

“Some in cutting mood as Pittsfield budget review begins”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, June 1, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Fiscal battle lines formed Wednesday even before Mayor Linda M. Tyer presented her $151 million fiscal 2017 budget plan to the City Council.

Councilor Kathleen Amuso proposed cutting $3.2 million from the mayor's operating budget before it had been formally presented during a special noontime council session. That proposal — along with a similar motion from Amuso to cut $2 million from Tyer's proposed $11.9 million capital projects budget — was voted down.

Amuso and Councilor Anthony Simonelli backed the reductions, while Councilors John Krol, Peter White, Christopher Connell and Council President Peter Marchetti opposed any changes prior to the council budget hearings to review the mayor's spending plan, beginning June 13.

Councilors Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin Morandi and Lisa Tully did not attend the meeting.

"I want everyone to know where I'm coming from," Amuso said, echoing earlier comments that she believes annual budget increases can no longer be supported in light of fiscal and economic challenges facing Pittsfield.

However, Krol and White said that, if cuts are to be made, they should only be considered after the mayor and department heads have a chance to present the budget details.

"I don't believe we should be cutting the mayor's budget before it is presented," Krol said.

"We have only had this for seven minutes," said White.

Marchetti said the city government charter requires a timetable for considering the budget, which is set in motion only when the mayor presents a budget to the council.

"We can't start debating until we have a budget," he said.

Simonelli told Amuso, "I tend to agree ... I wouldn't have a problem with it [the reductions]."

He noted that the council could only reduce the bottom line figure, not individual line items, but Amuso said her intention is to ask the mayor to send the budgets back to department heads and have them return with reductions.

"I think there are a couple of departments that could do that; it would be painful, I know," Amuso said.

Councilor Christopher Connell voted against Amuso's motion but said, "I hear you," before adding that it was not yet time to discuss budget changes.

In giving a brief overview of the plan, Tyer said the overall budget is up by 4.2 percent, or just over $6 million from the current operating budget of $145.2 million.

The School Department budget is proposed at $60.3 million, up $1.8 million, or 3.1 percent, from the current budget of $58.5 million. The figure is the bottom line amount approved in May by the School Committee.

During an interview following the meeting, Tyer and city Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood said the local tax levy — not counting state aid or other revenue — is proposed at $81.3 million, up from the current $76.8 million, for an increase of $4.6 million, or 5.9 percent.

Kerwood said the city side increases are focused mostly on the Police Department, increasing by $936,208, the Fire Department, up $294,223, and the Department of Public Services, up $353,507.

In light of a rash of recent incidents involving gunshots, the mayor last week held a news conference with city and public safety officials to announce a major increase in staffing and equipment for the PPD.

All other city department budgets are up or down from the current year by less than 2 percent.

Kerwood said the estimated tax increase over the current year would require a rate of $24.28 per $1,000 of property valuation, if a single rate for all property is used, up from $22.97 per $1,000 this year.

The mayor estimated the new rate would mean a tax bill increase of about $230 for the single-family home of average value, based on a single tax rate. The city uses separate tax rates for commercial and residential property, but the final determination on that ratio for the fiscal 2017 tax rate won't be decided until November.

In other notes included by Tyer in her budget cover letter, she said that among cost drivers are a $1.3 million hike in health insurance costs; $329,049 more for a health insurance mitigation fund that protects employees from increases in their share of premiums during a current contract for health insurance; $521,833 in increased employee retirement costs, and $489,349 in increased long-term debt principal payments.

Kerwood said following the meeting that the increase of $1.3 million in health insurance costs still reflects about a $1 million savings over the estimated cost under the city's previous insurance contract, which expired July 1, 2015. The current contract with the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association for Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans is for three years.

The budget also proposes using $2 million from certified free cash to offset the tax rate.

Within her capital projects budget of $11,948,000, Tyer is proposing:

• Street improvements totaling $2.5 million

• $2.6 million for Pittsfield Municipal Airport runway improvements (a project to receive federal and state funding)

• A total of $570,000 for 10 itemized school repair projects or maintenance upgrades

• $250,000 for site analysis and design for a new police headquarters building

• A total of $378,000 for police equipment, including $200,000 for radio replacement

• For the Fire Department, $600,000 for a new ladder truck, $105,000 for two command staff vehicles and $70,000 for fire equipment replacements

• $3.55 million for sewer collection system improvements

Tyer said her budget plan "is fundamental to ensuring that our city has the services it needs to raise property values, to keep educational standards at a premium, and to make public safety priority No. 1. The actions we take today will yield steady returns toward the city's long-term fiscal investments. I look forward to a robust discussion about community priorities and the ways in which we fund those programs and services that citizens expect and deserve."

The mayor said she also is exploring strategic options beyond fiscal 2017 to control costs, manage debt obligations, develop improved budget formats and long-term spending plans, and possibly combine information technology departments and merge school and city building maintenance personnel.

Marchetti has set the council's budget review sessions for June 13 at 7 p.m. for opening remarks by Tyer, an overview by Kerwood and consideration of the first eight departments.

Subsequent sessions beginning at 6 p.m. are scheduled for June 16, 20, 22 and 23, all in council chambers at City Hall.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Our Opinion: “Don't jump gun on Pittsfield budget”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 6/2/2016

The coming budget process in Pittsfield is going to be difficult enough without the launching of preemptive strikes that are in no way constructive.

On Wednesday, City Councilor Kathleen Amuso proposed cutting $3.2 million from Mayor Linda Tyer's $151 million operating budget for fiscal 2017 before the budget had even been formally presented. "We've only had this for seven minutes," observed Councilor Peter White. That proposal, along with Councilor Amuso's motion to cut $2 million from the mayor's proposed $11.9 million capital projects budget, was voted down, with Councilor Anthony Simonelli voting in favor of both reductions. Three councilors were not in attendance at the special noontime session.

It is impossible to responsibly reduce a municipal budget without at least listening to a mayor's arguments for the budget and going over it in detail. If Councilor Amuso believes there are $5.2 million in cuts available, or more, she can make that case in upcoming budget sessions.

In her brief presentation to the City Council, Mayor Tyer said her budget was up by 4.2 percent, or roughly $6 million, over the current budget. The city needs to maintain quality schools, repair and upgrade infrastructure, and add police officers to address a serious crime problem. All of this requires funding. Rising health care costs are a reality that can't be avoided.

Tax increases are difficult in an economically struggling city, but Pittsfield won't build that tax base if it allows its schools and infrastructure to crumble or fails to address the crime that worries residents and visitors alike. The balancing act is a difficult one and the result is unlikely to make anyone entirely happy, but a process has to be followed. Jumping ahead to make a statement serves no good purpose.

-------------

"Pittsfield human service organizations take hit under mayor's budget"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 6/7/2016

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Linda M. Tyer's fiscal 2017 budget eliminates city funding for up to 17 human service organizations, some of which have received support for a number of years.

The move apparently reallocated to other areas of the budget $123,000 being considered for the organizations, which had gone through the city's review process this spring under the Human Services Advisory Council and the Community Development office.

The city contributions were cut during late budget changes that included adding funding for the Police Department in light of a rash of shooting incidents and to address other fiscal pressures facing the city.

A total of $154,500 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding to the city is expected to be distributed among about eight organizations, pending final federal Department of Housing and Urban Development approval, but the city's typical annual supplemental funding for the nonprofits was eliminated.

"There are two pools of human services money," said Community Development Director Janis Akerstrom. She said that only about eight organizations or programs were determined eligible for funding under the CDBG guidelines, while other programs were in line to possibly receive a total of about $123,000 in city funds. The latter allocations were cut.

Akerstrom said she has contacted each of the affected organizations to explain the situation or has left messages. The final decisions concerning the city funding, she added, won't be determined until the City Council approves the fiscal 2017 spending plan.

Tyer could not be reached for comment on the human services funding.

Hilary Greene, who directs the Berkshire Immigrant Center, was informed by Akerstrom of the cuts. The center had requested $10,000 for next year, Greene said, up from $8,000 received for fiscal 2016.

She said the organization has received city funding since 1997. The center expected to use the funds for legal costs associated with helping recent immigrants obtain green cards, she said, and apply for U.S. citizenship and related services.

Under the city's budget process, organizations seeking human services funding submit proposals to the Human Services Advisory Council in February for review prior to the next July-to-June fiscal year.

Green said all of the organizations applying for support went through the application process, including meetings before the advisory council, before being notified last week of the reductions.

"Normally, about now we would hear how much we would be receiving," she said.

The city received funding proposals this spring totalling $515,765, according to an email sent to the organizations shortly before the public meeting process began. The city last year budgeted $276,000 in city and CDBG funding to organizations providing services in Pittsfield.

Greene said she plans to attend the City Council's hearing on the Community Development Department budget on June 13 to lobby for reinstatement of the city funding, and she expects representatives from other organizations that applied will attend as well.

"I'm sort of holding some hope the funds will be restored during the [June 13] hearing," she said.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: "Don't cut funding for most vulnerable city residents"
The Berkshire Eagle, 6/13/2016

To the editor:

As a 30-year resident, taxpayer, and registered voter in the city of Pittsfield, I was shocked and outraged to read in The Eagle that the mayor has proposed cutting over $100,000 from the human services budget. For a city the size of Pittsfield to put a mere $15,000 toward human services (the block grant funds come from the federal government) is not only outrageous, but self-defeating.

While it is important to fund the police department in order to address the problem of crime, we have to address the overall condition of the entire community with special emphasis on its most vulnerable residents, if we really want to have an impact.

It is urgent that the City Council work with the mayor to rectify this egregious error. It is their responsibility to do so because for many residents, it is a matter of life and death.

Dr. Susan Birns, Pittsfield
The writer is a resident of Ward 3.

-------------

Our Opinion: "Tyer budget plan survives nitpicking"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 6/15/2016

The Pittsfield City Council got nowhere slowly at Monday night's session devoted to Mayor Linda Tyer's proposed budget.

After a repetitious five-and-a-half-hour session devoted largely to nitpicking, the council voted for cuts totalling about $61,000. By asking Ms. Tyer to restore up to $123,000 in human service organization funding that had been eliminated, the council ended up advocating an increase in the mayor's $151 million spending plan for fiscal 2017.

The restoration of the funds for 17 human service organizations is an absolute must. They benefit Pittsfield's poorest and most disadvantaged residents, and city government is obligated to help them. Organizations like the YMCA, the Berkshire Immigration Center, the Pittsfield Family Consortium, the Christian Center, the Elizabeth Freeman Center and many others do critically important work and face cuts in grant funding. Taxpayer money spent on these programs is well-spent.

While some councilors lobbied for the mayor to make some cuts in human services, they didn't offer many specifics as to where. Cutting $27,787 from a staff position in the Community Development Office was approved by a 6-5 vote, but that entire budget was then sent back to the mayor with the recommendation to restore human service funding.

By yet another 6-5 vote, the City Council cut $25,000 for demolition of blighted properties from the city's list of about 100 vacant properties. Blighted properties are a serious problem in a city trying to rebuild neighborhoods, reduce crime and make itself attractive to potential new businesses. This cut is so illogical it is difficult not to conclude that it was introduced and narrowly approved to spite the mayor, who made addressing blight a campaign priority. Similarly, various proposals to cut the salary of the director of administrative services or redefine the position were poorly thought out and defended and met defeat.

With the city approaching its taxing limit, the mayor and the City Council should explore ways to trim the budget. However, budget-cutting proposals by city councilors shouldn't be made arbitrarily or motivated by politics, and the many 6-5 votes during Monday's marathon suggest the council is divided in two, as it has been during recent unproductive periods.

The inability of the City Council to come up with any significant, well-defended reductions strongly suggests that Mayor Tyer put together a sound budget. Reduced to picking nits into the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the council essentially endorsed the soundness of that budget.

-------------

Our Opinion: “Attitude of some city councilors won't benefit Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 6/20/2016

Ideally, last Thursday night's Pittsfield City Council budget session will be the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of the ugliness that has emerged in recent weeks.

For the second time, the council spent five hours personalizing the budget process, this time related to schools, before not offering any significant cuts to Mayor Tyer's proposed 2017 budget. The session did contain a welcome apology from Councilor Kathleen Amuso for her role in the ham-handed attempt to reduce the job and salary of the mayor's top administrative aide, Roberta McCulloch Dews, who is the first African-American to hold the key post. (Ms. Dews is married to Warren Dews, who is vice president of audience development at New England Newspapers, which owns The Eagle.)

Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said that discussion "was not as politically correct as it should have been," but the issue is not political correctness, which has been the default alibi for all manner of ethnic insults on the part of Republican presidential candidates. Because none of the critics could come up with a coherent reason for changing Ms. Dews' position or salary, their arguments were reduced to the personal and the political.

The personal and the political emerged during a council committee session when some councilors tried to bully the Board of Public Health into raising the cap on tobacco sales licenses in a city with a serious smoking addiction problem. Allowing more tobacco purveyors to come in will only take money away from current licensees. While a private citizen brought forth a petition on a residency requirement, obligating a council committee to bring it forward, some councilors' apparent enthusiasm for it could give health board members who do not live in Pittsfield the impression that it may be used to get them off the board.

Personal criticism at two budget sessions aside, the City Council ended up endorsing the mayor's budget. It may be that critics, knowing the mayor's budget was responsible, decided they would try to appease complaining constituents by talking tough before the PCTV cameras. If so, their behavior was irresponsible and counterproductive.

Pittsfield has tough financial decisions ahead of it, which must be made in a spirit of compromise and cooperation. Ending what Council President Peter Marchetti described Thursday as the "us vs. them, city and school" mentality is critical, a process that is hindered by budget timing logistics. These problems won't be solved unless respect and cooperation replace the personal and the political.

-------------

“Pittsfield mayor's budget gets past divided City Council”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 6/28/2016

PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda M. Tyer's fiscal 2017 spending plan edged past the finish line Tuesday, but not before the strong objections of several city councilors were further articulated.

The $151 million city and school budget and an $11.9 million capital projects budget won council approval during the last scheduled meeting of fiscal year 2016, which will end on Thursday, June 30.

Neither proposal won unanimous approval.

Councilors Christopher Connell and Kevin Morandi reiterated some of the objections they had raised over a five-meeting, 22.5-hour budget review process over the past two weeks. But the operating budget passed on a 7-4 vote, with Connell, Morandi, Melissa Mazzeo and Anthony Simonelli opposed, and the capital budget was approved on a 9-2 vote, with Morandi and Simonelli opposed.

The objections raised during the lengthy review process — resulting in numerous motions to cut spending items, most of which were voted down — focused on an increase of $6 million, or 4.2 percent, in the overall budget, and a hike in the local tax levy from $76.78 million to $81.3 million, or 5.9 percent.

The closest budget-related vote was to approve Tyer's proposal for using $2 million from certified free cash to lower the tax rate. Morandi and Connell have argued for increasing the amount to lessen the impact on taxpayers in light of the budget increases and the lack of approved cuts.

Because there were no reductions made in the mayor's budget, Morandi said the city was "forced" to use free cash to lower the tax hike, despite advice from the city's auditor to build up surplus funds because Pittsfield is close to the maximum amount it can raise without a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote.

Connell, who earlier proposed using $500,000 more from free cash to lower the tax rate because most of the more than $400,000 in proposed budget reductions he and others made had been rejected, again said he favors using $2.5 million from free cash.

"We did the best we could [to reduce the budget], he said.

The mayor's proposed use of $2 million from free cash was approved on a 6-5 vote, with Simonelli, Mazzeo, Connell, Donna Todd Rivers and Morandi voting against.

In arguing his position that the city should have begun making serous reductions this year in light of the looming Proposition 2 1/2 cushion, which is now about $2.4 million, Connell said, "We really have a philosophical difference on how we should be handling the upcoming crisis. I think there will be an absolute bloodbath next year when this comes up again. We should have gotten some [reductions] this year."

Councilor John Krol argued, however, that there were reductions in 10 city departments in the mayor's budget, reflecting an effort to find savings. He added that he believes city voters in November were "loud and clear" in their desire to see Tyer's priorities for Pittsfield carried out — including investing in education, community development and public safety.

"I also have a problem with the narrative that because we didn't cut the budget we failed," Krol said.

The budget items were extensively debated over 22-plus hours, he said, and in the end the council had actually added to Tyer's spending plan by several thousand dollars. In the long run, Krol said, the budget plan "looks to the future" at ways to reduce "the big ticket items" while "investing in the community and encouraging expansion of the tax base."

Mazzeo said she didn't agree the mayor's voter mandate, when she defeated former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi in November, called for a large tax increase. "She was elected based on her priorities," Mazzeo said. "People were looking for change. What they got was an increase in taxes."

The Proposition 2 1/2 ceiling is now "right here," Mazzeo said, after years in which Pittsfield budgets had a large excess levy capacity below the level requiring an override vote.

Asked by Krol to comment on the budget, Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood noted that the city has received state Community Compact funding to hire a consultant to help improve budgeting and long-term fiscal planning and transparency.

"I think this is a solid budget," Kerwood said, adding that the administration "is fully aware" of the fiscal challenges facing the city.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Our Opinion: “A revealing Pittsfield budget debate”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 6/30/2016

A Pittsfield City Council budget process that amounted to 22 1/2 hours of talk and precious little action was nevertheless educational and informative.

* In spite of objections raised repeatedly and redundantly and a series of 7-4 votes, Mayor Linda Tyer's $151 million city and school budget and an $11.9 million capital projects budget were approved (Eagle, June 30). This testifies to the soundness of a budget that includes many locked in contractual and obligatory costs. If there is any fat in the budget, no councilor could find it. In fact, the Council ended up adding a few thousand dollars.

* City residents concerned about crime presumably know they must support the increased costs for more police. If city residents expect good services from City Hall and good schools for their children, then they have to pay for those as well. It costs money to run a city worth living in.

* The budget comes with a 5.9 percent hike in the local tax levy, and Councilor Melissa Mazzeo is correct that Mayor Tyer's mandate in her decisive victory last November was not for a tax increase. The mandate, among other things, involved restoring transparency and a spirit of cooperation to City Hall and moving a city stuck in the status quo in a forward direction. The tax increase — and Mayor Tyer is not the first Pittsfield mayor of recent vintage to propose one — was the result of a responsible budget calling for prudent investments that City Council critics couldn't dent.

* With Pittsfield approaching its Proposition 2 1/2 ceiling, the mayor and city councilors face some tough calls. The mayor should look for ways to reduce the budget in the year ahead, but next year, city councilors are obligated to match their rhetoric with specific and well-argued ways in which the city can cut costs. That didn't happen this June.

-------------

“Pittsfield approves water, sewer rate hike for fiscal 2017”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 6/30/2016

PITTSFIELD - Water and sewer rates in the city will increase — 2 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively — beginning July 1.

The rate hike was among a number of measures approved by the City Council on Tuesday during its final session of the fiscal year.

Councilors also referred to committee a request to adopt the state Community Preservation Act provisions, accepted two grants to the city, and began the legislative process to allow access to a restricted city stabilization fund mandated by the state during a fiscal crisis 15 years ago.

According to paperwork submitted to the council by Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood, fiscal 2017 rates per 100 cubic feet of metered water will rise from $1.32 to $1.35, and the sewer rate for 100 cubic feet of water used will rise from $1.79 to $1.91.

The water service rate for unmetered buildings was set at $185.44 per year with one toilet, and $92.78 for each additional toilet. The unmetered sewer rate was set at $161.04 per year for one toilet, and $86.65 for each additional toilet.

The minimum charge per quarter for water and sewer will remain $7 for each.

The rate for filling a swimming pool was set at $84.38, and the cost for backflow prevention testing will be $65.

Also Tuesday, the council referred to its Ordinance and Rules Committee a petition from a group of citizens to have Pittsfield adopt provisions of the Community Preservation Act. The act allows a small surcharge on property tax bills to be used toward a range of projects, such as to preserve historic structures, improve parks or protect open space, and it provides matching funding through a state trust fund derived from a statewide fee on real estate transactions.

The proposal suggests setting the local surcharge at 1 percent while exempting the first $100,000 in property assessed value from consideration, and allowing other exemptions.

The council on Tuesday also authorized Mayor Linda M. Tyer to request special legislation to amend Chapter 28 of the Act of 2001, An Act Relative To Financial Conditions In the City of Pittsfield.

The purpose of the city's request is to free the city from restrictions governing the use of the reserve fund established by the act after the state stepped in during the financial difficulties.

If released by special legislation, the approximately $1.6 million in the fund will be added to the city's stabilization fund total.

The council also officially accepted a $50,000 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission toward repair work planned at the Springside House in Springside Park, and a $1,045 gift from First Baptist Church to support the Pittsfield Police Department Explorers Program.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: “Walmart plan a product of lack of leadership”
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/1/2016

To the editor:

I grew up near Pittsfield in the 1950s and 1960s and have followed the city for the past 50 years. The recent interest by city leadership in having a super Walmart on the former GE property is disturbing. It reminds me of past leadership (or lack thereof) that fought the mall downtown.

This time the proposal is another type of mall that will further hurt the downtown and many other businesses. I don't know the state representative candidate Mike Bloomberg, but I do applaud him for his June 16 letter to the editor. His risking his candidacy by taking a position against this quick fix shows a broader view of what is best for the future of this city and an understanding of urban planning.

It is interesting that all of the other Pittsfield leaders and PEDA members appear excited about the possibilities of this store coming. It is also ironic that on June 10 The Eagle reported that a city-funded consultant stated that having a Dunkin' Donuts on Tyler Sreet would be detrimental to the character of the neighborhood. Using whatever logic, city leaders apparently see a super Walmart as a good fit for the same Morningside neighborhood.

The Walmart developers have touted that there will be 100 new jobs created. Where do these new 100 jobs come from? They come from the workforce of other stores that will lose their customer base or may close entirely. Aside from this well known modus operandi, Walmart has a documented negative history of establishing a bigger store just a few miles away from its current one, which ends up abandoned. (Google "The ghost stores of Walmart.")

The developer's promises of other businesses opening up near a Walmart really needs to be researched. What Pittsfield should think about on the GE site is the potential for gun shops, bail bond stores stores, pawn shops, "Medicaid mill" medical services, and so on as these are businesses often located near such stores.

What the city does need at GE is real employers, not super discount stores. If the best that comes out of PEDA after 18 years and millions invested is a big box store, maybe PEDA should be disbanded. Maybe its time to replace local committees with knowledgeable urban developers, researchers and outside business people. The city needs to stick with a plan for desirable industries to contribute to a desirable city.

Maybe it is time to hire a powerful lobbyist or specialist with contacts with domestic and foreign industries and to pay him/her a base salary, set measurable benchmarks and give a large graduated bonus for bringing in the desired employers.

These are just thoughts from a former resident concerned about my home area. Maybe it is time to elect leaders who can think out of the box and box stores!

Douglas Finch, Forestport, N.Y., Fort Myers, Fla.

-------------

Letter: "Positives of new Walmart outweigh the negatives"
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/7/2016

To the editor,

Like my fellow Berkshire residents, I have been thinking about the idea of placing a new Walmart on the old GE property. My knee-jerk reaction was no! However, upon reflection, I am thinking, why not?

Here are the reasons I now favor the idea. The present condition of the site is scabrous, not likely to entice businesses to locate there. The company looking to develop the site is willing to do remediation that the city cannot afford to do.

It puts a supermarket in reach of people who need it. It is more central than Walmart's present location, and will draw more people to the Morningside area, which should benefit the existing businesses and perhaps cause others to set up shop in the neighborhood.

We know the negatives about Walmart, but there are positives. Yes, their clothing and many other products are made overseas, but go to other stores — both competitors and more upscale establishments — and check comparable merchandise. You will find that they also carry many things made abroad. I recently bought some clothing online. It was not made in this country. It was twice as expensive as Walmart's, and of no better quality.

At least jobs at Walmart and the other businesses the company is planning for will go to people from Pittsfield and Berkshire County. The area needs these jobs. I see this as a seedbed opportunity. If there are viable business entities developed there, it might very well encourage more business growth in the neighborhood and that would be a great plus for our area.

Barbara Roberts, Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: “Walmart will destroy a great opportunity”
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/8/2016

To the editor:

Soon after the Woodlawn Avenue bridge was reopened, I had a few minutes to spare and took my car over this newly revived route.

The view from the bridge was truly impressive as I looked out over placid Silver Lake, reflecting the endless sky above. Beyond the lake were the quiet neighborhoods of lush green trees, rooftops and chimneys. Further west was the gentle classic skyline of downtown Pittsfield with the beautiful hills and sunset beyond.

I saw clearly how the William Stanley Business Park is situated on one of Pittsfield's most beautiful vantage points. The thought of sticking a giant Walmart there, with its equally giant blacktop parking lot and its exploitative retail ugliness was painful to consider.

I hope that city planners take the long view, resist the temptation for the proposed quick fix, and save this rare parcel for something truly productive and creative, which the original plans envisioned.

Steven Skoblow, Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: “PEDA members failed to do Walmart homework”
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/9/2016

To the editor:

Concerning the possible move and expansion by Walmart to the GE site, I have to ask PEDA members what kind of homework they did before deciding this would be a viable option for the old GE site?

Did they not learn that Walmart is shutting down stores in the US?

Did they not learn that for new suppliers to get their goods into Walmart they are only being allowed to apply to sell online, because that is the only place Walmart is seeing growth?

Did they not learn that brick and mortar retail is taking a beating and stores are closing across the US because so much commerce is now being conducted online?

Have they never been to the current Pittsfield Walmart and noticed that only a few registers are ever active? The customers are not there! So why a bigger store?

I have to think PEDA is only thinking of the near future and has no long-term vision. Allow this to happen and five years after Walmart is built Pittsfield may be looking again at an empty behemoth of a building!

Patty Eksuzian, Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: "Wrong approach to crime in Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/7/2016

To the editor:

Mayor Tyer, with her plan to fight crime in the city of Pittsfield ("City Council OK's police, fire budgets" June 22), is proving she is not qualified to run the city.

Mayor Tyer, more police officers is not the answer to reducing crime. The answer to reducing crime is education, and as mayor, it is your duty to ensure all of our children get the education they need and deserve.

With your plan, you are failing them. Unfortunately, Pittsfield will always have a crime problem as long as you, the City Council, and the police chief don't understand this.

We the citizens of Pittsfield deserve better than your solution to this problem, and these incompetents must be removed from office as soon as possible.

Joseph DiNicola, Pittsfield

-------------

The Sandwash Reservoir in Washington. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

“Pittsfield considering major upgrades at water treatment plants”
Upgrades could change technology of process
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/6/2016

PITTSFIELD — A $100,000 engineering assessment of the city's water treatment plant operations, future requirements and upgrade options is expected to begin soon and be completed by November.

Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood said the assessment follows up on an evaluation that was part of a 20-year water master plan effort in 2010, and several smaller studies of such treatment aspects as aluminum-reduction options and equipment corrosion control throughout the water system.

Essentially, he said, the goal now is to decide whether to retain and upgrade the Krofta water filtration systems that were installed at the city's Ashley and Cleveland water treatment plants during the 1980s or install a different filtration system.

The current evaluation is expected to provide information to help make that determination and provide an indication of costs, Collingwood said, as well as allow the city to begin the design phase for a new treatment system next year.

When the project might go to the construction phase is listed as "to be decided" in the city's multi-year capital projects plan, he said.

Of the Krofta treatment systems, Collingwood said, "They are in good condition overall, but we are at the end of the service life of the equipment."

The systems have been well maintained over the years, he said, adding, "We've done a lot of TLC."

The evaluation will look at whether "to keep the Krofta system, all the pluses and minuses, and alternative systems, and the pluses and minuses," the commissioner said.

"This is like a mini-master plan," he said, "and we are looking at both [treatment plants], and the way we operate."

Linked to the water system assessment is the impact the plants will have on the city's wastewater treatment plant, which also is scheduled for a major upgrade in order to treat waste water to current federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements. The requirements are focused on the level of phosphorus and other material remaining at the end of the process, when water is discharged into the Housatonic River.

The water treatment facilities use aluminum chloride and similar materials in treating drinking water, Collingwood said, and this produces a sludge material that either must be treated at the wastewater treatment plant — as it is currently — or treated in smaller facilities at the water plant sites. Those are the types of determinations that will go into design of the new or upgraded water plants, he said.

Current and future state Department of Environmental Protection drinking water standards also will be considered during the planning stages, along with the chemistry of the city's water and its effects on equipment and the treatment processes.

In a project narrative Collingwood submitted to the City Council during recent budget sessions, he stated that the Krofta system "has performed adequately, and the analysis showed [in 2010] that a feasible and cost-effective alternative for potential future upgrades could involve a newer version of the Krofta process in place of the existing."

But he notes that "some aspects of the recent [studies and upgrade projects] have exposed the drawbacks of the Krofta process, such as the high volume of treatment residuals, lack of robustness when used on more challenging source waters or with alternative coagulants, and lack of conventional mixing (coagulation and flocculation) that could otherwise be used to optimize pre-treatment."

The commissioner adds, "There also continue to be concerns about the long-term viability of the Krofta process as the sole technology for the city's water supply. Compared to other water treatment equipment manufacturers, the Krofta technology is supported by an unusually small staff with very limited resources, which could undermine future technical support, parts replacement availability, and ability to adapt to ever-changing regulations."

In recent years, he said, "the aluminum load to the city's wastewater treatment plant has put a burden on the operating budget and the ability to meet compliance. This aluminum originates from the water treatment operations."

Collecting and recycling the waste products at the water plant sites would alleviate that problem, he writes, but "given the arrangement of the Krofta process and the sensitivity to high raw solids, this would be a costly and complex propositions. A process with the ability to handle recycle water and to minimize sludge load would be beneficial."

The city concurrently has been upgrading its water lines and water storage tank systems. Upgrades and repairs to the city's reservoir dams also is continuing, such as at the Upper Sackett Reservoir in Hinsdale, which was found to have deficiencies during a 2014 inspection.

The Krofta systems were installed at the water plants in Pittsfield during the 1980s and were developed by the Lenox-based firm led by the late Milos Krofta, who died in 2002. The system, with a then-innovative filtration technology, was credited with saving the city millions over other treatment options being considered at the time.

Collingwood said the companies now operates as Krofta Technologies.

The city water system includes six reservoirs: Cleveland and Sackett reservoirs in Hinsdale; Ashley Lake, Lower Ashley, Farnham and Sandwash reservoirs in the town of Washington.

There are two water treatment plants, the Ashley Water Treatment Plant in Dalton and the Cleveland Water Treatment Plant in Hinsdale. Treatment at the plants includes removal of particulate matter, chlorination and use of additives to make the water less corrosive to water pipes.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.


Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com The Cleveland Water Treatment Plant in Hinsdale.

-------------

Letter: "Accept Walmart plan and be grateful for tax dollars"
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/13/2016

To the editor:

The naysayers oppose yet another project in Pittsfield — Walmart. Not good for Pittsfield, they preach. An economically depressed area, the city needs taxes from whatever company it can. Major manufacturing isn't coming back. Those days are long gone

These increases in property taxes are draining for the homeowner who has to endure one after another while the tax base shrinks. Take what's offered for this property and be glad someone is willing to clean up and use it. By the way, I just received my property tax bill — and yet another increase!

Sharon Maloy, Pittsfield

-------------

“Domino effect. Key Lee, Lenox positions vacated due to Sabic leaving Pittsfield.”
By Dick Lindsay and Clarence Fanto, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/14/2016

The Lee School Committee and town of Lenox have key positions to fill due to the domino effect of Sabic Innovative Plastics shuttering its Pittsfield headquarters this summer.

By month's end, Tiffany Morawiec is leaving the business administrator's position in the Lee Public Schools, being filled by Lenox's current town treasurer Andrea Wadsworth, who also had to resign as chairwoman of the Lee school board. Morawiec is following her husband who is among the dozens of local Sabic employees relocating to the company's Houston headquarters.

Lee and Lenox are already losing their shared town building commissioner as Donald Fitzgerald follows his wife, another local Sabic employee headed to Texas.

Interim school superintendent Alfred Skrocki echoed the sentiments of the school district staff regarding Morawiec's pending departure after eight years on the superintendent's staff.

"Tiffany has evolved into a school administrator in every aspect," he said. "She had the concern and commitment for the kids."

New committee Chairman Robert Lohbauer added, "Having Tiffany move on is sad as she has grown into a tremendous asset for the town."

As for Wadsworth, she resigned from her hometown volunteer school committee in June in order to vie to be Morawiec's successor. Wadsworth spent five years as the business accountant for the Berkshire Hills Regional School District before working in Lenox. Wadsworth was appointed the Lenox town treasurer last fall, a job she will maintain until she helps train her yet-to-be appointed successor.

"My intention is to move very swiftly to fill the position," Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen told The Eagle. "Andrea was good enough to let me know that this was a possibility" six weeks ago, "and we've been cultivating different options. I have no intention whatsoever of dragging this process out."

Calling for at least five years of financial and/or management experience with a bachelor's degree in business required and a master's preferred, the job would pay $53,000 to $62,000 annually, according to the job posting on the town's website.

The new treasurer is subject to approval by selectmen, but becomes automatic if the board takes no action within seven days of receiving the nomination.

Filling the Lee School Committee seat on the seven-person board is also in the early stages, but is expected to follow the scenario of almost nine years ago. In August of 2007, the Board of Selectmen and School Committee jointly appointed Susan Harding to serve out the final year of a three-year term until the following annual town election in May. Harding has since been elected twice to the committee.

Town officials have yet to formally seek letters of intent from Lee residents interested in joining the school board.

Potential candidates should be prepared to work toward providing the best education possible for the K-12 school system, according to the board's new chairman, Robert Lohbauer.

"The School Committee is steering the district, having an impact on the kids," he said. "There is an investment of time as there are several subcommittees."

Wadsworth leaves the Lee School Committee with less than a year remaining on her first term, having agonized over the decision to vacate the board and Lenox Town Hall.

"I couldn't have worked for a better town manager (Ketchen) and this office accepted me from day one," she said.

Wadsworth was one of 10 applicants for the Lee Public Schools job; one of four a search committee interviewed and recommended to the Lee-Tyringham Union 29 committee. The joint panel of three committee members from each town is responsible for hiring the superintendent and his/her office staff which manages the two-town school system.

While Lenox is searching for its second treasurer in less than a year, Ketchen understands why Wadsworth is leaving.

"We all get that opportunities come that were unexpected," he said, "These opportunities are very rare, it's something she's trained and licensed for in the commonwealth."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. cfanto@yahoo.com @BE_cfanto on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: “Join brother's effort to take back Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle. 7/21/2016

To the editor:

If you follow local politics as I do, you know that my brother, Craig C. Gaetani, is the only individual in this city who speaks for the taxpayer. Whether he is addressing the City Council every other week or writing commentaries in The Eagle and The Gazette or doing radio shows and his own TV show on PCTV, he is consistent with the goal of helping the taxpayers of this city.

If you are an informed resident, you know what my brother did for Pittsfield in the 1980s, when he, Miles Krofta and Lawrence Wang built the city's two drinking water plants, saving the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

I know my brother very well. He is an individual who loves people and is one of the most generous individuals I have ever known. Many people in this city still have their heads above water thanks to my brother. He wants nothing from anyone, other than to ask residents to get involved in city government by reading and listening to everything about Pittsfield's government.

You have heard him mention the Good Old Boy Network-Special Interest Groups (GOBSIGS) many times as the groups that runs this city and have put us in the dire situation we find ourselves in. These GOBSIGS are concerned for themselves and their families and friends and no one else.

Please become educated about city government, watch my brother's TV show weekly and become a member of his non-GOBSIG group which will hopefully number in the thousands before the next election so we can take back our city and return power to where it belongs — the taxpayer.

Gerald Gaetani, Pittsfield

-----

Letter: "Thanks to volunteers who joined clean-up"
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/22/2016

To the editor:

On July 14, I announced on electronic media that I and my crews were going to clean up the eyesore at the old Hess gas station on Tyler Street and landscape the facility with flowers generously donated by Big Y, Walmart and Home Depot. To my surprise, a large group of people showed up on Saturday with weed whackers, mowers and pruners and did a wonderful job of cleaning up the mess there. The flowers were picked up that Sunday and the landscaping is now done.

I do not know who those workers are, but all I can say is thank you for all of your hard work.

I and my crews will keep up the property throughout the summer and if some of the people in the Tyler Street area can keep an eye on the flowers and water them, I would be greatly appreciative. Thank you to all who were involved in this citizen project.

Craig C. Gaetani, Pittsfield

-------------

“Generous gift helps ease pain of loss of Sabic”
The Berkshire Eagle, 7/25/2016

Sabic's $1 million gift to Berkshire United Way is remarkably generous. It is also a painful reminder of what Pittsfield and the Berkshires are losing.

Sabic Innovative Plastics has not only provided good jobs it has, over the past 10 years, earned a reputation for charitable giving and dedicated volunteer work in the community (Eagle, July 22). Between employee donations and corporate matching funds, Sabic has averaged $250,000 a year in donations to the Berkshire United Way. BUY President Kristine Hazzard said on Friday that the money would be used in large part to strengthen the organization's high-priority early childhood literacy program, while also significantly bulking up the organization's endowment funds.

The trickle-down effect of Sabic's departure is already being felt. For example, Tiffany Morawiec, business administrator in the Lee Public Schools, is moving with her husband to Houston where Sabic has its corporate headquarters. The company's employees also volunteer for local youth groups and other organizations. Sabic's move to Houston certainly makes sense from a corporate standpoint and was not entirely unexpected, but it hurts on a variety of levels.

The ultimate fate of Sabic's separate Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield is unclear and many plastics division employees are determined to find jobs and remain in the community. Ideally, there will be good news on both fronts. It can, however, be said with certainty that Sabic's positive legacy in Pittsfield and the Berkshires will live on courtesy of its generous gift to the Berkshire United Way.

-------------

“$475,000 Working Cities Challenge grant to help Pittsfield, four other communities across state”
Berkshire Eagle Staff, 7/24/2016

Editor's note: This article was updated on Monday, July 25, to clarify that Pittsfield was one of five communities to share in the Working Cities Challenge grant.

BOSTON — A team of community activists from Pittsfield joined with teams from four other Massachusetts cities to celebrate winning a $475,000 grant to each team to help them improve their respective communities in the Working Cities Challenge.

On July 18, the Boston Fed hosted over 150 guests for a celebration honoring winning teams from Haverhill, Lowell, Pittsfield, Springfield, and Worcester. The five teams presented their respective plans — aimed at improving outcomes for low-income residents — to an audience made up of state officials, Boston Fed leadership, and members of the philanthropic, nonprofit, business, and local government communities.

The Pittsfield plan, branded "Pittsfield Bridges: Transformative Movement," (PBTM) is designed to support the journey from poverty to sustainability by collaboratively building community resources and removing barriers.

PBTM's goal is to improve individual, institutional, and social fairness and respect in the community and thus to support individuals moving out of poverty.

The PBTM's core team includes Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, the City of Pittsfield, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Berkshire Community College, BerkshireWorks Career Center, Berkshire United Way, Goodwill Industries, Berkshire Children and Families, Berkshire Health Systems, Berkshire Community Action Council, Downtown Pittsfield, Inc., Pittsfield Public Schools, Local chapter NAACP, Pittsfield Community Connection, West Side Neighborhood Initiative, First United Methodist Church, Heart 2 Heart Ministry, Manos Unidas, Brien Center for Mental Health, Multi-Cultural Bridge, and Girls Inc.

The grant application notes that Pittsfield has experienced a continual loss of manufacturing jobs during the past 40 years and in March had an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent.

"The majority of available jobs are low paying, with few if any benefits or long-term prospects. With the imminent loss of 400 Sabic Innovative Plastic jobs (average wage $68,466) the city will reach its 5-year projected loss of manufacturing jobs in just one year," the report notes.

Another challenge facing the city is its poverty rate, according to the application. Since 2000, the poverty rate increased 40 percent. By 2014, 7,088 residents lived in poverty — or 16.4 percent of the city.

Butbroken down by neighborhood, the numbers get worse. In three areas, poverty rates range from 23 percent to 39 percent. These neighborhoods are home to 63 percent of the city's African American, mixed race, immigrant, and Hispanic residents, the application reports. And since 2000, the minority population has doubled.

"It is apparent that Pittsfield's significant demographic change has not been accompanied by subsequent shifts in perspective and institutional processes to welcome these new populations," the application states. "After 13 listening sessions, PBTM identified that an institutionalized lack of inclusion is a significant barrier for low-income residents, which co-exists with and perpetuates a lack of access to available resources. Residents spoke of not feeling welcomed in more prosperous areas, nor in social, economic, or educational institutions. They described covert racism and non-native English speakers reported all too common discrimination resulting in serious barriers to any effort to improve financial stability."

The report points to structural barriers "including limited public transportation, scarce job opportunities, few affordable housing options, and architectural barriers for the disabled."

With SABIC set to leave town, the reports goes on, "this moment demands that residents, social service providers, educational institutions, public, private and nonprofit entities work together in new ways to embrace an approach that builds hope and improves the quality of life for all residents."

The action plan includes a series of training programs to empower "under-resourced neighbors" and shift public, private, and nonprofit culture "to be inclusive and responsive, and enhance the cultural competence in all sectors."

Through its plan, the Pittsfield team hopes to improve the delivery of existing social, education, employment, and health services, and substantially reduce barriers "so residents have the tools and support they need to succeed."

If delivered right, according to the team's application, in 10 years, lower income individuals in Pittsfield will be "healthy, engaged in their community, and socially accepted."

Education levels will rise, the poverty rate will shrink, and more people will be working full-time jobs.

"This will reverse the long-term negative trend where Pittsfield has fallen further and further behind state and national measures," the report concludes.

In June, the Boston Fed awarded the grant funding for each initiative – totaling $2.8 million – made possible by a consortium of partners including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Barr Foundation, the Smith Family Foundation, and Living Cities. The winners of the competition were selected by an independent jury that does not include the Boston Fed.

"I want to congratulate the winners of the Working Cities Challenge. Collaborative leadership is at the heart of this competition, and these five cities demonstrated significant capacity to reach across sectors and advance efforts on behalf of low-income residents in their communities," said Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren. "I look forward to following the progress in the communities in the coming months and years."

"Today's event really highlighted the important work that the city teams have done, and continue to do, to enhance their communities," said MassDevelopment CEO Marty Jones. "I think I can speak for the jury when I say that we're all looking forward to seeing the initiatives come to life."

-------------

Construction on the new Taconic high School will transform the former athletic fields into a modern high school, Thursday. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

“Debris, contamination unearthed during Taconic High site work”
Contamination, debris to swallow up portion of contingency budget
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 7/25/2016

PITTSFIELD - Foundation preparation and other site work for the $120.8 million Taconic High School project has unearthed contamination and buried construction debris, along with areas of soil that are unsuitable for building purposes.

The School Building Needs Commission met Monday with its consultants, the project design team and the project management firm to discuss and release details about the problems, which could eat up several hundred thousand dollars of the project's $3.48 million contingency fund, officials said.

While disappointing and costly, the amounts involved are not out of line with the 30 to 35 percent of the average contingency fund for such a project that goes for unanticipated subsurface work, the officials said.

The 246,520-square-foot academic and vocational school will be constructed across from the current school's main entrance. The Massachusetts School Building Authority has issued approval for $74.2 million in state funding toward the Taconic project, and the City Council has approved bonding for up to $45 million for the Pittsfield's share of the cost.

John Benzinger, of Skanska USA, the school district's consultant on the new high school project, said the site work revealed areas of contaminated soils, with asphalt or tar substances that are not considered hazardous in a class with PCBs, but will nevertheless require disposal in a specialized landfill.

Construction debris also was mixed with the soils. That can be sifted through, with some going to a regular landfill and the rest used as fill, Benzinger said.

And there are veins of soils unsuitable to build upon, which will have to be replaced with suitable fill but that won't have to be disposed off-site.

The construction debris and contaminated materials were attributed to materials apparently buried and covered over and used as fill during construction of the current Taconic High School in 1969.

Commissioner and City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo and others asked whether it was possible to go after contractors from that project to recover the costs, but the officials said that may not be possible, given that there were few if any environmental regulations in place before the 1970s and given the difficulties of proving liability after nearly five decades.

However, ATC Associates, the city's hazardous materials consultant, has recommended that the city seek advice on that score from an environmental attorney, the officials said. Commission co-Chairpersons Kathleen Amuso and Pittsfield schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said they plan to discuss those options with Mayor Linda M. Tyer.

Amuso said after the meeting Monday that the commission "felt it was important to get this information out" to the public, and to counter rumors that hazardous materials like PCBs had been unearthed.

"It is important to note that no one was endangered," she said.

McCandless said planners and the contractors "had some concerns" about costly surprises prior to the start of site work in May, but the amount of material that has to be dealt with was more than expected.

"I was disappointed and surprised by the amount of construction debris," McCandless said. "[Taconic] was clearly built in a time when the rules were more lax or didn't exist at all."

Most of the debris contaminated with tar-like substances was found in the area of the soccer field along Valentine Road, which is included within the site of the site of the new Taconic — expected to open in 2018. The old school building will then be razed during 2018-19.

Other spots of underground contamination or debris on the building site of the new school also are being investigated or have been excavated.

Benzinger said that "if we add all these together," the total estimated cost at this point is in the $600,000 to $700,000 range. But he added that the city's final share of the cost will depend on negotiations with contractors over relevant provisions in the work contracts and on the disposal costs at specialized landfills, for which bids are being sought.

The disposal costs, or tipping fees, primarily for contamination materials, is estimated at up to $300,000. Other costs to deal with the subsoil problems will be for added excavation work, filling where needed with concrete or new soil and related work, officials said.

The problems are not expected to upset the project schedule, which calls for the foundation to be complete by the fall when precast concrete and steel building components begin arriving. The building is expected to be made water tight by July 2017 and ready for an opening by summer 2018.

Bids for trades contractors and subcontractors are due to be opened this week.

Gilbane Building Co. of Boston is acting as project manager.

Along with the Skanska and Gilbane representatives, members of the design team of Drummey Rosane Anderson of Waltham attended the commission's afternoon meeting.

Benzinger said the contaminated materials have been stockpiled pending removal. About 1,071 cubic yards, or 1,608 tons of contaminated materials needing disposal at a specialized landfill site was found, along with 856 cubic yards of other construction debris, such as wood, metal and brick.

Another 165 cubic yards of possibly contaminated material is in a third stockpile and will be tested further before a determination on disposal is made.

Once a landfill is selected and the required paperwork and permitting approved, the removal will take about one week, the officials said.

Soils unsuitable for building and requiring removal and replacement total about 1,200 cubic yards.

The officials said soil test borings taken prior to the construction phase failed to detect the extent of the problems uncovered since the groundbreaking.

Other recent test borings around the current school also detected construction debris, but it remains unclear at this point what will be required to deal with those issues as those areas will be used for new athletic fields and won't require foundation work.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: "Pittsfield's many needy testify to job shortage"
The Berkshire Eagle, 8/5/2016

To the editor:

This is in response to an article about the new Walmart Supercenter proposed for the Stanley Industrial Park and the jobs it is projected to create.

I work for the First United Methodist Church as an outreach person. At our harvest table dinner, we feed over 100 individuals every Tuesday night. On the nights we have a free pantry, which is every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, we distribute groceries to 120 families and clients. Besides all this we offer a free breakfast to the public, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m .to 9 a.m., and at least 30 to 40 people participate. The breakfast is solely funded by donations as we are running on a shoestring budget.

Since I started working here over four years ago, I have seen an increase of about 45 percent in the people who are looking for help. More than half have low-paying jobs and are barely making it. What we need in Pittsfield is industry jobs or some type of stable jobs that offer a survival rate of hourly pay.

It is a shame that after a pantry night, the pantry is almost bare. It's a good thing that nothing gets wasted, but this shows us that there are a lot of people who need extra help.

Joseph J. Kirvin, Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: "Wal-Mart plan is right for neighborhood, city"
The Berkshire Eagle, 8/7/2016

To the editor:

I am in favor of a Wal-mart in the Woodlawn Crossings. I think it will enhance the Tyler Street business district and give life to the old GE space.

I live on Tyler, right across the street, and I want the ability to shop or even work at any one of the stores that start up in the crossing. It is a win win for our community.

Paul L. Breault, Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: "Paid parking will hurt downtown Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, 8/12/2016

To the editor:

Just finished reading the article on downtown parking in Pittsfield. My first reaction was — what parking? My second was total agreement with Beacon Theater owner Richard Stanley on metered parking.

If Pittsfield is going to cater to the rich and famous who can afford to pay for prime parking spaces then I am glad I avoid Pittsfield as much as I can. I enjoy walking around Pittsfield when I do go, and I park wherever I find an open space.

Does this mean that all those Verizon vehicles that park on Allen Street will be paying for parking to get to work? Will there then be meters behind City Hall so city employees pay to work also?

The beautification efforts being done in Pittsfield will be for naught if no one cares enough to pay for parking to visit.

Sue Barnes, Dalton

-------------

Letter: “In Pittsfield, vision is sadly lacking”
The Berkshire Eagle, 8/12/2016

To the editor:

What a weekend. Living in a Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb, it is rare to be able to visit Pittsfield where I grew up, let alone be there on the July 4 weekend. I had dinner with friends and visited homes where we lived. Much had changed, so much had not.

A key reason for stopping was to honor my friend Jim Shulman for his work bringing the Berkshire Carousel to fruition. He is a historical visionary who sees an opportunity to enhance Pittsfield's image and bring new visitors to the city center.

What had not changed, however, was the lack of vision of city leaders.

I listened to friends who still call Pittsfield home speak of providing prime real estate from the General Electric plant site for a proposed Walmart Supercenter. There is no vision there. Why more retail especially on this property that will siphon business from existing stores?

Pittsfield's leadership history of being visionary is a zero. From the 1960s, it was always worried General Electric would be slighted if they sought new industry. GE opened the door, walked out and left a mess.

City Councils from that period had no idea what type of "industry" should be sought. Today, new industry is not manufacturing. The city has squandered state funds provided to bring in business with zero success.

By vision, I mean what kind of businesses makes sense for the city to market itself as a potential home today? Hi-tech? Startups need low-cost space and cost-of-living found in a place like Pittsfield. What about engineering companies? Same answer. How about financial services, advertising, marketing?

When presented with the prospect of living in a great small city but only two hours from clients on the I-95 beltway of Boston it might be very enticing. Startups have moved from California to Cincinnati because there is a concentration of available labor and low cost of living.

Long-term vision, a new Walmart? The business community and City Council must think differently.

I know there is much castigating of GE for what it left behind. Has anyone thought to call CEO Jeff Immelt and ask him to consider placing a facility such as I mentioned on the old property? You could even give the company some of the land back, no charge. GE is advertising it is a technology company that happens to manufacture stuff.

The city needs to make a business decision instead of a knee-jerk decision, and tell them it's time to change.

Gerry Korkin, Cincinnati

-------------

“Former mayoral candidate faces car break-in charge”
Car break-in, pending court action on threatening to shoot city worker
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, 8/6/2016

PITTSFIELD - A former Mayoral candidate — still facing a criminal charge for allegedly threatening to shoot a city employee — has now been charged with breaking into a motor vehicle with the intent to commit a felony.

Craig C. Gaetani, 68, of West Street said via telephone Friday he had not yet been made aware of the charge pending against him but adamantly denied the accusation, calling it, "nonsense."

Gaetani is accused of breaking into a parked car and removing its title from inside.

He is scheduled to be arraigned in Central Berkshire District Court on that charge on Aug. 16.

A show-cause hearing in the matter was held on July 28 and probable cause was found to move the case forward.

Gaetani did not appear at that hearing, according to court records.

Gaetani said Friday he had not received notice of the hearing and that's why he failed to appear.

According to police, on June 24, a woman reported a possible break-in to a broken-down vehicle on Madison Avenue.

The woman told police she was sent the keys from her granddaughter, who had recently moved out of state, and was asked to retrieve the title from the glove box for her so she could make arrangements to have the car towed off of the property.

While she was looking in the car for the title, the woman was told by a neighbor that Gaetani had approached him and asked to borrow tools or a coat hanger to get into the car, because it belonged to him.

When the first person couldn't help him, Gaetani went to a second house, hoping to borrow an instrument to open the car.

The man who lent the hanger, told police he misheard Gaetani's last name when he introduced himself and thought he was a relative of the woman who owns the car.

Gaetani said Friday the people to whom he sold the car stopped making payments and transferred the title to the younger woman improperly and he was still the owner of the car.

Witnesses didn't see Gaetani use the hanger to get inside the car, but did see him leave the area with the title.

Gaetani said he found one of the car's doors unlocked and didn't need to use the hanger to enter.

According to a police report, when they spoke with Gaetani, he told them there was an agreement to reclaim the car and the title would be left on the passenger seat for him.

On Friday Gaetani said he made no such statement to police.

Gaetani said he had made several attempts to contact the people involved in the dispute and had driven by the car four or five times, but it was kept under a tarp.

He said on the morning of June 24, he saw the car uncovered and saw an envelope on the front passenger seat and assumed it was the title left out for him.

A conviction on a charge of breaking and entering into a motor vehicle during the daytime with the intent to commit a felony carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in state prison or two years in jail and a $500 fine.

Meanwhile, Gaetani still faces a charge of threatening to commit a crime for allegedly threatening to shoot a city employee during a series of harassing phone calls in July 2015.

The next date in that case is Dec. 5.

Gaetani has also filed a civil suit in Berkshire Superior Court seeking to have the construction of the new Taconic High School halted.

A motion to dismiss that case is scheduled to be heard on Aug. 10.

Gaetani denied that is the purpose of that hearing.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-------------

“Pittsfield argues suit against high school has no merit”
Man who ran for mayor says he disagrees with council's decision
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, 8/10/2016

PITTSFIELD - Former Pittsfield Mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani seeks to have the work on the new Taconic High School halted until the matter can be put to a citywide vote, claiming a breach of contract.

The problem is, according to the city, there is no contract to breach and Gaetani has no legal grounds for such a demand.

The matter came before Judge Daniel Ford in Berkshire Superior Court Wednesday for a hearing on the city's motion to have the case dismissed.

Gaetani has been a vocal opponent of the $115.7 million construction project, which the City Council approved last year.

Construction began in May.

Gaetani claims a breach of contract, "for denying me and other taxpayers a vote," on the project.

Pittsfield City Attorney Richard M. Dohoney drew a distinction between city and town governments when it comes to individual votes on appropriations and incurring debt.

Cities, he said, elect a representative council, tasked with approving measures brought before it, such as the high school project.

A Town Meeting style of government, however, does allow individual residents to cast votes for expenditures, but that does not apply in Pittsfield's case.

Dohoney said, the suit was brought by Gaetani alone and no one has demonstrated any flaw in the process used to bring the project to fruition.

Gaetani simply disagrees with the council's decision, Dohoney said.

Dohoney said just saying there's been a breach of contract isn't enough to support that claim.

Gaetani referred to Dohoney's arguments as "legal mumbo-jumbo."

Ford asked Gaetani to what contract he was referring in his complaint.

Gaetani said he was referring to an implied contract between city officials and those who elected them, "to do what is right."

"I feel they didn't do what was right," he said.

Gaetani suggested a ballot question be put forward in the upcoming Sept. 8 state primary election.

Unfortunately for Gaetani, the opportunity to do so has long since passed.

According to the city charter, Gaetani had 21 days after the City Council voted to build the school to present a petition signed by at least 15 percent of the total number of voters in order to have the project temporarily suspended, but failed to do so.

Gaetani claims people he spoke to during his unsuccessful run for Pittsfield mayor objected to the construction of the school by a margin or four to one, though he did not present any evidence to support that claim.

He did, however cite an unscientific 2015 online poll conducted by the Berkshire Eagle in which 307 respondents did support a city vote for the construction project by the same ratio.

Ford had to interrupt Gaetani with a loud, "Excuse me!" when he strayed off-topic, into his suspicions of hazardous materials inside the current Taconic High School and his experiences in the 1980s helping to design the city's water treatment plant and was not addressing his questions.

Ford took the matter under advisement.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: “Pittsfield should have say in Spectrum's clinic plans”
The Berkshire Eagle, 8/23/2016

To the editor:

I am a registered voter, a taxpayer, a homeowner, and a lifelong resident of Pittsfield. When I was told that Spectrum Health Systems will be opening a methadone clinic on Merrill Road in Pittsfield, I called the mayor's office and was told very nicely there is nothing that can be done about this. Spectrum is covered by the state under something called the Dover Amendment and free to go whereever it wants.

Why does someone have the power to put something like a methadone facility whereever they please with no regard as to increased traffic, impact on residents in the immediate vicinity, safety of those residents, parking for the recovering addicts and impact on our property values? How can we just be told, sorry, the company is given this right by the state and there is nothing you can do?

I feel very helpless in what has been a quiet, peaceful neighborhood.

Sandra Kenyon, Pittsfield

-------------

“Pittsfield housing authority welcomes new executive director, first woman in the role: LeBarnes has served 27 years with PHA”
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 8/26/2016

PITTSFIELD - A longtime Pittsfield Housing Authority employee who began as a bookkeeper in 1989 is the authority's new executive director.

Sharon LeBarnes began in the position this month, chosen by the PHA commissioners to succeed Charles L. Smith Jr., who recently retired. She is the first woman to serve as director.

LeBarnes is more than familiar with authority operations. That includes managing 24 buildings — ranging from single-family and duplex dwellings or group homes to large multi-unit facilities, like Columbia Arms and Dower Square or Wilson Park — as well as overseeing annual operating and capital budgets involving both state and federal funding sources and myriad and often changing regulatory requirements.

For the past five years, LeBarnes has served as deputy director under Smith, assisting in management of the PHA and filling in when the director was on vacation. She earlier served for 10 years as director of program administration and finance; five years as finance director; six years as accounts manager, and five years at the start of her career as a bookkeeper.

"I like it," LeBarnes said during a recent interview. "At first it is a job, but you just start growing and you just want to learn more and more."

She said that urge to keep learning about all aspects of public housing remains with her today — enhanced in recent years through online training options the PHA takes advantage of through its insurance service.

LeBarnes said she now is working her way into the role of executive director and intends to visit the PHA facilities and meet with tenants. She wants to "let them know who I am," and "hear what their issues are and their questions and concerns — and help if I can."

She added that she intends to give people an honest assessment of what is possible and what isn't. "That is about what I am, a straightforward person," LeBarnes said. "I will tell it like it is."

"We are very pleased," said PHA Commission Chairwoman Lucille Reilly.

She said there were 12 applicants for the post, and LeBarnes was unanimously chosen by the board from among four finalists who were interviewed.

"She was the top choice," Reilly said. "For what she has done and accomplished and for her knowledge."

Commission member Gerald S. Doyle Jr. and Reilly noted LeBarnes' experience in different positions at the PHA, especially concerning budgeting and finances, and said they like her plan to do more outreach to PHA tenants and the larger community.

"She is very personable," Doyle said. "I think she will be great."

LeBarnes said the PHA oversees 744 housing units involved in state-funded programs and 164 units in federally funded programs, along with 580 subsidized housing vouchers for qualified renters elsewhere in the city.

All of the major housing complexes were constructed before 1972, she said, which means renovation and facility upgrade work is being done on an annual basis. A current five-year state grant, totaling about $1 million a year, along with annual federal allocations (totaling $191,000 this year), are funding capital projects from roof or chimney work, furnace upgrades, to renovation work in kitchens or bathrooms.

LeBarnes said she expects to learn soon what the newest state and federal guidelines for housing programs will be for the next fiscal year so she can begin planning for the next PHA budget. She has worked on preparing the spending plans in the past but now will also present budgets to the commissioners for approval.

Among her other goals as executive director, she said, are to spur more events and activities at the Community Centers that were established in 2013 at Dower Square and Wilson Park. The centers are designed to make a range of city services or information available to the residents of those housing complexes and to the community. They also are available for use by the city police officers to meet and interact with citizens.

"I want to get more going there for the community and for the kids," LeBarnes said."

She said another goal is encourage more social events and interaction at the elderly housing complexes.

Smith retired in late July after working for 40 years with the PHA.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Pittsfield schools retain programs but face long-term challenges”
Pittsfield retains programs but sees cuts in kindergarten, vocational training programs
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 8/23/2016

PITTSFIELD - The long-term fiscal trends are not encouraging, but the Pittsfield Public Schools are entering the 2016-17 year with a level of programming similar to last fall.

"We are grateful to have a successful budget process behind us," Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said, referring to the review that ended in June with adoption of a $60.3 million budget.

That spending plan requires a $1.8 million hike in the city tax appropriation for the schools, or 3.1 percent. Even with the increase, however, McCandless noted that fixed-cost hikes forced cuts in such areas as vocational education staffing, where three positions were eliminated.

Cuts in kindergarten programming also became necessary after the state budget eliminated nearly $400,000 in grant funding that the district had received for several years.

"We had that cut out from under us, and it represented about half our kindergarten budget citywide," McCandless said, adding that the city made up for the funding loss to continue those programs.

As has been the case year-to-year, McCandless said the budget components driving annual increases that have lurched beyond annual tax increases from the city include employee raises, health insurance costs, required special education programming, and the costs associated with complying with state and federal testing, staff evaluations and other mandated spending.

On the plus side, he said, the state budget did not include any cuts the school system hadn't anticipated, and all of the employee unions are now in the second or third year of contract agreements, so the annual increases will be known.

"Really, the challenge is that we have to do this year after year," the superintendent said.

One potential source of additional funding — state Chapter 70 aid to school districts, especially those with many students from low-income families — doesn't appear anywhere on the horizon at this point, he said, despite advocacy by many school officials, teachers, lawmakers and parents.

School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon echoed some of McCandless' concerns.

"I am very concerned about the upcoming budget year, especially in light of the city's fiscal situation," Yon said. "In addition, I don't foresee the state coming through with extra funding. The deficits in Chapter 70 funding have not been addressed, and a ballot question threatens to take more dollars away to charter schools. The 'fair share' tax, the tax on millionaires, is an initiative that could help, but no action will be taken on that until 2018. I also believe Massachusetts is going to have to assess moving to a different tax structure. A flat tax unfairly burdens those on the lower end of the scale."

But she added, "Having said all that, I do look forward to the school year. A new school year reflects a clean slate, a new beginning ... We have seniors in high school anticipating adulthood and little ones in kindergarten just beginning their educational careers. Excitement abounds and the possibilities are endless. What could be better than that?"

Often cited is the state's Foundation Budget Review Commission, which reported that the state aid formula significantly underestimates the cost of adequately educating those students and funding other rising costs, such as for health insurance.

Pittsfield School Committee members and some city councilors noted during the budget review process in June that annual Chapter 70 state aid increases to Pittsfield in the past were in the $1 million range, compared to less than half that figure in recent years. Meanwhile, other costs have soared, they said.

"Our hope is that the state takes seriously the rising costs [of education], but we know we are not going to see any more funding for the moment," McCandless said.

And he noted that a referendum on the Nov. 8 state ballot asks whether the charter school system can expand beyond the current cap. McCandless, School Committee members, members of the United Educators of Pittsfield and local state lawmakers are among those staunchly opposed to raising the charter school cap, as school districts lose state aid when a student opts to attend a charter school rather than a district school.

And a final concern this fall, he said, is that, because the state is experiencing a tax revenue shortfall currently, the governor and Legislature might consider some mid-fiscal year budget cuts that could affect school systems.

In spending, "We are being really conservative, and proceeding cautiously," he said.

McCandless said a long-term positive development that is gaining momentum is the Berkshire County Education Task Force, which involves officials and others representing most of the 32 communities and school districts in the county.

In those periodic meetings, the focus is on cooperative and collaborative efforts to come to grips with a "school age population that has decreased dramatically over the past 10 to 15 years," McCandless said.

There is a stark realization, he said, that cooperation and sharing of resources will become more and more a necessity.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

“Labor Council opposes new Pittsfield Walmart”
Says pay too low, area businesses will be negatively affected
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/3/2016

PITTSFIELD - As officials continue negotiations to bring a Walmart Supercenter to the William Stanley Business Park, a Berkshire group representing organized labor has come out against the project calling it "an insult to the community."

The Berkshire Central Labor Council, which represents 26 local unions, recently voted against the proposal to locate a 190,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter on the business park's 16.5 acre "teens parcel" that borders Woodlawn Avenue and Tyler Street.

Waterstone Retail Development of Needham announced the $30 million proposal in June when it signed a letter of intent with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to negotiate a purchase and sales agreement to use the teens site. PEDA is the quasi-public agency charged with the 52-acre Stanley Business Park's development.

The project, known as Woodlawn Crossing, would eventually morph into a mixed-use development around the business park's boundaries with the new Walmart Supercenter serving as the catalyst for the additional development, Waterstone officials have said.

In a statement, the Berkshire Central Labor Council stated that it was the consensus of its delegates that the jobs promised by Walmart "would not offer wages nor benefits sufficient to support working families.

"Bringing jobs that will in all likelihood require individuals (to) seek out public services despite working are an insult to the community," the statement read.

Walmart has operated a store in the Berkshire Crossing Shopping Center on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield since 1995 that was recently remodeled.

If the $30 million Supercenter proposal goes forward, plans call for Walmart to close its current store and move all 200 of its employees to its new store which would be located in Pittsfield's Morningside neighborhood, one of the city's poorest communities, an area that contains several small businesses.

In its statement, the Berkshire Central Labor Council said because Walmart Supercenters have resulted in the closing of nearby small businesses and grocery stores, "Pittsfield may actually lose better paying positions, taxpaying enterprises that have served us for many, many years and choice in where we spend our dollars.

"The members of the Berkshire Central Labor Council strongly reject the idea that any new enterprise on the PEDA site is better than nothing and encourage the PEDA board to attract sustainable jobs."

Berkshire Central Labor Council President Brian Morrison has not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment. Anton Melchionda, a principal partner at Waterstone Retail also did not return a telephone call seeking comment, nor did a spokesman for Walmart. Waterstone is the second-largest real estate owner in New England.

The majority of the positions at the proposed Walmart Supercenter would be full-time, which at Walmart means at least 34 hours per week, project officials said when they signed the letter of intent with PEDA in June. In Massachusetts, the hourly wage for full-time Walmart employees, excluding new workers, is $14.69, project officials have said. Benefits for Walmart employees also include access to a 401(k) plan.

In an interview with The Eagle after Waterstone's June meeting with PEDA, Melchionda said a misperception exists when it comes to the salaries that Walmart pays its employees, and the impact the company can have on existing businesses.

"When you have that conversation, and I think it gets lost in the press, is that when you look at the metrics, not only the benefits that Walmart gives but what the actual pay is to the actual employee, there's this misnomer in the country that Walmart doesn't pay their employees well. I think that's an important thing to look at," Melchionda said.

"It comes down to people's perceptions," he said. "In some communities in other parts of the country, Walmart comes in, they've never been there, and they can negatively impact some of the businesses."

Because Pittsfield has already had a Walmart for 21 years, the only additional impact a Supercenter would have on the community is the addition of a grocery store, which the Hubbard Avenue store doesn't have, Melchionda said.

"The only thing we're doing here is providing them a new store with a grocery, which is a need in that part of the community," he said, referring to the Morningside neighborhood, which doesn't have a supermarket.

"So there should be little or no impact on the businesses that are here," Melchionda said.

In mid-June, Waterstone signed its letter of intent with PEDA, providing the company with an exclusive 60-day window to negotiate the purchase and sales agreement to use the teens parcel. But that negotiating period expired without resolution in August.

PEDA's board recently voted to extend the negotiating period an additional 60 days until Oct. 20.

PEDA's Executive Director Cory Thurston believes the negotiations should be concluded either on or before the organization's next scheduled meeting on Oct. 19.

"Most likely we'll have a special meeting before that because I anticipate this contract will be completed before (October) and the board needs to ratify the agreement," Thurston said.

"I'm confident that we will get a contract in place, yes," he said.

According to Thurston, the original letter of intent between Waterstone and PEDA provided for the possibility of an additional 60-day negotiating period if the parties couldn't reach an agreement within the first two months.

"But it wasn't an automatic extension, so they went back and voted on it," Thurston said, referring to the PEDA board.

An agreement on the purchase and sales agreement between PEDA and Waterstone has been delayed due to the myriad organizations that have to approve a document of this type, Thurston said.

"Just about everything we do involves General Electric," he said. "Even though we own the property, they still have rights. The EPA and the DEP also have rights to weigh in. So we've got Walmart, Waterstone, GE, the EPA, the DEP and PEDA all a party to this one document.

"It's the timing," he said. "It's summer and a whole lot of people have to look at this document. I hope we can get this finished up within 60 days."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224. tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.

*

Letter: “Numbers add up against Walmart supercenter plan”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 9/9/2016

To the editor:

The article in the Sunday, Sept. 4, Eagle titled "Labor Council opposes Walmart," with information on Waterstone Retail Development's proposed Walmart supercenter at the Stanley Business Park, prompted me to do some elementary school arithmetic with the figures cited in the article.

First I looked at the map of the site which you can also do at woodlawncrossing.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/site-map.jpg. You will see the proposed supercenter sketched on site 9. This site is described as a 15-acre site at the URL williamstanleybp.com/site-9/.

The article states that the entire business park is 52 acres, so the supercenter will occupy just under 29 percent of the total acreage! Is this the development magnet, the innovation center, that the Berkshires needs to retain its residents and attract new ones?

Let's do more arithmetic. If we take an acre to equal 40,000 square feet, we calculate site 9 to be 600,000 square feet. The supercenter size as stated in the article will be 190,000 square feet, so if we divide 190,000 by 600,000 we learn that almost 32 percent of site 9 will be Walmart retail space. The remaining 68 percent will be parking spaces! Look closely at the site map and you'll see them sketched in.

So the much-touted business park will devote more than two-thirds of the "teens parcel" to asphalt, if this is the best Pittsfield can do. Along with the poor-paying jobs, attack on local small businesses, shoddy foreign-made goods, we will be the "beneficiaries" of about 10 more acres of asphalt.

For all our sakes, I hope Pittsfield can do much better.

Mary Jane Incorvia Mattina, Lenox

*

Letter: “Walmart pays workers a respectable wage”
The Berkshire Eagle, 9/6/2016

To the editor:

I am a taxpayer in Berkshire County and find it hard to understand the Berkshire Central Labor Council objection to PEDA approving Walmart relocating to the William Stanley Park.

PEDA was formed in 1998 and 18 years later the park has two tenants and no manufacturing companies negotiating for space. The Labor Council states the jobs promised by Walmart "would not offer wages nor benefits sufficient to support working families." Here are the facts to contradict the Council's conclusion.

Walmart pays $14.69/hour for full-time workers with benefits. The minimum wage for the following states is significantly below Walmart's hourly rate.

Massachusetts — $10, moving to $11 in 2017.

Connecticut — $9.60, moving to $10.10 in 2017.

Vermont — $9.60, moving to $10.00 in 2017.

New Hampshire — $7.25, no planned increase.

Greater New York state — $9.70, moving to $10.40 in 2017.

Wait until these four states realize what Walmart pays compared to their minimum wage. They will welcome them and tell their voters how they have been able to increase their standard of living.

Richard Jacobs, Lee

-------------

Frederick A. Conyers Jr. hugs Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski after a press conference at Mayor Linday Tyer's office about his appointment to the fire department on Tuesday. Conyers is at the top of the list of civil service applicants for the job despite controversy over a conviction in his past. (Photos by Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer discusses the appointment of Frederick Conyers Jr. to the Pittsfield Fire Department on Tuesday.

Frederick A. Conyers Jr. listens as Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer discusses his appointment to a position on the Pittsfield Fire Department. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)

“Over union objections, Mayor Tyer aims to appoint firefighter with criminal past”
'Second chances': Tyer backs man at top of Civil Service test list with criminal past
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/6/2016

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Linda M. Tyer said Tuesday that she will appoint a new city firefighter despite objections from firefighter union members over the appointee's drug-related criminal record.

Tyer said she also hopes to counter some negative commentary swirling around the pending appointment of Frederick Conyers Jr., most of which she said was inaccurate.

"This is about correcting the record and getting the facts straight," she said.

Meeting with the media, along with Conyers and Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski, Tyer said Tuesday morning she will appoint Conyers, along with four other new firefighters, and will send their names to the City Council on Sept. 13.

Conyers answered questions about his past growing up in Pittsfield, then attending college and becoming a standout athlete before his arrest. He said he has been working since his release from prison to prove he has changed his life, and now hopes to fulfill a dream of joining the fire department, which dates to his early childhood in Pittsfield when three close friends died in a house fire.

"I was supposed to sleep over that night," he said of the 1991 fire, adding that he has since had great respect for firefighters and always had it in his mind he would like to apply to become one.

"I want to reiterate how important it is to me that we support one of our own," Tyer said during the conference, after she said Conyers had worked hard to turn his life around.

She said his life story "illustrates what we mean when we say we believe in second chances," adding, "I am hopeful this community will embrace this candidate. I have a great confidence in the people of our city, that their hearts and minds will be won over."

But a majority of members of the city firefighters union, Local 2647 of the International Association of Firefighters, are opposed to the appointment, according to an email sent to Tyer and council members by Local 2647 President Robert Leary.

"Firefighters Local 2647 regrets that this letter has become necessary," the letter states in part. "Internal discussions of the past two months have led the majority membership to believe this hiring puts its members and the city at risk."

The statement adds: "The candidate's past makes him ineligible for a position in the Sheriff's [Office] or in the Pittsfield Police Department. We believe his past is grounds for [Civil Service appointment] bypass, as past hiring practices have had candidates bypassed for much lesser histories. ... We support anyone who has changed their lives for the good, but we believe this fire department is an inappropriate avenue or tool to promote the rehabilitation of this one candidate. Keeping out of the courts is not the same as changing your life."

But Tyer and Czerwinski said Conyers was selected in part because "he is at the top" of the current [Civil Service test] list, and he was vetted further through a multiple-part department interview process. "Fred excelled at that process," she said.

In addition, Tyer said a rumor that anyone convicted of a felony could not qualify for the Civil Service position is false — a person can apply to take the test five years after serving their time.

Addressing another comment she has heard, Tyer said "no one was bypassed" on the Civil Service list in order to appoint Conyers.

The mayor said she intends to request a meeting with Leary to discuss the concerns of firefighters opposed to Conyers' appointment.

Reached later Tuesday, Leary said the membership majority-endorsed letter was submitted in advance of the mayor's press conference and was meant to express the concerns expressed to him by a majority of union members prior to the council meeting.

He added that, considering the mayor's comment that the council vote is only a formality, "I know where this is going, so I hope that it all works out and he proves himself and becomes an excellent firefighter in the future."

Czerwinski said at the press conference he wanted to note that "we do have officers in the department that support [Conyers]."

In truth, the chief said, "not everybody in the fire department loves everyone else," but he said firefighters nevertheless learn to work as a team. After he is appointed, Conyers will have to go through five weeks of basic training and then serve under a probationary firefighter status for one year, Czerwinski said.

"Over time, they [firefighters] will accept him, if he can prove himself," the chief said.

The candidate, who talked about his arrest in 2003 with cocaine and a firearm, which led to 31/2 years in state prison, said of the expressed opposition, "I understand it ... I don't want them to just give me some respect; I want to earn that."

Conyers, 35, said that having to leave his young daughter behind when he was sent to prison convinced him he had to begin to change his life.

He said he and his wife of 20 years now have three children and he is "very much involved in my kids' lives." That includes volunteering as a coach, he said, currently for his son's youth football league.

He said that after his prison term, he worked in a six-month work release program in the Boston area with Home Depot, which afterward led to his working at Home Depot in the Berkshires. That was followed by a job at Unistress, he said, and for the past seven years as a painter with Gentleman Painting Co. of Pittsfield.

Conyers said the company has done many jobs in schools, especially in the Springfield area, and later painted at the Statehouse in Boston, all of which required a CORI criminal background check for employees. Finally, painting in the office of several top state officials and that of former Gov. Deval Patrick convinced him that he was ready to try to become a firefighter.

He said he purposely did not apply for the firefighter Civil Service exam until he had "put some more work time under my belt," and could "show people this is who I am today."

Having attended Morningside Community School and Herberg Middle School, Conyers said he graduated from Taconic High School, where he excelled at basketball, and then went to the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He said he got "into some financial difficulties," and after he returned to Pittsfield, "that is when the trouble started."

Conyers said he was never part of a gang but became involved with drugs for financial gain. He said that in 2003 he was playing basketball at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and had an opportunity to play basketball in Europe when he was arrested with cocaine and a firearm.

Before his arrest, Conyers said he was focused on his basketball career, which was going well, but afterward he saw that in order to pursue becoming a firefighter he would have to prove himself in the workplace and in his personal life.

Supporters of Conyers are expected to attend the City Council meeting on Sept. 13 to speak on his behalf. The council will vote on the appointment, but Tyer noted that it will be a formality as the mayor has the authority to make such appointments.

Ultimately, she said, it is the Civil Service process that governs the selection process. For instance, she said, a candidate at the top of the testing list could appeal the decision to the Civil Service Commission if not chosen.

Tyer said she has briefed each councilor on the reasons for her decision.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: “Police Academy course enlightens perspective”
The Berkshire Eagle, 9/5/2016

To the editor:

Regarding the August 29 article in The Eagle announcing a new Community Police Academy course offered to the public, I would encourage anyone even thinking about it to definitely take it.

This brief course will not only enlighten your perspective on how policing works but more importantly might even open up your life to new possibilities. It did for me. No matter your age or gender you will not be disappointed with the content of this course.

I would also mention that the article stated that the course was given back in 2004 and 2007. The first course was actually given to the public in the year 2000. And another in 2003.

Don't miss this insightful local law enforcement course to see how the men and women in blue in your community, serve you even when you are not thinking about them.

Dan Forsley, Pittsfield

-------------

September 6, 2016

I agree with the lovely Linda Tyer that everyone who rehabilitates himself or herself deserves a second chance to achieve success in life. Mayor Linda Tyer is both lovely from within and in her outward beautiful looks.

I disagreed with her when she passed a fiscal year 2017 municipal budget with a $6 million operational spending increase + a $12 million capital budget for at total of $18 million in new spending, which did not include the financing of the new Taconic High School project that has a $121 million dollar price tag, excluding any possible future cost overruns.
The lovely Linda Tyer needs to take another look at her municipality's public finances next fiscal year, which begins on July 1st, 2017 - June 30th, 2018. It is unsustainable to increase municipal spending by $18 million next fiscal year + the financing of the new Taconic High School project!
Moreover, she gave tens of thousands of dollars in tax breaks to a multimillionaire from another community named Richard Stanley, who owns the Beacon Cinema on North Street. The fixed income seniors are going without, while an out of town millionaire gets fatter on taxpayer dollars.

The lovely Linda Tyer called herself a "moderate" Democrat in WAMC's news story today. She is supporting, but not endorsing, Adam Hinds for State Senator and Tricia Farley-Bouvier for State Representative on Thursday, September 8th.
“I happen to think that his (Adam Hinds) moderate positions align with mine and so that’s why I’m supporting him,” said Linda Tyer.

- Jonathan Melle

P.S. I endorse and support the great Rinaldo Del Gallo, III, for Berkshire State Senator. I am also rooting for the wonderful Tricia Farley-Bouvier for Pittsfield State Representative!

-------------

Monterosso

"Harassment complaint against former BerkshireWorks director moves forward"
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/11/2016

PITTSFIELD - Allegations of sexual harassment and workplace retaliation at Berkshireworks Career Center will proceed to the next phase of the complaint process after the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination issued a ruling of "probable cause" in the case.

The complaint was filed in September 2014 by former employee Jodi Steele, who served as office manager at the career center, and she names former Executive Director William Monterosso, BerkshireWorks and the city of Pittsfield.

The next step in the MCAD process is expected to be an effort among the parties to reach a settlement prior to a final ruling by the commission.

Steele alleges that she was repeatedly improperly touched and harassed through sexually suggestive comments made by Monterosso during his brief stint in the post, from January to April 2014.

Monterosso was placed on administrative leave in early April by then-Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and did not return to BerkshireWorks while a settlement agreement ending his employment was negotiated.

According to Steele's attorney, Monterosso, who could not be reached for comment, has not been involved in the case and has not responded to the complaint. The city and BerkshireWorks have responded to Steele's allegations.

As the mayor of the largest municipality in the regional employment and training office's region, Bianchi had hired Monterosso, replacing former Executive Director John Barrett III. Later in 2014, Bianchi named Kenneth Demers as executive director.

Another complaint filed with the MCAD at the same time by another former female BerkshireWorks employee is still pending, according to attorney Djuna Perkins, of DP Law of Boston, who represents both women.

That complaint — filed against BerkshireWorks and Monterosso — alleges sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, retaliation and inadequate remedial measures and states that the second woman witnessed some of the incidents of harassment described by Steele.

According to the MCAD investigation report, Steele alleged further that Monterosso retaliated against her on April 9, 2014, when she said he shouted profanities at her before leaving the office, and she stated in the complaint that she began to fear for her safety.

In the conclusion of MCAD's Aug. 12 notification to the parties involved, the letter states: "A finding of probable cause is recommended against William Monterosso, BerkshireWorks career center and the city of Pittsfield for discrimination based on sexual harassment and retaliation."

The notice is signed by MCAD Investigator Maryanne Magnier, Enforcement Adviser Jennifer Laverty and the investigating commissioner, MCAD Chairwoman Jamie Williamson.

In the investigation report, Steele alleges that a number of incidents of sexual harassment took place, beginning as soon as Monterosso began at the North Street career center in January 2014. The narrative of her allegations concludes with: "This is just a summary of the most significant incidents of sexual harassment that occurred. There were many other times when Monterosso grabbed or touched [Steele] against her wishes. She also saw him sexually harassing others on many occasions."

Steele alleges Monterosso made numerous sexually suggestive remarks and touched her improperly on several occasions.

In a summary and analysis of the situation, the MCAD investigation report states that the city "argues that the city is not [Steele's] employer" and that BerkshireWorks is her employer.

Meanwhile, according to the report, "BerkshireWorks contends that the city is [Steele's] employer, and claims that [Steele] is not its employee."

The city also maintains that, although the executive directors "can be hired, evaluated and terminated by the city," Monterosso "is not a city employee," the report states.

And the city maintains that it only investigated the sexual harassment allegations against Monterosso because the person designated to hear such complaints at BerkshireWorks was the director, who had been named in the complaints.

BerkshireWorks maintained to the MCAD investigators that Monterosso was hired in January and suspended in April by the city, and that "BerkshireWorks was not [Monterosso's] employer and cannot be held responsible for his conduct."

In its response, the city said city officials did not learn from BerkshireWorks about the alleged harassment until April 7. It states that 10 individuals were then interviewed by the city Personnel Department, including Monterosso, who was soon after placed on administrative leave and never reinstated.

The relationship between the city, BerkshireWorks and Berkshire Regional Employment Board, which charters the career center and is responsible for overseeing programming, is a complex one.

The lead elected official in the region's largest city hires, or fires, the career center executive directors, and the state and federal grant funding for BerkshireWorks training and employment programming passes through the city, which is responsible for ensuring funding is properly expended.

According to the charter agreement in place when Monterosso was hired, the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board — appointed by the mayor and made up of 30 local leaders from the business, labor, education and human services sectors — is in charge of overseeing and developing responsive center workforce development and related programming, which receives annual federal and state grant funding.

Asked for a response to the MCAD decision, Heather Boulger, executive director of Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said, last week. "As you know, the BCREB charters BerkshireWorks but does not have anything to do with [its] personnel issues."

She said BCREB is not represented by an attorney in the matter and has not been involved in the MCAD process.

Mayor Linda M. Tyer, who was elected in November 2015 and took office the following January, said of the MCAD decision that "because it is such a sensitive legal issue, I cannot comment. It wouldn't be appropriate of me to comment."

Meanwhile, Benjamin Steffans, one of two attorneys with Cohen Kinne Valicenti Cook of Pittsfield representing BerkshireWorks in the complaint, said it is the firm's policy not comment on pending litigation.

Listed as representing the city in the matter are Hunter Keil and Patricia Rapinchuk, of Robinson Donovan of Springfield. The attorneys did not return messages last week seeking comment.

Monterosso, 49 at the time of the alleged incidents, did not file a response to the MCAD complaint, Perkins said. In 2014, Monterosso was a Pittsfield native with prior workforce development experience in Kentucky and had worked earlier in West Virginia.

Several times in the seven-page MCAD investigation report it is stated that while probable cause was found, the final determination should be left to a fact-finder to determine, if no settlement is reached. Perkins said the fact-finder is the hearing commissioner.

"I'm not sure who that commissioner will ultimately be," she said in an email. "It may be different from the one we have now (Williamson). And yes, whoever the commissioner is ultimately decides whether there is a preponderance of evidence to conclude that Jodi Steele experienced sexual harassment, retaliation and constructive discharge."

The MCAD probable cause finding sent to the parties also gives notice of a meeting scheduled in October to begin work toward a conciliation agreement and settlement.

Chairwoman Williamson notes that the commission "is charged by statute to try to enforce compliance with the commonwealth's anti-discrimination laws without resort to a public hearing. To this end, parties and counsel are required to attend a conciliation conference at the commission's office."

She said that the "complainant's counsel should send a written proposal of settlement to respondent's counsel not less than 10 days before the scheduled meeting. We also require that parties hold preliminary settlement discussions at least five days before the conciliation date."

The issues also could be taken or appealed to Superior Court.

Information on the MCAD complaint process can be found at www.mass.gov/mcad/filing-complaint

Complaint excerpts ...

The following allegations are included in a report describing alleged sexual harassment by former BerkshireWorks Executive Director William Monterosso:

• On Jan. 21, 2014, [Monterosso] became executive director of [BerkshireWorks]. That day respondent Monterosso asked [Steele] to show him the conference room where a seminar was to be held. [Steele] agreed and began walking with him to the conference room. As they walked, [Monterosso] grabbed [Steele's] hip and pulled her body to his. She pulled away. When the two arrived at the conference room, he stroked the middle of [Steele's] back, around her waistline slowly, and said, 'Thanks, honey.'"

• On Feb. 14, 2014, [Monterosso] again touched [Steele's] back and squeezed her neck. She told Program Operations Manager [Melanie] Gelaznik and Human Resources Director [Daniel] Collins, who asked her if she wanted to move forward with an investigation. [Steele] said no because she was afraid [Monterosso] may fire her."

• After a period when Monterosso was out of the office much of the time at meetings, on March 21, 2014, "[Steele] had to crawl on her hands and knees under [Monterosso's] desk to unplug his computer. Someone else came in while she was under his desk, and [Monterosso] said, 'That's her favorite position.' This upset [Steele] greatly, and she left to vomit in the bathroom."

• "On April 3, 2014, [Monterosso] held a staff meeting to discuss seminars being conducted for employees laid off by North Adams Regional Hospital. During the meeting, he sat next to [Steele] and caressed her hand. She removed her hand, moved her body a few inches and crossed her arms."

• Afterward, "Ms. Gelaznik called [Steele] into her office because she witnessed what [Monterosso] did to her hand. [Steele] told her [Monterosso] also called her back after that meeting and invited her to ride his motorcycle. Ms. Gelaznik said she would notify Mr. Collins."

• "On April 4, 2014, respondent BerkshireWorks held a seminar for the North Adams Regional Hospital employees, most of whom were women. Respondent BerkshireWorks staff handed out rulers with their logo on them to attendees, and [Monterosso] said everyone should 'spank their neighbor.' Food, including sandwiches from Boston Seafood, were also served at the seminar. [Monterosso] made a lewd comment about the smell of fish. He also made a comment about having hot flashes and said it 'must be all the estrogen in the room.' "

• After she had met April 8 with personnel officials at Pittsfield City Hall investigating complaints against Monterosso, Steele said she was told that Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi (the official who appointed Monterosso) "had told him not to return while the investigation was ongoing nor speak to [Steele]. Nonetheless, [Monterosso] returned to work the following morning. He called [Steele] into his office and told her that someone filed a sexual harassment charge against him, and if that was her, she had every right to, but 'human touch is [my] way of saying thank you, that I appreciate everything [you] do' He also claimed that he was 'not doing anything in a perverted way' and the charges were 'bull----.' When she came out of [Monterosso's] office, Mr. Collins approached her and she told him what happened before going back to her desk. A few minutes later, [Monterosso] came out and shouted, 'Did you f---ing tell them I was talking to you? Now I have to f---ing leave.' He then left the office."

• "After this incident, [Steele] feared for her safety at work. She was very afraid [Monterosso] would return and do something violent, because he knew about the employees' meeting times and location, was very angry, and had talked about having weapons. In the following weeks, [Monterosso] drove by the office several times wearing a baseball cap pulled down low over his forehead."

Jodi Steele began work at BerkshireWorks in 2007. She was promoted three times and served as office manager in early 2014. She filed her complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in September 2014. MCAD investigators last month issued a finding of probable cause.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Kenneth Demers

“Proposals sought to operate BerkshireWorks Career center”
Bidders conference for proposals set for Sept. 20
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/12/2016

PITTSFIELD - As part of compliance with new federal requirements, proposals are being sought by the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board to operate the BerkshireWorks Career Center for the next three fiscal years, beginning in July.

A request for proposals from entities eligible to operate the career center, based at 160 North St., was posted Aug. 31 on the board's website, said Executive Director Heather Boulger. She said a bidders conference is scheduled for Sept. 20 in Pittsfield.

Boulger said opening the nation's regional job training and employment centers up to new operating entities — and fresh ideas and approaches — is a mandated component of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

Asked if she has an indication how many entities might enter proposals to oversee designated services within the Berkshire region, Boulger said she hasn't as yet.

"I hope we have more than one," she added. "We could also see some across the state bidding to operate some or all of the centers."

Jennifer James, undersecretary for workforce development with the state Division of Career Services, said among the types of entities now operating regional centers in the state are colleges — including the University of Massachusetts through its Donahue Institute and Middlesex Community College — as well as cities that directly operate centers as a department of local government.

Nonprofit organizations and for-profit entities also could bid on the contract, she said.

James said she and others at the state level have been working with officials from the 16 workforce regions — with more than 30 career center facilities — to implement the changes required in the federal legislation. In addition to requiring expanded services to specifically focus on veterans, the disabled and other groups, the federal requires bidding beginning this year to provide services in each region.

After a statewide plan for implementation of the act's requirements was completed in the spring, James said, the regional employment boards began preparing to send out the RFPs, which she said can be somewhat tailored to needs within the region.

Boulger said she believes about half the 16 regions have begun the process of posting RFPs.

On Nov. 4, the proposals will be forwarded to a selection committee, which is composed of board members and representatives from the city and the larger community.

There is time set aside on Dec. 1-6 for proposal presentations, if needed, and the committee will make a recommendation to the full BCREB board on Dec. 8.

The listed goal is to have new contracts in place by July 1, 2017, and Boulger said the contract would be for one year with an option to renew for two more years.

The board is made up 30 leaders from the business, government, labor, education and training and human services sectors and community organizations in the Berkshire region. The members are appointed by Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer, and the mayor and the board will decide on the next vendor of services.

The services covered under the contract of approximately $650,000 annually will include programs for adult workers, dislocated workers and youth.

The BerkshireWorks offices also are home to several state workers who perform related workforce services, such as for the unemployment insurance program.

The board oversees the development of programming offered, with a focus on the needs of local businesses and workers, and the city and its mayor — representing the largest governmental entity in the workforce region — receive the federal and state grant funding for the programming and are responsible for ensuring the funds are expended properly.

In the past, the mayor of Pittsfield also directly appointed the center executive director — currently Kenneth Demers, who was appointed in late 2014 by former Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

However, a nonprofit, Berkshire Training and Employment Inc., was set up this year to operate BerkshireWorks center. It was organized in June and registered with the state as a nonprofit corporation with a board of directors.

Demers said Monday that forming a nonprofit and naming a corporate board was done primarily to make it possible to enter a proposal under the current RFP process, and easier to apply for additional federal or private grants to enhance programming.

The former entity, Berkshire Training and Employment Program, "was previously under the city, and we had to clarify that it was an independent nonprofit," he said.

The new entity also is applying for federal 501(c)(3) tax status, Demers said.

"Nothing has changed with the operations [of the center]," he said. "In essence, we are staying the same, but now we have a board for oversight."

That is in addition to the city still acting as financial agent for the organization, Demers said, and the board being responsible for overseeing the workforce programming.

Demers said the new nonprofit "will have no inside track" in the RFP process. "It is an open procurement."

But he said the center staff has demonstrated it can do the job, and he's confident "we will put forth a good proposal."

Listed with the state Secretary of State as registered agent with the nonprofit corporation BT&E Inc. is attorney Jesse Cook-Dubin, and directors listed are Jay Sacchetti, Aziz Adjao and Richard Berti. Sacchetti is listed as president of the corporation, Adjao as treasurer and Berti as clerk.

Contacted last week, Tyer said she sees the RFP process as "a great opportunity to see if there are other organizations in our region that want to do this kind of work."

The competitive nature of the process should bring out new approaches for better serving the workforce, she said, even if the current operator receives the next contract.

The mayor said she doesn't want to comment more specifically until the RFP process has run its course. She said she's not looking for any one type of organization or entity to run the center.

How to apply ...

Anyone interested in submitting a proposal can, in addition to attending the bidders conference, also submit questions at Info@BerkshireREB.org. The posting and related background information can be found at www.berkshirereb.org. A mandatory letter of intent is required from bidders by Oct. 7. The actual submissions are due by noon Nov. 2 at the BCREB office, 66 Allen St., Pittsfield.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247. jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com @BE_therrien on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: “Pittsfield falls short in tale of two cities”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, 9/12/2016

To the editor:

The Sunday, Sept. 4 Berkshire Eagle contained two telling articles in the B section regarding Pittsfield's economic growth and that of another Massachusetts city, Fall River.

Pittsfield's PEDA is bringing a Walmart superstore to Woodlawn Crossing in the William Stanley Business Park, much to the disappointment of the Berkshire Central Labor Council and others. Meanwhile, CannaTech Medicinals is currently building a multi-million dollar facility in the Fall River Business Park. The company will grow and process cannabis for medical use and is betting on the federal government finally catching on and removing cannabis from its list of Schedule 1 drugs. It certainly makes more sense to allow the FDA to oversee medical research rather than the DEA continuing to squash it.

Of course, once that happens, the potential for economic development and job growth will be very real. CannaTech believes that will allow it to expand its facility in Fall River to potentially create 100 jobs.

Besides job creation, Fall River is joining the cutting edge by formulating its own rules for the business. Fall River's mayor, Jasiel Correia II, has the right idea when he says, "It wouldn't be prudent for the administration to be obstructionist."

Massachusetts will join five other states in asking voters to legalize recreational cannabis. It certainly doesn't look like our current Berkshire delegation or that of the entire state of Massachusetts has the moxie or the willingness to be the first state in the nation to legalize cannabis by legislation, so the voters will do what they are afraid and too close-minded to do.

Wouldn't it be great if Pittsfield's leaders could be as forward-thinking and progressive as those in Fall River and begin developing plan for and actually recruiting businesses like CannaTech Medicinals and related industries to the William Stanley Business Park? Business that can really make a difference for those seeking employment as well as for municipalities trying to generate revenue for years to come.

It is working in other cities and states and it can work here, too. Why support a plan that will only benefit a mega-corporation like Walmart? Rather than closing the Walmart in the Berkshire Crossing shopping center on Hubbard Avenue, how about keeping it where it is and using the William Stanley Business Park to bring in businesses like CannaTech that will sustain our community for years to come? Or we can simply move to a city such as Fall River that is looking towards the future?

I don't know about you but I'd much rather see people have a reason to stay here.

Michael Murphy, Pittsfield

-------------

"Mayor's proposal would tap into GE cleanup fund to keep Covanta plant open"
By Dick Lindsay, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/26/2016

PITTSFIELD - Mayor Linda M. Tyer wants to invest $562,000 to keep Covanta open four more years.

Tyer is seeking City Council approval to use Pittsfield Economic Development Funds so the waste-to-energy and recycling facility can make the necessary improvements — and save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

"My hope is we've averted the crisis of Covanta closing," Tyer said on Monday. "People probably wouldn't have felt the impact until they closed."

The mayor will formally submit her request to the council at its meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.

Covanta announced in early July that it planned to close the Hubbard Avenue facility because the high operating costs and the size of the plant has made it unprofitable. The New jersey-based company has planned to shutter the facility in March.

Tyer says the $562,000 would pay for a Recycling Consolidated Enclosure and upgrades to the fossil fuel boiler. Currently, the fund has $5.2 million, almost half of the originally $10 million General Electric paid Pittsfield as part of corporate giant's PCB cleanup of the Housatonic River.

The money is part of a financial package to keep trash burning plant afloat that includes state energy tax credits and would allow Covanta to continue to sell steam energy to Crane & Co. in Dalton. The mayor said she has assurances Covanta would remain open four more years until the city can develop long-range waste disposal plan.

Council President Peter M. Marchetti expects the proposal to be referred to the council's Community and Economic Development Committee for review and recommendation back to the entire council for a vote.

The shutdown of the plant would put 25 people out of work and force Pittsfield to have its trash and recyclables hauled out of county at an estimated first-year price tag of $462,000, according to city officials. In addition, the closure, over the first four years, would cost Pittsfield $960,000 property taxes, water/sewer user fees and host community fees, the latter allowing Covanta to take solid waste from surrounding communities.

"This is absolutely a Berkshire County issue as it has far reaching implications," Tyer said.

Should Covanta close before the four-year period, the company would have to pay back a portion of the economic development grant, depending on when they closed. For example, if it shut down in two years, half the $562,000 would be returned to city coffers.

The Hubbard Avenue facility, built in 1981 by Vicon Construction Co., has been run by Covanta since 2007. Covanta took over the structure when it purchased Energy Answers, which bought the facility from Vicon in 1994. Pittsfield's energy-from-waste facility is one of the oldest such plants in the country. Covanta operates 45 total energy-to-waste plants.

Covanta's decision to provide advance notice of its intention to close the plant was done to give its business partners and customers enough time seek other trash disposal/recycling alternatives, company officials said in July.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com @BE_DLindsay on Twitter.

-------------

"Pittsfield sees slow progress in efforts to deal with blighted properties"
Vacant properties: City counts about 100 — a number unchanged for years
By Jim Therrien, The Berkshire Eagle, 10/03/2016

PITTSFIELD - The city's efforts to deal with scores of vacant, boarded-up dwellings have recorded some successes in recent years, but the chronically long list of properties hasn't gotten any shorter.

Bonnie Galant, Pittsfield's community development and housing program manager, said the list of long-term vacant dwellings remains at around 100 properties, about where the total has hovered for several years. That holds true despite incentives offered to rehabilitate distressed properties and an ongoing demolition program that took down four properties over the summer and could eliminate another half-dozen in the coming months.

The costs associated with demolitions is certainly a factor in the list remaining long, she said, along with the sometimes excruciatingly slow process of clearing the legal, regulatory, historical and environmental hurdles before the bulldozers and wrecking balls come into play.

In truth, Galant and other city officials stressed that the mostly single-family or apartment dwellings that are demolished represent those that have been vacant for "years and years and years," and every avenue for resale or rehabilitation has been exhausted.

"There are some we didn't want to demo, but we have to," she said, referring to vacant structures that were once sound but have become safety hazards or a site for illegal drug use or other criminal activity.

Typically, there are many health and safety violations noted by city inspectors that would be overwhelmingly expensive to address, and/or mounting back taxes owed, which scares away anyone interested in purchasing and rehabilitating the structures.

Mayor Linda M. Tyer made dealing with blighted properties that can negatively affect an entire neighborhood a key component of her successful campaign for the office in 2015. She said that in addition to continuing to fund demolition of those structures that can't be restored, strategic changes in the way the city monitors vacant properties has helped slow the deterioration of the city's housing stock.

"We have done a couple of things in the day-to-day management of this to make what we do more effective," she said.

That includes striving for greater coordination among city inspectors and working with the state Attorney General's Office to implement an option that allows inspectors — rather than the city solicitor — to file code violation complaints with the Housing Court.

"It gives us more flexibility," Tyer said.

Concerning demolitions, the mayor said she believes Pittsfield "is setting a good pace" in trying to deal with a significant problem, but she adds that she was "very disappointed" when the City Council reduced from $50,000 to $25,000 the amount in city funds she proposed for demolitions in the fiscal 2017 budget, and also trimmed $3,000 from a Health Board nuisance abatement program to deal with distressed properties.

Another initiative suggested by the AG's Office, which Tyer said she will consider for the next fiscal year, is to target more than one dilapidated property in a general area for demolition to have a greater positive impact in that neighborhood.

OWNERSHIP ISSUES

Often there is an ownership issue involved, Galant said, as in an abandoned property with listed owners who live elsewhere or who are deceased, and the heirs show little interest in a house representing a major expense just to clear the taxes and code violations.

She said the cost of demolishing properties has been averaging about $35,000, meaning that just moving forward on the 30 percent of properties in the worst condition would require roughly $1 million, and demolishing half on the list would cost close to $2 million.

And that would be in addition to the cost of hazardous materials assessments required for each property before it can be knocked down, and possible assessments required to determine if there is any historical significance.

Each dwelling in the next group of city properties slated for demolition has been signed off on by the city Historical Commission, but they also must be reviewed for historical significance on the state level, and then bids will be sought to assess the hazardous materials inside each.

The hazardous materials assessments are followed by a bid on the cost for demolishing an entire group of properties.

Galant said city Community Development Department records dating back to 1992 show that 131 vacant and condemned properties were demolished, using a combination of Community Development Block Grant funding to Pittsfield and city funds.

The total cost over that period, she said, was $4,031,032, for an average of about $30,000 per structure. The number demolished was boosted slightly, Galant added, because the city received additional grant funding one year that allowed more than the average of about four per year.

In recent years, the city has razed about four properties annually, costing in the range of just over $100,000 in CDBG grant funding and city allocations.

It should be noted that the increase in vacant, dilapidated dwellings in Pittsfield has roughly paralleled the decline in the number of good-paying blue collar jobs, particularly at GE, and a slow population decline. The population here stood at more than 57,000 in the early 1960s but began a steady decline around 1970s as GE began shifting operations out of the city. The population today is approximately 44,000.

According to city Community Development Specialist Laurie Mick, four properties — located at 481 West St., 79 Third St., 244 Bradford St., and 10 Circular Ave. — were taken down in the spring, costing a total of $111,600 for the demolition work.

The city hopes to have several more demolished in the winter months, depending on the amount of funding available and the bids received. Those next properties are located at 173 Robbins Ave., 88-90 Robbins Ave., 266 Onota St., 211-13 Linden St., and 14-18 South Church St.

In addition, a city-owned property, at 193 Dewey St., will be included in the bidding. The site illustrates the potential for redevelopment once blighted vacant properties are removed, as Galant said that site is eyed as part of the city's planned Riverway Park, along the Housatonic River and Dewey Avenue.

Another demolition that had an immediate positive impact was a dilapidated house at 79 Third St., located almost directly across the street from the Samuel Harrison House, which opened to visitors in 2015.

NOT TAKEN BY CITY

One common misconception about the demolition program, Galant said, is that the city has taken these properties by eminent domain, when in fact the demolition typically occurs after properties are condemned by the city and the owner has made no move to correct code violations and can't sell the property in its dilapidated condition with back taxes owed.

The city places a lien on the property for the cost of the demolition, which could come into play of the property is later sold or redeveloped.

Health, fire department and building inspectors work cooperatively to require that homeowners and landlords keep their properties — as well as their lawns and yards — up to health and safety codes, said Health Director Gina Armstrong.

That has worked well to "prevent further dilapidation" of those properties close to slipping in unsalvageable condition, leaving demolition as the last option. "I think we are making progress on that," she said.

The number of vacant properties being monitored does, however, hover around 100, she said, and now stands at 103 — the vast majority of them residential properties but a few commercial buildings as well.

The city Code Enforcement Committee — made up of city inspectors, Community Development and Purchasing Department staff members, the city solicitor, the mayor and others — discusses during monthly meetings whether the situation surrounding specific properties has changed and whether they should be added or dropped from the list, Armstrong said.

She said that there are always even more currently vacant properties in the city, but if a building is secure and well maintained it likely won't land on the list.

Justine Dodds, the city's housing specialist and fair housing officer, said the statewide Abandoned Housing Initiative, which is available through the state Attorney General's Office, is another option for rescuing rundown properties.

Dodds said the state provided communities with direct funding toward property rehabilitation efforts — obtained in a legal settlement with five large banks during the post-recession foreclosure crisis. And the AG's office provides technical assistance for an ongoing receivership program that allows contractors or other qualified persons to obtain a priority lien on a dilapidated property and then rehabilitate it for reuse or sale.

A $200,000 revolving loan fund also was set up in Pittsfield, with the settlement funding, providing loans of up to $50,000 per housing unit at no interest until the receiver can dispose of the rehabilitated property.

The AG's office works with the city's Board of Health to identify properties that qualify for the program — that is, those that don't carry a staggering back-tax burden or too expensive rehabilitation requirements, among other factors. And the office provides assistance in Housing Court to help qualified receivers gain the lien, which is considered to have priority after the tax bill owed the city.

Earlier this year, when the AG's office sponsored a training session for persons interested in the receivership program, state officials said more than 53 cities and towns in the state had been involved in the program, which had worked with about 700 abandoned properties at that point.

On the web ...

Information on the Abandoned Housing Initiative is available on the AG's website, at www.mass.gov/ago.

-------------

"Pittsfield police officer files complaint against department alleging a pattern of sexism"
Files 12-page discrimination complaint
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, 10/14/2016

PITTSFIELD - A 16-year veteran of the city's police force is alleging she has been discriminated against and harassed within the department since at least 2005.

In a 12-page Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint obtained by The Eagle, Pittsfield Police Officer Jennifer Brueckmann, 51, alleges she was denied job opportunities and was subjected to sexist remarks and harassment at the hands of her supervisors.

In one case, Brueckmann alleges she was passed over as a K-9 officer in favor of a male officer who was allergic to dogs.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn said via email Friday that Pittsfield City Attorney Richard Dohoney would respond on behalf of the city.

A message left for Dohoney at his office Friday was not returned.

The allegations of harassment include implied threats, intentional damage to Brueckmann's work and personal vehicles, disparaging comments about her appearance and a comment about how officers used to have sex with prostitutes in response to the discovery of a used condom in her cruiser.

The complaint also alleges questionable behavior by other members of the department, which went without investigation and discipline despite being reported to senior staff.

The complaint, filed by Brueckmann's attorney, Timothy Burke of Needham, states she was "subjected to a pattern and practice of sexual harassment and gender discrimination."

"(Brueckmann's) superiors were either the ones engaging in this discriminatory and retaliatory treatment, or they knew of the disparate treatment and took no actions to stop it."

The complaint alleges many instances of sexist language, attitudes and behavior over the last 11 years, which received little or no attention when reported.

• During a 2005 criminal justice seminar at Anna Maria College, a Pittsfield Police sergeant said to several people, "I don't believe there is any place in police work for a woman."

The statement was dismissed as hearsay by the department, which declined to investigate.

• In August 2010, a male officer used his cruiser radio for 30 minutes to have "phone sex" with his girlfriend, according to the complaint.

"No significant punishment," came as a result of Brueckmann's reporting of that incident.

• In 2010, Brueckmann was allegedly told by a lieutenant that, "You have to wonder if any woman reporting rape is telling the truth."

The department declined to investigate those comments, according to the complaint.

• The complaint alleges that the department has declined to provide equitable accommodations for its female officers by keeping their locker room in what is described as a 50-square-foot "broom closet" containing asbestos and lead.

That contrasts with a 1,200-square-foot locker area for the male officers.

There are approximately seven female officers, including Brueckmann, and 95 male officers, according to the complaint.

• In 2011, Brueckmann filed a formal charge with MCAD, alleging discrimination and disparate treatment. She claims her complaints led to her being labeled a "troublemaker" within the department.

• In July 2011, Brueckmann said she called for backup during a bar fight involving herself and several patrons.

She said a lieutenant responded, but drove past without stopping or assisting. And she said the department took no investigatory nor disciplinary action in that matter.

• In August 2011, the department refused to pursue a potential violation of a restraining order Brueckmann had against her ex-husband, claiming the alleged violation wasn't deliberate.

Brueckmann believes part of the reason behind the department's refusal to investigate the violation is due to a familial relationship between her ex-husband and a senior member of the Department.

• Brueckmann said she found a used condom left behind on the driver's seat of her cruiser. When she brought that complaint forward, she was allegedly told by a captain, that, "I remember when some of our retired officers would bang the whores from North Street on the hood of their cruisers."

She was also told the condom was probably from a prisoner and declined to investigate. Prisoners do not ride in the front seat of police cruisers, according to the complaint.

• In 2012 an email was sent to officers informing them they needed to be clean-shaven while on duty. The captain who sent that email allegedly told Brueckmann directly that she should consider using hair removal treatments.

• In spring of 2015, a captain allegedly contacted the family of an 88-year-old woman who was arrested after Brueckmann and her partner were sent to the wrong address by a dispatcher.

During the investigation into that arrest, a captain allegedly contacted the woman and her family and told them Brueckmann and her partner were, "known problems," for the department and told "multiple" members of the department that she was "toxic."

Some comments from department supervisors about Brueckmann and her partner made via internal emails became public in April 2016.

• In September 2015, Brueckmann raised doubts that a suspect managed to flee with a large television for 2 miles on foot. She was allegedly told by a sergeant that, "The reason you think the TV is heavy is because you're a woman. The subject is a man and he is stronger than you."

Those remarks were reported, according to the complaint, but no action was taken.

• Brueckmann raised concerns regarding an Oct. 22, 2015, incident in which a man — who allegedly has personal ties to both the Pittsfield Police and the Berkshire County Sheriff's departments — pointed an assault rifle at another man's face.

Brueckmann said the man should be placed under arrest and required to surrender all of his firearms. A sergeant allegedly refused to arrest the man and only confiscated the one weapon used in the alleged assault.

Brueckmann reported the incident and refused to be listed as one of the officers on scene.

• On July 17, 2016, Brueckmann and another officer were looking at an image of an assault rifle on a computer screen when a captain approached them and allegedly said, "I wouldn't go on a shooting spree like some people if I had an assault rifle, I would only shoot a select few. The list is small, but I'd take care of it."

Brueckmann perceived the remark as a threat, according to the complaint.

• On July 22, 2016 Brueckmann brought her personal vehicle to an auto body shop and was told that bolts from the vehicle's front end had been removed.

The complaint alleges more harassment including vandalism to her cruiser; nails being put into its tires, cigarettes and soiled rubber gloves being left inside of it and being denied time off only to be told to take the time off when she reported for duty.

According to the complaint, Brueckmann was appointed to be one of the department's K-9 officers in 2005 and was the first female officer in that role.

She was appointed by then-Chief Anthony Riello, who told her, "They don't want you as K-9 handler. Show them you can do this, because they all want you to fail."

In 2010, Brueckmann said she was demoted and removed from the K-9 unit because she was not able to work night shifts, involved in a custody dispute, wouldn't be able to devote the necessary time to the job and had swapped shifts too many times.

The complaint alleges a male K-9 officer had been away for six to seven months for training, without incurring a similar penalty.

As a result of losing the K-9 job, the police dog, Ciro, which she had trained and raised for five years, was removed from her home, according to the complaint.

The demotion also reduced her salary by about 23 percent.

Ciro was re-assigned to a younger male officer with no training or experience, according to the complaint.

Shift-swapping still occurs between male K-9 officers without the same disciplinary action being taken, the complaint alleges.

While Brueckmann served as a K-9 officer, she was routinely denied training during the summer months, allegedly due to higher volume of police calls during that time.

She later learned that male K-9 officers were allowed to take training any time of year, regardless of call volume.

In June 2010 Brueckmann was re-applying for a K-9 officer position and when she asked if she should wait for a routine uniform fitting in the event she got the job, she was allegedly told by a supervisor that he was told she "won't be needing the K-9 uniform."

Brueckmann had yet to formally apply for the job, at that time.

Another opening on the K-9 unit was available in January 2013, the complaint states.

A total of five applicants, three males and two females, including Brueckmann were vying for the post.

One of the male candidates was selected for the job, but had a child and would not be able to work night shifts.

That requirement was changed to accommodate the officer, who had to leave the K-9 section due to being allergic to his dog, the complaint states.

Another male officer was selected to replace the outgoing officer, but that officer left in January, 2013. The vacancy wasn't filled and that officer was allowed to keep the dog he trained.

Brueckmann is at least the fourth Pittsfield Police Officer currently involved in some type of complaint against the department and the city.

Officers Mark Lenihan and Christopher Kennedy are plaintiffs in separate federal lawsuits alleging they were retaliated against by members of the department for reporting alleged improprieties in its hiring practices.

Former officer Dale Eason, who was fired by the department earlier this year amid claims of falsifying police reports and conduct unbecoming an officer, has filed an appeal of that decision.

Those cases remain open.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249. bdunn@berkshireeagle.com @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-------------

Letter: "Many reasons why Walmart will benefit Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, 10/25/2016

To the editor:

In my opinion the proposal for a new Walmart Super center will benefit Pittsfield residents.

Most people against Walmart say it will hurt local business. Well, I am having a hard time thinking of any local businesses that sell anything that most hard-working residents and families need at prices we can afford.

My wife and I have three young daughters. We both work hard and struggle to pay our mortgage and bills. What we need is one place to get our children's clothes, toys, school supplies and many other items from electronics to household and bath items at affordable prices. Berkshire Crossing is ideal but difficult to get to for many and a traffic nightmare. Not to mention it is not pedestrian friendly.

We also have very little extra time, staying busy with after school activities, homework, dinner and the everyday craziness life throws at us. One-stop shopping is ideal these days. We do not live in the days Mom stays home and has the time to shop all around town going to one store for clothes and another for school supplies and running all over town for different items.

Walmart will be cleaning up an empty eyesore and spending the money to prepare a site not wanted by any other business and creating a space which will attract other businesses.

As far as jobs go. A job is a job. I would rather work at Walmart than not work at all. We live in a low income housing neighborhood and see the effects of welfare abuse and unemployment everyday. I understand the need for jobs in Pittsfield. We need to take what we can get. We cannot live in the fantasy world of a new age GE type company coming here. Without easy access to the Mass. Turnpike large manufacturing companies won't even look at Pittsfield.

Finally, downtown. Downtown Inc. and the city of Pittsfield need to realize the glory days of shopping North Street are over. Let North Street have its theaters, bars, nightclubs, restaurants, coffee shops and fancy hotels and rename it the entertainment district.

Richard Daly, Pittsfield

-------------

“Pittsfield City Council set to OK bump in residential property taxes”
By Dick Lindsay, rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, November 14, 2016

PITTSFIELD - A typical city homeowner is expected to see an increase of about 4.6 percent on their property tax bill next year.

Thanks to a boost in property values, the real estate tax rates for residential and commercial properties are a tad lower than what was projected when the City Council approved the fiscal 2017 budget.

"We saw an increase in valuation this [fiscal] year and we gained more value than we expected when we put the budget together in January," said Pittsfield's finance director/treasurer Matthew Kerwood.

The City Council on Tuesday night will likely vote to keep a split tax rate for fiscal 2017, which would maintain roughly the same shift differential between the commercial and residential rates since 2013, according to city officials. The council's regular meeting is 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The residential tax rate would rise 87 cents, to $19.63 per $1,000 of assessed property value, under the tax rate proposed by Mayor Linda M. Tyer's administration. The increase would cost the average single-family homeowner an additional $151 more in real estate taxes. The commercial rate will go up $1.72 to $39.78 per $1,000, a 4.5 percent increase.

The city's assessed property value is up $17 million for fiscal 2017, compared to an $11 million increase the previous fiscal year.

"We are starting to see, ever so slowly, total value of property rising," said Board of Assessors Chairwoman Paula King.

She noted Pittsfield has 18,000 parcels assessed at $3.36 billion, with more than 11,000 single-family homes accounting for just under $2 billion of that assessed value.

The better-than-expected hike in property valuation is good news for a municipality getting closer to its taxing capacity.

In all, the city needs to raise $81 million toward financing the fiscal 2017 budget - $3 million below the tax levy limit under Proposition 2 1/2.

The fiscal 2016 budget required $76.8 million in taxes, leaving nearly $6.8 million on the table. A voter-approved tax override would be needed to spend beyond the tax levy limit, otherwise, the city would have to make significant budget cuts to stay within its means.

Back in the spring, the Tyer administration cited stagnant property values at the time as one of several reasons Pittsfield was nearing its taxing capacity.

She also pointed the finger at small increases in recent years in state aid and local receipts, such as motor vehicle excise taxes, Medicaid reimbursement, rooms and meal taxes.

When the city closed the books on fiscal 2016, local receipts were healthier than expected, as Pittsfield had raked in nearly $900,000 more in local revenue than what was budgeted.

Despite the good revenue news, the Tyer administration stayed conservative using the same $11.67 million figure for the second consecutive fiscal year.

Five months into fiscal 2017, indications are local revenue will surpass expectations.

"What we've seen, so far, room taxes are trending higher, but we won't know what [motor vehicle] excise tax will be until after the first of the year," Kerwood said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.

*

“Taxes going up in Pittsfield”
Dick Lindsay, rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, November 15, 2016

PITTSFIELD - Sharply divided over whether homeowners should carry more of the property tax burden, the City Council on Tuesday night barely approved Mayor Linda M. Tyer's administration's 4.6 percent hike in residential property tax bills for the current fiscal year.

The council voted 11-3 to boost the residential rate from $18.76 to $19.63 per $100,000 assessed value, or an 87-cent difference resulting in a $151 increase for the average single-family home worth $176,000. The commercial rate was bumped up $1.72 from $38.06 to $39.78.

However, Councilor-at-large Melissa Mazzeo led a nearly successful effort to lessen the impact on commercial property owners, proposing both rates increase around $1, with the residential bill increasing by $188, instead of $151.

The council defeated Plan B by a 6-5 vote, but the message was clear that the gap between both rates must be narrowed to boost economic growth.

"We're one of the highest - if not the highest- commercial tax rates in the state. We really need to look at that," said Ward 2 councilor Kevin Morandi.

No matter how the city's split tax rate is divvied up, the council and the mayor agree the municipality needs to tighten - if note reduce - its $162.1 million budget and increase the tax base to keep property tax bills in check.

Pittsfield is raising $81 million in taxes toward financing the fiscal 2017 budget - $3 million below the tax levy limit under Proposition 2 1/2.

The fiscal 2016 budget required $76.8 million in taxes, leaving nearly $6.8 million on the table. A voter-approved tax override would be needed to spend beyond the tax levy limit, otherwise, the city would have to make significant budget cuts to stay within its means.

Tyer told the council City Hall department heads are looking at more efficient management of government, better use of surplus funds and other cost savings/cutting measures when budget deliberations roll around next spring.

"We're also looking at several consolidations for fiscal 2018," she said. "[However,] we aren't going to solve this in one budget."

Councilor-at-large Kathleen Amuso was one of the councilors five months ago who could get the council to reduce the budget increases.

"We can't sit here tonight and complain about [tax rates] when we didn't do the work we needed to do [ in June,]" Amuso said.

City finance officials did have some good news for taxpayers regarding the municipality's fiscal stability. In an Eagle interview on Monday, Board of Assessors Chairwoman Paula King and Finance Director/Treasurer Matthew Kerwood reported a boost in property values. That resulted in the real estate tax rates for residential and commercial properties being a tad lower than what was projected when the City Council approved the current operating budget in June.

The city's assessed property value is up $17 million for fiscal 2017, compared to an $11 million increase the previous fiscal year.

King noted Pittsfield has 18,000 parcels assessed at $3.36 billion, with more than 11,000 single-family homes accounting for just under $2 billion of that assessed value.

Pittsfield's cash flow may also end up higher than projected for fiscal 2017, given that 2016 local receipts were healthier than expected, as Pittsfield had raked in nearly $900,000 more than what was budgeted.

Kerwood said early indications are that rooms tax receipts are trending up, but the biggest revenue generator, motor vehicle excise taxes, won't be known until those bills are mailed out in February. He noted a boost in new car purchases by city residents will be key in increase the excise tax revenue, as was the case in fiscal 2016.

Contact Dick Lindsay at (413) 496-6233.

*

"Pittsfield Property Tax Rate Up 4.5 Percent for Fiscal 2017"
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff, November 16, 2016

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The average homeowner can expect to see a $150 a year increase in property taxes for fiscal 2017.

The City Council on Tuesday night approved 8-3 a tax shift of 1.65, resulting in a tax rate of $19.63 per thousand assessed value, up 87 cents over this year, for residential and $39.78 per thousand for commercial, up from $38.06 this year.

The vote came after nearly 90 minutes of discussion and an unsuccessful attempt to lower the shift ratio to ease the burden on local businesses by Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo.

The average single-family home is calculated at $176,120, down from fiscal 2016's $176,234. The average tax bill will be $3,457, up from $3,306 last year.

In all, total single-family home values increased by $471,000, adding 10 more single-family homes in the city.

"Really it's pretty much status quo, the values really haven't fluctuated much at all within the single families," said Board of Assessors Chairwoman Paula King, who made the tax classification presentation.

Two-family homes lost value, with the 1,773 structures dropping in total value from $225.7 million to $223.47 million, more than $2 million, and about $1,000 on average, largely because of their condition, King said. The average tax rate on such building will increase about $100, from $2,390 last year to $2,474 this year.

The gains in numbers and value were in Individuals/Partnership/Trusts ($11 million); Corporations ($4.2 million); Agriculture ($76,300); and Recreational ($32,400). Public utilities and wireless phones also increased in value at $1.4 million and $1.2 million respectively.

The city's total value is $3.36 billion, up about $17 million.

The tax levy required to fund this year's budget $162 million budget is $81 million, up from $77 million appropriated last year, or 5.5 percent more. The city did see about $3.6 million in new growth in fiscal 2016, raising the levy ceiling to $84 million.

If the city had gone with a single tax rate for all properties, the rate would be $24.11 per thousand, up from an estimated $22.97 in fiscal 2016.

Mazzeo and others raised concerns that the commercial rate, in particular, would deter potential businesses and slow the city's the growth

"We're begging for them to come into our community and set up shop and bring in jobs for our community and it's almost $40 ... I'll be looking along the way to change that," she said, adding, "I think we have to have a deep, deep discussion on this tonight."

Councilor Kevin Morandi echoed her comments, asking King about the number of small businesses with values under $200,000.

King said of 742 commercial parcels, "a good majority of them are in that $200,000 range." But, she noted, there were also commercial properties worth millions, such as Berkshire Crossing and the Allendale Shopping Center.

"We're one of the highest if not the highest commercial rate in the state of Massachusetts," said Morandi, also pointing to the loss of 300 jobs from SABIC. "And here we're struggling for growth. ... If somebody's looking around and comes to Pittsfield and sees that tax rate, to me that's a deterrent and we really need to look at that. ...

"I'm concerned with the residential rate also."

Mazzeo motioned toward the end of the discussion to use a shift of 1.62, which would have raised the residential rate to $19.84 and dropped the commercial to $39.06. That was defeated 5-6.

Councilors Peter White, Kathleen Amuso, John Krol and President Peter Marchetti joined Mazzeo in voting aye; Morandi, Anthony Simonelli, Donna Todd Rivers, Christopher J. Connell, Nicholas Caccamo and Lisa Tully voted against.

Connell, of Ward 4, asked if the city could go one more decimal point, to 1.655, which would keep the commercial rate under $40 but give a slight relief to homeowners.

King said the state uses two decimal points in its software and wasn't sure how it would be possible to change that. Most communities also use that standard, she said.

Krol, of Ward 6, said a "lot of doom and gloom" was being raised over the budget but noted that some of the "up front" costs in the fiscal 2017 budget were for things taxpayers wanted, like more police presence, asking Mayor Linda Tyer to respond.

"We're looking at consolidations we think we can implement for FY18. We are also looking at some efficiencies in terms of simple things such as how we are managing our payroll," said Tyer. "We are looking at policies that would establish standards for how much free cash we should use annually, how much stabilization we want to raise. We're looking at strategies for how we can encourage new growth."

She saw public safety as a major consideration, saying a safer city would affect school choice, families moving in and businesses locating here. As for the commercial tax rate, Tyer said it seemed to be offset by the city's quality, low-cost commercial properties.

"We're not going to be able to solve this in one budget," said Tyer. "This has to be a long-term strategy with all of the things I've suggested tonight completely at play. This is a dynamic strategy. There isn't one single magic bullet. It's going to take a lot of hard work on all of our parts."

Ward 7 Councilor Simonelli said his concern was the looming levy ceiling that had decreased from $6 million last fiscal year to $2 million this year.

"If we continue to raise the budget year after year after year, we're going to reach the limit and your numbers right here show that if it goes up 4 percent next year, we'll be at the limit, is that fair to say?" Simonelli said to King, who agreed. "It's very disheartening ... [new growth] is not going up, I believe, at the same rate our budget is going up. So sooner or later that collision course is going to hit and it looks like it maybe next year."

Ward 5 Councilor Rivers and at-Large Councilor Amuso both pointed out that the time to do something about the budget was last spring when it was approved.

"This is probably the worst meeting I attend," said Amuso. "We went through the budget in June and we couldn't get a majority vote for any of the reductions. Now we sit here tonight saying we've got to have reductions in the budget.

"We've got to do the work before we get here."

Rivers said she was one of those trying for reductions "but there was really little appetite for those conversations."

"It is the budget we supported, it was the budget we passed and is the budget we have to pay tonight."

The shift of 1.65 passed 8-3 with Morandi, Mazzeo and Simonelli voting against.

-------------

"Teenager critical after shooting on North Street in Pittsfield"
By Bob Dunn, bdunn@berkshireeagle.com - The Berkshire Eagle, November 28, 2016

PITTSFIELD - A 17-year-old male is in critical but stable condition after being shot in the torso late Friday night.

The victim, whose name was not released, was found about 11:30 p.m. near 391 North St. with a single gunshot wound, according to a statement released Monday by Pittsfield Police.

No further information was released.

The investigation is being conducted by the department's Detective Bureau, the city's drug unit and crime scene services.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Pittsfield Police Department Detective Bureau at 413-448-9700.

Information can also be provided anonymously via the detective bureau, the Drug Tips hotline at 413-448-9708, or by texting PITTIP and your message to TIP411 (847411).

Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.

-------------

"Look closer at budget before raising Pittsfield taxes"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, November 28, 2016

To the editor:

Pittsfield's real estate tax is going up 4.7 percent, plus 1 percent for the Community Preservation Act. At the same time. city employees and retirees are enjoying a 15 percent contribution toward their health insurance premium, with 85 percent paid by the city (taxpayers). Is there a private sector employee who can brag about having the same deal? And it scares me to even think about homeowners on a fixed income. The mayor could've taken a closer look at the budget and expenses instead of taking the beaten path of raising taxes.

Unlike city employees, city taxpayers don't have a union, they are represented by the City Council, which failed them once again.

Gregory Jones,
Pittsfield

-------------

Maria Sekowski, the owner of Maria's European Delights on North Street in Pittsfield says she often treats customers to impromptu serenades at her shop. She has concerns about the number of spaces available for people to park when they want to shop downtown. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle

Maria Sekowski, the owner of Maria's European Delights on North Street in Pittsfield, adjusts holiday sweets in her shop on Wednesday. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer announces the new digital parking meter system that will be implemented in downtown Pittsfield during a talk on Wednesday at the Ralph Froio Senior Center where a meter machine is currently. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle

Mayor Linda Tyer gestures to a parking kiosk currently on display at the Ralph Froio Senior Center during a talk on Wednesday about the new digital parking meter system that will be implemented in downtown Pittsfield. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle

Mayor Linda Tyer announces the new digital parking meter system that will be implemented in downtown Pittsfield. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle

Marc Abecassis, owner of Jim’s House of Shoes on North Street in Pittsfield, adjusts shoes on display racks in the store. He is worried the new parking system coming in January may drive customers away from downtown. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle

Marc Abecassis, owner of Jim’s House of Shoes on North Street in Pittsfield, adjusts shoes in the window display of the store. He is worried the new parking fee structure for downtown may deter shoppers. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle

“Pittsfield parking fees begin Jan. 3; business owners worry system may drive away customers”
By Larry Parnass, lparnass@berkshireeagle.com - The Berkshire Eagle, November 30, 2016

PITTSFIELD - After she took office in January, Mayor Linda Tyer said she resolved to act on an issue drifting through city government:

To pay or not to pay for parking.

Come Jan. 3, one day shy of her first anniversary as mayor, Tyer's vision of a sustainable parking management system goes into effect.

On that day, drivers seeking spaces on more than a dozen streets during certain hours will be required to log in their license-plate numbers on one of 45 solar-powered kiosks.

The cost will depend on location, but all will receive 30 minutes of parking for free.

"There's a lot of free time," Tyer said Wednesday in a visit to the Ralph J. Froio Senior Center, where she demonstrated how to use one of the new ticketing kiosks the city bought for $7,600 each.

"I think we have found the right balance," she said of fees and affected hours, but later added: "It can be a major change to a community dynamic."

At Jim's House of Shoes, owner Marc Abecassis put it more bluntly: "It stinks."

While the advent of paid parking enables the city to meet a state grant requirement, some merchants continue to fear the impact paid parking will have on their enterprises.

Others, though, said Wednesday they welcome the change, with one retailer suggesting the city shouldn't give away those first 30 minutes.

And others suggested the problem isn't the cost of parking, but the lack of spaces close enough to their shops to satisfy customers.

NEW SYSTEM

Though the kiosks will be installed in December, they won't be used until the new year.

"We're going to put a big, red bow on them and wish people a happy holiday. Parking is still free," Tyer said Wednesday to laughter in the North Street center's cafe area.

But as of Jan. 3, it will cost $1 an hour for on-street parking and 50 cents an hour for off-street parking. Details on parking lots and use of the new kiosk are available on the city's website.

Tyer explained that the city had to act to fulfill a state grant requirement that it make its parking system self-sufficient.

David F. Turocy, commissioner of the Department of Public Services, said Wednesday the new parking revenue will generate an estimated $400,000 a year. That will come in conjunction with about $400,000 in parking permit revenues and $200,000 in fines per year - enough to cover the costs of providing parking services.

"It takes a million dollars to run this program," said Bruce I. Collingwood, commissioner of Public Utilities.

Tyer said she wanted to launch the system Nov. 1, but ran up against logistical problems. She said a goal all the way along has been to select a system that is easy to use and that does not place too great a burden on downtown merchants.

The mayor said she has worked to engage the business community about the change.

"They've been at the table with us from the beginning," Tyer said of downtown business owners. "We don't want to create any kind of sore feelings."

Steps to achieve that included keeping Saturday and Sunday free and including 30 minutes of free parking. Also, the kiosks will be programmed to provide free parking on holidays and for some special downtown events, Tyer said.

She said her goal was to balance the need for revenue against possible downsides for merchants, saying the policy shaped is "thoughtful about what merchants and visitors need."

The kiosks take coins and credit cards but not bills, since paper currency is known to cause maintenance problems.

"We're trying to make this as user-friendly as possible," the mayor said. By downloading the Passport smart phone app, people can add to their parking time from any location.

New signs will mark newly metered areas on North, South, School, Federal, Fenn and Wahconah streets. Off-street parking will be available in the Depot Lot next to the McKay Street Parking Garage and the First Street Parking Lot. The McKay Street Garage will be used for permit parking.

Tyer said the Jan. 3 change is Phase 1 in the city's parking management plan. How it unfolds will depend on various factors, she said, and the system may be adjusted.

MERCHANTS' VIEWS

Interviews with shop owners downtown found mixed feelings about the new parking fees.

Laurie Tierney, owner of Dory & Ginger shop at 299 North St. said she has no objection.

"It's about time we got into the 20th century," she said. "I'm happy to pay. It has to happen. At least it's going to be done right. Let's do it."

Her business provides parking for customers in the rear, so the effect may be eased.

Another major downtown business, Paul Rich & Sons Home Furnishings, at 242 North St., also offers off-street parking behind its location.

At Maria's European Delights, at 146 North St., owner Maria Sekowski said she wishes there were simply more parking options closer to her shop, which sells imported foods from her native Poland and homemade soups and sandwiches. The business moved to Pittsfield from Great Barrington almost four years ago.

"Nobody wants to walk anymore," said Sekowski. "A customer told me, 'I haven't been here because I was driving by and didn't see a space.'"

She said she appreciated the city's decision to keep parking free on Sunday, but questioned the value of that. "Who comes in on Sunday?"

Sekowski suggested that fellow merchants should take matters into their own hands by advising their customers on the best places to park locally.

Across the street, Jennie Heck and Rob Llana, co-owners of Studious Baker at 123 North St., also wish, like Sekowski, that their patrons were willing to walk a little farther.

They think the city's new system may be giving parking time away unnecessarily.

"There's nothing wrong with charging," Llana said. "We've had that all our lives everywhere in America."

Heck said she is concerned about future use of the McKay Street Garage not far from their bakery. If it shifts to permit parking only, that may cause public concern.

"That's going to be a huge difference," she said. Heck also believes that the first 30 minutes of free parking may not be taken by patrons in the spirit intended. "I think it's going to confuse people more than help them. [The city] should start straightforward and simple."

"Make it simple and make it fair," she said. "All we hear from customers is we can't find a parking space."

Llana said he would prefer the city not tinker with the system once it is introduced. "Charge them from the beginning, and don't do these surveys," he said. "Be practical."

Abecassis, the owner of the shoe store at 239 North St., said that by applying paid parking only to the downtown, the system favors stores outside the city center.

"It's not fair. It's like taking my customers away," he said.

Just after noon on Wednesday, more than half a dozen customers had braved the rain to shop at Jim's House of Shoes, including a woman in need of dance shoes and another regular customer who shared with Abecassis that he recently broke his leg.

Asked how the family-owned shop is doing in its 70th year, Abecassis nodded, extended his hand palm down and wiggled it.

"We're not setting the world on fire," he said.

But the regulars still come, including grandparents who 60 years ago played with the little merry-go-round that's still set up in the store.

Come January, Abecassis is expecting some of his customers to arrive in a snit. "They're going to get a lot of tickets and get mad at me, then say, 'I'm not coming downtown.'"

The store's longtime manager, Mary Lunsford, said the city needs to accommodate the parking needs of downtown employees and questioned whether part-time workers can be persuaded to buy parking permits.

While Abecassis acknowledged that the city was compelled by the terms of a state grant to launch paid parking, Lunsford questioned the need.

"We are not Northampton. We don't have that kind of foot traffic," she said. "I think this is just something else that will drive people from downtown. We need to be doing things to make people come downtown. And I don't think that's a help."

ENFORCEMENT

The city's parking attendants already use a system that allows them to photograph and record license plates. That system will be linked by computer to the database connected to the kiosks, allowing the attendants to know which vehicles are parking unlawfully.

Tyer said that system will speed their work.

"It frees them up to do some parking enforcement in parts of the city they haven't been able to get to," Tyer said.

There will be no change in the cost of parking tickets.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.

-------------

“Latest move to digital sphere stiffs cable subscribers”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, November 30, 2016

To the editor:

Time Warner didn't raised its prices for almost a year here in Pittsfield, so we were due! And yes, here it comes! More channels are moving to the digital tier on Dec. 13 so we can get a better picture and sound! Yes, a better picture! Even if your TV (like mine) is 15 years old and working fine.

I haven't seen any of the local channels in many years, since Time Warner moved those out. So what do you have to do to continue to see NECN (a great channel Time Warner tried to drop a while ago)? Just get an HD receiver from the company and it's free for 12 months, and an unknown amount of rent after that. And of course, it won't improve my picture quality at all. It requires another remote, renders the PIP feature of my TV unusable, and in general, does nothing for me, but enhances the profitability of Time Warner greatly.

If TW had a mission statement, it would probably go something like this: 1.) Stiff our customers, 2.) Stiff our employees, 3.) Stiff our environment, 4.) Stiff our government. I just love public utilities and the regulators they have in their pockets. Thank you, Kathleen Griffin, marketing communications executive for Time Warner, for your fine letter. Why stop with just five more channels? Move it all out, so we will have nothing to watch for our monthly TV bill.

Nick Hubacker,
Pittsfield

-------------

"Paid parking bad idea for downtown Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, December 12, 2016

To the Editor:

I agree with the person who wrote about paid parking being bad for downtown. If anything, the center islands should come down and there should be free parallel parking so more spaces are available for patrons to get closer to the stores they would like to support.

I think this just might be the kiss of death for our poor downtown. It's a shame. And where's the money going? It's not like our taxes have been lowered?

Comparing Northampton's downtown to Pittsfield's downtown doesn't work, in my opinion. Northampton has a bustling economy and a lot of foot traffic due to so many institutes of higher learning being so close by. I was there last week and didn't see one empty storefront.

They have a parking garage that is very inexpensive and provides safe and covered access directly to the stores on its main st. Our main street is also longer than Northampton's and for some to get to one business on one end of the street to the other may have to park and pay twice. I've always thought it was a big mistake to take BCC out of downtown but this is just ridiculous.

Eric Schanz,
Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: "Council failed to oppose downtown kiosks"
The Berkshire Eagle, December 24, 2016

To the editor:

I believe that the Pittsfield City Council dropped the ball by not opposing the installation of expensive parking kiosks. At $7,600 each for the 45 kiosks, this costs money that could have been used to help city residents with their exorbitant tax bills.

As for the return on this investment, I and I am sure many other residents will no longer park on North Street. North Street used to be a ghost town and to revitalize it, parking meters were removed to increase traffic and improve the downtown economy. I can't believe that the City Council allowed this travesty. The councilors are usually there to protect their constituents, but it looks like the Council is becoming a Mayor Tyer rubber stamp.

Paul Pizzuto,
Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: "Downtown parking plan doesn't pass muster"
The Berkshire Eagle, December 24, 2016

To the editor:

If we were starting a new city, we would probably appoint a planning board and give it the charge of doing whatever it takes to make our main street vibrant to attract residents and visitors to shop and dine in the new downtown area. One or more of the planning board members would probably suggest free parking to make it easy and comfortable for everyone to enjoy our main street and its surrounding areas.

In turn, if one or more of the members suggested that we make it more difficult to visit our new downtown by installing kiosks and charging people money to park their vehicles they would likely be jeered and asked to resigned from the board.

The new parking plan for the North Street area makes very little if any sense.

Bill Kerwood,
Pittsfield

-------------

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer in her office at City Hall on Wednesday. Ben Garver - The Berkshire Eagle.

“Safety, education, blight fight at top of Pittsfield mayor's first year”
By Carrie Saldo , csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, December 30, 2016

PITTSFIELD — Nearly a quarter of the way through her first term, Mayor Linda M. Tyer believes she has largely made good on three campaign promises meant to strengthen the largest city in the Berkshires.

Tyer, who defeated incumbent Daniel Bianchi last year, was sworn in Jan. 5, 2016. She is the first mayor elected to serve a four-year term in the city.

Tyer reflected on her first year during an interview at City Hall that focused on a range of issues — including campaign promises to add police officers, expand early childhood education opportunities and combat blight.

"I'm pretty proud that I've been able to keep those commitments and lead a team of department heads working just as hard as I am," Tyer said.

She added fiscal management to that list, saying it was an issue that she realized the importance of within six weeks of being on the job. Signing Gov. Charlie Baker's Community Compact has made a difference for the city, she said.

About three-quarters of the state's 351 cities and towns joined the compact, which asks municipalities to identify specific needs and best practices they would like to implement to improve local government functions.

She said the compact has allowed the city to leverage state resources and make "data-based" decisions to approach long-range budget and tax rate planning.

"We are not just guessing anymore," Tyer said. "We have an actual model" to rely on.

SEEKING RESTRAINT

Still, several city councilors have said spending under her administration has been too high.

In a 7-4 vote in June, the council opted to increase spending well above the recommendation of the city auditor, 4.2 percent to $151.3 million in fiscal 2017.

City Councilors Chris Connell, Anthony Simonelli, Kevin Morandi and Melissa Mazzeo voted against Tyer's budget.

Contacted this week, all but Mazzeo highlighted fiscal constraint as something Tyer needs to improve upon.

Connell and Morandi said they will press for savings through consolidation of services.

Morandi pointed out Pittsfield also has among the highest commercial and residential tax rates in the state.

"This is a deterrent when it comes to attracting companies looking to open or move a business to a municipality," he said.

Nearing its tax levy limit, Tyer would not rule out the possibility of a Proposition 2 1/2 override but said "it is not my plan to present a budget that requires an override."

Hoping to make the budget process more efficient, Tyer said she plans earlier work on the budget. Budgeting will begin in January, instead of March, with the goal of submitting a budget to City Council in May, a month earlier than usual.

HELPING POLICE

Some councilors who were opposed to this year's overall budget increase supported the nearly $1 million within it earmarked for the police department.

Police calls for "shots fired" were up in 2016 and the mayor held a press conference in May following several incidents of gunfire in that month alone. Two nonfatal shootings took place in November.

Funding for the department provided new equipment and the addition of 19 officers, some of whom are still in either the police academy or field training, Tyer said.

"It was a really important step in a comprehensive strategy to strengthen our law enforcement agency," she said.

Six blighted properties in the city are slated to be demolished come the New Year. Bids responding to a request for proposals were opened Dec. 21 and a bid will be awarded in mid-January, Tyer said.

Critics of this approach, including some on the council, have said the mayor is overstepping her authority by attempting to remove the properties.

Tyer said her approach is meant to decrease the opportunity for crime within the unattended properties and to improve the quality of neighborhoods.

"If we want to build up neighborhoods and inspire investment, addressing blight is a very important strategy," she said.

Turning to her interest in early childhood education, Tyer stressed a desire to have universal pre-kindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-old children. Tyer said she does not foresee an expansion of the public school system to achieve this. Instead, a grant from the state helped the city explore the idea of creating public-private partnerships.

"And we now need funding to implement the plan," she said.

Looking ahead to 2017, Tyer said she intends to offer tax incentives for local business owners and establish a group to examine questions related to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Among the questions: Can the city create zoning to regulate the industry? How might the new law impact law enforcement? And does the city want to allow for, or limit, the retail sale and cultivation of marijuana?

"It's not my intention to use this study group to create a plan for how city-owned land can be used for the cultivation of marijuana," Tyer said.

Tyer has planned a State of the City address for noon Jan. 9 at the Colonial Theatre, where she said she plans to discuss highlights and initiatives of 2016 and the year ahead.

Staff writer Carrie Saldo can be reached at 496-6221 and @carriesaldo.

-------------

Letter: “Housing insecurity remains a serious city problem”
The Berkshire Eagle, December 30, 2016

To the editor:

The Eagle has carried stories related to housing in the Central Berkshires. In a recent one, it noted that the subsidized housing units in Pittsfield are receiving renovation while serving the low income — a great sign that private investors are investing in housing stock.

In another article, we see that the market rate housing market in downtown Pittsfield is growing. We are blessed that local developers have made these investments. This is essential to a strong downtown commercial economy.

Another article touted the award of housing funds for three housing related programs. This is not new money, and only one is located in Pittsfield. Barton's Crossing is a program for moving persons from homelessness to housing stability. It operates as a homeless shelter for sober persons only for a few months in the winter. Beyond this, Pittsfield has no homeless shelter.

Pittsfield does have a large population of persons who experience severe housing insecurity, living in tents or trucks, crashing on sofas or in abandoned structures. But many bounce from apartment to apartment under various names and with various partners. Most low-income housing is not subsidized, and programs like Section 8 are essentially closed to the majority of folks in need.

These are the bane of landlords because they typically pay for a month or two and then fall into delinquency, forcing the landlord to go through expensive, time-consuming evictions — hardly an inducement for landlords.

How do the poor experience this? A person living on a SSDI disability check with attendant benefits will spend 75 to 85 percent of income on rent alone, with heat and electricity on top.

We assume food stamps cover food needs, but they cover a tiny fraction. We assume SSDI folks have full medical care, but this is not true. Increasingly, cost shifting medical managers demand larger co-pays, forcing a choice between rent and meds.

Working poor — and many do work — must usually pay for transportation that eats up any remaining money, while depriving them of other benefits.

I urge folks to read Matthew Desmond's "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," which documents this reality.

Rev. Ralph W Howe,
Pittsfield
The writer is pastor, First United Methodist Church.

-------------

Letter: “Taxing questions are answered by book”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 3, 2017

To the editor:

Recently, a homeowner from the city's west side wrote to express her frustration with taxes — especially the property taxes in Pittsfield — stressing her bewilderment over the ways taxes are determined, manipulated, and assigned. It appears that she has a lesson to learn regarding the money supply in America.

In this regard, may I suggest that although there is always a hard way to learn a lesson, sometimes there are easy and fun ways to learn lessons too. So I recommend this property owner read the first 100 pages or so of a delightfully informative book on money and taxes written by Ellen Brown. The author uses a bit of humor, mild sarcasm and the story line from "The Wizard of Oz" to clearly present the answers to all the "taxing" questions she seeks.

The title of this enjoyable book is "The Web of Debt" and can be obtained through the Pittsfield Public Library.

Algird Sunskis,
Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: “A grim Walmart plan, but what is alternative?”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 5, 2017

To the editor:

Regarding City Councilor Mazzeo's request for an economic impact study of the proposed new Walmart on the PEDA site, I can address that in a quick minute. It is not needed.

The biggest loser is Price Rite. If you are poor and have no car and live near the PEDA site you will just switch supermarkets. Walmart will not help Tyler Street and by the time the store is built the folks along that corridor will find the only increases they will see is in traffic turning onto Woodlawn Avenue.

The other biggest loser: The taxpayers of Pittsfield. For years we were promised industrial jobs on that site when for the longest time it's been apparent there would be nothing of the sort. But what we are getting is a building to pay, as the developer points out, between $300,000 and $500,000 a year in taxes. Walmart, however, like every other large company, will structure its ownership to ensure that it pays the least amount of personal property taxes.

One winner: Out of town contractors, using low paid, undocumented labor. The chances of local contractors doing much beyond the site work is slim to none. These stores need to be built at a fixed price to allow for the rent that Walmart pays. If it can't pay the staff of the store a living wage, do you really believe it will go out of its way to use local labor?

The real reason we do not need that economic impact study, however, is also clear and simple. If it doesn't go at the PEDA site it will go somewhere in Lanseborough. And then Pittsfield still suffers most of the same negative impacts, loses $300,000 in taxes, and still gets the traffic traveling to the new Walmart north of our borders.

So for all the reasons I hate the idea of a retail store on what should be industrial land, this development is not the fault of Walmart, and the negative impacts are not its burden. That site is unattractive to industrial uses because even if manufacturing returns to the U.S. it is not coming back to rural New England. Our cost structure of high wages, high utilities, and the skills deficit we have built for ourselves (and this is true in hundreds of communities across the six states) make folks wanting to site a manufacturing business look here for a minute, before moving on.

Couple that with our inability to deal with the community's social ills and poor quality schools and we are not in line for much these days. Walmart and the social service economy seems to be it.

Maybe this community needs to look at why we cannot move beyond being the place where no one works and no one moves to if they have a choice - and where if you end up here, and have kids, you try like hell to send your kids to school in other towns. Walmart is really the least of our worries.

Dave Pill,
Pittsfield

-------------

“Tyer's State of the City Lays Out Vision of Vibrant Community”
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff, January 09, 2017

Pittsfield, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer says the goal isn't to create places of work for the younger generation.

Rather, it is about creating a dynamic city for millennials to live, work and raise families in.

That's Tyer's vision of the future.

Tyer delivered a 50-minute speech Monday afternoon at the Colonial Theater outlining both the successes and the challenges facing the city over the last year. Highlighting a number of partnerships in various sectors, the mayor engaged in myth busting — spurning common narratives about the city — and set the table for her future vision.

"Let's pivot from our past narrative that we need to create jobs first and then recruit the next generation to those newly created jobs. Let's do the kind of work that makes our city a vibrant, dynamic, interesting place to live so that the next generation chooses us," Tyer said. "There are high-quality jobs here already. Research shows that millennials prefer to first find a place to live and then create their job opportunity. We must turn our attention to this reality."

Tyer went after busting the myth, as she called it, that there are no jobs. In January 2016, the city's unemployment rate was at 6.6 percent, she said, and by November it was down to 3.3 percent. In Berkshire County, there are 1,264 open jobs, 45 percent of which are full-time professional jobs and 55 percent are entry-level or seasonal, she said.

"It is a lot easier to save existing jobs than to create new jobs from outside sources. Our local, hard-working business leaders and their employees deserve, in equal measure, our attention to their struggles and to their hopes. A historic review of Pittsfield's economic development fund proves this theory. Every time we've invested in an outside startup, like EV Worldwide and Workshop Live, we got zero return on our investment," Tyer said.

"Every time that we invested in our local businesses, significant returns were realized for them and us. The Colonial Theater, LTI SmartGlass, Berkshire Museum, Ice River Springs, all of them still with us today employing people, driving the local economy."

That message rang true for the youngest member of the City Council, Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo. He highlighted the efforts of the council to help save the Covanta waste-to-energy plant from closure, saving 25 jobs. He, too, envisions a city in which a younger person can move in, have job growth, and start a family.

"I was a big supporter of Covanta and I think we have some anchor businesses that provide some entry level jobs with room for advancement. That's what we need. We need people to come in in their 20s and 30 and work their way up to management, want to have a family, want to send their kids to Pittsfield Public Schools," Caccamo said.

Beyond Covanta, the mayor said the city used incentive programs to help the Beacon Cinema, Region's Wine Bar & Nosh, Shire City Herbals, and Cafe Namaste. But Tyer said she isn't eliminating efforts to recruit new businesses and says she has four prospects in the pipeline.

"Before you become too uncomfortable with this disruption of strategy let me reassure you, of course, we'll continue to pursue outside economic development prospects. In fact, there are four on my desk right now that have my attention. We can do both and we can do both at the same time," Tyer said.

Making the city a better place to live is shown through the efforts in the downtown corridor, the mayor said, including the Transformative District Initiative, which is funded by the state. That program has given the city a steward to help usher in the redevelopment of Tyler Street, which is anchored by major employers Berkshire Medical Center and General Dynamics.

"The Tyler Street district will become a unique, thriving, working, residential neighborhood where all of the typical day-to-day needs can be met within walking district," Tyer said.

Adding to that, the mayor highlighted the city winning a $75,000 Kresge grant to development food initiatives in the Morningside neighborhood. She said the city is looking to use a housing incentive to usher along the redevelopment of the former St. Mary of the Morning Star complex into market-rate housing.

Much of that work requires state support and new state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said the mayor's vision is "lockstep" with his own. He said issues "across the board" can be helped with the state support and he looks forward to trying to make that happen.

"I was impressed by the vision the mayor laid out today. It was a realistic and aspirational vision that included very clear work in preserving businesses and business development while making sure we have a brand and a city that people want to move to," Hinds said.

One piece of state support from 2016 came in the Community Compact agreement signed with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. That gives the city funding to contract with the University of Massachusetts' Collins Center to create a five-year financial forecast and create a new budget document eyed to include more information. Both will help tackle the city's financial challenges. The city's levy ceiling is now lower than the levy limit, meaning there is very little left that the city can add to the tax levy and that new growth is critical.

"Fiscal challenges lie ahead. Many steps will be undertaken to stabilize this condition including cost containment, debt management, new revenue, and strategic investments that will prepare Pittsfield to not only survive the downtown but to thrive well into the future," Tyer said.

That hit a particular note for City Council President Peter Marchetti, who says that is a top priority of the council as well.

"I think the mayor did a comprehensive review of where we are and set the tone for 2017," Marchetti said. "I think we all have the same priorities in making sure we have the fiscal house in order. From that perspective, we are on the same page."

Capitalizing on grants is one way the mayor says her administration began tackling that issue, securing some $2.3 million. Grant support was also used to complete the North Street reconstruction, which has been a decade in the making. Tyer highlighted the Department of Public Services' efforts to resurface 11 miles of roadway, including using "hot-in-place recycling" to reuse asphalt materials to be more economical.

North Street also now has parking meters, which completes a state requirement for a previous grant to renovate the McKay Street garage. Now, the mayor is seeking funds for a new Columbus Avenue garage.

"We've got to have a new parking garage on Columbus Avenue. It is not a small thing. The garage is needed to support our new boutique hotel, Barrington Stage audience, downtown businesses and residents, and the Intermodel Transportation Center," Tyer said.

She also boasted of tackling blight that, she said, "compromises quality of life, diminishes property values, and limits our appeal to new businesses and residents."

Four homes were razed in the summer, including one across the street from the Samuel Harrison House, and six others are in line for later this month. Meanwhile, the city's housing rehabilitation program provided assistance for two sewer projects, six heating projects, and three roofing emergencies.

"Work is currently under way on six properties, four units of which will be made lead safe for the children who reside there. That's government work that makes a significant difference in the lives of the people we are called to serve," Tyer said.

She highlighted support for veterans and recreational programs for children. She cited working with the West Side neighbors to make improvements to Willard and Rosemary Durant Park. And she turned her focus on education, highlighting the city reeling in a $40,000 grant from the state to develop a plan for preschool expansion.

"With more than 1,500 preschool age children in Pittsfield, of which 75 percent have parents in the labor force, there are so many children that could benefit from high-quality preschool programs that prepare them for their first day in kindergarten and for their future academic success," Tyer said.

When it comes to education, Tyer went on to "bust another myth about our schools." She said, "there is a misconception that our schools are no academically accomplished and that is far from the case."

The state ranks the school district as Level 3 but the mayor says the entire district can only be ranked by its lowest scoring school.

"Of course we acknowledge that there's more work to do and I can assure you that the dedicated team of public school professionals are on it. But from this unfair ranking system, the district's Level 3 position is deceiving and it certainly does not tell the whole story," Tyer said.

Superintendent Jason McCandless echoed that sentiment, saying the district performs a lot better than those state rankings.

"We totally agree we do have this label of being a Level 3 district and we do have Level 3 schools so we know we have miles to go. But, it does get lost in the conversation that we have two Level 2 middle schools and three Level 1 elementary schools. Our kids, my own children included, I feel get a Level 1 education in spite of what their school might be labeled," McCandless said.

Tyer highlighted the district's work on restorative justice and cultural competency. The restorative justice way to mediate conflicts between students has led to a 64 percent reduction in disciplinary issues, she said.

She went on to add that the high schools have the most Advanced Placement courses, with a total of 23, more than any other school district in the county.

"To have the mayor understand that is one of the things that makes us special, that is one of the the things we open up opportunities for all of our kids that many of our neighbors just can't," McCandless said.

"To have the leader of a city with as many moving parts as Pittsfield has, really be in deep enough with the school community to understand it and recognize it is very important to us."

On the environment, Tyer highlighted a new solar array at the landfill and planning for another solar project at the airport. She pointed to the Greening the Gateway Cities program in which hundreds of trees have been planted on public and private property throughout the city's downtown. She highlighted the work toward the Westside Riverway Park plans, which included cleaning the soil and creating walking and bike paths, and trails. And the city has development management plans for four conservation areas.

She also stressed the city's recreational and cultural offerings like the food truck rodeo, craft beer festivals, the Eagles Band concerts in the park, Live on the Lake, and the city's first air show "Wings, Wheels & Warbirds" at the airport. At the Common, there was Shakespeare in the Park and Shire City Sessions; Third Thursday celebrated its 10th year and 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival celebrated its fifth year.

"This is what a vibrant city looks like. All of the events mentioned and the hundreds of others that take place throughout the city happen only because of many enthusiastic, energetic, brilliant citizens who have great ideas and the generous organizations, including the city, that support them," Tyer said.

The state of the city address couldn't exclude public safety, a key point of the mayor's election campaign and a top priority since taking office. She has increased funding for the Police Department to hire staffing, is looking to contract with the gunshot detection company ShotSpotter, and put money into purchasing new fire trucks for the Fire Department.

"The spate of violent incidents over the last few years was not and will never be acceptable. We have an extraordinary police force that works hard protecting our city every single day. But the stark reality is that they have been understaffed to meet the public safety needs of a city our size," Tyer said.

"Understanding this precarious situation, I eagerly advanced, and the City Council supported, an additional $1 million in the 2017 municipal budget to add more officers to our Police Department."

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli also placed public safety as a top priority and said he is happy that those issues are being addressed.

"I think those were major issues that I campaigned on. Public safety was my No. 1 this year that I felt needed to take place in the future. It seems the mayor and the City Council has taken some steps to go along with that," Simonelli said.

The mayor's honesty when it comes to issues she addressed such as public safety and the financial picture was something that stood out for Simonelli when reflecting on her speech.

"I think she highlighted some pluses and touched on some negatives. So she is certainly not hiding or skirting the issues," Simonelli said.

As for her performance in the first of her four years, Simonelli said he's developed a good working relationship with her and admires her communication. He says the mayor is often emailing the council to tell them about issues or decisions that are being made by the administration ahead of time.

"I think that is a breath of fresh air. It is nice to be included, even if we don't agree with something that might take place, at least we are aware of it. If we have a problem or a concern, her door is open. I personally had a good working relationship with her," Simonelli said.

Throughout the speech, the mayor cited various partners on the issue. McCandless said that spirit of collaboration is what is needed to address the city's big issues.

"To hear somebody give a speech where the word I is almost never used once, but the word we used dozens of times, I think that is very typical of who this mayor is and how she leads. She is really dedicated to this community and understands that all of us together is what is going to get the job done," McCandless said.

The mayor has just now entered her second of four years in the office. Caccamo says the speech explained the state of the city nicely and sets up the mayor for the next three years.

"I think the mayor laid it out nicely. She highlighted some of the positive things that are happening in the city. I think there is a lot of progress to be made and I think she is really setting herself up to be a very effective mayor in the next three years," Caccamo said.

"I think she highlighted all of the right things, making progress in education, making progress in the Tyler Street area, making progress in the business district and just getting people to live here."

*



“Mayor Linda Tyer gets down to business, teases incoming jobs during 'State of the City'”
By Carrie Saldo , csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, January 10, 2017

PITTSFIELD — Bullish on economic development, Mayor Linda M. Tyer intends to pursue new businesses and nurture existing ones as she looks ahead to her next year in office.

During her State of the City address on Monday, the first ever in Pittsfield, the mayor hinted at four business prospects — two that would be expansions of existing Berkshire County businesses and two that would be new to the area.

In the wide-ranging speech that looked back on her first of four years in office, Tyer highlighted the "multifaceted" work she and other leaders have done.

"The work that we do each and every day on your behalf is a collaborative effort," said Tyer, who was joined on stage at the Colonial Theatre by 21 others including members of the City Council, School Committee, police and fire chiefs, and city department heads.

She touched on education, public safety, economic development, employment, grant funding, the addition of fire and police officers, neighborhood revitalization projects, new budget strategies, approval of the Community Preservation Act, renewable energy, expanded events and public entertainment among other areas.

After the speech, she told The Eagle the four potential businesses could bring approximately 100 new jobs, with potential to expand beyond that. And she said they "perfectly illustrate" a strategy she discussed in her 50-minute public address — that the city can attract businesses from outside of and within Berkshire County.

"We can do both at the same time," Tyer told the crowd of approximately 220 people who gathered at the downtown theater.

Tyer declined to name the businesses, citing a need for confidentiality during ongoing discussions, and instead described them in general terms.

The farthest along, she said, is a Berkshire County business that is creating a "unique health and wellness product" and is growing substantially. She said that business could be up and running in the city within six months. Two advanced manufacturing facilities, and another small business that would create and build a new product, round out the list of new business possibilities.

She confidently declared a number of other projects she will pursue moving forward.

"We will build an innovation center," referring to the stalled Berkshire Innovation Center.

Construction of the center, originally scheduled to begin at the end of 2015, was delayed after officials learned it would cost at least $3 million more than the $9.7 million the state pledged to build the structure. State officials are currently weighing whether to provide additional funds to cover the shortfall.

Earning a "Complete Streets" designation, which would mean funding for bike lanes and other pedestrian friendly improvements, and the Tyler Street Transformation Development Initiative, a state program expected to help the city develop a revitalization plan for the neighborhood, will move forward.

"We'll do all of this for the people who live here now and for future generations that will call Pittsfield home," she said.

She also touted jobs saved and improving unemployment numbers.

Keeping Covanta Pittsfield open saved 25 jobs and the city $462,000 a year to haul its trash elsewhere, she said. The city used $562,000 in Pittsfield Economic Development funds to keep the facility, which processes waste for much of Berkshire County, open at least four more years. The influx of cash meant the solid waste-to-energy and recycling facility could make the necessary upgrades to meet state and federal environmental standards and remain profitable.

"It is a lot easier to save existing jobs than to create new jobs," she said.

She said previous city support for outside startups like EV Worldwide and Workshop Live resulted in "zero" return on investment. Conversely, local business investment has meant "significant returns" for it and the city.

But she was clear that both approaches would still have her attention.

She noted unemployment in Pittsfield, which was 6.6 percent when she took office last January, was down to 3.3 percent by November.

However, she said jobs don't need to lead the way in helping to build a stronger city, noting that many millennials are first attracted to quality of life.

"Let's pivot from our past narrative that we need to create jobs first and then recruit the next generation," she said. "Let's do the kind of work that makes our city vibrant, dynamic and [an] interesting place to live so that the next generation chooses us."

She said the city pursued a number of grants to help it combat "complex fiscal challenges." Those grants meant $2.3 million for the city.

One new project will fund life-size writing studio replicas of literary giants, such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, with connections to the city.

A self-described "fierce champion" of Pittsfield Public Schools, Tyer challenged the state's label of the system as Level 3. The state Department of Secondary and Elementary Education ranks schools from one to five, with Level 1 being the best.

A district can only be ranked by the lowest performing school within it. The majority of city schools — seven of 12 — are ranked Level 1 or 2 while five are considered Level 3 schools. That skews its standings, she said.

"There is a misconception that our schools are not academically accomplished but that's far from the case," she said.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.

*

Our Opinion: “State of the city moving into 2017”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, January 11, 2017

Pittsfield's first State of the City address, made Monday by Mayor Linda Tyer, was a good idea for a city where residents have had occasion over the years to feel left in the dark on city affairs. Communication with the press and public is important for every executive office, from mayor to president.

Much in Pittsfield is centered around creating jobs, and the mayor indicated that there are four potential businesses supplying a total of 100 jobs that may come to the city. Pittsfield may have finally moved past waiting for another General Electric to drop out of the sky to return 1960s-style prosperity to the city and come to the sobering realization that bringing in a collection of small businesses, primarily in light manufacturing and the health industry, is the realistic way of providing jobs going forward.

The mayor is correct that the city cannot focus solely on bringing jobs that appeal to millennials — it must give young people reasons to stay here and contribute to building the economy. The city offers low housing prices, a good educational system, cultural and recreational opportunities, and in general a good quality of life. Jobs and quality of life are both important to people, and building on the latter can help grow the former.

Ms. Tyer said the city will look locally and outside the Berkshires for business, noting that the city will continue to explore outside businesses even though it was burned on a couple in EV Worldwide and Workshop Live that didn't meet expectations. While the city can't get overly cautious about taking a chance on a new business from outside the county it does have to be careful about letting hope overcome good sense in handing out tax breaks and other incentives.

While the mayor expressed confidence that the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) will be built, the continued radio silence from Beacon Hill on providing the $3 million needed to complete a project the state has pledged $9.7 million to has to be of concern. With cuts being made to core social programs, that money may not be easy to find in Boston. If BIC is to become a reality it may have to do so in a current building rather than in a new one.

Pittsfield's economic struggles are hardly unique among New England and Northeastern cities, but Pittsfield's location within the Berkshires, where it is centrally located and the county's biggest population base, gives it advantages that similar cities don't enjoy. Those advantages can be built upon in 2017 and in the years ahead.

*

Letter: “Build upon strengths of Pittsfield, Berkshires”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 11, 2017

To the editor:

Which came first, the employee or the job?

Traditional economic development tools are an integral part of maintaining and building our local economy, but Pittsfield needs to capitalize on the traits that make us unique and allow us to rise above the din of tax incentives and real estate opportunities.

We have the local resources. We have the educational infrastructure for a nimble and well-trained workforce. We have PEDA, PERC, BIC, BIDs, TIFs, and the other traditional public policy tools that help us support growth and industry. In fact, it is vital that we continue to develop our tool box and maintain our position as a thought leader in redevelopment.

But as Mayor Tyer pointed out in her 2017 State of the City address, recent college graduates are now choosing to go where they want to live as much as where they need to work.

We are the heart of the Berkshires. We have what the new workforce is seeking: opportunities for an active outdoor lifestyle; an artistic and creative mindset; a realistic cost of living; a work/life balance; and easy access to major metropolitan centers and the worldwide transportation network. We epitomize the celebration of place that so many now seek. We must capitalize on that unique strength and market our lifestyle as much as we do our available industrial sites.

Employees are now freer to create their own opportunities than ever before in history. This is not to say that the traditional workforce development activities should be curtailed, but that our long valued celebration of place should be promoted as an economic tool right along our traditional efforts.

We are the Berkshires, hear us roar!

Rhonda Serre,
Pittsfield

*



"'We are turning the corner': Pittsfield residents react optimistically to State of the City"
By Carrie Saldo, csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, January 10, 2017

PITTSFIELD — Optimism abounded at the Colonial Theatre on Monday afternoon.

That the historic vaudeville house, chosen as the gathering place for Mayor Linda M. Tyer's State of the City address, reopened in 2006 following a $22 million historic renovation.

"This building was part of a dream for a community to better itself," said Kate Maguire artistic director and Chief Operating Officer of Berkshire Theatre Group, which operates the facility.

Tyer, who called the venue "the symbol of Pittsfield's renaissance," spoke about a number of initiatives completed during her first year in office and hinted at future business ideas during her speech, which was open to the public.

"It is so good for her to highlight the wonderful things going on here," said Erin Sullivan, who works at Berkshire Children & Families on West Street. "It reminds us that there is more good than bad."

Mark Brodeur, 36, a nurse at Berkshire Medical Center, said while in his 20s he observed crime, dilapidated buildings and a "lack of prospects." The lifelong resident said he's seen a lot of improvement including during Tyer's first year in office.

"I think we are turning the corner," said Brodeur, a homeowner who has decided to remain here. "She had a lot of work to do and is tackling it."

He said listening to Tyer outline how the city kept Covanta Pittsfield open, helped to secure two solar panel projects, and hired 10 new police officers has sparked an interest in his becoming more involved.

"Where the city goes is important to me," he said.

City Councilor Kevin Morandi also was enlivened by Tyer's speech.

"We have a lot in the pipeline and we need to keep that energy going," said Morandi, who represents Ward 2. He pointed to the Tyler Street Transformation Development Initiative, which will help the city develop a revitalization plan for the neighborhood, as being vital to that momentum.

Morandi has been among the councilors who have said city spending is too high. He's also eager to learn how being an member of Gov. Charlie Baker's Community Compact will impact future budgets and whether the city can consolidate services to save money.

"I'm anxious to see those things and what plan is put forward to see how we are going to deal with it," he said.

Tyer, sworn in Jan. 4, 2016, is the first mayor in city history elected to serve a four-year term.

Dennis Powell, Berkshire County NAACP president, applauded the connections Tyer has made with state officials.

"Anything that changes the dynamic of where we were I am excited about," he said.

During her speech, Tyer highlighted the visits from at least seven state leaders including Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, a Republican, and several visits from Marty Jones, president and CEO of MassDevelopment.

Five days into his first term in office, state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said he looks forward to collaborating with Tyer.

"She laid out a clear agenda, one we can all get behind," he said. Three specific areas she discussed that Hinds said he will work: Local business preservation, workforce development and early childhood education.

Commitments to early childhood education and literacy are among the ways that Marlena Willis said Tyer has used her time well.

"I really feel she has done a lot of short period of time," said Willis, a lifelong city resident and Tyer campaign volunteer.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 and @carriesaldo.

-------------

“Plenty of selling points on Walmart proposal”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, January 20, 2017

To the editor:

There is a piece of property on the corner of Woodlawn Avenue and Tyler Street in Pittsfield that has been sitting vacant for years with no one showing any interest in developing it because of all the concrete foundations and PCBs and the cost of removing them. However, one company is not only willing to remove the debris at its own cost of as much as $13 million, but also upgrade the water system, sewers and so on. Then, it would put in a Walmart Supercenter, which will bring new business to this piece of property.

How many jobs would the proposed Berkshire Innovation Center create? Where is the innovation center? What happened to the millions of dollars generated to build it? What other industry has shown an interest in coming here?

So not only will Walmart enhance this piece of property, let's list all the pluses. Create 350 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs. Create $350,000 to $500,000 in tax revenue. Have more people working, spending, and generating tax revenue.

I find no negatives about this proposal for a new and better Walmart. So please, City Council, tell me why you cannot let something good happen in Pittsfield?

Patrick J. Serafino,
Pittsfield

-------------

Letter: “Park downtown and rediscover North St.”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 20, 2017

To the editor:

I have been reading the articles and comments about the new parking meters in downtown and while there are some negatives, there are also some positive views.

Being a business owner and a supporter of downtown shops as much as possible, I am thrilled with the new system. Why? I don't have to rush anymore — 90 minutes was not always enough time to do what needed to be done, but now with just a simple swipe of my card, I can linger. I can walk up and down North Street and stop in places other than my intended stop. If I find that I need a bit more time, I have downloaded the app on my phone-parking passport, which allows me to do amazing things without even being there. I have always kept my license plate number on my phone anyway, because when I travel, I need it for hotel parking.

I know it is going to take a little getting used to, but my wish is for people to realize a few important things:

First, there is no choice in the matter. The City of Pittsfield had to implement this when it was funded for the McKay Street parking garage and if we want future funding for the removal and possible reconstruction of the Summer Street parking garage (and who doesn't want that?), this had to happen.

Second, for those who say there is no reason to come downtown, I want you to come downtown! Park your car, learn how easy the system is and walk up and down and rediscover North Street. From Carr Hardware all the way to the Berkshire Museum and everything in between, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised. Take your time, have lunch, watch a movie, shop, walk slower and have a drink, listen to some live music. Come on down, we are waiting to meet you.

Laurie Tierney,
Pittsfield
Laurie Tierney is co-owner of Hotel on North.

-------------

Craig Gaetani is led away in handcuffs at Pittsfield City Hall on Tuesday after being arrested on a disorderly conduct charge. Gaetani caused a disturbance at the City Council meeting when he tried to speak after the public comment period was over. Carrie Saldo - The Berkshire Eagle.

“Former Pittsfield mayor candidate arrested after disruption at council meeting”
By Carrie Saldo, csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, January 24, 2017 8:30 pm

Pittsfield — Former mayoral candidate Craig Gaetani was arrested Tuesday after disrupting the City Council meeting at City Hall.

Gaetani, a regular attendee at council meetings, arrived late to the session and tried to speak as part of the public comment portion of the meeting, which already had been closed.

Chairman Peter Marchetti said he would not be allowed to speak because he had not signed up.

Marchetti told Gaetani to sit down or he would "be removed." When Gaetani refused Marchetti took a five minute recess.

During the recess, Gaetani said he arrived late because of the bad weather.

He told the Eagle he wanted to inform the council about ways he believes the city can save money.

"It is absolutely ridiculous that [Marchetti] wouldn't let me speak," he said.

When asked by the Eagle why he couldn't wait until the next council meeting to speak, he said time was of the essence.

"Two weeks is too long to wait," he said. "Plus I think I'm a little bit more special than most people in the city of Pittsfield."

Gaetani also said he disagreed with Mayor Linda Tyer's State of the City address.

"The city has a lot of problems," he said.

When asked for specifics, he did not elaborate.

Gaetani placed fourth in a preliminary election for the mayor's race in 2015 against Tyer, then-Mayor Daniel Bianchi and Donna Walto.

During the recess, three Pittsfield Police officers arrived and arrested Gaetani after he refused their requests to speak with them outside chambers.

He was escorted from the meeting in handcuffs and will be charged with disorderly conduct, police said.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6241.

-------------

“Gloria Bouillon hired as new manager for Pittsfield Municipal Airport”
By Carrie Saldo , csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, February 1, 2017

PITTSFIELD — For the first time in its nearly 85-year history, the Municipal Airport will be run by a woman.

Gloria Bouillon, currently an aviation planner in Denver, is expected to begin work at the end of the month, according to Airport Commission Chairman Christopher J. Pedersen.

Bouillon assumes the role, which will pay $58,204 annually, as a City Council subcommittee scrutinizes the airport's finances and after previous manager Robert Snuck resigned, citing an excessive workload.

Mayor Linda M. Tyer said she is excited to welcome Bouillon to the city.

"Gloria brings a depth of experience, including airport planning, along with other highly valuable technical skills to the position," she said in an email.

The commission's first choice for the role, she has about a decade of experience in the aviation industry, including her work as an aviation planner at Jviation Inc., in Denver.

She was among three finalists: Kelley Dinneen, of Bridgewater, and Leonard Nalbone, of Jamestown, N.Y., were the others.

While she holds a bachelor's degree in aviation management and is an Airport Certified Employee (ACE) in Airport Operations, Bouillon lacks managerial experience.

Dinneen and Nalbone both have management experience.

Pedersen said Bouillon's "hands-on" airport operations and planning experience was attractive to the commission.

"Operations is a big portion of what the city does," he said.

He singled out her knowledge of snow removal at Aspen/Pitkin County Airport in Colorado as being of particular importance here.

As a project planner, she has worked in a range of areas including airport design, capacity and delay, environmental policies and master plans, according to the resume she submitted to the city.

Both airport runways are expected to be resurfaced this summer, and Pedersen said the commission hopes its master plan, created in 2001, will be updated this year.

"Her experience in that [master planning] will be able to help guide us and move us through that process," he said.

He explained the planning document is typically updated every seven to 10 years, but the Federal Aviation Administration and the state Department of Transportation denied funding for it while airport improvements were being made.

A City Council workgroup is studying airport operation and the city's long-term management options for the 832 Tamarack Road site, which opened in 1932. Its final report is expected in the coming weeks.

The airport's full budget this year is $203,296. Outside of salary, the three biggest budget items are utilities, $56,800, maintenance, $15,000, and janitorial work, $12,000.

Pedersen said the airport continues to investigate additional revenue sources, including a proposed solar array for a portion of the 325-acre property located between Tamarack Road, Barker Road and South Mountain Road — another project Bouillon would oversee.

He said he hopes to have a decision on a developer within the next two months. He added that several project bids are being reviewed and will be narrowed to three or four. Those developers will then be invited to make presentations.

Final interviews for the three candidates were held in-person in January with Pedersen, Tyer and some other members of the commission. Each candidate toured the airport after their interview, he said.

According to resumes submitted to the city, Dinneen spent 25 years as president of the now defunct King Aviation-Mansfield, and 23 years as Mansfield's assistant airport manager. (The company filed for bankruptcy in March 2016, according to Wicked Local Mansfield and the Sun Chronicle.)

Nalbone spent nine years as partner and general manager at Jamestown Aviation Co.

Pedersen said both Dinneen and Nalbone had more experience as Fixed Base Operators, FBO, a service which is provided at the airport by Lyon Aviation.

"It is a totally different kind of experience than our airport," Pedersen said.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.

-------------

“Seeking a new approach, Pittsfield will look at its city, school budgets simultaneously”
By Carrie Saldo, csaldo@berkshireeagle.com - The Berkshire Eagle, January 30, 2017

PITTSFIELD — There is a new approach to municipal and school budgeting in the city.

Pittsfield Public Schools is one of two districts in the state undertaking a long-term planning project meant to make sure the money it spends aligns with the educational needs of its students.

This as Mayor Linda M. Tyer alters the traditional municipal budget process, opting to have city and school leaders discuss their budgets at the same time.

The idea is to "make the process much more aligned and more productive for us," she said.

To that end, the City Council and the School Committee will hold a joint meeting to discuss budget priorities at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.

Tyer said budget specifics will not be discussed. Instead, she will discuss city finances and the long range forecasting made possible by the city's participation in the state's Community Compact.

In the past, city and school budgets — both of which require City Council approval — were created in silos.

"We are trying to accelerate our budget process," Tyer told the committee last week. "Our goal is to have a budget to City Council by May 1." Typically, the budget is submitted in June.

The move was applauded by members of the School Committee. And the district is also making changes.

Pittsfield is one of two districts in Massachusetts selected to take part in a new training from the Alliance for Excellence in School Budgeting. Cambridge is the other.

Kristin Behnke, assistant superintendent for business and finance, attended a two-day conference in Chicago focused on budgeting "best practices." She reported on the process during the Jan. 11 School Committee meeting.

She said the district needs to change its approach to budgeting.

"We need to set academic goals and design the budget to support those priorities," she said." Traditionally, when we saw a need the district added," she said. "That's how we addressed things because that was how the system worked for so, so long."

When adjusted for inflation, education spending per student increased from 1900 to 2009 except for the Great Depression and one year of during World War II, she said, citing information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since 2010, that spending has been in the negative — from -0.6 percent to -3 percent, a trend that is expected to continue.

Behnke said the district needs to update its thinking to deal with that eventuality and help its students "reach their full potential."

The approach, funded by the Government Finance Officers Association and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, could take up to five years to fully implement, she said.

Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless gave an overview of the Fiscal 2018 budget during its meeting last week. He highlighted three challenges: The city is quickly approaching its levy limit and levy ceiling; contractual obligations cost the district $1.25 million to $1.75 million annually, and even "modest" increases to health insurance premiums will cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

He said he anticipates a minimal increase in Chapter 70 state education funding, which exacerbates the situation.

Looking ahead, he said the district likely will need to cut $2.5 million to $3 million — teacher layoffs could be a part of that.

But he remained optimistic.

"It is actually quite exciting to have this opportunity to be creative," McCandless told the committee. "To think how can be creative? How can we do things more efficiently, more powerfully?"

Unsure of what specific cuts will be made, McCandless said he is confident the performing and visual arts and sports would not be among those.

School Committee member Cynthia Taylor said extracurricular activities create "grit" in students.

"They build connections between math and music," she said citing one example. "Learning to be fluent in another language, because music is another language."

So far 17 employees have announced their retirements, and a few more could follow, McCandless said.

School Committee member Anthony Riello suggested the district carefully consider if those jobs need to be filled or whether it could hire less experienced workers, whose salaries would be lower, to replace retirees.

"I would take a hard, hard look before you make the replacements,” he said. "Maybe a moratorium on filling those positions because of what we are looking at."

For perspective on where the district stands, McCandless compiled data on nine other similar school districts and shared the comparisons with the committee. Those districts are Chicopee, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Westfield, Leominster, Fall River, Taunton, Salem, and Malden.

Among that group, Pittsfield is second highest in per student costs for operations and maintenance, which he partially attributed to the district's aging infrastructure.

He said Pittsfield spends 15 percent above "net school spending" — the minimum dollar amount allowed by the state. The state average is 19 percent more.

Among those districts, Pittsfield has the third highest per-pupil spending, $14,780 per student, and the second-lowest administrative cost per pupil, $302 per student.

"To suggest that every year there are people who want to say trim the administrative fat; I just utterly reject that," he said.

Reach staffer Carrie Saldo at 496-6221 or @carriesaldo.

IF YOU GO ...

What: Joint meeting of City Council, School Committee

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday [January 31, 2017]

Where: City Hall

IF YOU GO ...

What: Joint meeting of City Council, School Committee

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday [January 31, 2017]

Where: City Hall

*

Our Opinion: “Promising new budget process for Pittsfield”
The Berkshire Eagle, January 31, 2017

Over the years, Pittsfield's annual budget process has too often degenerated into an "us vs. them" battle between the municipal and educational sides. In reality, both are in it together, especially when times are difficult — and they almost always are.

Mayor Linda Tyer's new budget process may bring about valuable unity because city and school leaders will discuss their spending plans at the same time. The process began Monday night when the City Council and the School Committee met in City Hall to discuss in general their budget priorities (Eagle, January 31).

Department heads on the municipal and educational sides will still make their best cases for the departments and the people they serve, but that doesn't mean the relationship has to be adversarial. All parties have the best interests of the city in common. By meeting together, members should have a better understanding the issues all must confront.

In past years, city councilors have complained that they had neither enough information nor enough time to consider the complexities of the school budget before having to cast their votes. By working together, they should have that information earlier, and if the school budget reaches the City Council by May 1, as the mayor hopes, councilors will be able to deliberate without a budget deadline looming over their shoulders.

This change comes in the context of Pittsfield Public Schools' participation in a project to better establish goals and priorities in ways that benefit students. Pittsfield and Cambridge were the two Massachusetts cities chosen for the training program offered by the Alliance for Excellence in School Budgeting.

Kathryn Behnke, the Pittsfield school system's assistant superintendent for business and finance, told The Eagle that school districts had, in the past, addressed a need by budgeting to fill it. That can't always be done when city money is tight and state aid is stagnant or increasing incrementally. New ways of thinking must be adopted so schools can meet their students' requirements without necessarily having more money to spend.

Addressing tough budget realities will be easier if all sides are on the same page. There will be disagreements and disappointments and painful choices to be made, but budget bitterness can be reduced and perhaps won't linger from one year to the next if all parties realize that the problems they face are often problems they share.

*

“In Pittsfield city, schools face budget together”
By Carrie Saldo, csaldo@berkshireeagle.com - The Berkshire Eagle, January 31, 2017

PITTSFIELD — Frederick Kingsley said an alarm is sounding in the city. It calls attention to a rapidly approaching tax levy ceiling — the limit taxes can be raised each year.

Kingsley, who advises communities on budgeting, said ignoring that alarm would be devastating.

"It's going to be a pretty tough fiscal situation where cuts have to be made and it's pretty hard to cut your way to success in this world," said Kingsley an associate with the Edward J. Collins Center For Public Management, which compiled a five year budget forecast for the city.

To meet the challenge, Kingsley suggested the city find ways to grow and maintain property values and generate new development.

He said with the Fiscal Year 2018 budget process, the time is now for city and school leaders to "get on the same page."

The City Council and School Committee took the first step in that process Tuesday night. The two bodies met jointly to hear the findings from its 2016 audit and the financial forecast prepared by the Collins Center as part of the city's participation in the state's Community Compact.

The new process was proposed by Mayor Linda M. Tyer to streamline its approach to budgeting.

Kingsley suggested the forecast, which will need to be updated as state and local budget figures change, is meant to guide the city's budget process.

"This is a planning document," he said. "The intent is to help you analyze things that have long term impacts."

In his report, city auditor Thomas Scanlon urged the city stop using free cash to reduce the tax rate, as it has done in recent years. He said if current trends continue he anticipated the city will hit its levy ceiling by 2019.

That the city is approaching its tax levy ceiling isn't a surprise. It is something Tyer, Finance Director Matthew Kerwood and city councilors have discussed publicly as a top challenge. Hearing the challenges, Ward 6 City Councilor John Krol Jr. called attention to more positive elements of Kingsley's report.

Total income increased from $1.03 billion to $1.09 billion and there is some growth in the city.

"What we are seeing is the hangover from 2007/2008 crash" Krol said referring to the national financial crisis. "And it's been this long period of time to get to this point. I think we have hit the bottom and are coming back."

Councilor At-Large Kathleen Amuso outlined her expectations of Tyer and School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless heading into the budget process.

"You are the experts in your areas," Amuso said. "We need to look at reductions and I am looking at you to come to us with reductions. I don't want to do it."

Amuso said she was disappointed the city raised taxes more than 4 percent in the current fiscal year.

"That was too high," she said, adding it could not be repeated for Fiscal Year 2018.

She chided Tyer's decision to tell city department leaders they did not need to attend the meeting. Numerous school department heads and teachers did attend.

Tyer explained that department heads met earlier in the day to review Kingsley's report.

Last year's budget process, which was attended by department heads, took more than 20 hours.

Amuso asked that department heads be required to attend all future meetings.

Aware of the challenges ahead, School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said it is researching several alternative revenue sources. Among them the "fair share amendment," which seeks to raise revenues for public education and transportation through an additional 4 percent tax on annual income over $1 million.

Kerwood said the City Council will have a budget to review by mid May and finalized by mid June.

Staffer Carrie Saldo can be reached at 496-6221 and @carriesaldo.

-------------

Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood was let go on Friday after nearly 15 years with the city of Pittsfield. Eagle File.

“Two Pittsfield department heads fired, sources say”
By Carrie Saldo, csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, February 13, 2017

PITTSFIELD — Two city employees, including longtime public utilities Director Bruce Collingwood, have been terminated by Mayor Linda M. Tyer, according to multiple sources.

It was unclear why Collingwood and Community Development Director Janis Akerstrom were let go on Friday.

City Councilors were notified of the changes via email. One source said the email informed councilors that the mayor met with Akerstrom and Collingwood to thank them for their work and tell them "their services were no longer required."

The email also said the mayor would be advising the council of her future plans for the positions.

Tyer's spokeswoman, Roberta McCulloch-Dews, declined to elaborate on what those plans might be.

Citing personnel matters, McCulloch-Dews declined to confirm whether the two were fired.

"They are no longer with the city," she said.

Neither Collingwood nor Akerstrom could be reached for comment.

Ward 6 City Councilor John Krol Jr., also council vice president, said he supports the mayor's decision. With fiscal 2018 budget planning underway, he said the mayor may be eyeing efficiencies.

"I look forward to seeing what this means for the upcoming budget and adjustments that Mayor Tyer may be making for the upcoming fiscal year," he said.

Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell said Tyer's decision to terminate Collingwood "may have been overdue." At times Connell said he found Collingwood unresponsive.

"Sometimes getting numbers for capital improvements was a challenge," Connell said.

Under former Mayor Daniel Bianchi, Connell formed and led a work group that studied options of a public/private partnership for city water and wastewater treatment, the management of which was a primary responsibility of Collingwood's.

"At times I felt we were spinning our wheels," waiting for a response from Collingwood, Connell said. "Some information only he could provide."

Last year, the work group voted in favor of further exploration of a public/private partnership. Connell said he forwarded a recommendation to Tyer, which he said he has not received a response to.

"It may not have been the best path, but given the potential expense going forward it was good to look at all options," Connell said of the work group's recommendation.

The DPU director oversees city water, sewer, wastewater treatment systems and administrative divisions of the department. The director also oversees the collection and disposal of trash and recycling, according to a job description provided by the city. Given Collingwood's lengthy tenure, city Personnel Director Michael Taylor said the utilities job description would likely be updated.

"We will be working on a new job description for this position prior to doing any kind of search," he said in an email.

The director of Community Development oversees the city's Community Development Block Grant, a $1.2 million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The director also is responsible for a number of programs related to neighborhoods, housing, conservation and economic development and oversees a number of boards and commissions. Taylor said that description was updated in recent years.

Collingwood, a near 15-year employee, was hired in April 2002. His salary in fiscal 2017 was $89,522, according to Taylor. Prior to joining the city, Collingwood was Great Barrington's town engineer.

Hired in August 2015, Akerstrom was set to earn $81,389 in fiscal 2017, Taylor said. She was formerly a housing and community development manager in Orlando, Fla.

Bonnie Galant, community development and housing program manager, will serve as interim head of community development, McCulloch-Dews said, and David Turocy, commissioner of public services, will lead public utilities in the interim.

"Operations of both departments will continue to run effectively under the appointed leadership," she said.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.

-------------


Mayor Linda Tyer gives Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito a tour of businesses in downtown Pittsfield on Thursday [2/16/2017] to highlight public-private partnerships. Credit: Stephanie Zollshan – The Berkshire Eagle.

Spotlight on partnerships: “Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito tours Pittsfield with Mayor Tyer”
By Carrie Saldo, csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, February 16, 2017

PITTSFIELD — Massachusetts' Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said she saw public-private partnership in action during a visit to the city Thursday.

Growing the workforce is in part reliant on "doing more of what works," she said, and she cited continued partnerships with private developers on business and housing initiatives as one thing that is working.

"We are good at collaborating, we are good at putting infrastructure dollars in place ... to attract private developers," Polito said.

A meeting with Mayor Linda Tyer, followed by a walking tour of the downtown, was one of several stops Polito made in the Berkshires on Thursday. She signed Community Compacts with Lanesborough and Windsor and announced Municipal Small Bridge program award winners in Lenox.

In Pittsfield, Polito saw market rate housing, entertainment and lodging during a nearly one-hour walking tour.

"We are really so proud of our downtown," Tyer told Polito.

Development of the three stops — the Onota Building, the Beacon Cinema, and Hotel on North — relied on a combination of private and public funding.

Owner and developer Louis Allegrone said state funding helped close the gap in its development of 25 market rate apartments inside the Onota Building.

"It was that last piece that made it work," he told Polito, standing inside the lobby of the upscale apartment building.

Polito said investments made in projects like the Onota Building result in more people living downtown who want and need businesses to patronize.

"That in itself is economic development," she said. "And you are seeing this renaissance, this re-birth, in downtown Pittsfield."

On the street, Polito pointed out architectural details that caught her eye, such as the historic facade of the Beacon Cinema.

Inside Hotel on North, Polito said it was a "spark" that was helping the downtown.

"We hope to start a fire with that spark," responded hotel co-owner Laurie Tierney.

Polito and Tyer were joined by Jonathan Butler, president and chief executive officer of 1Berkshire; A.J. Enchill, district aid for state Sen. Adam Hinds; City Council President Peter Marchetti and Jesse Cook-Dubin, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc.

Polito asked Cook-Dubin what the city's downtown lacked.

"Everyday things," he said. "So that people are not ordering from Amazon."

But he conceded the city does not have the critical mass needed for that type of retail to be sustainable — "yet."

The tour was preceded by a 30-minute private meeting between Polito and Tyer in her City Hall office.

Polito said they discussed a number of things including the Tyler Street Transformative Development Initiative, start-ups, cultivation of advanced manufacturing, and the Berkshire Innovation Center.

Polito said additional funding for the Berkshire Innovation Center is being studied "very carefully" by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash. Construction of the center was stalled after project costs exceeded initial estimates.

"We will continue to make sure the program will be supported long into the future for the intended goals that we all share," Polito said.

She added that next steps toward that include a visit to the city from Ash.

She also said advanced manufacturing training is another economic development opportunity for the city.

"If we can graduate kids and people with the right skills that will connect to that industry, that also will be an economic engine for this area," she said.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.


Hotel on North co-owner Laurie Tierney talks to Lt. Governor Karyn Polito during Polito's tour of businesses in downtown Pittsfield to highlight public-private partnerships. Credit: Stephanie Zollshan – The Berkshire Eagle.


Lt. Governor Karyn Polito takes a look at a room at Hotel on North during a tour of businesses in downtown Pittsfield to highlight public-private partnerships. Credit: Stephanie Zollshan – The Berkshire Eagle.

-------------

Our Opinion: “Public-private a critical mix for downtown”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, February 17, 2017

Back in the days of the Showplace, the Palace and the Capitol, a bustling downtown Pittsfield featured thriving movie theaters, and when a push came to revive downtown a decade ago it was clear that a downtown movie theater would have to be a critical component. Bringing it about during tough economic times would be far more complex an enterprise than opening and running a theater during the General Electric era.

But it happened, and the recipe for success was a public-private partnership. Developer Richard Stanley worked with Mayor James Ruberto and his administration, the city business community, the governor's office and the Legislature, and made use of federal grants. The Beacon Cinema opened for business nearly eight years ago.

Lieutenant Governor Karen Polito and Mayor Linda Tyer highlighted this and other successful public-private partnerships when they toured Pittsfield on Thursday (Eagle, Feb. 17). The Beacon was a stop on the walking tour along with the Hotel on North and the Onota Building, two other examples of successful public-private partnerships. Hotel on North brought a boutique hotel and restaurant into empty buildings that dated to the 1880s and the Onota Building has 25 market rate apartments.

The ongoing process of reviving downtown involves creating a successful mix of residences, businesses, nonprofits, entertainment and retail. It won't happen without more public-private partnerships, and the Baker administration, represented by the lieutenant governor, is an advocate of those partnerships in both word and financing, as was the preceding administration of Lieutenant Governor Deval Patrick.

The toughest nut to crack in the above equation has been retail. Responding to a question from the lieutenant governor on what downtown lacked, Jesse-Cook Dubin, president of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., replied "Everyday things. So that people are not ordering from Amazon." Mr. Cook-Dubin noted that downtown doesn't yet have the foot traffic to support that kind of retail.

Those of a certain age who remember downtown's big movie theaters also remember England Brothers, an old-fashioned department store that sold everyday things to toys, games and furniture. Department stores have become artifacts of another era in this the internet era, and not just in Pittsfield, but more retail is a must for downtown. Carr Hardware is surviving the big box store era and sells everyday items among other products. Retail can work, so could the next public-private partnership involve a retail partnership of some kind?

Increasing foot traffic from Park Square to Berkshire Medical Center is critical to the development of downtown, and the reduction of the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph approved unanimously by the City Council should play a part. Drivers going too fast — flooring the gas pedal to beat the yellow light at any of North Street's many traffic lights is assuredly a contributor — discourages people from coming downtown. Enforcement, as Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Simonelli observed, is critical to the success of the lower limit.

Pedestrians have their own responsibilities, however, and it was encouraging to learn Tuesday that there were 200 citations issued for pedestrian violations in 2016. Pedestrians strolling through crosswalks against the lights, ignoring the electronic red hand squarely facing them, is a common occurrence on North Street, and a dangerous one.

Building on downtown's revival is truly a team effort. It involves Pittsfield and Boston government and Pittsfield and Berkshire developers and business owners. It also involves Pittsfield and Berkshire residents — whether they are driving or on foot.

-------------

“Pittsfield water, sewer rates to rise under EPA-mandated $76M upgrade”
By Carrie Saldo , csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, February 27, 2017

This story has been modified to include sewer rates in the city.

PITTSFIELD — The clock is ticking toward an August deadline for a $76 million wastewater treatment upgrade mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

And city water and sewer users will pick up the tab for the work.

The City Council on Tuesday will be asked to authorize $4.9 million from the sewer enterprise fund to pay for the $5.9 million final design phase, which needs to be completed by August.

The significant upgrade is needed for the city to comply with a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit from the EPA, which was revised in 2008. The discharge permit for its Holmes Road plant now requires the city to remove more waste before treated water is released into the Housatonic River.

Pittsfield twice appealed the changes to its water treatment plant. The EPA first rejected the appeal in 2009, followed in 2010 by the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which upheld the EPA's decision. In September 2015, the EPA nudged the city to move forward with the upgrades.

There are four major components to the project: three upgrades to existing infrastructure and a fourth that will add a new system for decreasing the amount of phosphorus, aluminum and nitrogen in its treated water. The lion's share of the project, $33,869,000, is for the creation of that new system.

The project will require borrowing that will be paid for through the sewer enterprise fund, which holds water and sewer receipts. Water and sewer rates in the city will increase as a result of the project, although it is too soon to say how much.

"A discussion of the potential rate impact will be part of a future presentation before the City Council," city Finance Director Matthew Kerwood said in an email. "That figure is being developed by our outside engineering firm (Kleinfelder) with our input."

Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy is now leading the project, on which he said he is working to get up to speed.

He pointed out the city's water rates have long been low.

Water and sewer is billed in two ways: Metered and unmetered. For water usage, ratepayers with meters pay $1.35 per 100 cubic feet of water used, while unmetered homes are billed per toilet, $185.44 for the first and $92.78 for each additional, per year. For sewage, residents with meters pay $1.91 per 100 cubic feet of water; in unmetered households, it's $161.04 for the first and $86.65 for each additional, per year.

The project had been the purview of Bruce Collingwood, the commissioner of public utilities who was dismissed by Mayor Linda M. Tyer two weeks ago. She has not publicly stated a reason for the firing.

The city's design work for the proposed project is on track, Turocy said, citing an independent design review completed last week.

The EPA has several deadlines for the project.

The final design must be completed by August, with construction starting a year later and wrapping up by February 2021, according to a two-page project description provided by the city. The city could face fines for non-compliance.

The estimated price tag for the project has increased significantly. In 2013, when construction was thought to be two to three years away, the city believed the project would cost $40 million.

The city awarded the design contract for the upgrade to Kleinfelder, an international engineering firm with offices in Springfield and Albany, N.Y., in December 2015. The firm is expected to oversee the three-year long bidding and construction process.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.

If You Go ...

What: City Council meeting

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: City Hall

-------------

Letter: “Toss special interests in Nov. city election”
The Berkshire Eagle, March 5, 2017

To the editor:

Residents involved in the city of Pittsfield know who I am. I have a TV show on PCTV-Channel 16 which is on three days a week at different times.

I have been arrested several times and spent time in jail for trying to help the taxpayers of the city. That will not phase me one bit. I am trying to tell the residents and taxpayers what is going on with our city administration that you are not aware of because of poor media coverage. I have no regrets and I know positively that I am the champion of the taxpayers of the city.

Many people in our city are fearful to speak out against the city administration and I understand this completely. They are fearful of this GOB/SIG (Good Old Boy, Special Interest Group) network which is very vindictive, which is why I come forward to represent you. I fear no one other than God, and when I see wrong perpetuated on the city's taxpayers I come forth with teeth barred.

The GOB/SIGs amd their friends and relatives hate me because they know that I see right through them and will not tolerate their treatment of the taxpayers of Pittsfield. In order to change things in this city, we who are not GOB/SIGs and their friends and relatives must make it to the voting booth in November of this year. This is the only way to get the deadwood out of the way and turn our city over to individuals who will help everybody other than just the GOB/SIGs and their friends and relatives.

Let's go the polls in droves this November and end this reign of terror which has held the city hostage.

Craig C. Gaetani,
Pittsfield

-------------

“Pittsfield Public Schools budget includes more than 50 cuts, required curriculum funding”
By Carrie Saldo, csaldo@berkshireeagle.com – The Berkshire Eagle, March 9, 2017

PITTSFIELD — "What leads us to what we need to be in the future, not what brings us level with the past?"

That was the question Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said district leaders asked themselves repeatedly while preparing the proposed fiscal 2018 budget.

The $60,863,421 budget proposal is an increase $547,083 over the current year, or 0.91 percent.

With the city facing tight fiscal constraints, McCandless aimed to increase the budget less than 1 percent. The increase would pay for curriculum tools, an expense McCandless said has gone long overlooked, to the detriment of students. The budget does not cut funding for sports or arts, a promise McCandless made earlier this year.

"This is all about