10 Lies About Question 5 In The Pittsfield Gazette – Debunked!

The following is a point-by-point examination and debunking of false claims made by Pittsfield resident Florian Ptak in an editorial letter afforded a full page this week in the Right-leaning Pittsfield Gazette. It’s unclear why Mr. Ptak, a frequent and opinionated letter-writer to local papers, has decided to undertakimg_20161030_204243e such a vitriolic smear campaign against Question 5, which has otherwise been widely endorsed and universally unchallenged by the full spectrum of community leaders and trusted organizations, elected officials of all affiliations, and the local business community. What is clear is that his editorial in this week’s Gazette is riddled throughout with misinformation, inaccuracies, false statements, outright whoppers, and an overall tone of outright resentment and animosity toward civic improvements and the local volunteer community.

#1. From the first sentence, Florian Ptak’s assertions are blatantly false and completely mistaken. “Question 5 asks Pittsfield voters to voluntarily increase their property tax by one percent to support [CPA]” – This is a complete lie, unless perhaps you live in a culture where they do not believe in decimal points. Question 5 would not, I repeat, would not, increase property tax by 1%. Adoption of the CPA would impose a 1% surcharge on the total property bill after it’s assessed (NOT a 1% increase to the bill), exempting the first $100,000 of assessed property. That means a resident whose house is valued at $100,000 pays nothing; at $200,000 payment is $18.76 a year, or LESS THAN 0.1%

#2. Ptak in the next sentence then lies some more in saying that CPA funds “ill defined, unnecessary community projects,” a statement for which there is simply no basis. Hundreds of very important projects across 161 communities have been accomplished, many of which related to crucial city needs (e.g. the restoration of Gloucester’s city hall), and 100% of which were rigorously vetted by local CPCs and their respective City Councils or Select Boards. All of these are well documented and can be viewed online in the statewide project database on CommunityPreservation.org

#3. In the second paragraph’s ramblings, Florian Ptak states that “Businesses like Sabic and Nuclea are fleeing the city” due to taxation. Once again there is no real factual substance to his words, as neither company’s changes had anything to do with Pittsfield- Sabic’s local closure comes as part of a national restructuring that has nothing to do with anything local. Nuclea’s reputation as a crooked endeavor based on smoke and mirrors has been the subject of plenty of media exposure, and their bankruptcy and default (not departure) comes despite being gaudily coddled by previous administrations.

He then goes on to claim that “our seniors are being forced to sell their homes because they are unable to continue to pay the exorbitant residential property taxes.” Sure, that does pull the heart strings, but is there any evidence that this is the case? Does anyone have a single concrete example to offer for this common political ploy? The fact that there has been, to date, very few applications for the tax abatement credit available to fixed income seniors, seems to debunk this claim. Seniors give up their homes for a variety of reasons, and it’s somewhat shameful of Florian Ptak to exploit this complicated part of aging as a propaganda point.

#3.5 in paragraph three he simply rounds up the tax rate estimate by .3%, no real biggie.

#4. In paragraph 4, Ptak pontificates about dire findings on city buildings revealed by Buildings & Maintenance Director Denis Guyer recently, and then goes on to say that CPA is precluded from funding the sort of renovations referred to but he is once again mistaken. While CPA funds cannot be used for the basic, humdrum day to day maintenance work that needs to be kept up in order to avoid major overhauls and restorations of historic and necessary civic buildings, which needs to be properly funded in the regular annual budget- it very certainly CAN be used for many of restoration and major capital projects that will be facing Pittsfield over the next few years – without the benefit of state matching funds, if we fail to approve Question 5.

#5. In paragraph 7, we come to the overall philosophical fallacy of Florian Ptak’s presentation– the lie of omission that underpins his entire smear campaign. Ptak is careful to leave out 2 HUGE facts that have led to the Pittsfield community’s widespread embrace of the Community Preservation Act:

FACT: Pittsfield residents already pay into this, hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in local real estate fees which leave the city and are dispersed only to the 161 (soon to be 177) smarter cities that have adopted the Preservation Act.

FACT: The revenue raised locally by this (27 cents a week avg) surcharge GUARANTEES state matching funds. This averages around 30% on the dollar. There is no bank, no investment a municipality can make with its revenue that will guarantee such a matching return. Therefore CPA is superior and more efficient for a struggling community like Pittsfield than any form of traditional property tax. Additionally, CPA projects have a proven track record for leveraging extensive additional state & federal funding and private investment. In total, the amount that Pittsfield residents have saved by not paying for CPA is a tiny fraction of the amount we have lost out over the years by not adopting it.

#6. In paragraph 8, Florian Ptak again demonstrates that he has not familiarized himself at all with the details of the Community Preservation Act, or is willfully misrepresenting them. Ptak falsely states: “The CPA actually requires some of the funds to be spent on more open spaces.”

This is not true at all. The Act does require that funds (at least 10%) be spent on parks and open spaces in general, it is false that they must* be spent acquiring new acreage. This was once true, but CPA was modified and this has not been the case in years. Florian Ptak’s information is wildly out of date. He is also misguided in his hostile dismissiveness toward the very idea of acquiring undeveloped land, when there are all sorts of ways that preserving additional agricultural or watershed area could save the city money and increase prosperity and public health, Large populations of residents have clamored for years for a dog park and additional playing fields. His particular tone of scorn for this sort of thing suggests a person with a rather negative overall outlook on nature and outdoor recreation, something most Pittsfield residents do not share.

#7. Becoming more emotional in paragraph 9, Florian Ptak rails against what he calls “rabid preservationists” with the absurd assertion that preservation of historic buildings equates to “taking them off the tax rolls [spelling corrected]”. In fact, anyone who has paid any attention can attest that the overwhelming majority of obvious examples of historic building restoration projects supported by local “preservationists” have been private development projects (sometimes supported by historic tax credits). The Clocktower apartments, the Howard Building, the Onota Building, Hotel on North, Rice Silk Mill, Notre Dame Apartments, the Central Annex, Shire City Sanctuary are just a few examples of large private spending to preserve historic buildings by entities contributing enormous revenues to the city. The planned redevelopment of Holy Family Church or of White Terrace are additional current examples; St Mary’s campus is eyed for private preservationist redevelopment, as was the Plunkett Building. The Med Express on Dalton Ave that was single-handedly saved from the wrecking ball by Pittsfield Historical Commission is another. The list goes on and on; it’s truly unfortunate that Mr. Ptak knows so very little about the subject he is attempting to demonize.

#8. In paragraph 10, Ptak is once again just making things up. No CPA projects have been “proposed” for Pittsfield, this would take place well in the future, assuming the Act is adopted. What is true Preserve Pittsfield has provided a few purely hypothetical examples of projects- some already planned, some simply desired by residents. Many of these examples, such as redevelopment of Springside House or the Tyler St Fire Station, a dog park, Rail Trail extensions, etc etc- have been the subject of extensive research, planning and public input processes, vetted by local committees, state agencies and tens of thousands of dollars in private consultants over the years. So to classify these examples as “nothing but ill defined wish lists for special interests” … well, let’s just call this out for what it is: Florian Ptak is lying.

#9. The second to last paragraph just gets really bizarre and hard to understand, not specifically false because it’s not at all clear what he’s driving at here, other than to make vague assertions that the language of the Act is “disturbing” without really explaining how, other than to cherry-pick phrases like “eminent domain” out of context, and to label the CPA process of volunteer participation, public input, and required transparency as “another level of bureaucracy.” -It’s not so much that referring to public accountability and governmental checks and balances as “bureaucracy” is technically untrue, it’s just that it’s such an obvious propagandist ploy that it’s barely worth discussing.

#10… In his closing paragraph, Florian Ptak lies twice more, in ways that are absurdly easy to debunk. First, the CPA is not as Ptak states “a permanent surcharge” – it can eventually be repealed if a city chooses, through as simple a ballot vote as the one that adopted it. In Northampton Mass, CPA was initially adopted in 2005 by a narrow 1% margin of 175 votes A few years later, a question was put forth by a small faction of residents to repeal it. Having seen it in action, Northampton’s decision was overwhelming, and the repeal was defeated by over 4,000 votes, a 2/3 majority of Northampton voters enthusiastically voting to keep it!

In his last line, Florian Ptak refers to the CPA as both “unnecessary and unproductive.” Well, any reasonably intelligent person can see that “unnecessary” is a subjective judgment in this context, an opinion that can (and clearly does) differ from person to person. But since productivity is something that can very much can be measured in municipal terms, let’s look at what CPA has produced, in ways that have been concretely measured and proven:

CPA has enabled over 8,100 locally supported projects to go forward

10,000 high paying jobs have been generated in the rehabilitation of historic properties by CPA funding, preserving the beloved structures that help give a community its identity while retrofitting it to a landscape that’s competitively ready for commercial activity of all kinds.

-Quality housing initiatives supported by CPA have created over 5,000 construction related jobs directly, and through indirect impact added another 6,000 estimated jobs with over $150 Million dollars in new revenue for local governments.

-Over 23,000 acres of park land, farm land, forest land have been acquired or preserved. It’s enabled towns to build needed dog parks, skate parks, playgrounds, athletic fields. It’s lead to the creation of hundreds of new assets and programs for youth recreation. Thriving parks in turn supports another 8,000 jobs and 447 million dollars in wages in Massachusetts, generates TEN BILLION in consumer spending and another $739 million in public revenue annually.

Fortunately, Pittsfield voters are smart enough not to be misled by a poorly conceived propaganda effort by 3 Pittsfield residents (Ptak, Terry Kinnas, and Kermit Goodman) who are all best known for their desire to hear themselves talk, and who seem perpetually to have a bee in their bonnets about something- when the overwhelming support for Question 5 spans from the city’s largest business alliance (Downtown Pittsfield Inc) to the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, from major cultural institutions to grassroots volunteer groups, and from local Democrats such as Ben Downing and Tricia Farley Bouvier to Republican Governor Baker- in this instance, all united in the cause of common sense and clear community benefit.

YES on Question 5 is an obvious no brainer for Pittsfield, and it takes a pretty convoluted series of distortions and untruths to make it sound otherwise.

Bianchi’s Debate Statements On Springside House Prove False

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In response to a question from Linda Tyer about the Springside House in the first mayoral debate of the general election on 10/8/15, Mayor Daniel Bianchi grossly misrepresented the facts regarding the most recent work done on that project under his administration.

Mayor Bianchi extols the out-of-the-box thinking that lead to developing a way for local prison inmates to become trained and certified in removing lead paint.

“This way we can take fellas who are recidivists, who’ve visited that jail more than once, we’re training them in a trade that they can use when they get out, and we’re utilizing them.”

Sounds like a neat idea. The only trouble is that “we” never actually utilized them. The six weeks of training for the inmates, that no doubt took place, and will likely be a useful correctional tool for the mayor’s close political ally Sheriff Bowler.

FACT: At no time did any inmates perform lead paint removal on the Springside House. As confirmed by the head of the Department of Building and Maintenance in a meeting with the Ward 1 City Councilor and a representative from the Springside Park Conservancy planning committee on October 1, the work that was performed involved power washing the surface of the house by city workers.

So Mayor Bianchi’s statement “We trained them, they became de-lead certified, and then they worked on Springside House.” is FALSE, and cannot be supported with evidence, because it’s already been documented that the only work performed this year took place by city workers from the Department of Building & Maintenance.

“The Springside House is an important city jewel.” 06/8/13

Mayor Bianchi should be aware that this is the case, as he just met with staff members for an update on the Springside House on September 18.

He must also be aware then, that this recent work on the house that took place: 

  • Violated the very Preservation Restriction his own administration put forth and the council approved on the Springside House.
  • Took place without any involvement or consulting of the Community Development Department, who have coordinated the development of the assessment, restoration action plan, and funding process for this redevelopment.
  • Took place with no notification of the Mass Historical Commission which funded the assessment and is working with the city on the project moving forward.
  • Bore no resemblance to the actual restoration plan outlined in the assessment plan that was developed and already partially allocated for, which the Dept. of Building & Maintenance has had a copy of for over a year. In fact directly conflicts with the specifications and directives outlined in that plan. [See example below]
  • Ultimately served no purpose, other than to further deteriorate wood which it has been determined will all need to be removed and replaced. Numerous staff hours were wasted, that could have been allocated to other parks grounds keeping activities as well as additional staff time in meetings to determine where communication broke down between departments.
  • Throughout the entire process the SP Conservancy committee that represents 5 different park and neighborhood organizations, and has worked closely with the Community Development deparment in securing the grant for its study and every aspect of the planning of its feasibility assessment and future re-use, as well as the Ward 1 city councilor, were almost completely in the dark as to what work was being done, other than cursory and inaccurate updates.

Every one of the above statements is a documented, provable fact.

-Joe Durwin, President, Springside Park Conservancy

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The house’s wood clapboard’s following the city’s “work” on the project summer 2015. Quote from the feasibility study and restoration plan prepared last year: “In order to protect the original historic fabric, the least abrasive method possible must be used for paint removal. Pressure washing and sandblasting are inappropriate methods of removal.”

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“When necessary, all paint must be removed to bare wood because the original oilbased coating has alligatored and is holding moisture against the wood.” -CME Architects.

Gaetani Guide For Voters: 12 Upsides If ‘The Water Wizard’ Becomes Mayor Of Pittsfield

Gaetani Guide For Voters*: 12 Upsides If ‘The Water Wizard’ Becomes Mayor of Pittsfield** 

#12 Every current city councilor will be gone because he has explicitly stated that he cannot work with any member of existing city council and “in order for me to be totally successful as a good mayor, strongly representing the taxpayer and rate payer, the City Council has to be completely eliminated.”

#11. He will be
exonerated on all charges
by August 19

#10 HE “WILL BE MAYOR BY A LANDSLIDE”

#9 Press conferences on his cool sun porch.

1406085151#8 Every municipal employee you ever didn’t like (and every one you ever did) will be fired, or give notice to ‘explore new opportunities’ and ‘spend more time with their family.’

#7 The new fleet of city employees that gets hired will tow the line and work really, really hard because who wants an unidentified person that is definitely not him or a relative calling and threatening to burn down their house.

#6 He will cut the city budget in half while installing all sorts of incredibly expensive promised technology AND being able to fund thousands of personnel hours in the new initiatives he has committed to

#5 We’ll be able to eliminate the city solicitor’s department because he is “better than attorneys” and will represent the city in court the same skill and dignity with which he has represented himself on the criminal charges

#4 Colin Powell might visit some day. He has a letter to prove he knows him. And we may get to meet his business partner Dr. Wang  (OR Wong ? depending on which of Mr. Gaetani’s letters you go by)

#3 He will kill the new high school project and “provide other options” for where the district’s high school students will go

#2 Kids will respect their teachers as he has literally promised on the record to take each of the 6000+ public school students in the district aside and terrorize them personally

#1 The new mayor’s office will be located out off of Holmes Road near the 4H fairgrounds, so everyone will have a relaxing space to walk off the PTSD after meetings.

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  *Though it uses a number of facts and direct quotes and links to actual local news, Gaetani Guide For Voters is a work of political satire,  in accordance with the understood social definition and all statutory protection and case law regarding parody and public figures.  It is not affiliated with the campaign to elect Craig C. Gaetani nor with any other campaign or political party, just my own brain and a lot of low hanging fruit.

** “The Water Wizard’ -term coined and intellectual property of Daniel Valenti, Planet Valenti Media, used here with attribution Fair Use guidelines.

PS- I would appreciate it no one threatens to burn my house down or even sue me.  Thank you. 
-Joe Durwin

10 Reasons You’d Have To Be Insane To Support Mosquito Spraying: An Open Letter to the Pittsfield Parks Commission

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To: Board of Park Commissioners, City of Pittsfield

 John Herman <jphermanod@verizon.net>,
 Clifford Nilan <clifford.nilan@jud.state.ma.us>,
 Simon Muil <simonmuil@hotmail.com>,
 Michelle Matthews <michele5610@aol.com>,
 Anthony DeMartino <ademartino@berkshireorthopaedics.com>

I am writing to ask the Parks Commission to please refuse permission this year to Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project to spray a dangerous mix of toxic, carcinogenic, flammable chemicals into Pittsfield Parks this summer.  

Contrary to what you and other local officials have been told by BCMCP in past years, extensive scientific evidence has been published demonstrating both very real dangers, and also a lack of any demonstrable gain, to truck based spraying of pyrethroid based insecticides.  The following are some very troubling facts about this program.

-Only 7 out of 32 Berkshire County towns participate in the Mosquito Control project.  To date there there has been absolutely no published evidence or indication of substantially reduced mosquito populations or any reduction in the likelihood of contracting a mosquito-borne illness through this methodology.
 
Pyrethroids (see additional citations below):
 
-Pyrethroid chemicals Sumithrin, Prallethrin contained in the DUET product used by BCMCP are classed as “neuropoisons” by the World Health Organization
-These pyrethroids have a demonstrated association with cancerous tumors in mammals, and ongoing exposure has been linked to blood biochemical changes in humans
-They are extremely toxic to bees and fish, and have been identified as a contributing cause to the worldwide ecological catastrophe of Colony Collapse Disorder
-Contrary to claims, pyrethroids can persists in soil for weeks or months.  http://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/25677.pdf
-DUET spray also contains propane, napthalene, and trimethyl benzene, for a combination of flammability, carcinogenic and genetic-damage causing effects
 
-One of the *non-insecticide* ingredients in the Duet product used by Berkshire Mosquito Control, Piperonyl Butoxide (PBO), is incredibly toxic, and has been linked to delayed mental development in children in two major studies at Columbia and Duke Universities.  PBO also can persist for weeks before breaking down in the environment under certain conditions
 
-A  2006 study conducted in the Boston area found aerosol plumes of from truck based spraying failed to contact the target mosquito groups, and concluded that “may not effectively reduce the force of transmission of WNV.”
 
-A more recent comprehensive analysis of fourteen different communities  found that” The data shows that there is no significant difference in the cases of West Nile virus in communities that spray adulticides compared to those that don’t but use other methods of mosquito control. Therefore, the risks and the costs of adulticiding do not outweigh the benefits.”
 
-By way of risk comparison, in Massachusetts last year, there was 6 confirmed human cases of West Nile Virus and 1 case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis, of which there have been only 23 cases in the past decade.  Furthermore there has been nothing to suggest that there is any geographical correlation between these cases and the absence of spraying, as a majority of cases have taken place in counties with more robust participation in mosquito spraying than in the Berkshires, where more than 3/4 of our county towns have not seen fit to participate in this highly questionable program.
 
Research continues, and truly comprehensive study of what the long term negative effects are of this type of blanket spraying of toxins into the environment has not yet been undertaken, but the existing data clearly demonstrates a clear and significant risk factor for human beings and overall environmental health.  In short, given the information provided, there simply is no rational, scientifically justifiable way that you can approve the taxpayer-funded poisoning of our local parks, in light of the absence of any conclusive evidence that it produces any desirable effect whatsoever in reducing mosquito borne populations.
 
As the Commissioners sprayingof our public parks, you have a massive responsibility to oversee and protect our park lands for the people of this community, most especially to its children.  I implore you to ask yourself if, given the above information, you can confidently approve this course of action as one that is at all safe or in any way beneficial to Pittsfield residents.
Sincerely,
Joe Durwin
Pittsfield Resident   
 
 
PYRETHROIDS SUMITHRIN  & PRALLETHRIN TOXICITY:
 
Estrogenic potential of certain pyrethroid compounds in the MCF-7 human breast carcinoma cell line
 
Estrogenic and antiprogestagenic activities of pyrethroid insecticides
 
U.S. EPA. Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. 1995. D-phenothirin (sumithrin) -submission of a 90-day inhalation toxicity study in rats. (EPA ID 06905). Washington, DC, June 13.
U.S. EPA. Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances. 1989. Sumithrin (d-phenothrin) – review of toxicity studies submitted by Sumitomo Chemical Company in support of EAP#1H45283 and EPA Registration No. 10308-6. Memo from E.R. Budd, Health Effects Div. to J.M. Tavano, Registration Div. Washington, D.C., Mar. 16.
 U.S. EPA. Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances. 1989. Sumithirin (d-phenothrin – review of rat reproduction study. Memo from W. Dykstra, Health Effects Div. to J. Tavano, Registration Div. Washington, D.C., Jul. 27
Chemosphere. 2008 Sep;73(3):360-4. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2008.05.070. Epub 2008 Jul 26.
Human Health Risk Assessment for Prallethrin
Chronic exposure to pyrethroid-based allethrin and prallethrin mosquito repellents alters plasma biochemical profile.

All About the Green: Money and Medical Marijuana in Massachusetts

potmoneyThough the new Registered Marijuana Dispensaries are all nonprofit institutions, RMD services in fact may be the most heavily “taxed”, per patient capita, nonprofit health service in the history of Massachusetts, in light of the DPH’s steep fee schedule, a fact that in my view played heavily in the murky and disingenuous process of licensing medicinal cannabis in the Commonwealth.

Already, the total revenues from the two phase application process have topped $3.1 million.  This is no doubt higher than it could have been due to the good faith of nearly 100 applicants that the DPH would actually do a proper job of implementing the voter-approved law’s intent, rather than grant about half as many licenses as anticipated and leave the less populous side of the state largely un-served in some sort of sham process full of cronyism & corruption- ie what actually took place.

It gets better though. Since the candidates they invited to reapply were not applying for the counties that didnt get covered in this round of approvals, they can recoup additional application fees PLUS another 10K “change of location” fee for each RMD applicant they’ve forced to change location.

The location change will have other costs associated as well, but the deepest of these may be the social costs to the public, the detriment to the communities effected, and the further delay in treatment for thousands of very sick patients.

As Nial De Mena, a director with the non-approved Manna Wellness in Berkshire County, stated on Saturday, “I don’t believe transplanting a higher scoring team that applied out east that has no ties to the Berkshires and no hard-won community relationships, groups that do not even know the landscape (available real estate in permitted use zones) nor have vision for the facility nor have an idea of the community impact will do a better job than we would have.”

Nonetheless, the fees will keep rolling in to the DPH, all on top of the $1.1 million a year they’ll make on annual registration off the 20 facilities licensed so far.   Add on to that a $50 registration fee per every patient in the state, or $100 permit for “hardship cases,” a number which stands to be greatly inflated if, say, you have one of the debilitating diseased for which marijuana will be permitted and, say, the DPH neglected to approve a dispensary within an hour’s drive of your home.

Gov. Patrick w/ DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, chief architect of the state's licensing travesty.

Gov. Patrick w/ DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, chief architect of the state’s licensing travesty.

Given all the expected revenue, at first glance it may seem crazy they didn’t approve a larger number of dispensaries…… until you consider the  many more millions of dollars from those in the competing pharmaceutical, health care and insurance sectors -all of which stand to lose some revenues from RMDs- that go into electing Massachusetts governors and legislators…

Corrupt DPH Marijuana Process Leaves Bulk Of Western Mass. Without Dispensaries

dph map

In the often-forgotten counties of western Massachusetts, some surprise was expressed when the Mass. Department of Public Health today awarded only 20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses, covering only ten of the state’s fourteen counties, to sixteen nonprofit Phase 2 applicants.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the DPH has yet again successfully stalled full implementation of the 2012 voter-approved law endorsed on the ballot by 65% of Mass. voters, which stipulates that every county in the state shall be permitted a licensed dispensary.  I say not surprisingly, because virtually every aspect of the regulation process has thus far been misguided and steeped in corruption.

The “panel” reviewing these Phase 2 applicants has been, from the very outset, a bit of a joke, consisting of 1 representative from the naturally-competing pharmaceutical lobby, a police official paid as a lobbyist to oppose the ballot initiative before it was passed, and a bunch of DPH employees.  Not that it matters, because as was indicated to applicants at an October 2013 conference, final decision went to DPH Commissioner and self-described “political animal” Cheryl Bartlett.  Though outstanding applicants existed in every county, Bartlett’s group somehow managed to leave a majority of the eligible patients in the entire western half of the state disenfranchised from this form of voter-legalized medical service by approving just over half of the expected number of dispensaries to be licensed in the first year.  With this, Bartlett has (almost, but not quite) implemented the bare minimum of that required by the voter-approved mandate, while being able to reward some long time friends and political allies in the process.

In the grand tradition of Massachusetts cronyism, it’s not surprising that about a quarter of the RMD applicants licensed today turn out, upon closer examination, to be run by former high-ranking state politicians and Democratic party insiders.

dph chart

Take for instance, the top scoring “candidate” for RMD licensing, in the DPH’s final evaluation, who were granted 3 of the 20 licenses: Medical Marijuana for Massachusetts.  This new nonprofit is headed by former state rep. Bill Delahunt, a longtime “great friend,” political patron, and campaign donation recipient of Cheryl Bartlett, and also features as an executive Kevin O’Reilly, former advisor to Mass. Senate President Therese Murray, another known BFF of Commissioner Bartlett’s.

Almost as well-rewarded was the #2 top-scorer, New England Treatment Access, Inc, which is backed by Arnon Vered and the Kessler Group, a substantial chunk of whose total political campaign contributions from 1995-2013 went to Massachusetts Democrats, particularly Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Even former Mass. state senator Brian Lees, who in November raved about what a good job Bartlett was doing managed to squeak by on the lower end of the high-scorers to secure a DPH license to operate a dispensary in Holyoke.

But wait, yes, I remember now, we’re supposed to believe that Bartlett did NOT hold sway over this, and this responsibility was handed over, at the eleventh hour, to a new medical marijuana program director Karen van Uten.  While this new official may lack the visible political entanglements of Bartlett, she is nonetheless an employee answerable to the Commissioner, an employee starting the job a mere two weeks before she allegedly made the “final decision” in a sudden, last minute change from the DPH’s stated policy that came just days after Massachusetts Republicans began complaining of smoky-room politics at work in the RMD licensing process.   That leaves us with either the option that the DPH Commissioner is an idiot, or she thinks we are…

I suppose, then, that it is worth remembering that Bartlett only last summer replaced former DPH Commissioner John Auerbach who resigned amidst the department’s deplorably bad track record of the past two years. The Massachusetts Department of Health *as an entity* has recently been at the center of massive scandals, which cost lives, put innocent suspects in jail and has cost the state untold millions, in failing to properly manage the state crime lab and in regulating compounding pharmacies… in light of that, maybe we can’t expect any better.

BCAC Giving Tree Needs Another Miracle This Year

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As in the past few years, BCAC’s ELF Giving Tree program is struggling through the holiday season to muster desperately needed winter clothing for over a thousand kids of low income applicant families in central Berkshire County this year.  While it had hoped for a finish date of December 15, it will now extend into the next week until the nearly 200 remaining children are sponsored.
I applaud the many different local charitable drives this time of year, and encourage all possible support to them. Without getting too preachy, making things a little brighter, especially for kids, around what realistically can be a very difficult time for many, is, well, probably the type of thing we’re on this Earth to do.  A lot of the rest is just ribbons and wrapping. In particular, though, I believe this 33rd year old, all volunteer-driven program coordinated by the Berkshire Community Action Council serves a crucial need. The Giving Tree, stationed at the Berkshire Mall these past many years, is remarkable in that it anonymously but directly connects the community with hundreds of real children under 12, children with names and needs.  The process of shopping for or donating for a specific child with a first name, ages, sizes and favorite colors gives back not only the sense of helping out, but also an opportunity to reflect.

Studies have shown that children who lack or have limited proper winter attire face many disadvantages beyond the obvious, limitations which have been linked to academic and social problems as well as numerous health issues.

Volunteering at the Giving Tree table this year, I saw a powerful awareness of this in the generosity of many, and so often from those who can scarcely afford it. Last week, I met an elderly veteran who had just successfully fought to have his rightful benefits, and one of his first acts with what “little extra” he could manage was to get to the mall to make a cash donation. These heart-breaking moments are the daily norm at the Giving Tree; the kids who ask their parents to donate for a poorer child instead of giving them presents, the teenagers who donate their slight earnings, the moms and dads who find a way to take on just a little bit more somehow, or the couple who lost their own child and came to shop for ones they’ll never meet.  And all these other people, people who just know what it is to be cold out there, to live at a lowest-legally-allowable quality of life that’s not actually livable.
Some say it’s the spirit of the season, but I think it’s the cold, too, the reality of New England winter.  This program is triage, a front line of the hierarchy of human needs, and the basic well being of children in our community… and for a few kids out there, maybe survival itself this year.
GT-Dec 21

December 21, 2012