Behind the News: What’s Happening in Pittsfield this Week

A newly posted agenda for the first City Council meeting of 2012 provides some glimpse into some of the first business to be addressed by the newly sworn in council.

Several mayoral appointments are on the agenda, most significantly that of Kathleen E. Degnan as full-time City Solicitor and Darren M. Lee as assistant solicitor. The need for a full time City Solicitor was a cry taken up many in the 2011 election. Under the previous administration, legal counsel for the city has been provided by attorney Richard Dohoney. He is an attorney with Derosa & Dohoney, where he became a full partner in the summer of 2010.

Degnan, a Pittsfield attorney, became 2nd Assistant City Solicitor for the City of Westfield in 2006, and currently serves as Assistant City Solicitor there.  Darren Lee is a Pittsfield attorney with Martin, Oliveira & Hamel, serves as Treasurer of the Berkshire Bar Association and former Board President of Berkshire Community Action Council, among other boards.

Petitions include a minor amendment proposed by Mazzeo to the Councils’ Rules of order, a temporary closure of Lakeway Drive bridge by newcomer Simonelli, a petition from Krol asking Walmart explain its reduced tax obligations to Pittsfield.

More interesting might be a petition from new at-large Councilor Barry Clairmont requesting that PEDA provide an update on its 2011 activities and site progress at William Stanley Business Park. PEDA was a frequent point of contention during the campaign and has become even more scrutinized in the wake of the controversial new announcement of plans to create a shopping plaza at the former G.E. site.

Council Vice President Jonathan Lothrop told me yesterday that he expected to see Mayor Bianchi submit his intention to sit on the PEDA board at next week’s council meeting, but it is not listed on the agenda.

Mayor Bianchi is purportedly expected to attend tomorrow’s 8 A.M. PEDA board meeting. Rumor also has it that former councilor Mike Ward and activist blogger Dan Valenti will also be in attendance. Both have voiced strong opposition to the proposed Waterstone Retail Deal.

**

With respect to the already lively School Department, many city officials have been mourning the loss of Jake Eberwein, who will step down as Superintendent in June.  John Krol praised him in a Facebook post , and Churchill Cotton told me he had found Eberwein “very accessible, very easy to work with” and indicated filling his shoes wouldn’t be easy, though when asked about a replacement Cotton suggested that one possibility might be Barbara Malkas. Barbara is currently Deputy Superintendent.

“I don’t know her plans, career wise,” Councilor Cotton told me, but said she’s already been involved in and familiar with the job and issues. “That’s basically the route Jake took.” Eberwein, who was appointed from Principal at PHS to deputy superintendent in 2007, became superintendent the following year.

Lothrop said that while this comes primarily under the purview of the School Committee, there are inherent challenges for the council in introducing a new Superintendent.   “If you haven’t worked together, people don’t always know what to expect in a certain situation, and that makes sometimes the communication more challenging.”

“One of the good parts of the prior administration was that there was a lot of effort, from the School Committee and the City Council and the Mayor to come together, to try to come together, and agree on what our priorities were and to move us forward.  Now I think we can completely continue to do that, but it’s all new faces, and a new administration, so there’s going to have to be that effort made to make that happen.  And I think the fact of Jake resigning does up the ante a little bit more.”

Meanwhile, a large amount of discussion has gone on behind the scenes, from the PCTV board meeting to political receptions to online comment boards, about the acrimonious showdown at the inaugural meeting of the new School Committee between new Chair Alfred Barbalunga and former chair Kathleen Amuso, which to date only iBerkshires has provided coverage of. 

“Sorry you had to see that,” Barbalunga told Councilor Cotton, in a private conversation at a function this week, “I tried to do damage control.”

**

In a preview of the 2012 election, I was fortunate to be able to speak with both major Democratic contenders for U.S. House rep in the newly redrawn 1st Congressional District. Current 2nd district Representative Richard Neal, a long time incumbent with a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said in a visit to Pittsfield yesterday that he thinks “it’s early to talk about the politics of the season. At the same time I think that heightened visibility, regular visits, listening as much as talking” would be valuable.”

While on his visit to BCC’s downtown educational facilities, Neal pointed out his service with Representatives John Olver and Silvio Conte to illustrate his awareness of local issues, and alluded to a greater level of national experience than his opponent. “Another very important consideration in Congress is the ability to be able to talk about issues that are of national and international significance, as well as local significance. I think that it takes many years, as Silvio Conte demonstrated, to grasp some of the issues that have far reaching results for the people of the Berkshires.”

For challenger Andrea Nuciforo, who declared his intention to run as early as 2009, now is certainly the time to talk about the upcoming election, as demonstrated at a soft campaign fundraiser at Zuccini’s last night. Nuciforo hit hard on the anti-incumbent theme popular in congressional election politics this year, which with congressional approval ratings at dismal lows nationally may help gain some ground, but he will have a difficult road ahead if he hopes to make gains against the popular Springfield-based Rep, who comes to the table with a clear natural advantage in voter base in the newly redrawn districts.

Finally, in a new development in one story that evoked a huge amount of discussion this week, the owners of Chameleon have offered to throw a second benefit for the victims of May’s Bartlett Ave apartment fire, after tenants came forward demanding answers about the money raised at at a fundraiser there at the time, the disposition of which still remains unclear. The benefit will be held January 31.

In ligher news, I had the opportunity to get an inside glimpse at the hot new local nightspot opening very soon on West Street, including a rad mural wall featuring work by local artists Arest Rock and Paul Dodds. The look it creates inside this space is so cool and urban it seems almost out of place in Pittsfield… in a good way.

More interesting updates and anecdotes on these and other stories to come, as they continue to develop

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