Court documents filed this week indicate that the City of Pittsfield may have neared a settlement agreement in its ongoing litigation with Spectrum Health Systems, Inc, whose plan to begin operating a methadone maintenance center in the city has been the center of a year long controversy. While in recent weeks Spectrum had renewed efforts to push for an expedited resolution of the suit, a request signed by both parties this week asks that the City’s deadline to respond to several pending motions be extended until mid August.
Spectrum Health Systems and the City of Pittsfield had neared a settlement agreement in early June, according to court transcripts, the details of which were not disclosed to the court. Soon after, it was learned that the company was in negotiations to lease a building on Stoddard Avenue, a revelation that spawned further controversy following protestations by neighbors of the newly proposed site, most notably the adjacent Dwyer Funeral Home. In addition to the funeral home, Dwyer also owns eight more properties immediately surrounding it and the adjacent Stoddard Ave building Spectrum had attempted to lease, according to the funeral home’s website.
Following protests there and elsewhere, petition attempts and a flurry of calls and emails to the building’s owner, Dr. Philip Adamo, the offer to rent to Spectrum at that location was rescinded the following week.
Court documents show that following this decision, Spectrum Health
42-46 Summer Street, known historically as the “Yon Building,” is home to Berkshire Nautilus, Quest Diagnostics, and other health-related tenants
Systems immediately returned to the courts to once again request an injunction to begin operating at the 42 Summer Street location where it had initially sought to open in late 2010.In this new motion, dated June 24, Spectrum alleges that the city “refused to honor that agreement in what it concedes is deference to demonstrably unlawful opposition from City officials and residents to Spectrum’s program. That vociferous opposition is grounded in hostility and stereotypes regarding the disabled to be served through the program.”
Spectrum’s revised motion for an injunction to begin operating on Summer Street bases its claim in part on the supposition that the Mayor has acknowledged in the media a likelihood of losing the pending suit. The nonprofit also claims “the City’s recent conduct taken to appease the facially discriminatory and stereo-type based opposition of City leaders and residents constitutes a fresh and dramatic violation of the ADA.”
At the same time [June 24], Spectrum filed an amended version of its complaint against the city, which adds a variety of recent events to the list of what it calls discriminatory behavior toward its clientele. Spectrum says Pittsfield “has acted to delay and block the operation of the program in response to opposition from City officials and residents that is grounded in discriminatory and hostile views about the disabled individuals who would be served by the program.”
Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, demonstrable addiction is considered a disability, though recreational drug use is not. Since the beginning of controversy, several local officials have publicly referenced Spectrum’s patient base as “lower class people,” “those types of people,” etc, statements that some legal experts say could be used by Spectrum in its suit against the city.
The day after a two hour public forum in which both Mayor Daniel Bianchi and Spectrum Health Systems participated, however, the City Solicitor and an attorney for the Worcestor nonprofit signed an agreement asking a brief extension, to August 15, while settlement negotiations continue, seen by some as adding creedence to rumors locally that a deal involving the previously considered Summer Street location may be close to complete. The extension seems to represent a modified position to the company’s late June request for an expedited hearing on their injunction at the court’s earliest opportunity.
Both Mayor Bianchi and Spectrum Health repeatedly indicated at Monday’s forum that location negotiations will not be disclosed until after the current suit is resolved. Though Mayor Bianchi addressed the subject of local drug use and treatment itself, both in the June 26 episode of his Pittsfield Community Television show as well at Monday’s informational forum, release of information of information to the public about the suit or site discussions pursuant to it has been hampered by a confidentiality agreement entered into by the City in late 2011.
Several residents have questioned the reasoning behind and circumstances surrounding the non-disclosure agreement, posing questions which are, perhaps ironically, difficult to answer due to the agreement itself. In the information vacuum thereby created, rumors have proliferated. Most recently, on Wednesday, Robert Dwyer stated via a post on Facebook that he had been told there was no written agreement:
“I just learned yesterday from a reliable source that not only was there never a confidentiality agreement filed in any court between Spectrum and the City, but the City never signed one at all!!!! The only confidentiality agreement the former administration had with Spectrum was verbal!”
In fact, the confidentiality agreement entered into by the City and Spectrum was written, is legally binding, and can be found among the publicly accessible records of the case.
The agreement, put forth by Spectrum and agreed to by the City under then-Mayor James Ruberto, via its attorney Richard Dohoney, on December 12, 2011, reads as follows:
“Our conversations regarding a possible resolution of the pending federal court case action Spectrum Health Systems, Inc. v. City of Pittsfield, Civil Action No. 2011-CV-11075-GAO, are for settlement purposes only and shall be maintained as fully confidential. Neither the fact nor content of any discussions will be disclosed to the press, to the court, or to any party or individual not a party to said discussions. Prior to agreement between Spectrum and the City on any potential alternative site, no information concerning a potential site will be shared with any person or entity beyond the Mayor’s office and the Community Development staff for the city.”
In a radio interview on WBRK Thursday, Mayor Bianchi again expressed his displeasure with having “inherited” the federal lawsuit and its attendant gag order, but said he was confident that a resolution may be near at hand.
An attorney for Spectrum Health Systems did not return a call for comment yesterday. 42 Summer Street building owner James Ramondetta was not readily able to be reached for comment today.
Previous coverage of the Spectrum Health/ Methadone issue: