PITTSFIELD -- A bid to make an appointment to the city’s Licensing Board turned into a bitter dispute on Tuesday night between the City Council and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.
By a 8-2 vote, the council, in effect, refused to confirm Bianchi’s nomination of Miriam Maduro to succeed Albert "Butch" Pisani, a 32-year veteran of the board. Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin J. Morandi were opposed. Paul J. Capitanio recused himself from the discussion and vote because he holds a liquor license, one of 25 licenses the board issues and monitors for the city.
"This has nothing to do with the candidate before us," said Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon. "This appointment is premature."
The 11-member filed the mayor’s request after criticizing him for removing Pisani from the board for an apparent conflict of interest without due process.
Pisani, meanwhile, vowed to challenge the mayor’s decision.
"He’ll have to take legal action to get me off the board," he said at the start of the council meeting. "If you want to get rid of me, do it right and proper."
Citing state law, Bianchi last week claimed Pisani couldn’t continue on the five-member panel because he also serves on the board of the GEAA on Crane Avenue, which holds a liquor license. The Licensing Board makes decisions regarding liquor licensing in Pittsfield, subject to final approval from the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
However, the council felt Bianchi failed to follow the procedure for removing a municipal official from a city board before the term expires as outlined in the city charter and state law. Pisani’s six-year term on the Licensing Board runs out in June 2013.
"[Pisani] has put more than 30 years on the board and I think we owe it to him to follow every process available," said Ward 7 Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli.
City Solicitor Kathleen E. Degnan said the removal process is a moot point as state law -- not the mayor -- dictated that Pisani was no longer on the Licensing Board.
"Once a person is involved directly or indirectly in the sale of alcohol, the vacancy is immediately created," she said. "The mayor is not removing anybody -- it’s a matter of state law."
As the council, especially Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, kept hammering away at Degnan regarding the legality of Pisani’s dismissal, Bianchi approached the podium visibly annoyed by the exchange.
"This is absolutely an incredible line of questioning, either accept or object the appointment." Bianchi said, pointing a finger at Clair mont. "Councilor you’re way off base."
Clairmont replied, "I think I am right on base."
The council also challenged Bianchi on whether he had grounds to dismiss Pisani. Several councilors produced a letter from the GEAA that stated Pisani resigned from the organization’s board two years ago and didn’t have to leave the Licensing Board.
"I am not convinced a vacancy exists," said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan N. Lothrop.
City officials noted that Pisani is still listed as a board member in the GEAA’s annual reports, which are on file with the Massachusetts Secretary of State. Non profits must register with the state their officers and board members.
Mazzeo had wanted to table the appointment of Maduro, in hopes of sorting out whether the city charter or state law should determine how to handle Pisani’s situation.
"I want to know who has the upper hand," she said.
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