Thursday May 10, 2012

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi’s attempt to remove Albert "Butch" Pisani from the Licensing Board and the City Council’s rejection of that attempt Tuesday night not only leaves the makeup of the board in doubt but raises troubling questions about the validity of the board’s votes and actions if City Hall’s interpretation of state law is accurate.

The mayor maintains that Mr. Pisani must leave the Licensing Board immediately after 32 years of service because his presence on the board of the GEAA, which holds a liquor license, puts him in violation of state law. Councilors, most notably Barry Clairmont and Christine Yon, asserted that due process was not followed in his dismissal and a veteran Pittsfield volunteer was mistreated. Complicating matters, Mr. Pisani says he left the GEAA board two years ago while the organization’s annual reports on file with the secretary of state still list him as a member.

Massachusetts General Law chapter 138, section 4 says a member of a licensing board who "directly or indirectly" is involved in the sale of alcohol not only can be removed from the board but his "office shall immediately become vacant." The GEAA sells alcoholic refreshments and as a board member Mr. Pisani does not appear to do so "directly," but does he do so "indirectly"? The law doesn’t define its two key terms. If section 4 doesn’t apply, than section 5 does, and it stipulates that the board member targeted for removal can appeal to Superior Court. In an impassioned appearance at the council’s "open mike" session, Mr. Pisani indicated he does not intend to go quietly.

If section 4 applies and Mr. Pisani’s posi tion immediately became vacant upon his association with the GEAA, what impact does that have on the decisions the board made with him as a conflicted voting member? That’s a path no one in the city wants to go down. If section 5 is viable, the city may follow a less perilous path.

Mr. Pisani’s confusing status with the GEAA must be clarified. If he is still on the GEAA board he should resign one of his two board positions immediately. If he leaves the GEAA board, stays on the Licensing Board, and Mr. Bianchi remains determined to remove him then no matter who is right or wrong in their interpretation of the applicable law, a legal battle appears to be inevitable.