Monday August 27, 2012

Confident that it would inevitably get its methadone clinic in Pittsfield be cause of the backing of the state Department of Public Health and past in ter pretations of federal law, Worcester-based Spectrum Health Systems has only grudgingly informed city residents of the specifics of its plans. Even if inevitable, The Eagle has questioned the need for the city to abide by a dubious confidentiality agreement or be pressured by Spectrum's assertions that it could not be denied a building permit, and has urged Mayor Dan iel Bian chi to take a harder line with Spectrum.

After reviewing court documents submitted by City Councilors Barry J. Clair mont, Jonathan H. Lothrop and John M. Krol Jr. (Eagle, August 25), it is clear that the city's attempt to block the building per mit for Spectrum under former Mayor James Ruberto was not "illegal" as de scribed by Mayor Daniel Bianchi. Because the city was within its rights it should not have paid a $100,000 settlement to the company, and it is apparent city councilors were not kept informed about the particulars of the settlement agreement they were required to vote on.

Rather than negotiate with the city after the Building Department refused to grant it a building permit to establish the clinic at 42 Summer Street, Spectrum appealed to U.S. District Court in Springfield. The court upheld the city's refusal, and its legality.


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It is significant that on the building permit, a copy of which was supplied to The Eagle by the councilors, Spectrum did not apply for an educational permit. At the core of Spectrum's argument that the city acted illegally in denying the building permit was the contention that the city was violating the rights of the disabled -- heroin accidents -- who would be educated about how to change their lifestyles. Spectrum did not, however, check the educational box in pursuing the permit.

The city didn't owe Spectrum a dime, let alone $100,000, and the approval process for the settlement was extremely murky. In District Court on June 26, City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan acknowledged that "the councilors didn't know that the money was going to be used for this lawsuit," adding that "They're probably not too happy about it now." City Councilor Kevin Morandi told The Eagle that he had a "pretty good inkling" about what the $100,000 discussed at a June 9 council meeting was for and fellow Councilor Christopher Connell "guessed" that the money was for a settlement with Spectrum.

Coun cilors should not have to act on the basis of inklings and guesses, and if litigation was an issue, the discussion should have continued in executive session. The City Council could have and in retrospect should have asked for an executive session to discuss the matter beforehand, but Ms. Degnan, who works for the city and the council not just the mayor, could have been more forthcoming about what the settlement money was intended for, as she knew far more about it than did the City Council, which was left in the dark. Spectrum's supposed confidentiality agreement with the former mayor, rendered irrelevant by a series of public revelations about the company's shifting plans, was no defense for secrecy.

Mayor Bianchi has accused the three councilors of playing politics, and politics is a contact sport in Pittsfield. However, the documents produced by Councilors Lothrop, Clairmont and Krol tell an objective story in black and white.

Spectrum will get its clinic and we hope it benefits drug abusers, but it was wrong to bulldoze its way into the city. Mayor Bianchi did not have to make it easy for Spectrum and the city should not have agreed to a $100,000 settlement when it was not in the wrong. Finally, City Hall, beginning with the city solicitor, must now work more openly with the City Council.