Monday September 10, 2012

We hope that Spectrum Health Systems proves to be as good at running a methadone clinic as it is at dividing city government in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield may pay Spectrum $76,500, the equivalent of 18 months rent, should it move out of its Summer Street space while still owing rent. This part of the settlement with the Worcester company emerged with the release of the minutes of a July 3 council executive session, during which Mayor Daniel Bianchi said he was confident that Spectrum will not be at the controversial Summer Street site long-term. At a meeting last week with Eagle editors, the mayor said he didn’t think that the city would end up paying reimbursement costs to Spec trum, which would suggest it is staying put long-term, or that other ways will be found to avoid further payment.

Ideally, the clinic will end up on Conte Drive as a Berkshire Health Systems tenant. The City Council had suggested that $100,000 be spent to settle Spectrum’s pending suit against the city with another $250,000 paid if the company chose a more agreeable site, with the mayor asserting that the now agreed upon $100,000 settlement and possible $76,500 relocation expenditure comprise a middle ground. The latter option is preferable, but it is not clear, however, why the city should cough up anything beyond the $100,000 to further appease Spectrum.

Mayor Bianchi told Eagle editors that because of state and federal laws, the city had less than one chance in a hundred of winning in court against Spectrum, a litigious group that has prevailed elsewhere in the state, and wanted to cut the city’s losses. We will never know what would have happened in court in the long run, but we do know that the city prevailed in U.S. District Court, where Spectrum argued that the city illegally denied it a building permit. The city could have gone further in the court process before signing off on a $100,000 settlement for damages Spectrum may not have won, but the point has become moot.

As for what the City Council knew and didn’t know about the $100,000 settlement, it appears from City Council meetings that the councilors were in the role of quiz show contestants trying to guess what that dollar figure was actually for while City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan played the role of master of ceremonies offering tantalizing clues. This discussion should have gone to executive session, and because the city solicitor knew much more that the councilors did, as we learned from court transcripts, the onus was on her.

The public divide between the mayor and three city councilors in particular has its roots in Spectrum’s refusal to be a good neighbor. Treated roughly by former Mayor James Ruberto, Spectrum ran to court to complain about "the city’s overt hostility and animus toward disabled people." The animus and hostility that emerged was not toward disabled people but toward a company that believed it didn’t have to make its case to the city -- which it did belatedly before resorting to its usual secrecy. Spectrum may have felt bullied by the former mayor but its response has been to play the bully in return.