Ideally, last Thursday night's Pittsfield City Council budget session will be the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of the ugliness that has emerged in recent weeks.
For the second time, the council spent five hours personalizing the budget process, this time related to schools, before not offering any significant cuts to Mayor Tyer's proposed 2017 budget. The session did contain a welcome apology from Councilor Kathleen Amuso for her role in the ham-handed attempt to reduce the job and salary of the mayor's top administrative aide, Roberta McCulloch Dews, who is the first African-American to hold the key post. (Ms. Dews is married to Warren Dews, who is vice president of audience development at New England Newspapers, which owns The Eagle.)
Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said that discussion "was not as politically correct as it should have been," but the issue is not political correctness, which has been the default alibi for all manner of ethnic insults on the part of Republican presidential candidates. Because none of the critics could come up with a coherent reason for changing Ms. Dews' position or salary, their arguments were reduced to the personal and the political.
The personal and the political emerged during a council committee session when some councilors tried to bully the Board of Public Health into raising the cap on tobacco sales licenses in a city with a serious smoking addiction problem. Allowing more tobacco purveyors to come in will only take money away from current licensees. While a private citizen brought forth a petition on a residency requirement, obligating a council committee to bring it forward, some councilors' apparent enthusiasm for it could give health board members who do not live in Pittsfield the impression that it may be used to get them off the board.
Personal criticism at two budget sessions aside, the City Council ended up endorsing the mayor's budget. It may be that critics, knowing the mayor's budget was responsible, decided they would try to appease complaining constituents by talking tough before the PCTV cameras. If so, their behavior was irresponsible and counterproductive.
Pittsfield has tough financial decisions ahead of it, which must be made in a spirit of compromise and cooperation. Ending what Council President Peter Marchetti described Thursday as the "us vs. them, city and school" mentality is critical, a process that is hindered by budget timing logistics. These problems won't be solved unless respect and cooperation replace the personal and the political.