Sunday July 29, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The nonprofit that wants to open a methadone clinic in the city hasn’t given up on plans to operate either downtown on Summer Street or in the Morningside neighborhood on Stoddard Avenue, according to court filings.

Both sites previously have been proposed and both times the plans have been met with fierce opposition from city officials and residents, who worry the drug treatment center will bring blight and crime -- concerns the clinic’s would-be operator and local health experts say are grounded in baseless stereotypes.

The city has until Aug. 15 to respond to two motions filed by Spectrum Health Systems in federal court late last month. They seek authorization to open in either the downtown or Morningside locations.

In the meantime, both parties indicated in an order entered Wednesday that they still hope to reach an out-of-court settlement.

The filings are all part of an ongoing lawsuit Spectrum lodged against the city last year after then-Mayor James M. Ruberto’s administration denied Spectrum’s application for a permit that would have allowed it to open on Summer Street in the Berkshire Nautilus building.

The first pending motion asks a Federal District Court judge to issue an order forcing the city to grant the building permit that would allow Spectrum to open in the Nautilus building.

The second asks the judge to enforce an all-but-finalized settlement agreement that would allow Spectrum to open on Stoddard Avenue. In that motion, Spectrum claims the settlement -- including an agreement on the Stoddard Avenue location -- was fully approved by the city in June, but at the last minute Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi refused to sign the completed document after neighborhood protests erupted.

"In the face of this opposition, the city’s mayor bowed to the unlawful discrimination, refusing to complete the ministerial task of signing the settlement agreement memorializing the already agreed-upon terms -- a document that had already been executed by the city’s attorney," wrote Spec trum’s lawyer.

The nonprofit argues that agreement is still binding under state law because all parties, including the mayor, had already agreed orally and in writing on the terms.

Spectrum’s description of a final-hour breakdown of settlement talks stands in contrast to the Bianchi’s version of events.

At a June 26 city council meeting, Bianchi announced that the owners of the 15-17 Stoddard Ave. property were no longer interested in renting to Spectrum. He didn’t elaborate and the building’s owners, Dr. Philip Adamo, chairman of the city’s Board of Health, and Patricia Lehmann, have not returned calls for comment.

Spectrum’s motions, filed the day before on June 25, make no mention of the property owners pulling out. Instead, they say it was Bianchi who reneged after an unnamed city councilor expressed her strong opposition to the Stoddard Avenue location.

The company characterizes the move as an effort to appease "horrific discriminatory and dramatically hostile opposition of neighbors to Spectrum’s program based on stereotypes and generalized fears regarding its disabled clients."

The motion cites a voicemail message left by City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, who al leged ly told Spectrum’s attorney that Bianchi wouldn’t sign the agreement because he is "trying to allay and get rid of the fears of this one councilor ... that she was absolutely certain that now Spectrum is going to be awful for Pittsfield and there are going to be people running around in their johnnies [hospital gowns]."

Spectrum also references comments made by City Councilor Paul Capitanio, who encouraged landlords not to rent to Spectrum, as well as comments made by protesting residents, which were reported in The Berkshire Eagle.

Bianchi and Degnan both said Saturday that they are unable to comment on Spectrum’s claims because of the nature of the pending litigation.

Meanwhile, Spectrum’s ar gument seeking the immediate issuance of a permit that would allow it to open downtown in the Nautilus building mirrors a motion it made last year, which was ultimately denied by the judge presiding over the case.

However, in Spectrum’s latest filing, they bolster their claims with comments from the mayor, who has repeatedly said the city would not win a case against Spectrum. They also quote two local residents currently traveling to Spring field for methadone treatment in an effort to illustrate the "needless and irreparable harm to the city and its residents" caused by court delays.

To reach Ned Oliver:
noliver@berkshireeagle.com,
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On Twitter: @BE_NedOliver