PITTSFIELD -- The city's Human Rights Commission meeting Tuesday disintegrated into loud, uncontrolled debate and ended abruptly when a member suddenly proposed an adjournment.
The commission, meeting for the third time since being reactivated this year after more than a decade, began by adopting a formal set of rules and procedures for conducting meetings and hearing complaints of discrimination or similar issues.
However, during a discussion with Doreen Wade, of Medford, who alleges she was discriminated against by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, the meeting spun out of control after Craig Gaetani stepped to the podium saying he was "a party to her complaint."
Gaetani accused the commission of "violating her rights," adding several times that the commission was "a disgrace."
He also asked repeatedly why commission members did not have name plates to identify themselves, asking Chairman Josh Cutler, "Who are you? How does anyone know who you are?"
Gaetani also asserted, "The public needs to hear this" and "the public is tired of this mumbo-jumbo," and indicated he wanted to make a statement before the local cable television cameras, which recorded the session.
Cutler repeatedly asked Gaetani to yield the floor, but Gaetani kept speaking over him. He eventually returned to his seat but began speaking again after a few minutes.
The meeting then ended when Commissioner Pam Malumphy was trying to make a point amid criticism from Gaetani. She made a motion to adjourn the meeting, which was quickly seconded and approved.
Wade had previously during the meeting accused the commission of violating her rights by allowing her complaints against the mayor to be aired publicly during prior commission meetings. She said she had learned from the state Attorney General's office that "it should have been a closed investigation."
Wade added, "Personal and private information concerning me was exposed to the public. This is a violation of my civil rights."
The commission, Wade alleged, also should have had rules of procedure adopted before hearing her complaints that Bianchi during meetings last year in his office made racially insensitive remarks and acted in an intimidating manner after she sought city help in setting up a business in Pittsfield. The commission was therefore "out of compliance" with accepted procedures for a rights commission, she said.
Wade also contended that City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan was wrong during a June commission meeting when she said she was acting as an adviser to the commission and not representing the mayor.
"That was a clear conflict -- and again, a violation of my civil rights," Wade said Tuesday.
Malumphy moved to request that a representative of the Attorney General's office attend the next commission meeting to provide clarification.
Wade also alleged that it was wrong for a commission member to "discuss my case with the solicitor" outside of commission meetings.
Malumphy said she had met and talked to the solicitor, whom Malumphy said has publicly stated is available for commissioners to answer questions about matters before the board.
At the June meeting, the commission had tabled Wade's complaint against Bianchi after she informed members she also had filed a complaint with the attorney general and with the federal Department of Justice. Commissioners asked Wade for an update on the status of those complaints on Tuesday, but she said, "I have no intention of letting you know. ... They are two separate cases."
At one point, Wade asked the commission to refer her case to "the next city level," where an investigation might be conducted.
Cutler said he is unaware of another city level for such complaints, as the commission was created for that purpose. The board also can, however, refer people to state or federal agencies or to sources of information or assistance.
To reach Jim Therrien:
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