Brian Sullivan: 'Oz,' Waits, school board light up TV

Thursday December 27, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- It was a rare and unexpected holiday gift. Usually, if my television isn’t showing me someone either throwing, shooting or hitting some kind of ball, then I’m pretty disappointed. I think very little of television programming in general, especially in prime time.

But a trilogy of shows blew me away on Saturday. I watched "The Wizard of Oz" for the umpteenth time and enjoyed it very much. Did you know that Judy Garland’s birth name was Frances Ethel Gumm and that in the book by the same name "Dorothy" clicked silver slippers instead of ruby? Neither did I. Then, Tom Waits was the featured guest on "Austin City Limits." He’s absolutely fantastic, although I do admit an acquired taste.

When Waits took his final bow I worked the clicker some more and stumbled across one of the local PCTV stations just in time for the beginning of the Dec. 12 city School Committee meeting. It made me laugh, made me cry and basically set government meetings in this city back about 100 years.

Not since the City Council days of the early 1990s, when the likes of Gerry Doyle Jr., Fran Marinaro, Bill Barry, Jamie Williamson, Paul Dowd, Pete Arlos, Joe Guzzo and Gary Grunin put on a pretty good show in front of the cameras had I seen anything like the three-ringed circus that played out in the Pittsfield High School library.

It was Must-See TV!.

I have malice toward none here, but the "Alf" and Terry show kept me glued to the set for what had to be about three hours. You could cut the tension in the room between School Committee Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga and committee member Terry Kinnas with a burrito from Hot Harry’s.

Kinnas logged plenty of face time as he fended off alleged behavioral allegations from a five-member group representing Reid Middle School Council members and staff. Kinnas either did or didn’t behave in ways a School Committee member should or shouldn’t behave at a meeting of the Reid Council’s Outreach Subcommittee. Three nonstaff members also signed the formal complaint.

Much was made about state rules and regulations regarding open meeting laws, which the Reid council did or did not follow. And Kinnas was at the meeting as a private citizen, which did trigger an interesting point-counterpoint about the behavior issue.

It was put forward and agreed upon that School Committee members, just like anyone who is part of school staff, is asked to maintain a higher level of credibility whether on the job or not. Teachers do get held accountable in that fashion, just so you know. They can be disciplined for actions outside their in-school service.

In a session that at times bordered on Watergate-esque, the still traumatized looking Reid quintet earned a measure of satisfaction when the committee voted in near-unanimous fashion (Kinnas opposing) to formally slap Kinnas on the wrist for his alleged boorish, "threatening" and unprofessional behavior.

It would be too easy here to continue to take some shots at the entire performance. Still, on the heels of watching Judy Garland, I did keep waiting and hoping that Kinnas would break into his version of the Tin Man’s "If I Only Had a Heart."


The theatrics that played out at the School Committee meeting that night unfortunately overshadowed two other important topics and a nice presentation made to the board by Capless Elementary School. Barbalunga, who in my opinoin does have some Oz-like qualities, rightly pointed out near meeting’s end that a lot of time and energy was being put into matters that diverted the committee from more meaningful tasks.

He’s right. The future of the Taconic High vocational programs, specifically the auto body and metal fabrication classes, brought forward more than a half-dozen speakers from the private sector in favor of not eliminating those programs. As the current school administration and School Committee continue to plot Taconic’s future, the possibility of terminating those programs and replacing them with others is a reality.

The citizens who spoke that night were more than passionate about the need to keep these programs. Many of the speakers were business owners in Pittsfield who either employ or were Taconic graduates in these trade fields. They backed up their passion with statistics and did a good job making their case. The collective voices made compelling arguments.

One can only hope that this issue is still a jump ball.

Finally, the firm hired by the School Committee to recruit a solid list of candidates for superintendent reported that people are not exactly knocking over one another to get in line for the job. The goal at the onset was to get a list of about 40 viable candidates. The list is currently about 15, but it’s a strong list the committee was told.

The school panel listened as a number of reasons were presented as to why the list was so short. None really seemed to carry much of a punch. Things like folks in nearby New York retire differently than here. Others don’t want to pick up and move, etc.

And, the always popular, the district is urban. What? Where are we at these days? About 42,000 folks. Urban? It makes Pittsfield sound like the South Side of Chicago. Maybe we should hire Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. Go ahead, sing it.

Brian Sullivan can be reached at


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