City solicitor Degnan under fire by Councilor Yon
PITTSFIELD -- Ward 1 City Councilor Christine Yon wants the council to join her in a "no confidence" vote against City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, saying the attorney "mismanaged" the city's defense of a lawsuit by the operator of a proposed methadone clinic.
Yon also said she thinks Deg nan misrepresented Yon's concerns about the clinic to Spec trum Healthcare Systems, which prompted the Worcester-based company to seek further federal court action ag ainst the city.
City Council President Kevin J. Sherman also is backing Yon's pet ition because he, too, is questioning Degnan's ability to handle the solicitor's job, which she has held for nine months.
Sherman said he expects the council to act on Yon's request at its meeting Tues day at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. If the council votes no confidence, it wouldn't be binding, Sher man said.
Degnan could not be reached for comment on Thursday. However, May or Dan iel L. Bian chi called Yon's petition a "despicable" and "disparaging" way to go after Degnan, one of his first appointments after he took office Jan. 2.
Before Yon filed for the "no confidence" vote, Yon and Sherman asked Bianchi to ask for Degnan's resignation, primarily due to her handling of the Spectrum case.
"My intention isn't to embarrass anybody, but this was a last resort," Yon said Thursday. "This case was mismanaged [by Degnan]."
Bianchi said he had no reason to ask Degnan to resign and said a "no confidence" vote would be detrimental to her and the city.
Such votes "aren't designed to promote good government, and they are disparaging to the people they are aimed at," the mayor said. "I think it's really despicable to go after Kathleen Degnan, who works hard, is honest, and has represented the city well."
In mid-August, Bianchi announced a $100,000 settlement with Spectrum Health care Systems, payment for what he called the city's attempt to "illegally block" a building permit for Spectrum in 2011.
The agreement also allowed the Worcester-based company to establish a clinic at its originally proposed location on Summer Street. The facility, on the second floor of the Berkshire Nautilus building, is expected to open later this year, according to city officials.
Initially, a settlement proposed in federal court on June 5 called for locating the clinic on Stoddard Avenue in Ward 1. Upon hearing that news from Bianchi in a private meeting on June 12, Yon returned to the mayor's office the next day, concerned about the clinic's impact on a residential neighborhood.
Methadone is commonly used to treat addiction to painkillers and opiates, such as heroin.
Councilor Yon brought her daughter, Nicole Yon, a nurse in Springfield, to the meeting, and asked Police Chief Michael J. Wynn to sit in.
Degnan wasn't at the meeting.
Councilor Yon asked her daughter to share her observations of watching people entering the methadone clinic on her way to work. Nicole Yon recalled an instance where she saw a man, still in his hospital gown or "johnny," walking to the clinic.
"This statement was simply one observation of a frank and honest -- what I thought was a private -- discussion about the nature of methadone clinics with specific reference to locating a clinic on Stoddard Avenue," said the councilor.
However, Yon cited how federal court documents filed by Spectrum on June 25 misrepresented what the Yons said in the June 13 meeting with Bianchi. Spectrum made additional motions before the judge, as Bianchi had yet to sign the proposed settlement for Stoddard Avenue.
Yon says Spectrum claimed the city was discriminating against them, in part, based on a voicemail Degnan left for Spectrum's attorney, Paul Holtzman.
"The mayor has every intention of signing the settlement agreement, but he was trying to allay and get rid of the fears of this one councilor that I told you about," Degnan said, according to a voicemail transcript that was included as part of the lawsuit. "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.
"The world is going to come to an end, I guess, if that happens, so the mayor wants to allay her fears," Degnan said.
Councilor Yon denied Deg nan's interpretation of what was said in the June 13 meeting and believes the city solicitor's comments, not the councilor, triggered the discrimination lawsuit. In addition to the city, Yon also was named as a defendant in the discrimination lawsuit.
"We had no discrimination case prior to [Degnan's] voicemail," Yon said.
Degnan's voicemail also led Yon to hire a lawyer because she had to give a deposition to Spectrum because of the voicemail.
"I don't want the citizens of Pittsfield to think I would discriminate against anyone or that I would speak this way," Yon said.
Yon is the fourth city councilor to criticize the Bianchi administration's handling of the Spectrum case. Two weeks after the settlement was announced, councilors Barry J. Clairmont, Jonathan N. Loth rop and John M. Krol Jr. accused, in particular, Degnan of misleading them about the purpose of the $100,000 set aside for legal settlements in the fiscal 2013 city budget.
The councilors said Degnan knew the money was for Spectrum when the council had its budget review, but never said it was for a specific case.
Bianchi vehemently denied the accusations, saying they were politically motivated.
While council President Sherman didn't address the three councilors' claims, he felt he had no choice but to support Yon's call for a "no confidence" vote against Degnan.
"Based on the experience of [Degnan] the last nine months and the production from the solicitor's office, I question the judgment and decision-making -- especially as it relates to Spectrum," Sherman said.
"It can't be ignored," he added.
To reach Dick Lindsay: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6233.
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