Editorial: No confidence in solicitor

Monday October 8, 2012

When Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bian chi agreed to a $100,000 settlement with Spectrum Healthcare Systems he explained it was because the city was certain to lose a court battle with the Worcester company seeking to put a meth adone clinic in the city. It now seems likely that if the city was going to lose in court it was because of a phone message of dubious accuracy left with a Spectrum attorney by City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan related to a meeting involving City Councilor Christine Yon. This adds a whole new dimension to the costly Spectrum debacle.

A petition brought by Ward 1 Councilor Yon urging a vote of no confidence in Ms. Degnan will go before the City Council for a vote on Tuesday night. Ms. Yon filed the petition after Mayor Bianchi declined to ask for Ms. Degnan's resignation, as proposed by Ms. Yon and Council President Kevin Sherman.

Last June, after the clinic was proposed for Stoddard Avenue in her ward, Ms. Yon met with the mayor and Police Chief Mich ael J. Wynn to express her concerns. Ms. Yon's daughter, who lives in Spring field, attended and told of seeing a man clad in a hospital gown or "johnny" walking to a Springfield Methadone clinic. In court documents filed June 25 by Spectrum, the company claimed the city was guilty of discriminating against the disabled. Cited was a voice mail message left by Ms. Deg nan to Spectrum attorney Paul Holtz man that Ms. Yon argues misrepresented the conversation with the mayor. In her voice mail, Ms. Degnan referred to one coun cilor who "was absolutely certain that now Spectrum is going to be awful for Pitts field and there are going to be people running around in their johnnies. The world is going to come an end, I guess, if that happens..."

That kind of alarmism and exaggeration seems uncharacteristic of Ms. Yon, who choos es her words carefully in City Council meetings. Ms. Degnan was not at the meeting, so it appears she was paraphrasing what someone who was in attendance told her about the meeting, and then provided that in terpretation of Ms. Yon's statements to the Spectrum attorney. Spectrum received fodder for its assertion that the city was in violation of the American with Disabilities Act and Ms. Yon, thrown under the bus by the city solicitor, sought legal protection for herself after she was deposed by Spectrum.

Spectrum's claim that the city violated the ADA in denying it a building permit was defeated three times in court. We will never know if Ms. Degnan's predecessor, Rich Dohoney, was close to setting a precedent that other communities bullied by Spectrum could use in court, as Ms. Yon contended in a meeting at The Eagle, but it is obvious that there was no reason for City Hall to concede defeat and agree to a $100,000 settlement -- or at least not before Ms. Deg nan created a self-fulfilling prophesy with her phone message.

The Eagle has questioned before if Ms. Degnan knows she is answerable to the city and City Council, not just the mayor. We must now ask why she found it necessary to help a private company battling the city in court to make its case. It is clear from court documents that thanks to Ms. Degnan that Spectrum knew far more about the particulars of the $100,000 settlement than did the City Council before it voted on it. From other court documents we now know that Ms. Degnan left a phone message with a Spectrum attorney about a meeting she did not attend that advanced Spectrum's case.

Ms. Degnan did not do well by the city. The council should approve the petition re questing a vote of no confidence in her performance. While symbolic, that vote will speak loudly about the entire Spectrum mess and the solicitor's role in it.


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