Our opinion: Divided government cannot function

Thursday October 11, 2012

The Spectrum methadone clinic controversy that boiled over at Tuesday night’s Pittsfield City Council meeting has less to do with that hugely entitled Worcester company than it does with the ability of Mayor Bianchi and the council to work together. By the end of the meeting it was obvious that serious if not ir reparable damage has been done.

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon brought to the floor a no confidence petition in City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, who has shown questionable judgment in her role in the Spectrum case, which ended with the city paying $100,000 to Spectrum to settle a court case that the company brought against the city and was losing in its initial stages. Ms. Yon was thrown under the bus by Ms. Deg nan in a phone call to a Spectrum at torney that not only grossly misrepresented Ms. Yon’s position on the clinic, according to the councilor, but gave Spectrum ammunition to use in its until that point weak discrimination case against the city.

At the core of this issue is the role of the city solicitor, and while Mayor Bianchi refers to her as his solicitor, Ms. Degnan is solicitor for the city and her role is a bit broader. The solicitor should at least not be keeping the council guessing as to City Hall’s actions, as was the case with the $100,000 settlement, nor should she be un dermining a city councilor by relating to an opposing attorney the supposed comments of a city councilor at a meeting Ms. Degnan did not even attend. All of these actions by Ms. Degnan are apparent in court documents, with the phone conversation provided by Spectrum itself.

Tuesday night’s meeting was packed by Degnan supporters, who cheered long and loud for whatever speech pleased them while ignoring the entreaties of council President Kevin Sherman to show a little respect for council rules. If all the noise was intended to put Ms. Degnan in the role of victim it couldn’t drown out reality. It was Ms. Yon who had to hire an attorney as a result of Ms. Degnan’s misguided phone call and the real victim here was the process of Pittsfield city government.

As Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop observed, councilors cannot do the job they are elected to do if they are kept in the dark by the city solicitor. It was disappointing that some councilors said Tuesday that this issue was a burden and a distraction when it could not be of greater importance. Pitts field’s form of government requires the may or and council to work together, which the council was not able to do in the Spec trum case. The council was instead expected to serve as a rubber stamp, which concerned some councilors. If voters want to weaken the City Council they can take it up with the charter review commission, but that is not the system of government Pitts field has now.

The City Council ultimately voted to file the no confidence petition at the request of Ms. Yon in what appeared to be a good-hearted attempt to lower the temperature of the room. The petition was not the problem, however, it was what led up to its filing. The city now has a council divided against itself and a mayor at odds with several councilors, a situation not seen this dramatically since before the Mayor Ruberto era. If that doesn’t change it will be a wasted year-plus ahead for Pittsfield, which can’t afford to stagnate.


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