Our Opinion: Truth-teller joins line
Like the typical whistle-blower, John Barrett III got in trouble not for telling falsehoods but for revealing the truth. The former interim executive director of BerkshireWorks, Mr. Barrett drew public attention to the problematic state website designed to help the unemployed get the benefits due them, and if and when the site ever becomes fully functional, he will deserve a share of the credit.
The former North Adams mayor was the first public official to sound the alarm last June that the Department of Unemployment Assistance's new website was not prepared for the onslaught triggered by its launch on July 1. He says he was told by Labor Department officials, from Secretary of Labor Joanne Goldstein on down, to keep his concerns to himself, and when he shared them with The Eagle, received a phone call from Alice Sweeney, director of the state Department of Career Services, chastising him for going to the media. (See Clarence Fanto article in the Sunday, January 26 Eagle.)
Mr. Barrett was proven correct, as the glitch-plagued website was indeed overwhelmed, and at the one-stop career center he directed he saw first-hand the anguish of unemployed Berkshire residents who couldn't pay mortgages or medical bills while they waited for weeks to get their checks from the state. He credits the Berkshire legislative delegation for its public campaign to persuade Secretary Goldstein to increase her efforts to address the problem, in part by adding staff.
Appointed to the BerkshireWorks executive directorship by former Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto, Mr. Barrett, the mayor of North Adams for 26 years, was kept on as an interim head by Mayor Daniel Bianchi, who chose not to consider him for the permanent directorship and instead named former Pittsfield resident William Monterosso. That is the mayor's prerogative, and the new director has a solid résumé, but as the career center position is not political in nature it would be unfortunate if the capable Mr. Barrett was penalized for his appointment by the current mayor's former rival or for whistle-blowing.
Last Friday, when Ms. Goldstein announced that she would be leaving at the end of the month to take an administrative position at Boston's Northeastern University, Mr. Barrett finished up at BerkshireWorks and will now get to test the state's unemployment system personally. Taxpayers should not only be concerned about the DUA's troubled, $46 million website, they should be offended that state officials were evidently determined to keep what they knew to be the truth about that website hidden, to the extent of unsuccessfully trying to keep Mr. Barrett silent.
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