At first virtual meeting, Pittsfield City Council allocates $300,000 for coronavirus spending

The Pittsfield City Council meets for the first time Tuesday - virtually, that is - after a monthlong hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. PCTV provided a live feed for viewers, who could see the city's leaders in "Hollywood Squares" style.

PITTSFIELD — The City Council ventured into the virtual realm Tuesday, using its first meeting to approve $300,000 in spending toward the global coronavirus pandemic that put it there.

The council's first foray into meeting via Zoom conference was not immune to the kinds of snags that many have found in the remote universe. There were audio issues, connection lags and, at times, Council President Peter Marchetti struggled to see when a councilor was requesting the floor.

Still, the show went on at the usual time, broadcast live via Pittsfield Community Television.

Gov. Charlie Baker's orders banning public gatherings temporarily amid the coronavirus crisis suspended elements of the state's Open Meeting Law, which says meetings must be held in a publicly accessible place and with public comment taken.

In the key issue of the night, Mayor Linda Tyer requested that councilors approve moving $300,000 from the city's free cash fund to a new emergency management budget for coronavirus-related expenses.

Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell reached for the normal process, suggesting that the matter be referred to the Finance Committee for further vetting.

"This is a longer conversation, I think," he said.

But, Councilor at Large Earl Persip III argued that the circumstances are far from normal — "We're meeting via video Zoom conference" — and pointed out that the city already is incurring these emergency expenses.

Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon agreed, saying "This is really not the time to hold back."

The vote to allocate the $300,000 passed 9-2, with dissenting votes coming from Connell and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi.

Both councilors said they questioned the process more than the spending itself.

"I just feel we're trying to push this through," Connell said. "I'm going to vote no because there's other ways to do this."

Tyer said that, in the interest of transparency, she wants to create a separate budget for coronavirus spending and her team carefully is accounting for all emergency spending.

So far, the city has spent more than $100,000 toward emergency relief efforts, excluding personnel resources. Finance Director Matt Kerwood told councilors that he expects the spending will be eligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at a 75 percent rate.

But, when that reimbursement will be in reach remains a question.

"Until the state of emergency is actually over, we won't be able to begin submitting," he said. "At this point, no one can really say when that is going to happen."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-464-2859.