PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda Tyer waited more than a year, and now she will have to wait a couple of weeks longer.
The mayor’s signature home loan improvement program, At Home in Pittsfield, appeared poised to pass the City Council on Tuesday, until one councilor used a charter objection to halt discussions until the next council meeting.
“I think there’s more to discuss here,” Councilor Chris Connell said Tuesday night, invoking the procedural maneuver as the council’s Zoom videoconference public meeting stretched past 11 p.m.
Connell has been opposed to the funding source Tyer identified for her At Home in Pittsfield proposal, among his main criticisms since Tyer first introduced the program last year. With three other councilors, Connell voted against it in 2019, and showed little sign that his position changed in the time since Tyer reintroduced it last month.
The program would authorize the city to use $500,000 from its General Electric Economic Development Fund to provide loans for eligible city residents to make repairs to the exterior of their homes.
In the hour before Connell invoked his objection, feedback about Tyer’s home loan program from his colleagues on the council had been positive. Except for Connell and Councilor Kevin Morandi, councilors agreed with the Tyer administration and judged the program squarely as an economic development initiative — and thus befitting of the use of the G.E. money.
After more than an hour of debate, Councilor Earl Persip III put forth a motion to move to a final vote, which was seconded by Vice President Pete White. But, instead of voting on Persip’s motion, Connell raised his charter objection.
After a flurry of confused discussion over the timing of the objection, councilors determined that, even though the objection came after the vote had begun, Connell had been muted on the Zoom platform.
“If we were not on Zoom tonight, Councilor Connell would have made the charter objection, and we would not have started voting in this manner,” White said. “I think this is murky water because we’re on Zoom, and I know many councilors would like this to go to a vote tonight, but I don’t want to see something challenged based on our own rules.”
The council will take up the measure when it next meets Nov. 24. Before he raised his objection in the first place, Connell had asked Finance Director Matt Kerwood to weigh in with his interpretation of the Council Rule 38. According to the rule, councilors are to consider disbursements from the city’s Economic Development Fund based on potential job creation, capacity to generate further investments and overall public benefit.
Kerwood, who brought forth the rule years ago, when he was a councilor, said it was clear at the time the council needed to have some influence over fund disbursements. As the rule’s originator, Kerwood said At Home in Pittsfield passes muster for Economic Development Fund money.
Connell disagreed, and said the program failed to comply with all aspects of Kerwood’s rule, including one about job creation. He also renewed his opposition to Tyer’s proposal to dedicate 60 percent of the appropriation for home repairs to the Morningside and West Side neighborhoods.
“The G.E. Economic Development Fund was given to the entire city, not 60 percent to the West Side and Morningside [neighborhoods],” he said.
He and Morandi, who represents part of the Morningside area, criticized Tyer for failing to act on a petition filed by them and the two other councilors who voted against the program last year.
The petition called on Tyer to bring together a working group to study alternative sources of funding for her program, he said, and she agreed to put White and Morandi on such a working group.
Under questioning from Morandi, Tyer acknowledged that the group never met.
“You went against your word,” Morandi said.
Tyer denied Morandi’s claim that she and her team failed to try to find an alternative funding source, and indicated they decided to wait and reintroduce the proposal at a more favorable time.
“We worked really hard putting this proposal together,” she said. “We simply decided to set this aside until we felt more confident bringing it back, and that’s what we did.”