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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: Pittsfield's budget debacle and our poisonous politics

Persip walk out .jpg (copy)

Pittsfield Councilor Earl Persip III walks out of the June 14 City Council meeting in frustration after Councilor Charles Kronick issued a charter objection. The rest of the council reacted with general astonishment and confusion to Kronick's move.

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer’s spending proposal has become, by default, the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year due to an ill-timed charter objection that forced the City Council to run out the clock on its own budget-finalization process.

It’s a development that the mayor’s office — and most councilors — did not expect. Fortunately, Mayor Tyer said Thursday that she will honor the City Council’s proposed budget amendments if they’re approved at next week’s meeting. The mayor deserves credit for rolling with this sticky situation and trying to restore some sense of normality to a budgetary process derailed by a couple councilors’ antics. We hope she follows through on her pledge to preserve key amendments informed by council input and multiple hours-long hearings.

Still, we are left asking: How did we get here? How did we arrive at the point where this level of official sloppiness and counterproductive grandstanding has infected Pittsfield’s top legislative authority and undermined its critical responsibilities?

Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick, who lodged the charter objection that initiated this mess, said he did so because he thought the budget “reckless” and “not structured for the recession.”

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio, who seconded the objection, offered similar reasoning. “I do not support the budget at all this year, in its entirety,” Mr. Maffuccio said. “I didn’t support any of the money they moved around or added to the budget.”

When pressed on why he thought the charter objection was the right move, Mr. Maffuccio added: “It’s pointless with this council. I’m just tired of the rubber stamp the mayor has.”

The irony, of course, is that Mr. Maffuccio’s and Mr. Kronick’s moves were not only “reckless” but directly responsible for the mayor’s proposed budget receiving a “rubber stamp.” Their actions excised the council’s oversight role and led to the budget by default we have today that will only be amended if the mayor follows through on her offer to hold off on the veto these two councilors clumsily gave her.

To hear the City Council’s crucial fiscal responsibilities described as “pointless” by one of its own members is worrisome, and it goes to show that it only takes such dangerous nihilism from a few leaders to imperil the whole process. Even if nine of 11 councilors showed up wanting to do their jobs at their final budget meeting, it only took two to scuttle that effort. Sadly, that delivered a blow to the perception of the entire City Council’s legitimacy, not to mention its ability to soundly represent constituents.

If Mr. Maffuccio and Mr. Kronick would prefer that dissenting voices on the council were heard and taken more seriously, then we are all for that. Blowing up the normal budget procedure, however, is an irresponsible and ineffective way of doing so. Whatever substance of the complaints they might have about city spending is now buried by a careless move that ceded their own power (and that of their colleagues) to affect that spending. Mr. Kronick’s charter objection kneecapped, among other things, an amendment he in fact proposed that would boost funding for the city’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

Built into democracy is the need for collegiality. It’s a sad commentary on our state of affairs that this even needs saying: If you’re an elected official or a public servant tasked with representing citizens, you can’t just throw your hands up when you don’t get your way. When you do, the price is borne by the voters you fail and the democratic process you succeed in demolishing.

We have seen how the ignorance of that truth has poisoned our politics at the highest levels in D.C., and unfortunately it seems that poison has trickled down into municipal governance right here in Pittsfield. Let this be a harsh lesson of its toxic effects.

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