After seemingly preposterous procedural moves by two Pittsfield city councilors essentially neutered the council’s ability to hone the municipal budget, we echo the question raised by their exasperated colleagues: What were they thinking?
An unusual power of the Pittsfield City Council — the charter objection — ended the final budget debate before it began. Confused by that term and want to know what it all means? Check out our explainer.
An ill-timed charter objection by Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick kept the council from acting on the city budget as intended at its most recent meeting. As per the city charter’s rules, such an objection means the budget cannot be taken up until the objection is adjudicated at the council’s next meeting. The problem is that the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is June 26, while the council only has until June 24 to adopt an amended budget. If the council takes no action on the budget by then, the budget — warts and all — would automatically go into effect. What’s worse is that when some councilors sought a point of order to rein in the chaos, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio interjected to second the objection. As per charter rules, that means the council cannot even schedule an emergency meeting before June 24 to deal with the charter objection and then take up the budget.
These questionable moves didn’t just make the city’s legislative leadership look like a clown show while taking up one of its most important duties. They also kneecapped the council’s ability to even perform that duty, nullifying the influence the council might otherwise have on the budget to which these councilors apparently object. Citizens are left with the alarming impression that two of the city’s top elected officials either didn’t understand that they were blowing up the normal budget-making process — a conclusion drawn by some of their fellow officials — or that they were simply OK with doing so.
We don’t know which is worse, but Mr. Kronick and Mr. Maffuccio have some explaining to do after putting the city in this position. Mr. Kronick said he raised the charter objection “on behalf of Ward 2,” but the effect of this move in fact removes Mr. Kronick, Mr. Maffuccio and other councilors from their key role in shaping the budget on behalf of constituents. That means undercutting several of the council’s budgetary priorities informed by several multi-hour meetings with city department heads and community stakeholders.
The school district budget makes up about 38 percent of the city’s overall operating budget for FY 2023, which also received a preliminary approval by the council on Thursday night in a 8-3 vote.
Pittsfield citizens are left wondering which of the following are not “on behalf of Ward 2”: more money for the city’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program; directing Pittsfield Police to put $250,000 in grant funding toward mental health co-responder programs; a transfer from free cash to reduce rising tax bills’ impact on residents. These and all other pieces the council was poised to add to the city’s budget were crossed out by this inexplicably irresponsible move. The council can recommend funding these or other items, but the mayor could veto any of those. Further, it’s not clear if the measure to blunt the impact of rising taxes on residents will be possible even if the mayor agrees, since the use of free cash cannot just be done at any time.
As is painfully obvious from D.C. down to the local level, it is far easier to be destructive in politics than constructive. Process is important, and obviously councilors are within their rights to raise charter objections. Unfortunately, this instance highlights how easy it is for certain officials to simply say they’re acting on behalf of the people while throwing a wrench in proceedings meant to serve the public. Mr. Kronick and Mr. Maffuccio owe voters some answers as to why they opted to hastily disenfranchise the City Council from its critical role in the city’s budgetary process. What is the specific reason for raising and seconding a charter objection in this instance? Did they understand precisely what their actions entailed? What did they hope to gain from this foolish grandstanding? Absent cogent answers, we’re left with an alarming indication of the competence level of a critical fraction of the Pittsfield City Council — and hopefully a lesson against such official incompetence in the future.