Pittsfield Council Opposes Licensing Board ReplacementBy Joe Durwin
Special to iBerkshires
02:54PM / Thursday, May 10, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Heated debate erupted between the mayor and City Council members on Tuesday over an appointment of a new member of the Licensing Board to replace Albert "Butch" Pisani, who claims he was unfairly removed from the board.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi and City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan say Pisani is currently a member of the board of the General Electric Athletic Association, and that because of his indirect involvement with the sale of alcohol, by law cannot serve on the city's Licensing Board. Bianchi put forth a nomination for Miriam Maduro, who served as chairman from 2003-2005, to fill the vacancy created by this legal restriction.
Pisani, however, insists he has not served on the GEAA board for some time, resigning his position the year prior to his most recent appointment to the Licensing Board (in August 2011). During the City Council's open mic period, Pisani said he felt he was being treated poorly despite decades of service to the city.
"I've served [on the Licensing Board] since 1980 under seven mayors," said Pisani. "And right now I feel like I've been totally disregarded in whatever I have to say."
Councilor Christine Yon made a motion to file the appointment until Pisani had been given a hearing to determine the facts.
"I just feel this appointment is premature," said Yon "According to Mass. General Law, Section 5, Mr. Pisani should be given due process, and I'm not sure that due process has taken place completely."
According to this section of law, upon dismissal of a member of the board, reasonable notice must be given, and Yon noted that a letter from the city solicitor was mailed to an incorrect, previous address at which Pisani has not lived since 2009.
Also under Mass. General Law, Yon said Pisani has the right to a hearing, and if unhappy with the outcome of that hearing can make an appeal to Superior Court for a review of evidence.
The city solicitor said these procedures do not apply because the situation is not a removal from the board by the mayor, but "an operation of law." If a member of the board is involved directly or indirectly in the selling of alcohol, they can no longer serve on the Licensing Board.
Degnan said once that occurence has taken place, there is an automatic "vacancy created by the actions of the member," and Pisani has no recourse of appeal.
"The mayor's not removing anyone, this is simply an operation of law," Degnan insisted. "He's not replacing anyone, he's just filling a vacancy."
Councilor Anthony Simonelli asked if this legality applied in light of a letter in which the president of the GEAA indicated that Pisani had already resigned from this board.
The city solicitor cited annual reports from the GEAA on file with the secretary of the state that list Pisani as being a member of its board. Degnan said the "intention to resign" may have been present, but there was nothing filed in the requisite paperwork.
Councilor Barry Clairmont took issue with the assumption of accuracy of those documents, which were filed by a party other than Pisani, saying he'd seen discrepancies between these documents and the club's tax filings. "There is not a single thing in the IRS 990 for this organization that match up with their annual reports." He pointed to differences in number of individuals listed as board members.
Clairmont also pointed to Degnan out that the GEAA itself does not hold a liquor license, but in fact rents to another business that holds the license, questioning the level of indirect relations the organization even had to matters concerning the licensing boad. At this point, Bianchi rose to the podium suddenly.
"This is an absolutely incredible line of discussion," said Bianchi. "Either accept, or reject, or refer back to me this appointment. But the fact of the matter is the secretary of state's office has a recent filing, less than two months old, with his [Pisani's] name on it... to make this kind of argument, councilor, you're way off base."
Councilor Jonathan Lothrop echoed Clairmont's disagreement. "If there is a question of no vacancy, then the question of appointment is relevant, and I have sufficient concerns about whether a state of vacancy currently exists."
"It doesn't say he intended to resign, it said he resigned, in 2010," Yon reiterated of the notarized letter stating Pisani had resigned from the GEAA board.
"Clearly we're at an impasse here," said Councilor John Krol, in support of nixing the new nomination. "We can't possibly move forward until we figure out where we are now."
The appointment to fill the contested vacancy on the Licensing Board was voted down 8-2, with Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin Morandi opposing the motion to file it. Ward 3 Councilor Paul Capitanio recused himself from the discussion and vote because of his ownership of a business that holds a liquor license.