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Pittsfield Council Drops Controversial No Confidence Vote

By Joe Durwin
Pittsfield Correspondent
11:45AM / Wednesday, October 10, 2012
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A petition targeting the performance of the city's solicitor was filed by unanimous vote of the City Council.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council did not vote Tuesday on a petition of no confidence in City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan after hours of vicious debate.

The split in a large crowd of attendees determined by outbursts of applause to the two opposing arguments was akin to the voter divide in the city's most recent election. 

The outcry against the petition for a vote of no confidence in Degnan dominated those who addressed the council during an hourlong open-microphone period.

The petition, put forth by Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon and Council President Kevin Sherman, challenged the "professional competence"  as the city's legal representation if a case that ended with a $100,000 settlement paid to Spectrum Health Systems and allowed the company to open a methadone clinic on Summer Street. Ultimately the petition would be filed and no vote was taken.

The methadone clinic, which opened on Tuesday, provoked debate across the city for nearly a year.
 
"She's not a player in some of your political worlds, and therefore a very easy target," said the city's Director of Administrative Services Donna Mattoon, who berated the councilors who've opposed Degnan for casting her in a harsh light in the media. "This is a heartless and a thoughtless vote."
 
Former Councilor Joseph Nichols condemned the non-binding petition challenging Degnan, "I consider it to be a complete waste of time, and an embarrassment to the city of Pittsfield," he said.
 
"Christine Yon is being unjustly sniped, for no good reason, other than sticking up for her constituents," said Robert Skowron, of Pittsfield, though he also defended Degnan, and urged the council to move past Spectrum-related issues.
 
"The mayor inherited a nightmare ... it's got to stop, folks," said Skowron, whose June 14 email to the mayor and council accusing Mayor Daniel Bianchi of not being transparent about an initial settlement plan to locate the clinic on Stoddard Avenue was instrumental in the backlash of protest that scrapped the plan, delaying a settlement agreement. "Let's move on. There's no need for any of this."
 
Councilor Yon defended the merits of her complaints against Degnan, as outlined in a six-page document provided (see timeline, pages 89-95) in which she says information taken out of context from what she believed to have been a private meeting with Bianchi and the city solicitor was referenced by Degnan during court proceedings and later became cited as supporting evidence in a new injunction filed by Spectrum promptly thereafter.
  
"I wasn't looking to get anyone," said Yon, who along with Sherman originally met with the mayor on Sept. 6 to ask that he consider removing Degnan from her position as solicitor. "I was looking for answers."
 
Councilors Barry Clairmont, Jonathan Lothrop and John Krol voiced strong support for the petition, while Councilors Christopher Connell, Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin Morandi criticized the move.
 
Lothrop revisited previous statements made by himself, Clairmont and Krol to local media outlets in late August, saying he felt mislead by Degnan during a series of June budget discussions about the nature of a sum set aside for litigation settlement.
 
"If department heads or other individuals or officials are not giving the City Council factual, truthful, honest information, I'm apt to make bad decisions on your behalf," said Lothrop. "And I'm very upset by the fact that I do feel that in this case I was mislead."
 
"There appears to be a pattern here that greatly concerns me," Krol concurred.
 
"How is this going to benefit the city?" asked Morandi. "What attorney Degnan did, what this administration did [with respect to the Spectrum suit] was the right move to settle this quickly and get out."
 
"I don't believe in the process that we're going about this," said Connell. "This step is just too extreme." 
 
After extensive discussion of the litigation, Yon ultimately made a motion to file her petition, taking the no-confidence vote off the table.
 
"I'm hoping in the future when we go to the mayor with their concerns, they're taken seriously," said Yon.  "I'm extremely frustrated with the dialogue that's been going on, and that's not been going on."  
 
"As much as I'm very glad that we're going to file this, at the same time, we have just dragged her [Degnan's] reputation through the mud," said Mazzeo.  "Going forward, this should never, ever happen again."
 
Bianchi vehemently criticized the way in which Yon had handled her grievances with the city solicitor.
 
"You said you made every effort to communicate with me. You showed up unannounced with the council president, and you requested that I ask for the resignation of our solicitor," said Bianchi. "I don't consider that to be a tremendous effort."
 
The council voted unanimously to file the petition.

Tags: city council,   city solicitor,   lawsuit,   petition,   Pittsfield,   Spectrum Health,   

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