Pittsfield Commission Investigating Complaint Against Mayor

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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Medford resident Doreen Wade filed a complaint against Mayor Daniel Bianchi with Pittsfield's new Human Rights Commission, saying he discriminated against her and threatened her.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A new commission will look into claims by a Medford resident who says she faced discrimination by Mayor Daniel Bianchi in her attempt to relocate her business to Pittsfield last year.

Doreen Wade, publisher of the online New England Informer, accused Bianchi of hostile behavior toward efforts to relocate her online business to the city and refusing to hire her for a position in his cabinet following a publicity campaign against him by Wade.

"Our leadership is racist," Wade told the newly formed Human Rights Commission at its first meeting Monday. "There needs to be an investigation of what is going on in this city."

In her testimony, Wade called out all city government with what she says has been an ongoing pattern of discrimination and unfair hiring practices, and specifically Bianchi for racially insensitive comments and physically threatening behavior during meetings with him a year ago, allegations the mayor has referred to as "totally untrue."

According to Wade's account, she first met with Bianchi in spring 2013 to ask his help in transitioning her online publication, the New England Informer, to Pittsfield, and to address her views on a lack of diversity in city hierarchies.

Wade said Bianchi told her at this April 3 meeting she would receive no public funding assistance for bringing her business to Pittsfield, and made a series of impolitic comments in response to her initial assertions about equality in the city.

The web publisher quoted the mayor as saying, "there are no black role models in the school system, and that is why black students are not graduating" and that  "black men over 50 are unable to get jobs because they are not qualified."

Wade furthermore complained she was told there were no small-business loans or grants available specifically for minorities through the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp.

Finally, Wade said Bianchi, at a second meeting later in April, made her feel physically intimidated when he shook his finger in her face during a heated exchange between the two.

"He performed an act of intimidation, also called cowering," Wade told the commission. "As far as I'm concerned, he committed an assault against me, as well as performing an act of criminal threatening." 

Subsequently, Wade said she had applied for at least five positions on Bianchi's staff, including the recently filled director of administrative services position, positions she said are not being posted properly to be accessible, and for which qualified minority candidates have been passed over. Additionally, she said she was informed by the mayor that she would not be allowed to apply for small-business loans available through PERC.

The publisher said while she currently resides in Medford, where she is also the complainant in an investigation of alleged hate speech by the city's local access television station, Wade said she has strong ties to the Pittsfield community.

 "My family has been in this area since the 1600s," Wade said, but despite this, claims she has been unable to relocate to Pittsfield because Bianchi refuses to work with her.  

"It has been horrific," said Wade. "I am not being allowed to have a living in this city."  

Wade's report did contain some identifiable inaccuracies, including a statement that city jobs are not posted at the Berkshire Athenaeum, and the assertion that the mayor sits on the PERC board that administers the small-business loan fund. The mayor is a member of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority board, a separate entity.

Other claims have been denied by Bianchi since the allegations were first made in May 2013 and, to date, no hard evidence has been presented against him. However, Wade says documentation of much of her complaint exists and promised to provide this before the commission's next meeting in June.

The new Human Rights Commission, chaired by Pittsfield School Committee member Joshua Cutler, is still somewhat uncertain of what its role and process would be, as distinct from the recently re-established Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, and several members of the commission expressed disappointment with the absence of staff support. City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan was to provide the committee with legal counsel at its first meeting.

"I'm a little surprised that the solicitor is not here," said commission member Pamela Malumphy, "Certainly for the next meeting, there's so much that we need to do as a new body, working within another updated Affirmative Action Plan, that we need to make sure this is all coalescing."

In light of the investigatory nature of the commission, which includes provisions for taking sworn testimony under oath, Malumphy suggested that a formal request should be made to have the city's legal representative present at all future meetings.

"There were some pretty serious charges made here tonight," said City Council representative Churchill Cotton. "I think it's going to warrant a formal investigation, and I'm not sure how we go about doing that."

The commission will reconvene to continue reviewing the complaint at a meeting tentatively scheduled for June 9.

Tags: civil rights,   discrimination,   rights complaint,   

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