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Pittsfield Councilor, Mayor At Odds Over Records Request

By Joe Durwin
Pittsfield Correspondent
02:08PM / Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont said he's being charged for access to public records related to the bidding process that selected 100 North St. as the new location for city inspection services.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Being charged to look at public documents indicates a lack of transparency in the city's bidding process, says at-Large City Councilor Barry Clairmont.
 
Clairmont has formally asked for copies of all emails relating to discussions between city staff and the owners of property of 100 North St., where Mayor Daniel Bianchi plans to move the city's inspection offices. While Clairmont believes there are about 175 such emails, he was granted permission to view only 63 pages, and balked at being asked to pay $63.95 for them.
 
"It's ridiculous," Clairmont told iBerkshires. "In my opinion, this is meant to be a roadblock and a deterrent to me for asking for information."
 
Clairmont said he was taken aback by the fees, because he has requested "far more information" from other departments, such as the Treasury and School Departments, and never been asked to pay for that information.
 
"When you have an elected official that's doing official city business, and they have to pay for records, in my mind, that's an obstacle being put up," Clairmont said. "In my opinion, it just doesn't look good."
 
Bianchi told iBerkshires that a reasonable fee had been assessed based on the amount of labor required for the request, which included a search of the email system for all correspondence related to discussions with the owner of the leased space at 100 North St., the former Agricultural National Bank.
 
"It was a voluminous amount of paperwork, which tied up our IT manager," said Bianchi, who added that it then had to be reviewed by the city solicitor's office to make sure no confidentiality laws would be violated. "So it's not like this is an inexpensive thing."
 
"I asked the mayor to call me, to ask, 'Did you really mean to charge me for this?' " said Clairmont. "He has yet to call me back."
 
The councilor, who has been a vocal opponent of Bianchi's administration on numerous issues since both took office in 2012, added that he intends to pay the fees for the documents because he has concerns about the way the request for proposals for the new inspectors' offices was conducted.
 
"I've heard that this move to that particular building has been in the works as early as 2013," Clairmont told iBerkshires, noting that the RFP for new office space was put out in April 2014. "If that is the case, I am questioning was this RFP written so restrictive that only that building could apply?"
 
"If they've really been planning this move, and it has been designed for that building from the beginning, then I don't believe the bidding process has been handled properly," Clairmont said. "I want to see if they admit to having met with [building owner] Scarafoni beforehand. I've been told point blank by numerous people that they did."
 
Clairmont, who has put forth a petition to have the administration answer a variety of questions about the move at the City Council's meeting next Tuesday, says he is "less concerned" about the process if the city did meet prior to the release of the request for proposals with other building owners in addition to the winning bidder.
 
"If they only looked at 100 North St., what's really going on here?" concluded Clairmont, who said he fears that the limited amount of pages granted to his request and the fees associated with it are an attempt to conceal information from him, a contention that Bianchi firmly denied.
 
"Are other city councilors being charged for copies, or is it just me?" Clairmont asked.
 
Senior city councilors contacted expressed a mix of experiences with requesting records from City Hall.
 
Council President Melissa Mazzeo said most of her requests for copies had been limited to meeting minutes and past council orders that had been provided free.
 
"I did ask once for emails and stuff from Deanna Ruffer and she wanted to charge me," Mazzeo said. "Rich Dohoney [former city solicitor] said no and let me copy them for free."
 
"I have never been charged as a city councilor," said seven-term Councilor Jonathan Lothrop. "As a private citizen, I once paid for some records in 2001 when I was a candidate for office. It was perhaps $20."
 
"This was a fair amount of work for a number of people," Bianchi said of Clairmont's request, but added that his office has contacted the Department of Revenue to seek its opinion on the matter. "That isn't necessarily free."
 
"We try to be as responsive as we possibly can,"  he said. "But you can't tie up staff indefinitely with things."

Tags: bidding,   public records,   RFP,   

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