PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council does not believe its job is to police restaurants on COVID-19 violations.
The council last week rejected another petition from Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio, this one requesting the Licensing Board review any alleged COVID-19 violations.
This petition was amended from the original, which requested the Licensing Board to specifically review supposed violations at the Berkshire Hills Country Club, the Hot Dog Ranch, and the now closed PortSmitt's Lakeway Restaurant.
This motion failed 7-4, with Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell, Councilor at Large Peter White and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi joining Maffuccio to vote in favor of the petition.
"I'm not going to be supporting this tonight because we keep going down this road of sort of backseat driving other boards and committees. The ordinances are very clear that the Licensing Board does not report to the City Council, we do not oversee the Licensing Board as a council," Ward 6 Councilor and Licensing Board member Dina Guiel Lampiasi said. "We have so much going on in the city and we have so much that we're dealing with right now, we need to focus on what we as a council are elected to focus on, and we should be spending this time discussing the things that we have the power to impact."
After receiving a COVID-19 violation and complaint report from the Board of Health at the last City Council meeting of 2020, Maffuccio said he wanted to be consistent in referring these establishments to the Licensing Board for said violations because they were similar in nature to the establishments that have been fined and had license suspensions.
There were five complaints about the Hot Dog Ranch, one of which was a confirmed violation on March 23, 2020; Berkshire Hills Country Club received a warning for a wedding that did not follow COVID-19 guidelines, and PortSmitt's was identified as one of the major super spreader events that predated the November COVID-19 surge in Pittsfield.
Though PortSmitt's closed after the event, Maffuccio believes there should be some kind of sanction that could be placed on the owners since they still hold the liquor license for the establishment.
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey said the council doesn't have jurisdiction over the Licensing Board, so when the council discusses handles these complaints it is similar to a person from the public submitting them to the board.
Kavey said it would be more helpful to go through the Health Department with these complaints rather than using council time to vote on them.
"I would just kind of in the future not use our time to direct things to them when we could simply send them an email or call our own Health Department and ask our Health Department to follow through with this since they don't recognize anything we send them," he said.
Though Maffuccio was aiming for consistency, the majority of councilors agreed that these petitions were not suited for them to take on.
"I can't tell you why the Health Department is not doing it besides being weighed down and overwhelmed from the pandemic," Maffuccio said.
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III pointed out that complaints are unfounded and violations are founded.
"I just don't see why we're doing this," he said. "The Licensing Board is not an investigative body, who is is our Health Department, they can look and do the research and kind of investigate and look into it with the Police Department and the Fire Department that's why they send violations off to the Licensing Board."
Persip added that the council will be muddying up the agenda and doing a job that's not its own if it votes on every eatery that has a complaint filed against it.
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