PITTSFIELD, Mass. — After two violations of its tobacco retail license, the managers from Cumberland Farms on First Street say tobacco products will not be sold at all unless the customer has identification.
The city is imposing a $350 fine on the convenience store but is holding the seven-day suspension in abeyance, meaning it will be enforced only if there is another violation.
Health Director Gina Armstrong said there was a violation in March 2017 and that in November 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ran a compliance check and found another violation. Lastly, the Tri-Town Health Department found a violation in January of this year.
Armstrong said the violations included selling to minors and having clerks not certified to sell tobacco products doing so. She isn't sure what the FDA violation is because that data hasn't been released.
Nonetheless, there are two violations to the license and by code that would require a seven-day license suspension and a $350 fine. A third violation would result in a 14-day license suspension and a $500 fine.
Cumberland Farms appealed the violation. The managers didn't deny the violations but outlined a series of mitigating steps it had taken to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Regional Manager Thomas Coupack said the biggest thing was that they've taken the discretion of whether to ask for identification or not away. He said in the point of sale system there was an option to just click "of age" for products requiring identification that was used to speed up the process. That has now been disabled so clerks have to scan an identification or, if it is faded and won't scan, hand punch the birthday into the system.
"We've disabled that 'of age' ability. It will stop somebody from overriding the system," Coupack said.
He said the policy was implemented immediately when the company got the letter informing them of the violation. He said the policy does create issues with lines and with people who do not have identification cards. But, he said in other stores it has been implemented there hadn't been other violations.
A second aspect is that the employees weren't trained. Armstrong said it isn't just that one particular clerk sold tobacco products without being certified to do so but that "only a small percentage" of employees working for the company in Berkshire County had completed the required Tri-Town Health Department training.
"I feel like the employees are going through the motions," Armstrong said, saying it feels like the attitude in the company is one that doesn't take the training seriously.
The company said most of that was due to IT issues. District Manager Ross McGowan said Tri-Town's training program was linked into Cumberland Farm's training system. But, when employees would click into it, the program would fail. On Cumberland Farm's side, it marked the program as done but Tri-Town's side would still say incomplete.
McGowan said the company is working with the IT department to correct the issue but in the meantime held classes for everybody without a certificate. There is only one employee remaining at the First Street store without certification and McGowan said until that person completes the training, he will not be able to run the register.
He later questioned the efficiency of the training. Tri-Town's training has much that goes through YouTube and he said Cumberland Farms has to have its internet secured. He said it is complicated to secure such information as credit cards while still being able to connect with something like YouTube. He said the company moved to tablets to get the training done at one point but the secure connection remained an issue.
He said often it led to asking employees to do it from home. But, they aren't getting paid for it and they have to have internet.
"It is very difficult for an hourly wage person to get through," he said.
He said each employee has to go through some two hours of training to pass. He questioned why he couldn't have it done in a classroom setting to train multiple employees at a time, rather than each individually.
"I want my team members trained. I want them to have the right tools in the toolbag when they get to the register and have to make a decision," McGowan said but said Tri-Towns is not that user-friendly and he suggests other options to make it quicker and easier.
Armstrong refuted the technology aspect saying companies have been able to have employees take the course at Tri-Town Health or training have been made available closer to the store.
"In the past, accommodations have always been made," Armstrong said.
Nonetheless, company officials said 45 percent of their business is tobacco sales and often those who purchase tobacco products buy other items as well. They said a seven-day suspension of the licenses would make a huge economic impact to the store.
In September, the Board of Health upheld a seven-day suspension for Thing or Two Variety. But, in that case, the board hadn't felt like the owner had taken it seriously. In this case, however, the company had made an effort to ensure was done properly.
Board of Health member Brad Gordon suggested an abeyance option as one that recognizes the effort Cumberland Farms put in but also keeps the enforcement of the Health Department in place. The fine will also remain in place. Armstrong agreed that abeyance would be fitting for such a situation and the rest of the board agreed.
Should there be a third violation, the store would be slapped with a 21-day licenses suspension and a $500 fine.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to email@example.com.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
Kathleen Theoharides, secretary of energy and environmental affairs, visits the site of culvert project in Pittsfield being funded through the state's climate readiness program.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides was in Pittsfield on Friday to review a state-funded culvert site and meet with local officials to discuss the state's climate readiness program.
She joined Mayor Linda Tyer at the Churchill Street culvert, a site which recently received grant funding through the state's Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program. The city was awarded an $814,524 state grant in June for the Churchill Brook and West Street Culvert Replacement Project.
Through the MVP program, which begun in 2017, municipalities identify key climate-related hazards, vulnerabilities and strengths, develop adaptation actions, and prioritize next steps. The initiative which initially started as a $500,000 capital grant program has now increased to $12 million. Pittsfield is among the 71 percent of communities across the commonwealth now enrolled in the MVP program.
"The governor and the lieutenant governor have made resilient infrastructure a priority all across the state and I think it's really important to know that we have a really vested interest in Western Massachusetts communities as well as all across the state, not forgetting the Berkshires or Pioneer Valley," said Theoharides in a statement. "Our MVP program is really focused on these types of partnership investments and looking to design infrastructure for the challenges we're seeing today and moving forward as climate change increases."
Four names will be on the preliminary ballot but only three candidates showed for the debate held by the Pittsfield Gazette and hosted at Berkshire Community College. The moderator was radio host Larry Kratka and Pittsfield Community Television aired the event.
click for more
City Council President Peter Marchetti feels he's brought "professional leadership" to the city and he wants to continue doing so.
Marchetti is again seeking re-election to the council - it'll be his ninth campaign for council and 10th for elected office - in the last two decades. He's had what... click for more