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The Pittsfield City Council got into a debate over whether a fellow councilor's business was being protected for COVID-19 violations. The council voted to refer Councilor at Large Yuki Cohen's restaurant Methuselah to the Licensing Board for review.

Pittsfield Council Votes to Send Methuselah to Licensing Board

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Allegations that a city councilor's business was being protected over COVID-19 violations sparked a heated argument Tuesday night that caused one councilor's audio to be muted.

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio demanded that Councilor at Large Yuki Cohen be brought up by the Licensing Board and that the written warning her restaurant Methuselah had received as a first offense wasn't really her first.

"Just because she is a city councilor and one of our colleagues, we cannot protect her," Maffuccio said. "What's right is right and what's wrong is wrong."

Methuselah was one of three eateries that earlier this month had been related to two outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

Maffuccio said Cohen was being protected from facing the Licensing Board. At one point, Maffuccio's microphone was muted by President Peter Marchetti as he was repeatedly speaking out of turn.

Maffuccio demanded that the Licensing Board determine whether Methuselah needs a suspension for said violations. For the sake of transparency, the City Council voted to refer Cohen to the Licensing Board with a vote of 9-0, with Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi abstaining because also sits on the Licensing Board. 

Cohen was asked to leave the meeting for this segment because of the conflict of interest.

Maffuccio openly speculated why Cohen has only received a written warning for overcapacity and bar service, when Proprietor's Lodge and Zucchini's went before the Licensing Board and were given license suspensions and Zucchini's also faced fines.

Proprietor's lost its liquor license from Aug. 30 to Sep. 5 and Zucchini's will lose its license for five days at the end of the pandemic.

"Due to COVID-19 policy violations, [Cohen] got a written warning from the Health Department," Maffuccio said. "It hasn't been sent to the Licensing Board and I'm referring this to the Licensing Board because she was bar service without food and over capacity. That is a direct violation and a health issue that the Licensing Board has taken up two times, I know, from myself and Ward 7."

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III agreed to the referral so that the council wouldn't look like it was doing Cohen any favors.

But he said having Cohen leave the meeting and for the council to question her ethics and ability to run her business is unfair to her, so the Licensing Board should make the decision whether there are violations or not, and if not the council should apologize to her for wasting her time.

"For me, I don't think this is the City Council's job to decide who is guilty or not, I think that is the Licensing Board and if we feel that someone needs to go to the Licensing Board, I think we just send it off and they can prove their innocence there or take a violation if they deserve one," Persip said.

The council was presented with a COVID-19 Workplace Safety Standards Food Establishment Complain Report, listing complains of violations that have been reported to the Health Department. Both Maffuccio and Persip said this list was incorrect and not complete.

"This not the first offense," Maffuccio said about Methuselah. "Because I called in an offense that you guys investigated once before that I do not see on this list, so this is not their first offense. Just because she is a city councilor does not exclude her from going before the Licensing Board like Proprietor's, like Zucchini's, and having sanctions put on her by the Licensing Board."

Persip said he has reported one restaurant on the list twice and that a complaint he made with pictures included was not even on the list.

"This list is not accurate," he said. "I can say that for a fact."  

In response to Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi asking Director of Public Health Gina Armstrong why Cohen wasn't  written up for serving alcohol without food, as it is illegal during the pandemic, Armstrong emphasized that the Health Department is using a progressive enforcement strategy that begins with education and then goes to written or verbal warnings.

Armstrong said Methuselah's over capacity was never verified and that a picture came through of a patron seated at the bar, for which Cohen received a warning.  
 
Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey was confused as to why the surveillance footage and sales reports aren't analyzed to determine whether Methuselah violated policy or not.

"The idea that we can't come to a decision about whether or not this happened ... ," Kavey said. "I guess I am just a little bit confused about it when technology gives us the ability to just see the transaction, but also look down directly on the person who is dining."

Maffuccio questioned if Kavey voting on this also was a conflict of interest, claiming that he worked for Cohen. Kavey clarified that he didn't even work a full shift at Methuselah or complete training before leaving the restaurant industry to run for office.

"This is all strange because it's a colleague," Persip said. "I think this is a weird situation we are in, so for me I think the best action is just to send it off so it doesn't look like there is special treatment because a colleague owns a restaurant. I think that's the cleanest way to do this."
 

Tags: license board,   COVID-19,   


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