Pittsfield Officials Say Charter Objection Won't Stop Budget Vote
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A charter objection to the fiscal 2023 budget at the last City Council meeting did not completely wipe out the panel's recommendations, Mayor Linda Tyer confirmed on Thursday.
Though the motion made by Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick "on behalf of Ward 2" adopted the originally presented budget by default, the council will be able to vote on the $116,000 of recommended increases on Tuesday.
The city must pass a budget by July 1 or be forced to operate month by month with this year's budget.
The budget will go back to Tyer and she will have the option to amend the budget to include the increases, which she has agreed to do if passed by the council.
"While the councilors have the absolute right to issue a charter objection, I think in this instance, it certainly caused a bit of manufactured chaos in that the members of the City Council were prepared to vote or to act or to deliberate, we were prepared to respond," Tyer said during a press conference Thursday with council President Peter Marchetti.
"And so the charter objection really caused -- if you were there, it was quite concerning, we weren't expecting it."
Marchetti feels that the charter objection was reckless and has received similar feedback from others.
"From my perspective and the information that I've been getting from the community and from my colleagues, I personally feel that the charter objection was a very reckless decision," he said.
"And that decision took the opportunity for the members of the City Council to take an up or down vote on the budget."
As of Monday, the originally proposed $188,589,144 budget was adopted. It does not include the recommended additional $1,000 to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP,) $65,000 for school maintenance, and $50,000 to the building inspector's department, a recommendation for the Pittsfield Police to earmark up to $250,000 in grant money to have additional clinicians as co-responders.
It also excludes a correction to the finance department that increases it by nearly $117,000.
"I felt they were fair and reasonable and strengthened the budget, which is why I brought forward the order to amend the budget that included the additional funds proposed by Councilor Kronick, (at-Large Councilor Karen Kalinowsky,) and (Councilor t aLarge Earl Persip III)," Tyer said.
"So, here we are now approaching the next meeting. Charter objections do not kill the item. They just delay it until the next regular City Council meeting. So that item is still on the table."
The budget will appear on the council agenda under unfinished business for Tuesday's meeting, requiring a member of the panel to take it off the table.
Tyer and Marchetti wanted to clear the air, as there was confusion from both residents and the administration after the motion. After catching his breath from the tense night in council chambers, Marchetti consulted City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta to see what could be done and went to the mayor to outline the next steps.
"I think because of all the confusion, I thought it was important for us to come forward and state the record straight that it is the fiscal year '23 budget that is already in place based on the 45-day deadline and the mayor has an opportunity to submit amended budgets whenever she would like with City Council approval," Marchetti explained.
"And in reality, that's what was before us almost two weeks ago, was an amended budget based on City Council recommendations. So the City Council will have an opportunity to vote on the budget that was presented, that we deliberated for hours, and our rights as city councilors will be there."
The president also highlighted that the recommendation for the Pittsfield Police Department to allocate up to $250,000 in grant money for additional clinicians as co-responders will happen regardless of the vote, as that was a conversation that occurred outside of the budget process.
As a member of the Charter Review Committee, Marchetti said the panel needs to look at charter objections and put specific purposes on the action so that it cannot erase hours of work with just two councilors supporting it.
"This charter objection was really put into place for when the City Council had to take a vote that they really didn't have all the information," he explained.
"So again, I keep calling it a reckless motion. If you didn't know where we were, and at what place we were after 20 plus hours of debate, you wanted to slow down the process, I'm confused."
The provision reads that if a single member of the council issues a charter objection, the council can either take that item up at a special meeting or at its next regular meeting. If two members or more issue a charter objection, the item can't be taken up until the next regular city council meeting.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio seconded Kronick"s charter objection, eliminating the option of a special meeting.
"It's a very powerful tool, but ought to be used judiciously," Tyer said.
"It shouldn't just be used as a hammer or a sledgehammer, it should be used more surgically in my mind."
Kronick has taken a number of stances against the budget during deliberations. Notably, he scrutinized Chief Diversity Officer Michael Obasohan's credentials for an annual salary of around $90,000 and made a transphobic comment pertaining to the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion during a budget deliberations in May.
"It simply proves the reason and the need for the city's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion," Tyer said in regard to Kronick's comments.
"We are still fighting against those racist homophobic, transphobic misogynistic attitudes and yes, sometimes people that have that mindset get elected to office, and it just proves why we need to do this work and why I am committed to it so much so that we created the office and hired director so that we can not be that."
As one of the three councilors who identify as LGBTQ+plus, Marchetti said he found some of his comments made during open session "very offensive."
Tyer added that she believes people are shocked when an elected official would speak in that way and use those terms. She is impressed with and admires those who have come to the podium in council chambers to address Kronick and point out that what he says is offensive.
West Side resident Tonya Frazier called out the councilor during the open microphone portion of a council meeting, calling him "the problem in this city."
Between pushback about his comments and residents of Ward 2 approaching elected officials to say that Kronick"s charter objection did not represent the wishes of his constituents, the question of whether or not a city councilor can be impeached came up.
In Section 9.4 of the City Charter, there is a recall provision that would have to be initiated by a voter from Ward 2. Tyer said there are specific procedures for a recall petition to be enacted and then there is a special vote that has to happen.
Marchetti said his votes and actions are up to the residents of the ward to decide if he is worthy to serve the remainder of his term or a future term.
Both officials said a charter objection of this nature has not happened in their extensive tenures.
While Tyer believes in the councilors' right to take action on what they feel is right and the deliberative process as a whole, she thinks that a vote against the budget is not helpful.
"I have never felt that a 'no' vote on a budget is of any service to the community because people expect to have fire protection, they want the garbage picked up, they want clean water coming to their house, they want the streets plowed, they want police protection," she said.
"The budget is the vehicle by which we provide all those services and I think there are people who are concerned and that's why we felt it was important to meet with you today to reassure the community that we will have a budget, services will be provided. Because that's been a question."