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Pittsfield City Council Derides Effort To Cut Health Insurance

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting
Josh Landes
The June 23rd, 2020 vitural Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council meeting

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts City Council has shot down a motion to cut health insurance for elected officials making less than $15,000 a year.

At-Large Councilor and Council President Peter Marchetti introduced the petition at Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

“If we do ‘what if’ all 11 members of the city council took an insurance plan and they took the family plan, we’re talking an excess of $200,000 per year in expenses that the taxpayers have to fund so that city councilors can have insurance," said Marchetti. "And in my opinion, I know that we want all walks to life to run for city council and we want to encourage all people, and based on the salaries that city councilors get paid – whether it be $8,000 or $10,000 for council president – there is nobody that’s going to make a living off of their city council salary.”

Marchetti’s first attempt at a similar measure was rejected by the council back in 2001.

“I think it’s important to look at this strictly from a numbers perspective and it’s exactly why I went back and amended my petition and added the language of ‘starting with the council of 2022’ so that I can take all of the personalities out of it and it’s not like it’s a threat to any single person that is here,” said the council president.

“The reason why it’s pushed out to the next council, it’s not because President Marchetti is looking out, does not want anybody involved, it’s in the charter. It’s in the charter, compensation for councilors cannot – any decisions cannot take effect until the next election cycle. So it’s not because he’s thinking of us," said Ward 4 councilor Christopher Connell. The fiscal conservative uses the city-offered health insurance.

“I think to spring this on the council in the middle of a pandemic, where you’re talking about taking away health benefits – even if it’s not for the current council but for in the future – I have a real problem with that,” said Connell.

Ward 7 councilor Anthony Maffuccio said he voted against the proposal in 2001, and that he intended to do the same in 2020.

“I will not support this, and I will not support this now or in the future until you can give me some cold, hard, driven numbers with facts behind it, and not hypotheticals,” Maffuccio said.

He said the insurance is an equity issue, and referenced Marchetti’s job as a senior vice president at Pittsfield Cooperative Bank.

“Some people are less fortunate than other people," said the councilor. "They don’t have banker jobs or engineering jobs or high-priced jobs or high salaries.”

“When we put barriers up so that people can’t run, I think that we’re not doing our democracy justice, and I also think that we are leaving out a huge portion of our community – people who are low income, people of color who would not always have the opportunity to run for an elected office," said Ward 1 councilor Helen Moon. She said she does not take the city insurance, rejected the way Marchetti framed the proposal.

“I don’t think it’s ever a numbers game," said Moon. "I don’t we can ever, or ever should govern by just numbers. Because there are people and families in our community attached to those numbers.”

Some councilors said Marchetti’s petition was retaliation due to their calls for Mayor Linda Tyer to forgo her proposed 2.5% raise to a salary of just under $101,000. Ward 5 councilor Patrick Kavey said a phrase he used in that debate – “lead by example” – was used when Marchetti proposed the move at a prior budget hearing.

“That reference that I made originally was because I was hoping that we could make a decision to forgo raises so that we could hopefully allocate those funds towards positions that may be eliminated due to our schools having a possible decrease in funding,” explained Kavey.

While city council stipends have remained stagnant since the early 90’s, Kavey said he would happily support a suggestion by Moon to take 2.5% cuts to their pay if it would save jobs.

“I will not support something that potentially puts the health and safety of others at risk, and discussing stripping people of their insurance while we navigate a global pandemic is not something a leader would do,” said the councilor.

In an 8-3 vote, the council buried the petition.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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