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Charter objections sink budget vote, save ban on nip bottles at Pittsfield city council meeting

A stone building with a colonnade.
Josh Landes

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts city council had its share of drama Tuesday night when a parliamentary move by a councilor effectively reset weeks of budget negotiations via charter objection.

Ward 2 councilor Charles Kronick embraced the nuclear option while considering the almost $189 million proposed fiscal year 2023 budget — much to the chagrin of council president Peter Marchetti and a visibly upset at-large councilor Earl Persip.

“On the motion to approve, is there any debate or discussion?” asked Marchetti.

“Mister President, I make a charter objection on behalf of Ward 2,” said Kronick.

“Excuse me?" asked Marchetti.

“Charter objection on behalf of Ward 2,” repeated Kronick.

“OK," said Marchetti. "And before you do so, councilor, let me make you aware that if you charter object, we cannot take up this budget until the June 26th meeting. And the 45 days in the charter will have passed and the mayor will have her original budget without the increases that we put forward. Is that what you really want to do?”

“Yes, it is,” responded Kronick.

“OK. Charter objection," said Marchetti. "On to item number nine, please. The mayor just got a budget.”

“You’ve got to be joking,” said Persip.

The Ward 2 representative, elected in November, is a conservative and an outspoken critic of government spending.

Under council rules, Kronick’s decision to push the question down the road reverses all of the council’s proposed amendments to Mayor Linda Tyer’s budget. That includes a vote that the city’s police department use $250,000 of its yearly grant funding to hire more mental health clinician co-responders — a hot topic after 22-year-old Pittsfielder Miguel Estrella was shot to death by city police in March.

An exasperated Marchetti offered the definition of the charter objection to council members after Kronick’s invocation of the rule.

“On the first occasion that the question or an adoption of a measure is put to the city council, if a single city council present objects to taking the vote, the vote shall be postponed into the next meeting of the city council, whether regular or special,” read Marchetti.

Ward 1 councilor Kenny Warren offered a suggestion to possibly work around the 45-day window that allows the amendments to expire, finding support from Ward 7’s Anthony Maffuccio.

“My understanding is it takes two to require it to go to the next meeting," said Warren. "You can call a special meeting in between.”

“Then I can attempt-“ started Marchetti.

“I’ll second it then,” said Maffuccio.

Well, now you have two," said Marchetti. "You brought it up, now we have two.”

“Jesus,” sighed Maffuccio.

Persip would have his own opportunity to use a charter objection later in the meeting in an effort to keep a petition calling for a ban on nip alcohol bottles in Pittsfield alive.

“I support not sending this off because if it's not somewhere, that means the bottle ban failed," he said. "And that doesn't put any pressure on the state to fix the problem of the deposit. The deposit is the issue. These things aren't recyclable. There's no deposit. People throw these out the window and there's not five cents attached to them. Usually most people wouldn't throw them out the window or someone would pick them up. That's why we need to keep this on the table, off to the green commission. Who knows when they'll meet in the first place. I ask you all this, what was being done before this petition came up? Zilch, nothing. If this goes away, nothing happens.”

Fellow at-large councilor Pete White disagreed, saying he had faith in the goodwill of the alcohol industry to remedy the nip bottle situation without government intervention.

“At least one of the business owners talked about doing a raffle where people could bring in nips and a raffle would be done," he said. "They'd be willing to participate in cleanups, they would be willing to put additional trash dispensers out in front of their stores. One of the distributors is coming up with a new thing just for nips, I believe, or at least a dispenser that other things can be thrown into so we're not seeing as much trash.”

After Persip’s motion to refer the petition to the green commission failed, he used the charter objection to block a move to file it, much to the consternation of Marchetti.

“On the motion to place on file is there any debate or discussion," said the council president.

“Charter objection," said Persip.

“Oh, my ass,” whispered Marchetti.

“We all can do it!" said Persip.

“It was better than what was going to come out of my mouth,” laughed Marchetti.

The city council also unanimously approved the creation of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“It’s tool that we would, that the city would then have to be able to create affordable housing. Typically, affordable housing projects are funded a small amount with Community Development Block Grant funds is an option. But again, there's not a lot of funds there in that whole budget to do a large scale project, and they're typically funded through the state or CPA funding," said Director of Community Development Justine Dodds. “This would give the trust the ability to have people who are experts on affordable housing that can look at these projects and determine and if they're feasible, how much, what the affordability should be, there's technical issues around that, that this would give us some more ability. It also would give us the ability to create sort of a land trust, take properties, create down payment assistance programs, rental assistance programs, all things that we currently do not have.”

The council also heard scathing criticism of city public health director Andy Cambi over his efforts to keep Pittsfield updated on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I appreciate you doing this once a month. But when we're having an outbreak like we had, I would appreciate you telling us we're having an outbreak instead of us reading it in the New York Times and having to ask you about it. So just in the future, when we have an outbreak, please update us on it since we're no longer doing this every week," said Ward 5 councilor Patrick Kavey. “When I had asked you about our outbreak and you weren't sure what was happening, I would appreciate if you would keep an eye on it and just let us know before we read it in the front page of a newspaper.”

The body also voted to recognize June 16th as World Electrohypersensitivity Day.

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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