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Pittsfield Councilors Accused of Open Meeting Breach
By Joe Durwin, Pittsfield Correspondent
04:20PM / Friday, November 09, 2012
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The council unanimously rejected a vote of no confidence on Oct. 9 against the city solicitor.

At-Large Councilor Barry Clairmont said Friday that allegations he and other councilors violated open meeting law are 'off base.'
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The political rift between members of the City Council continues with allegations of open meeting law violations.

At-Large Councilor Melissa Mazzeo is accusing five other councilors of violating aspects of Massachusetts open meeting law. The council will review the matter at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 13.

Ongoing disagreement between councilors over the handling of matters related to the recently settled lawsuit with Spectrum Health Systems over the placement of a methadone treatment clinic last month resulted in a petition by Councilor Christine Yon and Council President Kevin Sherman calling for a no-confidence vote in City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan. While the petition was dropped after extensive discussion and public input at the Oct. 9 meeting, Mazzeo says the discussion of the petition which played out in local media during the week prior constitutes a violation of open meeting law.

Mazzeo had earlier condemned the no-confidence petition at the time of its first announcement on local radio, calling it "a parliamentary ruse to embarrass the other side."

In her complaint, Mazzeo accuses Councilors Barry Clairmont, John Krol, Yon, Jonathan Lothrop and Sherman of undue deliberation on the petition by Yon and Sherman prior to the release of the agenda to the council and public, which she says was demonstrated in interviews with several of the councilors in question during appearances on two local talk-radio broadcasts.

"I am concerned, on a number of levels, about many councilors' conduct in this matter," Mazzeo summarizes in her written complaint. "First, that Councilor Clairmont was able to take another councilor's petition and read it on air before it was publicly posted.  Second, given comments made by Councilors Clairmont, Krol and Yon on radio programs, it was clear discussions had taken place between councilors about the petition."

Specifically, Mazzeo points to two appearances by Clairmont on different radio shows on the mornings of Oct. 3 and 4, prior to the release of the Oct. 9 agenda, as well as an appearance by Yon on Oct. 4, and the morning of Oct. 9. Additionally, her complaint takes issue with Clairmont and Krol for allegedly alluding to grievances they had with the city solicitor's performance in other areas, though the no-confidence petition included only references to her handling of the Spectrum case.

"For now all I'll say is that I deny any wrong doing," Clairmont told iBerkshires, "and believe the charges leveled by Councilor Mazzeo are way off base."

Sherman issued a communication to the council containing a series of recommendations described as "an effort to bring the issues in the complaint to resolution in a unified voice without revisiting prior discussions or adjudicating the law inappropriately."  These include refraining from discussing proposed agenda items until they are officially listed as agenda items, a reminder to "act in a professional decorum when discussing their opinions on issues through all forms of media."

Finally, says Sherman, "Councilors are asked to reflect upon the fact that the item referred to above that was debated on October 9, 2012, was resolved with a unanimous 11-0 vote of the City Council to file the petition that was before us and the matter is now closed."

The attorney general's office has granted an extension to the usual 14-day period in which the City Council must review the complaint and send it back, along with a description of any action taken, so that the council may review it at their Nov. 13 meeting and provide a response no later than Nov. 23.
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