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How a provision in the city charter derailed a vote on Pittsfield's annual budget

City Hall in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Kenneth C. Zirkel
Creative Commons
City Hall in Pittsfield, Massachusetts

A Pittsfield, Massachusetts, city councilor took an action Tuesday night that derailed a vote on a proposed $188.7 million city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

After Mayor Linda Tyer submitted a proposed budget in May, City Council members took several weeks to review it, ask questions, correct an error and recommend additional appropriations — which Tyer supported.

The changes included $50,000 more for the building inspection's office, $65,000 to maintain public school buildings, and $1,000 to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. That last addition was proposed by City Councilor Charles Kronick.

But when the budget came up for a vote Tuesday, Kronick made a motion to "charter object" — an objection allowed under the city charter. Because of a procedural deadline set by the charter, the motion — in effect — put the mayor's original budget in place.

"Once a charter objection is made, all debate stops. Deliberations stops. There can be no questions and there can be no vote," Tyer said Wednesday.

Kronick did not respond to a request for an interview.

City Council President Peter Marchetti said the action to stop the vote came after councilors spent 20 to 30 hours deliberating on a budget and making recommendations.

"At the end of the day, all that has been for naught — because somebody charter-objected," Marchetti said. "And I think that's a bad precedent for the City Council to take and adhere to. And so, if there's a way to rectify that, I'm looking for solutions."

Marchetti and Tyer are working with the city solicitor to figure out if there is a legal option to vote on the revised budget.

The proposed budget must be acted on within 45 days after it is submitted. The 45 days is up before the next scheduled meeting on June 28.

Under Section 2.9 of the city charter, if one person objects to a vote, it could be taken up at the next regular council meeting or a special meeting. But if two people object, it's postponed until the next scheduled meeting.

And that's what happened. City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio seconded the charter objection, which appears to remove the option for a special meeting to be called.

City Council Vice President Pete White said the charter objection on a budget is unprecedented and allowed one councilor "to decide for the entire city."

"I think the charter objection needs to be removed from the charter, or at least it needs to be discussed during the next charter review," White said.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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