Let's Not Wait for Next Tragedy

By Peter Gelzinis, Boston Herald Columnist

David Linsky should have grilled DCF Commissioner Olga Roche six months ago.

It’s a shame the Natick rep didn’t ask this embattled bureaucrat back then the question he fired at her yesterday:

“Can you give me and the other 6 million people of the commonwealth the assurance that you know that every one of those 36,000 children in your care today are present, alive and healthy?”

If Linsky, the chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee, had put that question to the head of the Department of Children and Families back in, say, July or August, there probably wouldn’t have been any need for him to hit Roche with the other half of his question:

“Can you give me that assurance that there are no other Jeremiah Olivers out there?”

Yesterday, a chastened Roche told Linsky her department knew of no other children who had vanished in their care. Jeremiah Oliver was the only one.

I will say this about Olga Roche’s performance yesterday. Someone gave her pointers in how to smother the pols in mind-numbing waves of empty rhetoric.

She never answered a direct question in a sentence of less than 500 or 600 words. The proof was there on a big screen upon which a stenographer valiantly posted Olga’s run-on sentences almost as fast as she spit them out. Clearly, the strategy here was for Olga to bury the pols under tons of words about protocols and procedures, spiced with just a hint of appropriate outrage pointed at those three DCF workers she fired for losing track of Jeremiah Oliver.

The only pol who cut through this fog was Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield.

She made the point of saying that pressing for a mea culpa or working up a reflex head of outrage after this latest high-profile DCF fiasco was little more than an empty gesture.

“I think we can, and should, do something legislatively to come up with a structure whereby there is a regular review of the (DCF),” Farley-Bouvier told me during a break in yesterday’s hearing. “There should be reviews of the department on a regular basis, not just when another high-profile case explodes into the public’s view.

“Because, as I told the commissioner, there will be another high-profile case,” she said. “That’s the way it’s been for the last 30 years and many other commissioners.”

She is absolutely right. What took place in the Gardner Auditorium should — and must — take place at least twice a year. Then, perhaps, Olga Roche, or whoever the commissioner may be, would be forced to answer questions in simple sentences.

And maybe they would not have the time to lose another Jeremiah Oliver.

Posted on 24 Jan 2014, 8:59 - Category: News

State auditor wants expanded oversight on DOR commercial tax credit administration

By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD -- The state's public money watchdog is pushing for access to business tax returns to prevent waste, fraud or abuse of certain tax breaks for companies from the Berkshires to Cape Cod.

"The first question is, do we need an emergency shelter or not?" Mary McGinnis, the city's director of Administrative Services, asked the group of about 15 in City Council chambers.

The consensus that emerged from the human service providers, police, religious, medical and city government representatives was that 20 or more homeless people per night during wintry weather will need a place to stay overnight.

Berkshire Co-Act Executive Director Paul Deslauriers, who oversaw an emergency cot shelter last winter at the Salvation Army on West Street, said the average number staying there was 14 over the four months the shelter operated. But he added that 22 to 25 people stayed on colder nights -- including a high of 36, which required finding other locations to handle the overflow.

The Salvation Army is not available for that purpose this winter, and local officials have been scrambling to find an alternative since a proposed site on Fenn Street in a Brien Center-owned building was eliminated three weeks ago because of building code issues that would be costly or difficult to address.

Police Chief Michael J. Wynn said police "get shelter calls every night of the year."

The chief and others confirmed some of the locations where people are routinely seen attempting to camp or find shelter, including behind the Wahconah Park scoreboard, across the Housatonic River in that location, in Clapp Park and sometimes in Springside Park.

Homeless people often try to enter construction sites or vacant properties, Wynn said.

He added that last winter, with the cot shelter operating from December to April, "was the best year we've had in terms of options" for those police find sleeping outside.

Concerning long-term solutions, Jack Downing, CEO at Soldier On, and Jay Sacchetti, vice president of shelter and housing services in Berkshire County for ServiceNet, both stressed the need to have trained workers register each person seeking shelter as the first step in the process.

A chronic problem dealing with the homeless in Pittsfield, Downing said, "is we have a very fractured system," with several well-intentioned organizations working somewhat independently. Funding from the state or other sources is based on accurate statistics on homeless clients being entered properly in approved data banks, reflecting the actual need, he said.

Sacchetti, whose organization took over operation of Barton's Crossing and other longer-term Berkshire County shelters in June, said ServiceNet has a system in the Pioneer Valley that does collect data from clients and provides a level of health care and other services, all aimed at helping individuals overcome problems and acquire permanent housing.

On average, he said, "about 10 percent of the people are taking 80 percent of the services," in other words coming back repeatedly to shelters. The goal should be to help them break that cycle, he said.

Downing, whose organization cooperates with ServiceNet to deliver transportation and other services in the Pioneer Valley, said having all homeless clients register first at Barton's Crossing would allow collection of the data required to receive additional funding.

Gina Armstrong, the city's health department director, said a task force could be created to study the issue long-term, "but we also need the short-term. There is not a lot of time."

Sacchetti said Barton's Crossing could accomodate 10 more people this winter, but the staff would have to be increased. That extra staffing cost was estimated at from $80,000 to $100,000."

Downing said Soldier On would cooperate by providing transportation and taking additional homeless people that could not be housed at Barton's Crossing.

Meanwhile, Deslauriers and others have sought a building that could house another cot shelter this winter, but safety and other state code regulations have made that difficuilt. One building being considered is the former Catholic Youth Center on Melville Street, but the Rev. Quentin Chin of First Baptist Church said no word on its possible use has come back from the Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

No matter the site, state code regulations, which were tightened up further in January, could pose hurdles. "The code is pretty rigid," City Building Commissioner Gerald Garner told the group.

There are requirements for fire safety and access, and although buildings operated for primarily religious purposes can receive a temporary permit for up to 52 days, that would not cover the entire winter and fire safety alarm equipment would still be required.

Deslauriers said shelters like the one operated last year with mostly volunteer help would be much more cost-effective than other options. He said the cot shelter operated for four months at a cost of $10,000 in donated space at the Salvation Army.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, also attended the meeting. They said they would explore the availability of state funding this year but added that concrete, specific proposals from the community are more likely to receive funds.

Posted on 5 Nov 2013, 8:58 - Category: News

Berkshire Immigrant Center presents 9th Immigrants' Day in the Berkshires

By John Sakata, Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD -- There was Latin dancing and multicultural music for Immigrants' Day on Saturday, a celebration of the contributions of local immigrants held at Morningside Community School.

Indian immigrant Jeswant Banga and his 4-year-old daughter, Yashtia, who was born in India and immigrated to the Berkshires a year ago, enjoyed the air conditioning at the event.

In India, the sweltering hot weather could be made even more uncomfortable because of rolling blackouts that would leave people sweating, he said.

Banga appreciates living in the U.S., and he gives back to his community -- he donated food from his North Street restaurant, House of India, to the event.

"There are more opportunities here," Banga said about why he immigrated to the U.S.

The Berkshire Immigrant Center presented the 9th annual Immigrants' Day in the Berkshires, an event that connects immigrants with resources and celebrates cultural diversity and immigrants' accomplishments. The event was canceled last year, but organizers felt it was important to bring it back to highlight the positive contributions of local immigrants.

Greene said last year the Immigrant Center assisted about 1,000 immigrants from 74 different countries. Immigrants currently make up 14.4 percent of the state's population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

"I think positive events like this really help shape people's opinions on comprehensive immigration reform and they're able to look at these hardworking people, who are starting businesses and paying taxes," Berkshire Immigrant Center Executive Director Hilary Greene said.

During the event, State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and Richard T. Delmasto, congressional aide to former Congressman John Olver, were awarded the Jane Addams American Spirit Award for sponsoring House Bill 3285, or The Safe Driving Bill.

The state bill being reviewed in committee would allow illegal immigrants to receive a drivers license as long they are trained and insured.

Farley-Bouvier told The Eagle the bill will help everyone because it will help people to receive training and stop people from driving illegally because of their citizenship status.

"The federal government isn't capable right now to make the comprehensive reform, so we in the commonwealth can't wait to make the roads safer," Farley-Bouvier said. "I would say it's particularly important because in Berkshire County we don't have viable public transportation options."

Earlier this week, Gov. Deval Patrick proclaimed Oct. 14 through Nov. 14 Immigrant Entrepreneurship Month.

Correction: At Berkshire Immigrant Center’s Immigrants' Day celebration, the Jane Addams American Spirit Award was awarded to co-recipients: Richard T. Delmasto, congressional aide to former Congressman John Olver, and state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield. They received the award for their dedication to supporting and welcoming the immigrant population in the Berkshires and to helping countless new American families navigate life in the U.S. A report in Sunday's Eagle omitted Delmasto as a recipient.

Posted on 20 Oct 2013, 8:58 - Category: News

Berkshire Delegation and Mayor Bianchi join The Brien Center in honoring Robert K. Quattrochi

By Eileen Mahoney, May 2, 2013

The Berkshire Legislative Delegation, Representatives William (Smitty) Pignatelli, Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Paul Mark and Gailanne Cariddi, and Senator Ben Downing joined Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi and the Brien Center in honoring Robert K. Quattrochi with the Agency’s first Community Volunteer Award at their 3rd Annual UNICO dinner on Thursday, May 2, 2013 at the ITAM Lodge in Pittsfield. Attended by over 250 Brien Center supporters, the dinner was underwritten by Coakley, Pierpan, Dolan and Collins Insurance Agency, Inc.

Mr. Quattrochi received the award in recognition of his ongoing work on behalf of the Brien Center. He was instrumental in meeting the goal of the recently completed Capital Campaign for the renovation of the Agency's campus on Fenn Street. He has been a tireless advocate for the Brien Center in the community, not only raising funds but also raising awareness of the essential community services provided to Berkshire County residents by the Brien Center.

Representative Farley-Bouvier presented a Citation from the Legislature acknowledging Quattrochi’s contributions. “It is rare that the entire delegation is in one place at one time and we are honored to be here to acknowledge the great work of the Brien Center and Bob Quattrochi.”

Senator Ben Downing, in presenting Quattrochi with a Senate Citation, cited Quattrochi’s advocacy on behalf of the Brien Center and emphasized the commitment of the Delegation to helping the Brien Center de-stigmatize mental illness and addiction. “When health policy issues are discussed, we will make sure that mental health services are also in the mix.”

Mayor Bianchi, citing Quattrochi as an exemplary volunteer, read a City Proclamation, acknowledging Quattrochi’s hard work on behalf of the Brien Center and other non-profits in the Berkshires, including Berkshire Medical Center and Hancock Shaker Village. “Not only is Bob a wonderful volunteer but he is also a great friend to Pittsfield and to me.”

The attendees couldn’t have agreed more when Quattrochi received a standing ovation upon receipt of the plaque presented by the Brien Center’s CEO, Christine Macbeth. In presenting the award, Ms. Macbeth stated, “Bob has been a great friend to the Brien Center. People like Bob help make it possible for us to help as many Berkshire families as we do.”

Ms. Macbeth continued, “The Brien Center is committed to eliminating the stigma that surrounds treatment for mental illness and addiction. Bob has been instrumental in helping to raise awareness of the positive impact the Brien Center has on the lives of Berkshire County residents.”

Quattrochi, in his understated way, graciously accepted the award, insisting that he really had not done much. He continued, “Once I learned how important the Brien Center was to the community, I was willing to help in any way that I could.” He then advocated for more community support of the Brien Center to help complete its downtown campus.

Mr. Quattrochi was President and CEO of Pete's Motors and now serves the Berkshire community in an array of civic organizations and community projects. He currently sits on the Board of a number of nonprofit organizations.

The Brien Center provides mental health and substance abuse services to residents of Berkshire County. In 2012, the Agency served almost 11,000 individuals, 4,000 of whom were children. The Brien Center promotes the highest degree of recovery possible for every individual, providing a wide array of services to meet the needs and challenges of those they serve.

TheAtlanticCities.com offers an interesting analysis of the Vehicle Miles Traveled tax, an idea discussed by Rep. Farley-Bouvier in the Berkshire Eagle on February 5, 2013.

Posted on 2 May 2013, 8:57 - Category: News

Bills seek equity in state transportation spending

By Josh Stilts, Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD -- Two transportation bills proposed Monday could drastically alter the way Massachusetts residents get around.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, the "Act Relative to Transportation Investment, Regional Fairness and Countability to State Policies" and "An Act to Establish a Vehicle Miles Traveled Pilot Program" are designed to create regional equity and accountability when it comes to transportation spending.

According to Farley-Bouvier, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation can't afford its day-to-day operational costs and have been using state bonds to pay for them.

"Right now, DOT borrows money in state bonds to mow the lawn and plow the roads," she told The Eagle. "We're spending $1.75 for every $1 of operational costs because of the interest of those bonds."

The bill would also prevent the department from dipping into its capital budget and instead ensure the funds from that account were being used to improve infrastructure of all Massachusetts towns, but especially border towns, which she referred to as the 24 "gateway" cities.

"We need to invest in economically distressed neighborhoods. These gateway cities have been neglected in the past and we aren't seeing any growth," she said. "By investing in public transportation in those areas, it provides a piece of the economic puzzle. I've seen the disparity in the transportation investments in the Boston area and have learned how important it is to economic development. People need to get to work, young people want to get to their activities without having to own a car and we need to meet the transportation needs of our senior citizens."

Every year, Berkshire County sends nearly $30 million to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and, Farley-Bouvier said, the county isn't getting its money's worth.

The bill would also require that any transportation investment of more than $15 million has to show that it benefits creating economic development and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Lizzi Weyant, advocacy director for Transportation for Massachusetts, said the group strongly supports both the bills as they would create better business opportunities and a better quality of life.

"It would give cities and towns a bigger voice to speak about which projects should be completed," Weyant said. "It will also create more public transportation options across the state."

The other bill would create a voluntary pilot program to study the effectiveness and sustainability of an individual driving tax as an alternative to Gov. Deval Patrick's recent proposal of raising the gas tax to help pay for the $800 million to $1 billion transportation reform he set forth.

According to Farley-Bouvier, the pilot program would be a catalyst to for the conversations about transportation reform.

The idea is that drivers in Massachusetts would be taxed potentially on where people drive, when they drive, what they drive and how far they drive.

Using a transponder, similar to the devices used to pay for tolls along the turnpike, driver's mileage and the time at which they drive would be tracked and then transmitted to a database.

Because the program is still in the initial phase, it's unclear if people would be taxed yearly, monthly or at the gas pump, Farley-Bouvier said.

If the bill passes, anyone who signs up for the pilot program would be guaranteed not to be taxed any more than the gas tax at that time.

"We want to invest in transportation in a equitable way," she said. "We need to assure the Berkshires has a seat at the table and fair share of those investment dollars."

Our thanks to the Berkshire Eagle for making their footage of the Berkshire Delegation's meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren freely available on YouTube.

Read the Representative's remarks at the Department of Transportation's October 3, 2012 Board Meeting in North Adams.

Click here for iBerkshires.com's 'Legislative Q&A' with Tricia in October 2012.

View Representative Farley-Bouvier's latest newsletter.

Posted on 5 Feb 2013, 8:56 - Category: News

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