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PLANET VALENTI NEWS AND COMMENTARY
EDITOR’S NOTE: Before we get going, we mourn the death of all-time basketball great Bill Russell, 88, who died Sunday. He was the greatest winner all time in any sport: 2 high-school state championships, two national college championships, a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics, 11 world championships with the Boston Celtics, and 2 as Celtics head coach. He changed the NBA with his revolutionary defensive abilities. He pioneered the art of blocked shot and for his career averaged 23 rebounds a game. He was the ball-handling Big Man Red Auerbach was looking for to engineer the Celtics legendary fast break. Off the field, Russell was no less a champion, speaking out fearlessly on Civil Rights back in the day when to do so COST SOMETHING, so unlike today, when it’s become political and practiced by ambitious career builders. RIP, Bill Russell.
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY AUG. 1, 2022) — The race for sheriff between two-time incumbent Tom Bowler and challenger Alf Barbalunga continues to sizzle in the pan.
As the Tale of the Tape builds, THE PLANET has identified one clear trend: Alf’s on offense, and Pudge is on defense. The first attacks, the second tries to hold the perimeters. The first involves high-risk, high-reward ventures into enemy territory. The second survives and thrives by parrying the assaults.
Barbalunga and Bowler have scrapped over housing female prisoners from Berkshire County in Chicopee, medical treatments of addicts, administration of the sheriff’s $21 million budget, and managerial strategies.
Barbalunga has adroitly pounced on a salary to one of the jail’s supplemental positions, hitting both budget and management concerns. For his first campaign, the country’s chief probation officer has shown impressive political instincts.
Recently, in his latest barrage against Bowler, Alf put the salary of “special sheriff” Jack Quinn under the microscope. Barbalunga claims this ceremonial, make-work position pays (and wastes) $78,000. Bowler answers by saying Barbalunga doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that Quinn makes $0. Ah, but what’s a $78,000 discrepancy among friends?
Once again, THE PLANET brings you the exclusive, letting you read the actual words from the candidates’ press releases rather than try to draw from the slanted digests that local mainstream media extrapolate, editorializing while hiding behind the myth of non-present “objectivity.”
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OPENING SALVO FROM ALF
Barbalunga Seeks To End Bowler’s “Payroll Empire” By Eliminating A $78,000 Part-Time “Ceremonial” Job
BERKSHIRE COUNTY—Alf Barbalunga released today the following statement in response to questions from the community about how Tom Bowler is misspending taxpayer money at the Berkshire County House of Correction & Jail, and where Alf can find savings in the budget to fund better education and rehabilitation:
“People often ask me: ‘How is Sheriff Bowler misspending money, and how will you save money to fund education and programming?’ The answer is simple: cut out frivolous, wasteful spending, hire more teachers, clinicians, and develop programming with that money.
For example, during my own research of the sheriff’s budget I found that the formerly UNPAID “ceremonial position” of the Special Sheriff has suddenly become a PAID part-time position, at $78,000 per year.
Under Mass General Law (Ch. 37, § 5 & Ch. 37, § 4), a “Special Sheriff” is a role that becomes active and paid in the event that Sheriff Bowler dies or otherwise becomes incapacitated. Is he incapacitated? Is he unable to perform his duties?
The former Special Sheriff under Bowler was unpaid. Why is the Special Sheriff paid now? No one knows. There is no transparency.
The current Special Sheriff was formerly the Superintendent of the Berkshire County House of Corrections, earning $156,000 annually under Sheriff Bowler until he retired in 2021. He now collects a state pension of $117,000 – that’s the law, and that’s fair.
But after his former superintendent retired in 2021, however, Sheriff Bowler appointed him as Special Sheriff, a
ceremonial position that in Berkshire County always had a salary of $0. Now Sheriff Bowler has moved his former superintendent back on the payroll—paying him $78,000 to hold the title of “Special Sheriff”.
Back when Tom Bowler first became sheriff, we were warned about sheriffs building “Empires.” This is the type of misspending that hurts morale among Sheriff Bowler’s rank and file employees. We can reallocate misspent money in “Bowler’s Empire” to shift unneeded “ceremonial” salaries to much-needed rehabilitation staff. $78,000 represents at least 3 part-time teachers’ salaries.
On rare occasions, an employee with another primary role–such as deputy superintendent or a director of a program–might be appointed as “Special Sheriff” by a Massachusetts sheriff and would hold that ceremonial position in the event something happened to the sheriff. But that’s not the case here. This individual is retired and does not have another primary role.
The superintendent’s job has been filled by someone else, and that person earned over $180,000 in 2021. There are 261 employees taking care of responsibilities in a total budget of roughly $21 million.
The Special Sheriff isn’t an active position, yet is receiving a salary. This “ceremonial position” appears to be an egregious abuse of taxpayer funds and a purely patronage position. This constitutes a betrayal of the public trust. This is “good ol’ boy” patronage at its worst.
The Special Sheriff is historically a ceremonial, unpaid position, and reprograming this $78,000 for inmate rehabilitation can immediately fund and improve better services at the correctional facility, and ideally improve job skills, educational certifications, and reduce recidivism (or repeat crimes) following release.
This is just one example of potential misuse of funds that I will reallocate, while improving morale for the rank and file hard-working employees that are critical to the future success of the correctional facility.
We don’t have to accept the premise that a sheriff has a right to build a “Payroll Empire” at taxpayers’ expense. We will cut out frivolous spending and patronage wherever it is found.”
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Bowler quickly issued his rebuttal.
In comments exclusive to THE PLANET, Team Bowler had this to say:
“Barbalunga does not understand key points about the state payroll system, which requires that a title be assigned each employee. In this case, Jack’s title is Special Sheriff. However, his compensation can come from various duties not specific to that title. The state payroll site is listing Jack’s pay from two grants, which reimbursed his salary to the jail. As Special Sheriff, Jack’s pay is 0. As a consultant to these programs, his salary is $36,309.” Here’s the full text of the Bowler press release.
ANTIBALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENSE, BOWLER
Barbalunga all wrong once again; Special Sheriff’s salary is $0
PITTSFIELD–Sheriff Candidate Alf Barbalunga issued another alarming press release on July 22 about the budget at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction. This time, he didn’t omit the most important detail. He didn’t know it. Rather than getting his facts straight, he publicly announced that Sheriff Tom Bowler was misappropriating funds.
“During my own research of the Sheriff’s budget I found that the formerly UNPAID ‘ceremonial position’ of Special Sheriff has suddenly become a PAID part-time position at $78,000 a year,” Barbalunga stated. “The former Special Sheriff under Bowler was unpaid. Why is the Special Sheriff paid now? No one knows. There is no transparency.”
Barbalunga went on to cite Massachusetts General Law which says a Special Sheriff is a role that only becomes active and paid in the event that the sheriff dies or becomes incapacitated. “Is he incapacitated?” Barbalunga asked in his press release. “Is he unable to perform his duties?”
“I’m fine,” Sheriff Bowler said. “Thanks for asking. However, you don’t know what you’re taking [sic] about.”
According to the Sheriff, Barbalunga is referring to Jack Quinn, the former longtime Superintendent of the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction, who retired in 2021 after more than a 30-year career at the jail.
In addition to his role as Superintendent, Quinn has been the Special Sheriff of Berkshire County since 2011 and is registered with the Secretary of State’s Office. He has never received any compensation for that title.
“The Special Sheriff’s salary is zero,” Bowler said. “And the salary that Barbalunga claims is paid by the jail actually came from grants that reimbursed the jail.”
Prior to retiring, Quinn was among a group of jail staff and employees from several local organizations who were creating Medically Tailored Meals, a collaboration among five local agencies including the jail. Under the supervision of a nutritionist, inmates at the jail prepare meals tailored for people with chronic illness, package and freeze them. Other jail employees deliver them weekly. Quinn was also a key jail employee working on the 2nd Street Second Chances collaboration.
After his retirement, Quinn continued on as a consultant with the collaborations to finalize the initiatives. He was actually paid $36,309 for this work and the grants reimbursed the jail for that amount.
“It’s always a good idea to check with the state before publicly accusing anyone of misappropriations,” the sheriff said.
“Back when Tom Bowler first became sheriff, we were warned about Sheriff’s building empires,” Barbalunga charged in his press release. “This constitutes a betrayal of the public trust. This is ‘good ole’ boy patronage at its worst.”
Sheriff Bowler noted Barbalunga’s reckless and careless language, his refusal to understand the facts while making charges, and said his opponent is “dangerously misinformed.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, yet feels completely free to disparage others,” the sheriff said. “He attempts to fool the voters and erode trust in public officials with his ridiculous accusations. These are not the qualities of a leader. As I’ve said many times before, character counts and integrity matters.”
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COUNTER ATTACK & PARRY, BARBALUNGA
MORE ON BOWLER’S “SPECIAL SHERIFF” CONTROVERSY
Sheriff Tom Bowler, who promised the public transparency at the jail, is using smoke and mirrors to confuse the public on what money is being spent at the jail and where it comes from.
After Alf Barbalunga raised concerns over Bowler’s line-item listing of a part-time $78,000 staff position for a “Special Sheriff,” which is supposed to be a “ceremonial” job, Bowler says his former retired jail superintendent actually earns a $0 salary as “Special Sheriff.” But as shown below, this staff position is still on the budget. The FY 2022 budget clearly shows a “Special Sheriff” line item with annual cost of $78,000.
Bowler says the former superintendent’s pay “actually came from grants that reimbursed the jail,” including the Medically Tailored Meals program and the Second Street Second Chances program (a grant obtained by BCC in February 2022). In other words, the pay is real and was paid up front to the retired superintendent by the jail from its budget allocation.
The reimbursement source may be from a third-party, but the sheriff’s budget does not show where this or other third-party revenue is sourced or credited. The sheriff simply says the retired superintendent is a “consultant”. But he is listed as a payroll position, not as a consultant.
The retired superintendent, who receives a $117K pension from the State, recently contributed to Sheriff Bowler’s campaign, and he listed his employment on an Office of Campaign Finance report as “retired.” Yet he remains on the jail’s payroll and was paid by the jail another $36,309 on top of his pension through 7/2/22. Last year Sheriff Bowler also included the “Special Sheriff” in his budget, and the superintendent was
paid $42,037 as Special Sheriff. It is immaterial that some or all of that pay came from a third-party grant — it is still revenue distributed at the top of the sheriff’s food chain.
The sheriff oversees his administrative salary budget like a private empire with those executives at the very top taking home salaries that are stratospheric. Grant money that could be used to pay for food for the meals program recipients is trickling up to the top to help his former executive and friend potentially earn close to $200,000 this year, while the average salary in Berkshire County is only $37,000.
What the personnel budget shows in this case is a “Special Sheriff,” who says he’s retired and is drawing a six-figure pension, plus making a $78,000 salary as a “Special Sheriff.” This is why Barbalunga raised questions about the budget.
“Bowler’s budget needs multiple independent audits, and, as sheriff, one of the first things I will do is ask the Department of Corrections, Department of Education, Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and/or the State Auditor to inspect the books and make recommendations. This administrative operation is about as clear as mud.”
Barbalunga noted that before issuing his earlier press release, he checked with the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office and found there was no evidence of official notification that the retired Superintendent was appointed Special Sheriff, as required by law.
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COUNTER PARRY, RESPONSE, BOWLER
Barbalunga does not understand key details about jail salaries, yet levels charges anyway. Also fails to disclose that his own salary went up during the same time period
PITTSFIELD: In a July 17 press release, candidate Alf Barbalunga expressed alarm by the size of the budget at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction, particularly in the area of salaries, while the inmate population has declined.
“The funding for wages and salaries has spiked from $11.4 million in 2013 to $15.584 million in 2022,” Barbalungs [sic] said in his press release. The candidate claimed he would “rebalance” the budget.
According to Sheriff Tom Bowler, Barbalunga “neglected, as usual, to inform voters of several important details. Nearly all of the salaries at the jail are negotiated with our unions and wage increases are made in accordance with economic parameters issued to us by the Massachusetts Department of Administration & Finance.” Exceptions to this are grant positions, certain specialty positions such as the jail’s physician and dentist, and the statutorily-established salary of the Sheriff.
“They are generally in the 2% to 3% annual range. These state-established parameters apply across the board for a wide range of unions statewide. I have no authority to make up my own economic parameters and I must abide by the outcome achieved through the negotiations. All collective bargaining increases are approved by the Commonwealth and funded by the Legislature.”
Also missing from Barbalunga’s charges of extravagance at the jail is the fact that his own salary as a chief probation officer increased proportionately during the same time period, while overall, probation officers are supervising fewer offenders.
“I am not responsible for the inmate count,” the Sheriff continued. “Convictions and incarcerations are down here and across the state over the last few years, and many inmates were given early release during the pandemic.”
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As you can see, Quinn’s compensation triggered a conflagration.
So how does THE PLANET see it? Score this round squarely for Barbalunga. However you list it in the books, fact is that Quinn, in addition to his $117,000 yearly state pension, has been well-paid for his fuzzily defined “consultancy.” Is he “retired” or still on staff? The sheriff’s books say one things but Pudge says another.
The incumbency of sheriff wields tremendous power, but Bowler will not be well-served by running a relatively low-key defensive campaign. Barbalunga got out of the gates fast, has continuously pressed the sheriff on the latter’s track record, and has siezed the momentum from the incumbent.
Two questions remain for Team Alf:
- Will momentum alone be enough?
- Can the campaign keep up such a torrid pace?
Answers to these and other question shall be forthcoming soon. On Aug. 8, THE PLANET will be filming a one-hour debate between the two heavyweights. It will be released soon after on numerous digital platforms. Details will be announced soon. It will be CAN’T MISS viewing.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–forever” — George Orwell.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.
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