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Editorial/                                  January 31, 2000                   by Glenn M. Heller Moonlight In Lenox
Thin Skinned:
A Rotting Onion
On Beacon Hill---Chris Hodgkins

(Rep. Hodgkin's and William Donovan's letters to The Berkshire Eagle, along with an earlier article from The Berkshire Eagle about Rep. Hodgkins and the Lenox Institute of Water Technology are reproduced below following this editorial.)

A few days ago there appeared in The Berkshire Eagle a letter penned by state rep Christopher J. Hodgkins.  It commanded attention  Seems Chris is in a snit because Bill Donovan suggested Chris had a conflict-of-interest in moonlighting for Lenox Institute of Water Technology.

Lenox Institute (http://members.aol.com/liwt) bills itself as "a non-profit educational, research, and public service institution, particularly concerned with the development and transfer of technologies associated with water and wastewater treatment in municipal and industrial settings."

"Not-For-Profit"
Chris keeps assuring everybody that LIWT is really "Not-For-Profit," implying a charitable function.  It is not.  People work there to make money including Chris.

So is Chris starving?  Hardly.  Didn't Chris and his State House brethren recently sneak through yet another midnight pay hike---or was that last year?  Is Chris bored?  He shouldn't be.  Hasn't candidate Hodgkins campaigned that representing Berkshire interests on far-off Beacon Hill is a full-time commitment?

Accuse the accuser
Anyway, instead of answering forthright some pretty straight-forward questions posed by Mr. Donovan, Chris replies with a politico's most time-honored cheap trick: Accuse the Accuser.  That's the tactic used to divert the public's attention away from topics best avoided.

Chris rails that the letter is "caustic and mean-spirited."  He assails and insults its writer.  Hodgkins attacks by alleging that Mr. Donovan has a personal vendetta against both him and Lenox Institute stemming from Donovan's employment by Mr. and Mrs. Peter Sprague, who are on the other side in a nasty legal battle with LIWT.  Saint Chris then resorts to name-calling by accusing the Spragues of having two major sins of political-incorrectness: ego and greed.

Hodgkins makes it sound like Donovan and the Spragues are the Evil Empire rather than simply his firm's opponents in a family mess turned legal squabble pitting octogenarian Milos Krofta and his LIWT against daughter, Tjasa Krofta Sprague who, with husband Peter, now controls Krofta Waters, Inc., originally founded by dad.

Chris' poison pen
Nothing illuminates character better than a person's own words, and Chris' own pen gives an uncensored peek at a public servant turned venal, arrogant and pompous.  His  transparently thin political skin, like that on a decaying onion, has peeled back to expose a  nasty, vengeful and disingenuous individual within.

Chris' snide volley against private citizens Donovan and the Spragues serves but a single purpose: to malign the letter writer in the public eye so as to then distract attention from issues of substance.  The result: Chris never answers a single one of Mr. Donovan's questions!

A big red flag
Simply put, Chris fails to come clean, and that failure in itself raises a big red flag.  What is Chris hiding that he refuses to provide straight-forward answers to legitimate questions posed by a voting taxpayer?

How much exactly is Chris being paid by Lenox Institute?  Exactly what does Chris do part-time to warrant a full-time salary at LIWT?  Given the time and energy that Chris has used, in his words, "to pull the Lenox Institute out of the ashes," hasn't that effort taken away from what Chris  would otherwise invest representing his District?

Chris vows, "I do not, have not, and will never have anything whatsoever to do with any state agencies concerning" LIWT.  Given Chris' contacts on Beacon Hill and across the State though, and his House assignment to the Joint Committee on Counties,  this statement falls flat because it fails to address whether Chris uses his clout, however subtly, to strong arm counties and municipalities to get grants, consulting contracts, and public works deals for LIWT.

Professional politicians
Further, why does a supposed educational research institution require services of professional politicians to further "not-for-profit" goals, instead of hiring educators, engineers, and business school types? (LIWT's other in-house pol, Charles L. Smith, is a former Pittsfield mayor whose administration awarded Krofta Waters, Inc. valuable city water purification contracts.)

More important from Mr. Donovan's standpoint and for other potential letter-writers:  Shouldn't a private citizen be able to ask reasonable questions without fear of being publicly trashed by his own state rep?

Even had we not witnessed Chris Hodgkins' character-revealing public attacks on private citizens Donovan and the Spragues, and even had Mr. Donovan not raised his relevant thought-provoking questions, I am certain that the strong smell emanating from Chris' "moonlight" job would precipitate deeper inquiries into the nature of what appears to be a very rancid arrangement.

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January 21, 2000

Back story behind attack on Rep.

To the Editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:-
        Ouch! That was quite a letter to the editor I awoke to the other morning. Upon reading the headline, "Institute job is conflict," (Eagle, Jan. 13), I almost spilled my coffee on my lap.
        The author of the letter, Bill Donovan, asked why I could have my picture taken behind my desk at the Lenox Institute of Water Technology and not at the State House. Bill Donovan¹s letter sounded angry as heck. The letter had a little smoke circling around it and where there is smoke there is usually fire.
        First I'll answer Bill's question and then I'll give, as the saying goes, "the rest of the story." Besides my legislative responsibilities (which I love),  I work part-time at the not-for-profit Lenox Institute of Water Technology. Like other legislators (Andy Nuciforo is a lawyer and practices law in the courts, Peter Larkin was a beer distributor), I have an outside income.
        Every year I file an ethics statement disclosing all activity and all income derived so that it can be viewed by the public.  As a matter of fact, The Berkshire Eagle did a story about my work a few months ago. ("Hodgkins at Water Institute," October 15, 1999).
        I hold myself to a higher standard than even the law dictates. I do not, have not, and will never have anything whatsoever to do with any state agencies concerning the not-for-profit Lenox Institute. If Donovan would like, I'll give him a tour of the Institute any time he desires so that he can see what I do.
        Now for the rest of the story! I thought Mr. Donovan's letter was a little more caustic and mean-spirited than you would normally read. Where there's smoke, there's fire. I could not figure out where the letter came from and then I found out.
        I recently had to pull the Lenox Institute out of the ashes as a result of a non-payment for royalties (the Lenox Institute owns the Krofta name, patents and technologies) that almost forced us to close our doors. The Sprague family company (KWI), including Dr. Krofta's daughter, Tjasa Sprague and her husband Peter Sprague, owed the LIWT more than $80,000. We went to court and the judge attached the assets of the Sprague company. After a lengthy  and tumultuous legal battle pitting Dr. Krofta against the ego and greed of the Spragues, we won our rights to our name, patents, and technologies. In addition, the Sprague's company had to pay $40,000 to the LIWT and several million dollars to Dr. Krofta in an out of court settlement.
        Obviously the Spragues are not happy, and they would not be unhappy if an employee wrote a letter questioning my integrity. As it turns out, Mr. Donovan is not just a concerned citizen, he is a long-time employee of the Spragues and currently the "building manager" of Tjasa Sprague's pet project, Ventfort Hall.
        It is unfortunate that Tjasa Sprague wants to continue her pathetic and shameful quest against the Krofta name and anyone connected with it. But as Shakespeare lamented in King Lear, "How sharper then a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child."  I felt that tooth bite me only a few days ago.

CHRISTOPHER J. HODGKINS
Lee, MA  Jan. 18, 2000
The author is a Lee state representative.

CORRECTION  JANUARY 22, 2000
THE LETTER BY STATE REP. CHRISTOPHER HODGKINS, D-LEE, IN YESTERDAY'S EAGLE
CONTAINED TWO INCORRECT MONETARY TOTALS, DUE TO TYPOGRAPHICAL ERRORS:
TJASA SPRAGUE AND HER HUSBAND, PETER SPRAGUE, OWED THE LENOX INSTITUTE OF WATER TECHNOLOGY MORE THAN $800,000. THE SPRAGUES' COMPANY WAS ORDERED TO PAY $400,000 TO THE INSTITUTE.

© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and Pittsfield Publications, Inc.
REPRINTED BY BerkshireRecordDotCom WITHOUT PERMISSION


January 13, 2000

Institute job is conflict for Hodgkins

To the Editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:-
        I read your lead story of December 28, 1999 with great interest, not because of the details of the Krofta lawsuit, but rather the photograph of our state Representative Christopher Hodgkins sitting in his office at the Lenox Institute for Water when he should have been sitting in his office at the State House where he told us, the voters and taxpayers of Berkshire County, he was going to sit the last time he ran for his seat.
        I sure don't remember him mentioning his full-time job as executive vice-president of the Lenox Institute for Water during that campaign. As a taxpayer and a voter this apparent conflict of interest is very disturbing to me.
        I'm sure he's covered himself legally, but morally and ethically I think he's cheating his constituents by dividing his time in this way. We pay him to represent us and to work for us behind his desk at the State House when the Legislature is not in session, not behind his desk at the Lenox Institute for Water.
        I have some questions that I would hope other of Mr. Hodgkins' constituents would like to hear the answers to as well:
        1. How much compensation do you receive annually from the Lenox Institute for Water, including all ancillary benefits?
        2. What are your qualifications for the position you hold other than the political influence you can bring to bear on legislation that will ultimately benefit your employer?  To put it bluntly, prove to us that you're not a paid lobbyist.
        In closing, I would like to point out that Mr. Hodgkins' fellow worker at the Lenox Institute for Water, the former mayor of Pittsfield, had the decency to wait until he had left office to take a position in the private sector.  Mr. Hodgkins we await your reply in print with interest.

WILLIAM S. DONOVAN
Glendale, MA  Jan. 3, 2000

© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and Pittsfield Publications, Inc.
Reproduced by BerkshireRecordDotCom without permission.


October 15, 1998

Hodgkins at tiller of Krofta Institute
during tumultuous time in its history
by Tony Dobrowolski
Berkshire Eagle Staff

Lenox -- If it had been up to him, state Rep. Christopher J. Hodgkins, D-Lee, would have probably picked a better time to take over as executive vice president of the Lenox Institute of Water Technology.  Since assuming his new position July 1, Hodgkins has found himself squarely in the middle of two messy lawsuits between the institute and its parent company, Krofta Waters, Inc., over KWI's decision to shut off a major source of the institute's funding.

The legal actions grew out of a family feud involving the company and institute's founder, Milos Krofta, who has been embroiled in a dispute with his daughter, Tjasa Sprague, and with Eric Puhar, his handpicked successor at Krofta Waters.  Krofta Waters funds the institute through licensing payments that give the company the right to use Milos Krofta's patents.  Krofta gave the Institute the right to the patents in 1991.

$1.2 million owed
Krofta Waters owes the institute $1.2 million, Hodgkins said, but hasn't given the school any money since April.  In July, Superior Court Judge Elizabeth B. Donovan put an $800,000 lien on Krofta Waters' assets, which included several company bank accounts.  The lawsuits are currently in arbitration.

It's not an ideal situation for the institute to be facing in its 20th year of operation.  Hodgkins said he was forced to lay off 10 employees, but added he has been able to keep the institute operating through trust funds, income from the institute's laboratories and money collected from past debts.

"I feel like a lobster man trying to come into shore during a storm," Hodgkins said during a recent interview in his office at the institute, which is located at 107 Yokun Ave.  "The waves are about 20 feet high, but I can see the shore.  "Most people would say during this trip we should put on our seat belts and go for a ride," Hodgkins added.  "But we literally have been expanding and taking to the market to commercialize some of our new technological developments, which is really exciting."

Was a consultant
Although he's only been in his new position for three months, Hodgkins has been involved with the Lenox Institute of Water Technology since 1992, when the school was a client of his company, Berkshire Resources.  The last few years, Hodgkins had worked with the institute as a consultant and part-time employee.  As executive vice president, Hodgkins succeeds former Pittsfield Mayor Charles L. Smith, who held the position for six years.

Milos Krofta founded the Lenox Institute of Technology in 1978 to develop innovative technology in the environmental field, transfer new technology to engineers through education and provide services to the general public.  Since 1994, the institute has also bestowed master's of engineering degrees in water technology.  The institute currently has seven students enrolled in the master's program.

Smith, who is still a consultant to the institute, said several people with science and engineering backgrounds were considered for his position, but Hodgkins was hired for his administrative ability.

"Ready to serve"
The other candidates "had backgrounds in chemical engineering or biology, but they didn't have the organization to run an organization [that's what he said] like this," Smith said.  "The first one who had the ability and was ready to serve was Chris."

His other job as state legislator takes a large amount of time, but Hodgkins tries to be at the institute as much as he can.  "I'm here as much as my legislative career will allow me," Hodgkins said.  "I've never been a behind the desk kind of guy......My biggest and hardest transition is sitting behind a desk.  It's a challenge, but it's something I certainly need to do.

"There certainly are some weeks I'm only here two days," Hodgkins said.  "But I've got a pager and a phone.  I'm always going."  Hodgkins said he also took the job because it gives him the practical experience he needs to complete his doctorate in higher education at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Main goal
He said his main goal is to expand the educational portion of the institute.  But Hodgkins has also used the experience he picked up in 15 years as a state legislator in his new position.  "In the public sector, we have to get things done yesterday," Hodgkins said.  "After 15 years in the state legislature, I believe in operating and programming a quality product. That's what I bring here.

"It's the ability to demand excellence, and it's the ability to do more than one thing at once," Hodgkins said.  "I think the plan up at Krofta Waters led by Puhar was to kneecap us.  We are the protectors of the patents and the name.  They thought we wouldn't be around.  They stopped paying six months ago, and here we are.  They're waiting for that boat to capsize and it hasn't.  I'm very proud of that.

"Great challenge"
"It's been a great challenge," Hodgkins said.  "Not only have we stayed afloat, we're doing very well."  Although the lawsuits with Krofta Waters have yet to be resolved.  Hodgkins said they don't have to be for the institute to continue to operate.  Hodgkins said Krofta Waters' licensing agreement with the institute runs out December 31.

If Krofta Waters does not come to an agreement with the institute by then, Hodgkins said the company will not be able to use the technology.  "Unless we come to some kind of agreement, they will not be able to call themselves Krofta or sell Krofta equipment," Hodgkins said.  "They made a very bad business decision."

"We've had several offers" from companies hoping to replace Krofta Waters, Hodgkins said.  "I happen to think they've been significant enough."

© 1998 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and Pittsfield Publications, Inc.
Reproduced by BerkshireRecordDotCom without permission.
 

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