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Ask Not What Your State Can Do for You

Nichole Dupont

Not happy with what's going on in your state government? Well, now's your chance to do something about it, and win a little cash (actually a lot of cash — $10,000 to be exact).

The Boston-based Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research is sponsoring its 20th annual Better Government Competition.

The competition is open to all U.S. citizens, including students, nonprofits, entrepreneurs and muncipal officials, but the winning proposal will be developed and implemented in Massachusetts. This year's theme is "budget busters," and according to BCG director Shawni Littlehale, couldn't have come at a better time.
"We're always cajoling and looking for new ideas," she said in a phone interview. "It's a great opportunity for citizens to have their voices heard."

Of the roughly 250 proposals she receives every year, Littlehale said at least 50 percent are from officials in state or municipal governments. In fact, last year's winner was the mayor of Sandy Springs, Ga. His proposal, under the theme of "budget management," focused on the reduction or containment of Medicaid costs by providing housing for the homeless. The crux of his argument was that housing is a "medical intervention" and that homelessness is very expensive for everyone.

You don't have to be a mayor or a retired CIA agent to participate in the competition. Littlehale said the institute is ready to bring good ideas to fruition by providing the resources that a winner or runner-up will need to bring the proposal to completion.

"We will help them with resources for research and writing and databases," she said. "What I want is something really innovative and interesting."

She's not the only one pushing citizens to dig deep into their civic awareness and lend an idea or two. State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, is also encouraging citizens to consider sending in "smart government reform initiative."

"I urge my constituents to participate in this year's competition by suggesting new and efficient ways for public programs to operate," he said in a press relase.

Still skeptical? That's fine, according to Littlehale, but skeptical does not mean unconcerned, at least not for previous applicants.

"A lot of these bureaucracies have stayed the same. They need an injection of something new," she said. "The people who submit proposals genuinely care about the way government works. Many feel that it's not working correctly and really believe that they can change that."

If you have a good idea for fixing programs that are draining the already-sparse budget, put in your two cents. It may end up being worth $10,000 for you and millions for the state.

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Richmond Bids Farewell to Building Inspector

Staff Reports

RICHMOND, Mass. — The town will be bidding a final farewell Friday to its building inspector, Walter S. Potash.

Potash died Sept. 1 at his Lee home at age 77. His funeral will be held on Friday, Sept. 10, at 10 a.m. at St. Peter's Church in Great Barrington. There were no calling hours scheduled.

The Pittsfield High School gradutate had owned A & P Builders during the 1970s. He'd been the inspector for Richmond for the past seven years and had also been a building inspector for Lanesborough and Monterey. He was a member of the Building Officials of Western Massachusetts.

Potash had worked for many years at the former GE in Pittsfield. He'd lived in Great Barrington before moving to Lee in 2002. He loved animals and nature, particularly feeding wildlife, so family has asked that contributions in his memory be made to the Berkshire Humane Society in care of Dery Funeral Home, 54 Bradford St., Pittsfield.

Staffing at the Richmond Town Hall will limited Friday morning because many employees will be attending the service. The town is arranging for an interim inspector until a permanent one can be appointed.

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Projects Net $10.5M in Drinking Water Funds

Staff Reports

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Three Berkshire County projects are listed among priority funding in 2010 from the state's Drinking Water Revolving Fund. No county projects are listed for Clean Water Revolving Fund.

The biggest is $6,418,000 for new water storage tanks in Pittsfield. 

Lenox will get $2,882,000 to improve water system connections with Stockbridge.

The Sheffield Water Co., which provides drinking water for parts of Sheffield, will receive $991,000 toward a new storage tank and system upgrades.

The revolving funds are being supplied through the state by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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Adams, Mount Greylock Featured On Boston.com

Staff Reports

A look at Mount Greylock's summit in the winter time.

Boston.com posted an informative article today, shedding some positive light on Adams' efforts to build a resort at the Greylock Glen.

The write-up provides some history of the various developmental plans that have been proposed for the Glen, dating back to the 1950s. Did you know that, in 1980, MGM Grand expressed interest in building a casino in the Glen?

The new project is said to include "a conference center and lodge, 140-site campground, and revamped trail system in the first phase, and possibly later an environmental education and Nordic ski center, and an outdoor performance amphitheater."

The Glen project took a giant step forward last month when state environmental regulators gave Adams the go-ahead to proceed with planning and development.

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Stockbridge Slams Hood on Car Club

Staff Reports

We received an interesting e-mail last night pointing us to a blog that details "a car club massacre in 3 parts." According to the writer, a friend and longtime mechanic in Stockbridge has been told he can't fix his friends' cars for free anymore.

Apparently his neighbors are upset with the number of "high end" cars making their way to Jeff, who built a garage at his home to work on his collection of classic cars — and help out any of the many friends he's made who share the same passion. The not-so-friendly neighbors thought the retired mechanic was running a commercial operation and called the building inspector.

Jeff got a cease-and-desist order. The blogger, "Just A Car Geek," accompanied Jeff to the ZBA meeting this past Tuesday along with a bunch of others in their informal car club. The ZBA, he writes, couldn't find anything wrong but still voted to order Jeff to stop doing what he wasn't doing.

While they agreed that everything was on the up and up, they seemed to feel, like the neighbors, that Jeff has too many friends with nice cars. We, the half dozen or so "club members," were too many acquaintances for Jeff to have. By a vote of 4 to 1, the ZBA upheld the cease and desist order. If anyone stops by Jeff's house, they had better not pop the hood on their car for any reason. (Including a jump start, which could be a problem for those with British cars, I suppose.) The city will impose a hefty fine on Jeff if we do.

Jeff, he wrote, is taking the issue to court. Read the whole story, starting with Post 1.

Now, we don't have the neighbors' side of this thing. Maybe there was too much noise, too much traffic. But we'll be first to admit that we've had our cars worked on by friends — in their yards or garages — and been thankful. When your engine starts making some weird noise it's nice to have a friend who'll say, "stop by and I'll take a look at it."

Says "Just A Car Geek":

If this decision is upheld, it's possible you'll see towns trying to pass ordinances and/or bylaws saying that you can't fix or restore your own car in your home garage, let alone help a friend or family member. ... The thought of what the outcome of this case could have on car geeks, collectors, hobbyists, amateur racers, etc., is chilling.


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