DCR Commissioner Rick Sullivan, second from left, lunches with members of the Massachusetts Mayors Association at Gramercy Bistro on Wednesday.
Nineteen of the state's 46 mayors spent the morning at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday. This is believed to be the first time that the Massachusetts Mayors Association has held one of its monthly meetings in the state's smallest and farthest-west city.
The mayors, weighed down by a Wilco bag full of goodies, were given an overview of the city by their host Mayor Richard Alcombright, MoCA Director Joseph Thompson and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary Grant.
"You're kind of rated on the weight, [Pittsfield Mayor] Jim Ruberto told me this morning, of the gift bag," said Alcombright to his guests. "I think the weight of the gift bag is substantial, and I also think the things you will find in there are substantial, too. I'm really trying to make a great impression."
MMA President Robert Dolan, mayor of Melrose, and Mayor Richard Alcombright. Alcombright invited the association to hold its monthly meeting in North Adams, for the first time anyone can recall.
But no prizes for who traveled farthest, he said, because "the mayor of Beverly didn't give me a gift when I drove the farthest last month."
This the second time the association has met in the Berkshires this year; their annual meeting was held a couple months ago at Cranwell Resort in Lenox.
"It's a wonderful respite for all of us in eastern massachusets to get out here and see the beauty of this area and see all the exciting things that are happening, particularly in North Adams," said Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan, president of the association.
All joking aside (including a shot from Alcombright that he could offer Wilco Solid Sound Festival tickets at "face value" that evoked a roar of laughter from the mayors), the meeting was an informal affair for Alcombright to introduce his city to his peers and for the elected officials to talk legislative strategy.
The main speaker was Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr., a former Westfield mayor, who touched on the challenges and priorities of the DCR and answered specific questions on how his department can work with local officials on everything from dams to skating rinks to forest use.
Gov. Deval Patrick had stressed to him that the best decisions in governement are made at the local level, he said, but Sullivan felt they are really made at the citizen level.
"They're made at your level, they're made at the citizen level and one thing that I've tried to bring to this job is a true working relationshiop with the cities and towns because I do think you know your communities best," he said. "You know what's best for your constituents. I have worked very closely, very personally with everyone in this room."
Also attending were several representatives from Sen. John Kerry's office, members of the administration and other staff, and representatives from the museum and college.
Sullivan's talk was followed by a closed meeting to discuss legislative updates and strategy. Guests were treated to lunch at Gramercy Bistro on the museum campus and were offered tours of the museum and the city in the afternoon.
The meeting was underwritten by Mass MoCa, MountainOne Financial Partners, Berkshire Bank, the Porches and Greylock Insurance Agency.
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City Council Tackles Heavy Agenda
We're preparing for a long meeting on Tuesday night as the City Council plans to peruse some weighty issues.
Among them are the veterans agent sharing agreement (likely to go through swiftly — both Adams and Williamstown have approved the deal and it's a cost saver for North Adams) and a lengthy ordinance change for sidewalk vendors based on a recently adopted Adams bylaw. That's likely to get referred to another board or committee before going into effect.
We're wondering what will happen with the mayor's request for a home-rule petition to keep Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco in the station house. He's facing mandatory retirement in the fall (he told us a few months ago he didn't want to retire); it will take a legislative action to keep him past his expiration date.
The mayor's reasoning is there are a lot of new hires in the fire and police forces and they need an experienced, steady hand; a commissioner also offers an administrative head who can focus on budgeting, prioritizing and emergency management services.
The commissioner spot was created three decades ago but some question the need with the city's reduced population and police force. There was some thought that Mayor Alcombright would use Morocco's forced retirement to reorganize public safety; apparently they were wrong.
Also on the agenda is a letter from the Department of Revenue about the city's $1.2 million out-of-whack 2011 budget. The bad news: the city better keep an eye on its minimal reserves and start some long-term planning.
There's been a fuss by a few about whether the city has to tax at its full levy capacity. Gerard Perry, state director of accounts, says: "The city has levied to the maximum levy limit allowed under Proposition 2 1/2. The city would need to tax at this levy limit in order to set the FY 2011 tax rate."
To lower the rate, it would have to start cutting or raise other revenue, both of which the administration says it's done.
There's a whole lot of other stuff Tuesday, too. Five reserve officers to be sworn in, updates on the multiple road projects, something on the Commission on Disabilities ... To find out what's happening, the entire agenda is available here.
Because of its lengthiness, I've separated out the important stuff: Commissioner of public safety home-rule petition is here and the letter from the DOR is here. The vendor ordinance is in the full agenda.
Links to these documents are also available through Tuesday on the front page. I've noticed quite a few but not a lot of hits on council documents I've uploaded to Scribd. I'd like some feedback — are they hard to find, do you subscribe, do you care?
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DownStreet Art Draws a Crowd
The downtown's new benches were popular.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — DownStreet Art kicked off its third year with another successful launch on Thursday.
Some 37 galleries, double the number of the freshman year, opened to the hundreds of visitors drawn downtown. There was music at both ends of the street and people lingered in the restaurants and — on the benches.
It's not graffiti, it's a sign of the times.
The long-anticipated benches arrived earlier in the day and were quickly installed along the south side of the streets. They were rarely empty and aided the flow of people along the main drag. In the past, people have tended to cluster at both ends of the street: around the Berkshire Bank plaza up to Holden Street and again around the gallery at 107 Main.
The benches weren't the only changes — bright green footsteps led the way east along the sidewalk with the occasional "Art This Way" signs to keep people going in the right direction. But the sight of some young people stenciling the sidewalk Thursday morning led to several calls to City Hall reporting graffiti.
Expect to see more sidewalk art because once completed, the footsteps will mark a trail from Mass MoCA to Main. There's also plans for signs (and maybe even some footprints) on the pillars of the Veterans Memorial Bridge if the state gives the OK. The idea is to make sure motorists and Mass MoCA visitors know where the art is.
What else can we say? One fellow we ran into was driving by and wondered what everyone was doing out. "I stopped and all these art galleries were open."
That's pretty much the point — giving people a reason to stop.
Who was out and about last night? Find out here.
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Bring a Friend to the North Adams Museum
Have you been to Western Gateway Heritage State Park lately? The volunteers at the North Adams Museum of History and Science are inviting the community to come by on Saturday - and bring a friend.
Sure, there's a lot of construction going on around the Hadley Overpass, but don't let that deter you. The North Adams Trolley will be picking up and dropping off from 12:30 to 3:30 on Saturday afternoon at the park and from Main Street, the St. Anthony's Municipal Parking Lot, City Hall, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sons of Italy.
The North Adams Historical Society is encouraging residents and visitors to tour all the venues in the state park. Along with the museum, which features the golden, refurbished J.J. Newberry letters installed on their traditional red background, a number of other events are occuring throughout the day:
• "Furniture That Talks," an exhibit with creator/collector Don Trimarchi at the museum, runs from 10 to 4
• Talk at the park Visitors' Center in Building 4 at 2
• Mill City Productions highlights past performances and preps for upcoming caberet from noon to 3
• Tunnel City Coffee will be offering samples from 10 to 11:30 under the Freight Yard Pub tent and during the Mill City event
• Tony Pisano will discuss beekeeping in the morning
• Tala's Quilt Shop will offer quilting demonstrations
• Freight Yard Pub is offering a special lunch
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Housing Residents Give Boland Final Salute
They couldn't all make it to Bill Boland's funeral on Friday, but the people whom he helped during his nearly 30 years as head of the Housing Authority wanted to make they paid their respects.
They stood and sat along Ashland Street or under the shade of the porch at the high-rise apartments to watch the hearse bearing his casket pass on its way to Southview Cemetery at noontime.
The high-rise apartments were only a few years old when Boland was named director of the authority, a post he held until retiring in 2003. Boland, who died last Friday at age 72, has been eulogized at the City Council and the Northern Berkshire United Way breakfast for his many good deeds and efforts on behalf of the city's poor, disabled and elderly.
Mayor Richard Alcombright told us earlier this week that he'd come to know Boland when he served on the City Council with Alcombright's late father, Daniel. When the new mayor was seeking advice on appointing people to the Housing Authority board a couple months ago, he went to Boland for advice.
"He told me not to worry about finding people who understood housing," said Alcombright, in a story he'd repeat again. "He told me to get people who understood the need for housing."
Boland certainly understood the need for housing. Not only that, he appears to have understood housing, too. Since his retirement, the Housing Authority's had three directors - and he returned at least once in an interim.
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