Sommer Seeking Return To Adams Board of Selectmen
By Andy McKeever On: 09:42AM / Friday April 26, 2013 ||
Donald Sommer is looking to return to the Board of Selectmen with hopes of having the Community Development refocus.
ADAMS, Mass. — Since being off the board, former Selectman Donald Sommer has been keeping an eye on town politics and he doesn't like what he sees.
He sees the town spending money on studies that just become shelved, selectmen who don't seem to delve into issues and ask questions and businesses opting to open shop in neighboring towns instead of his own.
"I don't think there is one big problem in Adams. I think there are a lot of small problems," he said on Wednesday.
With his children taking over more and more of his business affairs, the 79-year-old is vying for a seat back on the Board of Selectmen to finish what he started and jumpstart a serious push to reel in more businesses.
Particularly, a $50,000 warrant article at this year's town meeting is asking for voters to hire a consultant to create a formal reuse plan for Memorial Middle School. But Sommer says officials already know what the school needs — and know that it is best to just give it away to a business that will bring jobs.
"All of these $50,000 studies don't amount to anything," Sommer said. "We know what has to be done, we don't need another study."
Sommer says he would like the town to take that $50,000 and hire a consultant who will go out of the region and try to "sell" the building. There are biotech and other industries that could use the classroomlike spaces, he said, but the town has not aggressively sought them out.
"Just give a company the building and let them bring in 30 or so jobs," he said.
The town is currently seeking short-term leases with the Youth Center and Ooma Tesoro's marinara sauce maker but neither of those will bring in the number of jobs Sommer envisions for that property.
The marketing person could become a town position that could focus on one building at a time with the old Community Center being the next.
"The town needs somebody to go out and talk to people and show them the comfortable living," Sommer said, adding that the new high school is a good selling point to attract people to town. "Every other town is doing it."
Sommer also doesn't like the way the Department of Community Development has been utilizing funds. Recently, the town tore down garages behind the former Albert's Hardware and put in a parking lot on Summer Street. A streetscape project was also completed on Summer.
But Sommer, who owns the Halflinger Haus restaurant on Commercial Street, says that money should have been focused on Park Street instead. Summer Street shouldn't be ignored, he said, but it has businesses that serve the neighborhoods while Park Street is the attraction.
"I think Community Development needs to refocus," he said. "The town can't support two business districts... I don't think we should start trying to attract people to Summer Street until we've filled Park Street."
The school and the Community Center are going to be a "serious problem" for the town to maintain and Sommer wants to see them back on the tax rolls somehow.
"We need to get rid of those buildings and get them on the tax rolls," he said.
Sommer says there are too many empty storefronts and too many businesses have opened and failed. If the town can put its effort into Park Street, if only one small shop can survive, that will start a snowball effect for the entire street.
"If one makes it, then maybe the one next door can make it," he said.
But that isn't to say that he thinks the town hasn't done good things too. Sommer supports the Greylock Glen project, particularly the plan to build an amphitheater. And the recent agreement with Berkshire Scenic Railway to run scenic train rides out of the Visitors Center had worked well in South County so that will be a boost to downtown Adams, he said.
"I think the rail trail is the best thing they've done in a long time. So many people use it," he said.
Sommer also supports the work of the Thunderbolt Ski Runners to revitalize the annual ski race. Efforts like that help make Adams a destination, he said, and that will grow with the Greylock Glen project.
He also hopes to finish what he started with a farmers market, which could attract people to the downtown. He said he started the process while on the board in the past but it never came to fruition.
While those major projects can help the business and tax base, Sommer said there are little things the town could do to help save money. During his three years on the Board of Selectmen before losing his seat in 2010, he said they went through every budget line and cut what they could. So much, that there isn't much left to cut.
But, he says working with Cheshire and North Adams could prove to lower material costs. He used asphalt milling machine, which reuses pavement, as an example. While the town may not be able to afford it alone, if it partners with other towns, the cost would be reasonably small.
"We don't need all of our own equipment," he said.
Going in with other towns to make bulk purchases of material — such as road salt — could also save money, he said.
Sommer is the oldest of the candidates seeking two spots on the board. He is running against Richard Blanchard, Michael Young and Joseph Nowak in the May 5 election. But, being the eldest of the candidates is what he says makes him a better one.
"I think age and successful experience helps," he said.
Sommer has a master's degree from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and has been in business for 40 years, after turning Greylock Apartments from a failing company to a successful one. He was on the School Committee for seven years, chaired the Redevelopment Authority for seven years and was on the Finance Committee for nine years. He served three years as selectman.
This is the second of four profiles of the candidates for selectman in Adams.
Nowak Seeking Seat on Adams Board of Selectmen
By Andy McKeever On: 03:25AM / Thursday April 25, 2013 ||
Joseph Nowak is a lifelong Adams resident who is embarking on his first campaign for the Board of Selectmen.
ADAMS, Mass. — Joseph Nowak remembers when he returned to Adams with a master's degree and struggled to find a job.
"I had a master's degree and I was mopping up locker rooms," he said. "It took me a while to just get a job with the state."
He stayed and worked his way up with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation because he loved the Adams community.
But, things haven't gotten much better in the last 40 years with the major manufacturers moving out of town. There aren't many incentives for a young family to stay.
Now there are run-down apartment buildings, vacant storefronts, farms are going out of business, and there's a transient population and aging infrastructure.
Nowak, with his degree in land use and a history working with the Democratic Party, is running for one of two vacant selectman seats to help Adams return to the quaint New England town that it once was.
"We need a community with a vision. It's a balancing act, we need to promote the town's history as well as look to the future," Nowak said on Wednesday.
It will take a long time for Adams to solve all of its issues but Nowak wants to be part of starting that process by helping to create an "identity."
The biggest problem, he says, is that a simple Google search shows that Adams is cutting its school budget while still having one of the highest tax rates in the county, which is not very attractive to families looking to relocate to the Berkshires.
"We're not able to get people to come to town," he said.
The 61-year-old says the town needs to help get Topia Arts Center up and running. The center has the ability to be an anchor of the downtown, spurring new development, he said, but leaders of the nonprofit are "discouraged." They have not been able to complete the project to renovate the center after investing $1 million of their own money into it. They want the town's help in reeling in state grant money.
"We'd be foolish if we don't try to work with the people who own Topia," Nowak said.
The Greylock Glen has long been seen as the keystone to the town's futures and Nowak wants to support that, too. Hiking trails, an educational center and campgrounds will help draw people to the Berkshires, he said and cited 22 years of working in state parks to show that he has seen the type of draw natural resources have.
However, he is concerned with the plan to build an amphitheater because that would increase traffic on the side streets and cause light pollution. Additionally, he said that if the Glen is developed, there will need to be some type of officer there to keep it from being vandalized.
"I worry mostly about the traffic," he said.
While those two projects should be priorities to start turning Adams around, Nowak said there are "a lot of little things" that he'd like to see to build on what the town already has — such as placing signage promoting that Adams is the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony.
While focusing on the projects already begun, the town needs to continue to look for other businesses to bring in, he said. He said there is a need for a slaughterhouse, a medical marijuana facility and train depot that could work in Adams and town officials should look toward finding those businesses.
"I will promise the people of Adams that I would be creative and innovative," Nowak said. "We have a long path ahead and there is no one big thing that will happen. But we need to get people on the street."
As a member of the Conservation Commission and one of the founders of the Agricultural Fair, Nowak is also very concerned about the future of farmers. There are only two remaining dairy farms in Adams and he would like to set policies to help farmers stay in business.
Those efforts will help broaden the tax base and set the town up for future growth, but he isn't sure if there are immediate ways to lower the tax rate. Town buildings are needed to be repaired and the school needs more funding, he said.
"You are between a rock and a hard place," Nowak said. "If you own property and it is in disrepair, you have to fix it."
Nowak says the town should look to move relatively quickly with tearing down a portion of the Memorial Middle School to alleviate the maintenance costs and build a park area for children at the Youth Center.
The reuse of portions of the building by Ooma Tesoro's and the Youth Center are good fits for those portions of the building, he said, but the rest of the building is too costly to repair.
"It's beyond its life cycle," Nowak said. "It'll be an albatross around the town."
With the Youth Center now leaving the Community Center vacant, Nowak wants the town to move quickly on that, too. If a buyer doesn't appear soon, Nowak wants a salvage company to come help tear the building apart and save what they can.
If the town doesn't start moving in this direction, Nowak fears things will only get worse — particularly with the new Walmart SuperCenter opening in North Adams.
"They don't mind putting people out of business," Nowak said.
Nowak is one of four vying for the two seats on the board. Also running for the position are Donald Sommer, Richard Blanchard and Michael Young. The election is on May 6.
Adams Candidates Speak To Maple Grove Civic Club
By Andy McKeever On: 06:00PM / Sunday April 21, 2013 ||
The Maple Grove Civic Club hosted its annual candidate forum on Sunday. The four candidates for two seats on the Board of Selectmen attended.
ADAMS, Mass. — Candidates for several town positions introduced themselves to the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday.
The annual forum gives club members a chance to chat with the candidates for every office up for election. This year, four candidates are vying for two seats on the Board of Selectmen.
First of the Selectmen candidates to speak, Donald Sommer, took aim at the Memorial Middle School, which is now vacant after the students were moved to the renovated high school.
The town has set is sights on short-term leases with the Youth Center and a local marinara company, Ooma Tessoro's, to reuse part of the school.
Meanwhile, the Selectmen are asking voters to set aside $50,000 for engineering for the massive amount of capital repairs required and create a reuse plan.
The former selectmen, however, says the town should instead use that money to hire a part-time marketer and reach outside of the county in hopes to reel in a larger business. He said the town should give the building to an interested company and have them make the needed repairs.
"I don't think it is a good utilization of that [building]," Sommer said of Ooma Tessoro's, which he said will bring few jobs to the town.
He pointed to Nuclea Technologies, which recently moved into a 1,700 square foot office in the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield, as a company the town should have made a strong effort to attract. Further, Sommer also disagrees with the recent move to tear down the former Albert's Hardware, saying the town's revitalization focus should be entirely on Park Street.
"Adams has never been able to support two business districts," Sommer said, adding the businesses on Summer Street are for the neighborhood while Park should attract people from outside.
Sommer also said he wants the town to join the Solarize Massachusetts program, bring in a farmers market and promised, citing his history in town politics, that he would "put my heart and soul" into the position.
Michael Young, the youngest of the candidates, followed Sommer by saying Adams has nothing to draw young families to town or to get people to stop. The town needs to have attractions to bring people from out of town to spend their money, he said.
"There are too many empty buildings. There are too many for-sale signs on houses. Young people, young families do not want to come to Adams," Young said.
His friends say they want out so Young wants to provide a financial incentive for young families to stay. More people will support the small businesses that are here, he said.
"I want to make taxes as low as possible," he said.
Meanwhile, he wants to sweeten the pot for young families by "doing something with the [Greylock Glen]" and "the empty buildings."
Richard Blanchard focused his four minutes on the type of representative he would be for voters. He said he would listen to the people and be an independent voice. He cited more than three years of attending almost every meeting, showing he knows the issues in town.
"I can listen to reason and change my mind if the argument is good enough," Blanchard said.
Further, he said he would ask a lot of questions and ask them in public forums so everyone else has a better understanding of the decisions the board makes. Blanchard says he doesn't like when officials tell him to meet privately in the office because others who may have the same concerns won't hear the answers.
He, too, said there needs to be a larger tax base with both new businesses and people. He also thinks the town isn't making the right decision with the middle school.
Blanchard says the Council on Aging should instead be moved to the middle school and utilize the kitchen area and that the town should put the Adams Visitors Center on the market.
"I think the visitors' center is also going to be a money pit," he said.
Joseph Nowak was the last candidate to speak, saying the town needs an "identity" that it currently doesn't have.
"The first thing people see is a high tax rate and a school budget getting cut," Nowak said.
Nowak says he has a lot of ideas ranging from simply putting in signs celebrating the town's claim to fame of Susan B. Anthony's birthplace, joining the Solarize Massachusetts program and supporting the Greylock Glen.
"I like the idea of having a nature center there but we need bigger ideas," he said. "We need to have an anchor business in this town.
However, he does have worries about an amphitheater at the Glen because of the disruption that would cause — such as traffic on sides streets and light pollution.
As for the middle school, Nowak says he'd like to see an entire wing of it torn down and be turned into a fenced in park area for the children at the Youth Center.
Senate Candidate Gomez Boasts Military, Business Background
By Andy McKeever On: 04:07PM / Sunday April 14, 2013 ||
Steve Melito talking with Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Gabriel Gomez believes that if Congress is going to make decisions on business and military issues, they should have some experience in those areas.
The former Navy SEAL has embarked on his first political campaign, vying for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by John Kerry. He is one of three Republican candidates on the ballot for the April 30 primary and the only candidate without any previous political experience.
He is running against state Rep. Daniel Winslow and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan.
"I'll put my military record against anyone I am running against. I'll put my private sector experience against anyone I am running against. And I will concede that they can win the political experience battle. That's fine with me," Gomez said on Sunday when he met with voters at Daddy O's Diner. "I think you see what happens when you have career politicians down in D.C. You have what you have right now. You have dysfunction, you have gridlock, you've got failure."
"The fact is," he later added, "I am the only one who is not a lawyer. I went to business school instead of law school. And I am the one who hasn't been in politics. I am the one who has been in the private sector helping businesses grow and become successful. I am also the one that wore the uniform as a pilot and a Navy SEAL."
Being a newcomer to the political scene is what Gomez said people want and that rang true for those greeting him at his campaign stop in Pittsfield.
"He is a different kind of candidate. He listens. Because he has a military background, he understands what it means to get results. He also comes from the private sector and he understands the importance of jobs and what it takes to create a job," said Steve Melito of Adams. "His personal story is very appealing as well. I think Republicans get a tremendously bad rep of being the party of the elite and the rich."
Michael Case, a veteran and Republican candidate in several local races, praised Gomez's military background. He was glad Gomez came to Pittsfield because in the historically Democratic Berkshires, he said, residents don't get to hear much about the Republican candidates.
Gomez is a first-generation American after his parents emigrated from Colombia to Los Angeles. He learned to speak Spanish before English but his family was never considered outsiders.
"At a young age I saw how this country embraced my parents and welcomed them with open arms and gave them a chance at the American dream and gave their kids a chance at the American dream. So I wanted to give back so I applied to the Naval Academy," Gomez said.
He was a pilot for four years but wanted a bigger challenge. He applied for SEALs (Sea, Air, Land Teams) training knowing that only 20 percent complete the training and his acceptance meant he couldn't go back to flying.
He completed the training and became class leader of SEAL Class 181. In his first detachment, he met his wife, Sarah, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in the West Indies.
"Now we've been married 17 years and have four kids, ages 13 to 8, and we live out in Cohasset on the South Shore," he said.
In 1996, he left the Navy and enrolled in Harvard Business School and has been in the private sector for the last 16 years. After graduation, he worked for Advent International, an investment firm, where he worked closely with small and regional business.
Gomez said voters want a senator with his background in business and military instead of another lawyer or politician.
He says business are "stifled" with regulations, taxes and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. While the intent of the health care law was good, he says it hasn't addressed the cost and states should be deciding how to do that.
"When you go to a bank for a loan, you deal with more compliance officers than loan officers," Gomez said.
He said with recent college graduates carrying so much student debt, it's unacceptable that the unemployment rate for those ages of 21 and 29 is at nearly 25 percent. Businesses need to grow so that his young children and those like them will have the "opportunity for the American dream."
"I want to be part of the solution instead of sitting on the sidelines complaining. What I will bring to the table is a military man's discipline, a father's sensitivity, a businessman's experience," Gomez said. "The way we are going right now with $17 trillion in debt and these policies coming from D.C. that are stifling companies' growth, that are stifling a company's ability to hire people. That just decreases the ability for a young person, or anybody, to go out and achieve their dream."
Gomez is calling for tax reform by closing loopholes for both companies and individuals while making the system much simpler. Meanwhile he is calling for cuts in government spending across the board.
"I think that every part of the government has room to trim," Gomez said, including in the Department of Defense, where he says there needs to be proper funding to ensure servicemen have the equipment they need to complete a mission safely. But, there are programs that are not needed and there are 10 to 15 percent too many civilian employees.
He says the retirement age should gradually be increased and there should be a "means test" to reduce the Medicaid and Medicare benefits given out so those who don't need it, don't receive the full benefit.
Those changes to the tax policy and the reduction of spending will pave the way for tax rates to decrease, thus providing more people with spending money, said Gomez.
"They're not going to diners like this as often as they want to," he said, standing in Daddy O's. "What drives the economy is people's ability to go out and spend their money. They're taking home less and less money not just because of taxes but also because of the regulations."
Gomez points to the recently passed Senate budget that "doesn't balance and has a trillion dollars in taxes" as an example of how "career politicians" are failing to understand the real-life issues businesses face. He said he will limit himself to two terms and is calling for term limits of two for senators and three for representatives.
Whoever wins the Republican primary on April 30 will face off against the Democratic winner — U.S. Rep. Edward Markey or U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch — in the special Senate election on Tuesday, June 25.
Ex-Medicare Chief Mulling Run for Governor
By Andy McKeever On: 11:01PM / Tuesday April 09, 2013 ||
Former Medicare chief Dr. Donald Berwick was in Pittsfield on Tuesday to introduce himself and listen to Berkshire Brigade members as he 'strongly considers' a run for governor.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Dr. Donald Berwick grew up in a small rural town where if someone's car was stalled on the side of the road, you didn't drive by.
You stopped to help.
It was a general idea that he grew up with, that "we're all together and we help each other." And it is that general idea that has now led him to "strongly considering" a run for governor.
His father was doctor, making house house calls miles away helping everyone he could and Berwick followed those footsteps.
He went off to Harvard Medical School and then went on to become a pediatrician. Meanwhile, public policy was an interest of his and he received his master of public policy degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
While working in private practice, there were inefficiencies that hindered his ability to provide the best care — for example labs tests not being returned quickly.
"I got interested in quality. How do we do better?" Berwick said on Tuesday when he introduced himself to members of the Berkshire Brigades, the county's leading Democratic organization. "I became a student not just of health care but of improvement. I began studying on anything gets better."
He found the best organizations didn't "disrespect" the people working for it. But, like his younger days in Connecticut, worked together with motivated leaders in various disciplines using their own imagination and plans to work toward the common goal.
That management belief coupled with his drive to "make everything better" led him to start the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement, bringing health-care professionals from across the world together to optimize health-care delivery.
"I then started to grow a national and international organization to try to improve health and health-care worldwide. And that grew. It is now the largest and most significant of such an organization in the world," he said.
Meanwhile, he still saw patients but wanted to do more. While he could treat a virus and make the health systems better, he couldn't solve the root cause.
"What makes a kid sick is not just the germ ... it is poverty, something in the air that shouldn't be there, injustice, fear or just social circumstances," Berwick said, adding that health care extends far beyond medicine.
Berwick told a story of a child growing up in poverty who had to fight to get a bone marrow transplant. He finally received it to cure his leukemia only years later to be murdered because of his social circumstances.
He then got the taste of the public sector. In 2008, President Barack Obama selected him as a recess appointee as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He was called on to change the system after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
He oversaw seven of the 10 provisions put in place by the act while leading the $820 billion health insurance agency. He led that organization by forming close relationships with other agencies.
"The first rule is that we have to run CMS in the way you want health care to be," Berwick said.
But on the legislative side, the environment was often "toxic" and elected officials weren't making decisions based on what "they feel in the heart" but rather "what they saw on TV," he said, and both parties in Congress were not working together and it was hurting the government's ability to work for the greater good of the people.
"That was entry into high level government," Berwick said, adding that he was excited with the direction the administration was going in universal health care.
His term ended after 17 months when he resigned because it was clear a Republicans would oppose a Senate confirmation for full appointment. He returned full time to his home with his wife, Ann, who is the chairman of the state Department of Public Utilities.
Berwick addressing the Berkshire Brigades.
Now, a year after his term ended in Washington, he is ready to dive back into the public sector with a run for governor.
"I want to stay in the public sector. What governments can do is phenomenally important if it is done right. By right I mean, well run and responsive to the public and in good partnership," he said. "I want to make the best possible community."
If he formally enters the race, he is planning to run on a platform aimed at improving the state's health care system, particularly lowering the costs by focusing on keeping patients healthy rather than "filling beds"; educating children; ending poverty, and solving economic problems the state faces by improving the energy policy.
"I would like to be governor to bring that kind of thinking about proper management, commitment to the poor, total commitment to children and continue swinging the bat at health care. I think I can do that and I'd like a chance to try," he said.
Berwick and Treasurer Stephen Grossman are the only two candidates so far who have indicated they may enter the 2014 race. Berwick hasn't yet announced but is going on a "listening tour" across the state to hear from the people.
Once news leaked out that he was considering a run, the Brigades invited him to speak. Grossman recently spoke at the Brigades' annual dinner.
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Tuesday, Nov. 4
Voting is from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Deadline to register or change party affiliation was Oct.15.
Candidates on the ballot in races for state office; all others on the ballot are unopposed. Links will take you to their campaign websites.
• Edward J. Markey, Democrat
• Brian J. Herr, Republican
• Charlie Baker & Karyn Polito, Republican
• Martha Coakley & Stephen Kerrigan, Democrat
• Evan Falchuk & Angus Jennings, United Independent Party
• Scott Lively & Shelly Saunders, Independent
• Jeff McCormick & Tracy Post, Independent
• Maura Healey, Democratic
• John B. Miller, Republican
Secretary of State
• William Francis Galvin, Democratic
• David D'Arcangelo, Republican
• Daniel L. Factor, Green-Rainbow
• Deborah B. Goldberg, Democratic
• Michael James Heffernan, Republican
• Ian T. Jackson, Green-Rainbow
• Suzanne M. Bump, Democratic
• Patricia S. Saint Aubin, Republican
• MK Merelice, Green-Rainbow
The cities of Pittsfield and North Adams will hold municipal elections for mayor, city council and school committee in 2015
You may vote absentee: if you will be absent from your town or city on election day, have a physical disability that prevents you from voting at the polls or cannot vote at the polls because to religious beliefs.
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