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Williamstown: Fuls Looks to Build Consensus
By Stephen Dravis On: 10:48AM / Sunday May 11, 2014
Gary Fuls has a personal stake in the three major issues facing the town in the coming years: affordable housing, public safety facilities and the high school.

Editor's Note: Each of the four candidates for two open seats on the Williamstown Board of Selectmen sat down with iBerkshires.com to talk about the issues facing the town. This week, we are running excerpts from those conversations.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Gary Fuls lays claim to being the only selectmen candidate who has a stake in all the major issues facing the town.

As a call volunteer firefighter for the last 12 years, he understands the needs for a new police and fire station. As a father of four daughters at Williamstown Elementary School, he is invested in the future of Mount Greylock Regional junior-senior high school. As someone who has family members looking to move to Williamstown, he is concerned about affordable housing.

As a budding entrepreneur who plans to open his own real estate business this spring, the Amesbury native and MCLA graduate also has economic development on his radar.

Q: Your website (www.selectgary.com) does a really good job of explaining your priorities, and with all the big capital projects mentioned in there [the high school, the police station, the fire station, affordable housing], can the town afford to do it all?

A: Well, one of my thoughts was the figures before a year or so ago, when they estimated what it would cost for a the police, fire and new school, they said it would be, what .. $500 per person it was going to go up? But the past two years, taxes went up, just on my itty-bitty house, $400 two years in a row. So if it's going to happen anyway, why not get the school, police and fire?

Q: Well, it would go up twice that amount, wouldn't it?

A: But at least we'd get something from it. We'd have something to show for it.

We're going to have to sit down and look at the numbers again. Let's get the real numbers from the real people. Look at the people we have in this town. We could figure out anything. Look at the economists, the environmentalists. With everything we have between the high school teachers, the professors, all the business people, the attorneys — we have everything we need. We are so fortunate with the resources we have just in our town.

We're unique compared to most places anywhere in the Berkshires, let alone the state. I think we need to use the people we have a little bit more.

Q: Do you have specific people in mind who you'd want to see brought into the conversations on town committees?

A: There are some awesome people in there already. I don't want to call people out because it's mean to do that before you talk to them.

Q: But are there people you would go to?

A: Oh, yeah, there are so many people. Think of the people who have started companies in this town. They've been through this — some of them on a much bigger scale. Why not use the resources that we have?

When you hear about all these committees and commissions coming in and it's a third-party outside source, it drives you nuts because you know this town would have a better commission or committee than most. When everything is said and done, the town should create its own commission and rent it out to other towns — bring some revenue back [laugh].

Q: Do you have a sense there's a disconnect between the fire district and the town?

A: I think it's more of a perception thing that people think that. I think anytime we need something — and by 'we,' I mean the Fire Department — such as a truck or equipment, it's either from a grant or money that's been saved over years and years. We don't take out a bond or the long-term loans. We pay for it. I don't think people understand the ability the Fire Department has as its own district.

But if someone can prove that it works better as a model for the Fire Department to be within in the town, prove it. That's what people are missing a lot: If you have a better idea, bring it forward. People need to hear it.

If you think the police and fire station should be together or separate, wherever you are, just prove it. Show the numbers. No emotion, just facts. That's all you need.

Q: Do you think they should be together or separate?

A: I'm not sure where the chiefs stand on that. I would have to see what comes out with the new study. But it's the same thing with the school: Let's get all the facts on it. What numbers do you really need? Is there space? Is there not space? The engineers are going to figure out that stuff, and it's tough to say, 'Oh, it should be this.' I don't have that report yet to say whether it should be together or not.

Ideally, I think if you're driving into town on Route 2, and you saw where the [Williamstown] Financial Center was, and that was the police station, just a beautiful looking building, that would be pretty impressive driving in. And then if you went down and — whether it's the Lehovic property or wherever — and there was a nice new fire station. And then you get to the college. That's pretty impressive. It shows you're professional. It shows you're a real community.

But I don't know if makes sense to be all in one. I don't have that report. Like I tell everybody: Prove to me why it should be together or prove to me why they should be separate. Facts, not emotion.

You've got to look at everything from both sides. That's what drives me nuts. People have this tunnel vision. Listen, you love what you love and you have a passion for it. I get that. But, you know what? There are other people out there who can help you, and you can help other people at the same time. I just think people need to look at things from both sides and get the facts. That's what drives me nuts.

Q: And then of course the other piece is the high school, which brings in another, potentially large expenditure.

A: I don't know where they're going for that. ...

You've got to remember, next year, my oldest daughter goes to Mount Greylock, and for the next 16 years after that — no kidding — I will have at least one daughter going to that school. So the high school is kind of a big deal for me, as it is for 80 percent of the people here.

Again, the tunnel vision. People think because you're a firefighter, all you care about is the Fire Department. That's not true. The school is kind of important to me.

Low-income housing — my dad is moving here in less than two weeks. I've been fortunate that Allen Jezouit has given me an incredible deal to help my dad get up here and situated in one of his rentals. And Allen's running Hugh's campaign.

Again, that's the reason why you stay here — the people you get to know, like Allen, and all those guys.

Low-income housing — we need more than we have right now.

The guy running my campaign, Dylan [Stafford] is on the Affordable Housing Committee. We're all entwined. Everybody wants affordable housing for people. But what's the need? What's the cost? We can Monday morning quarterback all we want about what happened a couple of weeks ago, but this is what we have now, deal with it.

Why can't we turn that building into a template for all the new ones? Williamstown has a chance to take the bull by the horns here and create some incredible low-income housing, and that could be a template for the next low-income housing project and make it easier to pass. We could say, 'This is what we did. Look at this.' It could be a template countywide. Why not be the pioneers on this?

Q: You mentioned Monday morning quarterbacking, and I'm going to ask you to do a little of that now. Has there been anything — and it doesn't have to be what happened two weeks ago, but it could be — where you looked at a decision the town made and thought you might have done things differently?

A: Everyone agrees we want more low income housing. Everyone agrees we shouldn't kill polar bears. But it's a question of what extent. Should there be 85 units or should there be 64. I didn't get to see all the reports and have all the information they did in making their decision. ... So if I agree they should have gone the way they did, I'm not for affordable housing? Or am I? If I don't agree with what they did, now I'm supposed to go on the record disagreeing with someone I'm trying to work with [Ronald Turbin, who voted with departing Selectmen Jane Allen and David Rempell on the affordable housing RFPs]. It's a Catch-22.

You don't want to Monday morning quarterback. They made their decision with the information they had at that time. When I come in, this is what we have. Deal with that and go forward. That's just how it is.

But we're fortunate we have something passed. Now that we have this opportunity, why not go crazy and get it done.

We're in a good position. It sounds like the school's shaping up. Those guys on the School Committee kill themselves. So do the guys on the Affordable Housing Committee.

Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Select Board would be your first town government position?

A: Yes.

Q: One side of that is it gives you a fresh perspective. The other side is the question of inexperience. How do you address that?

A: Well, from everything I've ever heard from people on the Select Board, they'll tell you how fantastic Mr. Fohlin is. Whether you agree with everything he says or not, he seems to be a pretty darn good leader, and people love him. I think to learn under him would be an incredible opportunity.

No matter who gets in there, there's going to be a learning curve. I don't think anyone else running has been a selectman before. They may have been on other groups. But it's just different skill sets and different areas.

I'm unique in that every issue is my issue.

Q: You mention Mr. Fohlin. One thing that whoever is elected to the board more than likely will have to deal with in the next three years is helping to find his replacement.

A: Or convince him to stay, one or the other. One of the most important things for the board, is you need to be in charge and keep the leadership. That means keep him if you can. What's another 20, 30 years? He'll be fine.

Q: I don't think that's going to be the Select Board's decision to make.

A: I know.

Q: And he's dropped many a hint that he is not going to be town manager forever. What would you be looking for in the next town manager?

A: I think you're going to have to have somebody who is going to understand there are two sides to every story and someone who is not afraid to speak out and say, 'Lets' get the facts.' Again, that's the theme to everything: facts, not emotion. Bring everybody together and get things done, for whatever project it is.

Definitely you need someone with the leadership skills who will say something when needed. It's about bringing people together. You can see from the votes that we're not that far off on many things. When you lose a vote by 14 votes, for whatever it is, that means you weren't that far off.

Engage other people. ... What are their concerns and questions? Those questions could be the key to saving a whole lot of money. You want people to be coming to the board — more people, more ideas. Just take a step back and listen to everybody.

Q: You're the fourth candidate I've talked to and the first one I didn't ask this question at the beginning of the conversation: What more can the town be doing to support economic development?

A: Again, that's a tough one because I don't think anyone has all the answers just yet. But again, look at the people we have in town in terms of the economists and entrepreneurs and everyone.

Q: Well, you're an entrepreneur.

A: I'm getting there. I'm not at the same level as others. But that's the goal, to have more people be working and self-sufficient. Why aren't we reaching out more to the leaders in our town. Wouldn't that be the first step?

Like manufacturing with Hugh [Daley]. I don't think we're going to be a manufacturing hub. I don't think anyone does. But look at what he's done. Look at the other people who are succeeding. Get these points of view with a logical time frame and a logical sense of where we're at and what we can do. We have the people, that's the thing. We can create the jobs. We just have to figure out where we want to go.

Q: Where do you want to go?

A: Initially, let's use what we have in terms of the tourism and the Williams alumni, the people who come back. ... I think we're going to have reach out to the other communities and do some ventures back and forth, whether it be South County or North County — North Adams, Lanesborough, Hancock, whatever we've got to do. We're going to have reach out, because we're pretty small.

Q: There are a lot of groups — the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, etc. — does the town need to be more involved with those agencies?

A: I would think so. I'm a little biased by being in the [Berkshire Chamber's] Berkshire Leadership Program. The Chamber is a huge bonus for our county. They do so much. I think we need to get them to focus up here a little bit more. But all we've really got to do is ask.

I'm going to try to help out, when things settle down in a few weeks, help out the Mount down there with some different ideas and marketing. Why aren't we trying to cooperate more among the different museums and MoCA and everything to get people to visit and circle around to all of them.

And then, what are we doing to tap into the college? The people coming out of there — what are we doing to inspire them to stay here? Everybody leaves the Berkshires, and then they realize, 'Oh my God, why did I leave? I've got to go back.' But we're losing that gap where we could have had so much productivity and great ideas from them.

That's a big theme for the Berkshire Leadership Program: What are we going to do to keep them here? The biggest workforce in the county is 65 and over. We've got to change that. Why not start in your own backyard? It's simple steps. Start something, let it grow and bring it to other people.

That's the nice thing with the Leadership Program. I've met so many people from throughout the county who say, 'You guys have an opportunity here.'

Q: How long does the Berkshire Leadership Program last?

A: It's one class a year. It goes for 10 weeks, and you go and meet the biggest leaders throughout the county in health and education or whatever one day a week.

Economic development? We can come up with it, but I think it has to be a collaborative effort.

Bring people together, that's all we've got to do. And that's what I'm doing. I know everybody in every group. Why not help bring everybody together?

Q: One of the wedge issues in town that prevented people from coming together was the Lowry property and whether it could be developed. And that's really binary — it's either developed or it's not.

A: From what I've seen, hasn't that issue been going for 20-something years? It's never been approved [for development] and it's not going to be.

Q: So it's time to give up?

A: Why are we looking at agricultural land? Maybe we have to, but I don't have every report that other people had. What is our need? What are our exact numbers? What do we need? How many homes, how many rental properties are vacant right now?

Q: The impetus for the most recent debate, as you know, was the idea of recreating something like the Spruces in an area you could have a cluster of small, individual homes. There is no other part of town close to town water because the water line doesn't extend — as you well know.

A: I'm painfully aware of that.

Q: So that's what you're left with [Lowry]?

A: That's going to come up over and over again. I don't see that ever going away.

Q: And when it does, it creates division.

A: It does, but at the same time, what are we doing and who are we working with among people in town about what else we have for housing that has not been utilized. Maybe we have options we haven't even considered. Maybe someone's willing to do a land swap. Nobody's asking people these things, I don't think.

For all I know, maybe they have, and the answer is no. But we need to have people asking the questions.

It's communication. It's always communication. Any industry, any job. My house with four daughters in it, trust me, things can go awry quickly if you don't communicate.

The annual town election is Tuesday, May 13, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Williamstown Elementary School.



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Williamstown: Hogeland Looking to Step Up to Selectman
By Stephen Dravis On: 10:18AM / Saturday May 10, 2014
Andrew Hogeland has served on a number of town boards; this election he's trying for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

Editor's Note: Each of the four candidates for two open seats on the Williamstown Board of Selectmen sat down with iBerkshires.com to talk about the issues facing the town. This week, we are running excerpts from those conversations.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Andrew Hogeland has served Williamstown on its Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Finance Committee and the recently formed ad hoc Public Safety Building Study Committee.

This month, he hopes to add Board of Selectmen to that list.

The recently retired attorney and Williams College graduate says his experience in town government will be an asset as the board faces a number of capital improvement projects. And his experience as a Williams alum who came "home" to finish his career is one he hopes the town can encourage other alumni to duplicate.

In Hogeland's case, his career path took him to New York University for law school, private practice and six years in the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and, finally, General Electric and Sabic in Pittsfield.

The Philadelphia native and his wife, Anne, another Williams alumna, put three daughters through Williamstown's schools.

Q: Are your daughters all around here?

A: One's in Pittsfield. One is in Colorado and one is mostly in Seattle. We had a remarkable year last year. They all graduated from something, and they all had jobs within a week, so that was a pleasant surprise.

Q: And that leads to the next part of our conversation. A pleasant surprise that at least one of your daughters was able to find a job in her career in Berkshire County?

A: Yeah, in nursing, for her, which was good. For the other two, I think leaving here didn't have anything to do with the job situation. I think it was other things going on.

It wasn't the economy that made them leave.

But for segue purposes, yeah, I think it would be great if the town paid more affirmative attention to economic development. I assume the Chamber of Commerce does some, but they could probably do more. I don't think the town as a town has done much focus on that.

The hope would be to come up with a plan and a schedule and a program for trying to lure more people and businesses to town.

Q: Do you see that as the town working more closely with some of the existing infrastructure that is there, like 1Berkshire or the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission?

A: I think probably part of the initial phase would be to understand what organizations like the chambers of commerce do and see what we as a town government can do to add to or supplement that process. The first part for me is learning what's already out there and how we can add to it.

The other leveraging part for me, besides the chambers of commerce, would be talking more specifically with the college about using their contacts and their alumni to see if we should suggest their alumni come back to town or stay in town.

The college alumni are people who, in many respects, are pre-screened, in that they already know what Williamstown's all about. The idea is if they like it here and like to come back for reunions at least, maybe they should come back and do something permanent.

Q: And do it before they're of retirement age?

A: Yes. I think the benefit to the town is to have people whose jobs are not geographically limited, but who can work out of an office or work on a computer. Why not work here in this pleasant environment rather than wherever they happen to be today.

Q: Of course, telecommuters don't necessarily bring other jobs with them.

A: Not necessarily, but I think there are a few cases where people have worked for a company for many years, and the company allows them to work out of Williamstown out of their house. I'd rather have that in the house than someone who is looking for work in that house. It's partly adding a job, but it also means that person will be spending their money in the neighborhood. They'll be going to restaurants. They'll be buying tickets to movies. They'll be buying cars, whatever. So it's the ripple effect of having people here with income that would help the town longer term.

Q: And the other piece is the tourism side of economic development, which I think everyone was pretty much in agreement about at the League of Women Voters forum. Some will say that the tourism jobs are not necessarily always good-paying jobs and often times they're seasonal jobs. There's some question of whether that's the kind of economic development the town ought to be pursuing.

A: Part of the reality is a lot of the economy today is based on tourism. Since we have that, one direction is to build on that.

Another direction is to look for jobs like ... I think I called them 'satellite jobs.' So what other industries or businesses would want to be near an academic center or near an arts center.

I think I gave the example of there used to be the Roper Public Opinion Research Center, which was housed at Williams College, which brought some number of jobs. It wasn't a college job or a tourist job, but they worked with the faculty.

The other example is the conservation lab at the Clark. There's no reason for an art museum to need a conservation lab, but happily they do, and there is some number of jobs there.

So part of the effort would be to talk to the people at the college and at the Clark about what other jobs might want to be located near them.

I don't think either one of those institutions is really in the business of job creation, but if they think about it differently, they might find a way to advance their own programs that creates jobs in the community as well.

Q: Let's move away from jobs for a moment because there was a lot of talk about economic development at the League of Women Voters forum. What are some of the other priorities that you see for the town or some other issues you see coming up in the next three years that the Select Board is going to have to address?

A: I think a big need is going to be intelligent financial planning on the three proposed capital projects: police, fire and high school.

I think it would be difficult to pay for them all at the same time, so part of the challenge is to look at the timing and sequencing of those three projects to see how we can mitigate the impact on the tax rate.

Q: In the last, say, five years have there been any times when you thought the town took a wrong turn?

A: I think initial focus on affordable housing got off to a bad start, but I think that over the last year, that effort recovered and they were doing an intelligent analysis and an RFP process on two different alternatives.

I think that was a positive improvement over where we were a year ago.

But nothing else comes to mind.

Partly we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the town manager, who has been able to keep the town running on a tight budget for many years, so we're in a good cash position. We have a lot of levy capacity left if we happen to need it. So that's helped to smooth out a lot of potentially rough paths.

Q: The town manager position might be one of the big challenges the Select Board faces in the next three years.

A: I think it's the unspoken agenda item, which is we may be asked to replace Peter Fohlin sometime, soon, whenever he decides to retire. As you know, he's hinted broadly that some time in the not so distant future, he may do that. I expect there's a good chance that some time in the next three years, we may be asked to hire a new town manager.

Q: And as one of the people who might be asked to conduct those interviews and that search process, what would you be looking for in a town manager?

A: I think the baseline skill set has to be a high level of competence and experience in the subject matter.

But I'd also be curious to see what the town manager candidates have in the way of economic development experience. At least from looking at the papers, other towns have people who do this job. We don't, and maybe there's a good reason for that, but I'd be curious to ask candidates what they have done or could do for that kind of development.

Q: I asked a moment ago what in the last five years the town may have done wrong. Can you point to anything that's happened that we haven't mentioned that the town has really gotten right in the same time frame?

A: I think what the town's done right is to be on a very fiscally responsible path in terms of keeping budget increases to a tolerable minimum and running the place efficiently.

Q: All but one of the candidates for Select Board is sitting on at least one town committee. Why is that kind of experience important?

A: I think several of the bigger issues facing the town are around the three building projects, and I've worked on all three. So in terms of being up to date and engaged in what's going on, I think that would help me significantly, I think, if I take the position.

The other experience I've been lucky to have is sitting on the Finance Committee for three years. That's been a great way to understand better the finances and especially the long-term debt picture of the town. So i think my learning curve will not be as steep if I didn't have all these experiences.

And longer ago I was on the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission, and I think it will be helpful to understand what those boards do.

Q: You already alluded to where the town was a year ago in terms of the housing issue and the rancor and all that. I'll take some of the blame for this, but you've been identified with the 'timeout' idea. Did that work?

A: I think it definitely worked. I think for the next year, the housing committee organized steps to issue requests for proposals, they did listening sessions throughout the town. They got two proposals, both of which they thought could do the job. And it's led to a decision. So I think as a process, taking that timeout gave us a much better informed basis for a decision.

Q: But the town never did use that time to fully look at the Lowry property. The Select Board asked the Conservation Commission to look at it and a month later withdrew the request. So, from that standpoint, and to the extent that building on Lowry was the lightning rod issue, was it a success?

A: I think the issue should be phrased in practical terms, which is where do we have the best chance of building affordable housing. The housing committee decided they had a better chance of building on Water Street or Photech, and they — I think correctly — decided that they would focus their attention on those two properties.

The Lowry property, for me, presents a large practical concern, which is it's not currently available. And you could lose many years of money, time and resources in trying to determine whether or not it is available.

So if I was in a position of looking at three properties and one had a much more difficult set of challenges, like Lowry did, in even getting it to be available, I'd rather spend my time on the two that have a better chance of success.

Q: Do you have specific thoughts about the major capital projects the town is facing?

A: I think maybe the other thing to point out on the school and the police and fire department issue is we're going to be asked to pay for something on those projects in the next two to three years. Coincidentally, the town's long-term debt has several bond payments which will end at about the same time.

So in 2017 and 2018, our long-term debt payments go down, by I think it's about $300,000, more or less. So coincidentally, that's an opportune time to ask people to incur new debt for one of these other projects.

So in terms of long-term planning, we're lucky there's an intersection coming up where our debt payments go down at the same time we're asked to maybe take on some new things. That would mitigate the tax increase, I think.

Q: And the feasibility study vote coming up with the high school?

A: With the feasibility study, what resonates the most with me is it's a chance that only comes around once every several years. To pass up this chance, you're basically asking to pay 100 percent of everything rather than 45 percent of everything. By voting for the feasibility study, you're getting the knowledge and also keeping alive the hope that someone else is going to pay for 55 percent of the school.

It's 55 from the state and 15 from Lanesborough [with the MSBA]. So in terms of opportunity leveraging, Williamstown is paying 30 percent of a huge project instead of 60 percent.

But I don't know what Lanesborough's going to do.

Q: What was your reaction to the town's decision on the affordable housing RFPs?

A: One thing I'd say about the housing decision is, I think it would be nice to orient ourselves toward making that decision effective.

I guess I was glad to hear the chairman of the housing committee, Van Ellet, last night speak up and say the housing committee is committed to making the Photech site a positive solution. Rather than revisiting the past on this, we should focus our efforts on making sure the Photech site is useful for a project that takes into consideration the design criteria around flood plains and neighbors.

The neighbors will need to be able to tolerate the final design. Their voices will need to be heard. As of today I'm optimistic we'd be able to find some solution that avoids flood plains and too many objections.

Q: Is the 'town-gown' relationship strong enough to help find solutions to Williamstown's economic issues?

A: The mission, if we could pull this off, would be to have both the town and the college think outside the box more about longer term economic development.

The college is primarily in the business of education, so it's not no their agenda to think about economic development. But I think they recognize, as the Clark recognizes that in order to attract employees to the area, it would be nice to have an area that has some economic vitality to it as well as good schools.

I think they'll recognize it's in their interest to support these areas. And then the conversation will be what can each of us do specifically to make all that happen.

The annual town election is Tuesday, May 13, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Williamstown Elementary School.



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Williamstown: Nogueira Promises Fighting Spirit
By Stephen Dravis On: 09:52PM / Thursday May 08, 2014
Jack Nogueira is running for one of two vacant selectman seats.

Editor's Note: Each of the four candidates for two open seats on the Williamstown Board of Selectmen sat down with iBerkshires.com to talk about the issues facing the town.This week, we are running excerpts from those conversations.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Jack Nogueira brings a varied professional background to his candidacy for selectman.

The 22-year town resident emigrated to Pittsfield from Portugal when he was 12. Educated at Pittsfield High School and Berkshire Community College, he worked for 18 years at General Electric. He also has worked with the Williamstown Police Department, Berkshire County sheriff's office and the Williams College Campus Safety and Security Department, in addition owning his own business and serving a number of different non-profits.

On May 13, he hopes to add selectman to his lengthy resume because of the passion he feels for his adopted hometown.

Q: Can you expand a little on how you see the town contributing to economic development?

A: As I keep saying, this is a small community. It's always going to remain a small community. As far as jobs, we have Williams College and the Clark Art Institute, which are the major employers in town. Are we going to get industry in town? I doubt it very much. We don't have the space for it.

The space that once was utilized for industry is now trying to be turned into affordable housing because we lack the housing.

Look at the people who were displaced from the Spruces. We have no place to put them. Those people are now out of town. The majority are out of town. They're moving to North Adams. I understand some are moving to Pittsfield.

So our concentration here should be on maintaining the population that we have here already.

As far as the housing, I don't see any major developments coming into town. The town tried to utilize 10 acres of the Lowry property. The town had a great plan with a cluster of homes on those 10 acres. It was shut down by the Conservation Commission.

Q: Do you anticipate that coming back around in the next three years?

A: As with everything else, we should always revisit everything and make sure that we did everything right the first time. Did we overlook anything? Is it really necessary for us to take those 10 acres of land so we can build some housing for the people who really want to live in Williamstown?

I think Jane Allen said it well: Let's not flatter ourselves by thinking that everybody is lining up to move into Williamstown. That's not true.

But what we should do is take care of the people who are here already. These people have been here, the people from the Spruces — Peter Fohlin said it well: When you say 'affordable housing,' that was it. That was affordable housing for those people. That's all those people could afford. They enjoyed living in Williamstown. So that diversity — are we going to get it back? I don't think so, unless we do something major ... that involves housing which is affordable for people.

I read about the project on Cole Avenue. I was there when it was presented to the town. It looked like a factory that was going to infringe on the people on Mill Street. And now they're telling us it's going to cost about $314,000 per unit. I mean, you call that affordable housing? I don't. I don't think $314,000 for housing is affordable. What are you going to be charging for rent?

Q: It sounds like you're saying the town is going to have to revisit Lowry and Burbank at some point.

A: I don't know. I don't know if we can or not. I was not part of the decision.

If I get elected, would that be one of my concerns? Absolutely. I'm not going to lie. I've said from the beginning, I'm going to be true to myself and true to the town. That's why I'm running for selectman. I'm running because I care about Williamstown. I've been living here for 22 years. I've served on the Rent Control Board for 15 years — eight years as chairman.

Q: What's that been like?

A: We've had some controversies. We got sued twice. Twice we won. Once was by default, but still we won. We fought. ... We did everything we thought was right, and we didn't play favorites with anyone. We didn't play favorites with the tenants. We didn't play favorites with the landlords. We did what we thought was right.

We had the flood at the [Spruces] park, and the owners backed down. We won that case by default. But we won. Had we continued [with the lawsuit], I think we still would have won because we knew what we were doing was right. We knew the rent increase was not appropriate. We knew what the owners of the park had failed to do to that point, and they had to take care of it.

Q: To bring the people back who were lost from the Spruces, the town has to have new affordable housing, no?

A: But where are they going to do it? That's the problem. Where is the land available.

The Lowry property, the 30 acres that are there, the town was asking for 10. Their idea was not to put a mobile home park there. Their idea was to put a cluster of homes, which I think would have enhanced the neighborhood and would have brought that diversity into the neighborhood. The plan got shot down. And the people who shut it down, maybe they had the right to shoot it down.

I'm not sure. I haven't gotten to there yet.

If I'm elected, am I going to look at it? Sure. I will look at it again. I will see if it would be appropriate to go back there and look at it again.

This thing with affordable housing, by putting a building that looks like a factory with apartments side by side and then calling that affordable housing when it costs $314,000 per unit to build. I'm not a builder or a contractor, but I do own some property, and when I saw that price, I said, 'Good lord. What are we going to have? Marble floors? Twenty-four carat faucets?' What are we doing here?

I was always under the understanding affordable housing was housing the people could afford to live in, no matter what your income was you could afford to live there.

Q: What are some other issues you're interested in addressing?

A: Well, the other issues are the police station. We talk about attracting people to come into Williamstown when we're talking about giving them tax breaks and incentives to move into Williamstown, just go into the police station. Find out the working conditions these men and women have to work in. It's not suitable.

I'd be embarrassed ... and I served in the Williamstown Police Department. I would be embarrassed to arrest someone. I had an incident one time where we arrested this person on a violation of a restraining order. I got called at home to come in to go on suicide watch because he was not acting normal. He was in the basement cell, and then he started complaining he was having a heart attack. He was faking it, but we had to take that seriously. We couldn't get the stretcher down to put him on a stretcher. We had to guide him up the stairs.

That's one issue we really need to look at. This town attracts a lot of people in the summer. It has a lot of people here in the winter with the college kids. We need a police facility that is suitable and creates a healthy working environment for the people who need to be there. We have a full-time police department. We have these men there 24-7. There's always somebody in that station. There are always officers out there patrolling. They need a place where they themselves can be safe.

Q: Should it be tied to the fire department?

A: I don't believe that. I realize that the current facility we have for the fire department is not conducive to all the equipment that they need to protect the town. ... The problem here — and I'm going to talk as a citizen and someone who wore two different uniforms — when you get men in uniform, you're going to have a problem. When you get into a joint venture with the police department and the fire department, who's going to be the landlord and who's going to be the tenant? Who's going to answer to who? You're going to have a problem.

That's two separate entities that are both needed in this community, no doubt about it. And they're both doing an excellent job. But we have one entity, which is the police department, where we have a full-time police force. These men and women are there 24-7. We do have a great volunteer fire department, but with the exception of the chief, we don't have personnel there 24-7.

We need to look at the location. Is it feasible to add on to the location.

But I think right now, to be honest, my main concern is going to be the police department. Right now, that's something that's really, really needed. We need to take a real deep and hard look at the facility.

Q: How does the high school figure into this?

A: I attended a meeting that had to do with the high school, and they gave me some figures about the school. We see a drop in school enrollment, and they predict by 2030, there's going to be a 15 percent drop in enrollment at the high school.

I think the [school choice] towns should share some of the cost of a new school.

Q: The questions about School Choice are related in some way to the school building project, but at the heart of the matter is the question of whether you support some kind of solution to the school building problem — either a renovation or a rebuild?

A: We just put something like $2 million into it already. We already have $2 million invested, so what are we going to do, knock that down and build a new one? Let's look at what we have now. Let's look at the structure. Would it benefit the community for us to use it and build on?

Q: We got off the jobs topic a little bit, but to get back to economic development for a moment, you already mentioned we have the Clark Art Institute and the theater festival and all the things that bring people here in the summer. Are there more things the town can be doing to support the tourist trade?

A: I think we have enough motels to provide the accommodations for the people who come in. Do we market ourselves as a community that wants to attract people here? I've said this before, most of the people who come to Williamstown either have children attending the college or they're coming to the Clark Art Institute. Do they take the time to drive to Spring Street and visit the stores? Maybe not, because they don't know Spring Street exists.

You have to market this town.

Look at Northampton. I remember Northampton was a dead community with empty buildings, empty stores everywhere. I'm going back to the '80s. Somebody came in with a vision and started marketing that place and stuck with it, and people now drive there. I have a granddaughter who likes to go to Northampton just to walk around and look at the stores.

Getting back to the job situation, they talked about bringing technical companies in, small businesses. Where are you going to put them? Where's the office space? If you attract these companies to come in, are we going to say you're going to put your business in Williamstown but you have to live in North Adams or Pittsfield because we don't have the room?

Q: So what I'm hearing is you don't see a lot of room for growth in the town.

A: We don't have the space for growth. Anybody who says Williamstown is going to grow and become metropolitan, come on. We're not going to be building bypasses to connect ourselves to the major thruways. That's not going to happen.

We're a small community. We're always going to be a small community. That's the way people like it. I like it.

Q: One thing the Select Board is going to have to do in the next three years, more than likely, is look for a new town manager. Peter Fohlin has hinted strongly that he is not going to be around too much longer.

A: We're losing a great man.

Q: So what will you look for in the next town manager?

A: I'm going to look for someone who is experienced with small town politics, the management of a small community. Someone probably who has a marketing background, so we can go forth and market the town — not sell the town but market the town, and not for new industry or businesses but to have people come and stay with us for a weekend or visit us and look at our shops on Spring Street, go to the Clark Art Institute, visit the museum at the college, walk the grounds at the college.

Q: It looks like the emergency department at the former North Adams hospital is going to reopen [in May], but there are a whole lot of other services people go to the hospital for. How concerned are you about Williamstown residents having access to a full hospital.

A: I'm very concerned. At my age, I don't consider myself to be elderly yet, but I'm getting there. There are a lot of people in Williamstown who are my age or older who need that medical attention.

Hopefully, BMC, will be able to develop it a little more and create a small hospital that will take care of major issues like heart attacks, that kind of things. On TV, there was a nurse saying that elderly people in North Adams used to maybe walk to the hospital to get their colonoscopies done or get their blood work done. Now they're not going to be doing that because they don't drive cars, they don't have the transportation, they can't afford to hire a taxi.

We're talking about human lives here. It's not just a money thing. It's human lives.

Q: BMC is doing what it's doing, and it's not clear that is going to develop into a full-service hospital. What can Williamstown do — whether it's working with the city of North Adams or what have you — to create that kind of transportation people will need to get to the full-service hospital?

A: Yesterday, I drove to Pittsfield. I was on Wahconah Street, and I saw one of the security vans from Williams College driving to the emergency room. In other words, they were taking a student from the college down there for whatever reason.

I worked for Williams College in campus security, so I know a lot of times you have to take a student to the hospital for whatever the reason may be.

So the college also has a great interest in having medical facilities available to them.

When I was at the meeting for the League of Women Voters, I said maybe the town and Williams College could come together. They have a medical facility here. ... This is something we need to look at. We're talking about human lives. This is America, and people are entitled to medical services. Right now, we lack it.

Q: You've obviously been very in tune with town government for a number of years, is there anything that, looking back over the years, that the town did that had you scratching your head and wondering why it did what it did.

A: I'm going to be true to myself and true to the town. I don't know if you remember when they were trying to cut down the trees on upper Luce Road, I was an outspoken critic of what they were doing. I didn't like the way they were going about it. I didn't like the company that was doing the job. One day, they overcut the trees.

I said the first major rainstorm we had ... and I was laughed at. But I said, there's a reason we have Mother Nature, there's a reason we have trees. Everything has a purpose on this earth, and the trees have a major, major purpose. Not only do they provide the oxygen we breath, but they also consume the underground water. So when they overcut the trees, and the town failed to stand up and do what they needed to do.

I know when people read this, they'll laugh at me again. But, they cut the trees down, and if you go to the bottom of Luce Road now, it looks like a swamp. Luce Road looks like a swamp now.

I've said this before: If the town is looking for a yes man, or someone who is always going to be politically correct, don't vote for me. I'm not that guy. I'm not going to promise to be politically correct all the time or a yes man. What I'm going to promise is if I see something that's wrong, you're going to hear about it. I'm going to speak up. And I'm going to speak up for everyone in Williamstown, not just the chosen few. As far as I'm concerned, we all have an interest here. It takes a village to protect each other. And it doesn't matter if you're living in a $200,000 home or a million-dollar home, we're all here, and we need to protect each other.

If we don't, eventually this town is not going to be here.

The annual town election is Tuesday, May 13, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Williamstown Elementary School.



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Clarksburg Ballot Sees No Races This Year
Staff Reports On: 10:50PM / Tuesday May 06, 2014

CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Selectmen Chairwoman Lily Kuzia has decided not to stand for election as selectman.

The veteran selectman said she returned nomination papers because she did not want to leave the town hanging. But when she learned that there were candidates for both board seats, she removed her name from the ballot.

"I've been doing this for 12 years," she said. "My children didn't want me to [run again]."

Kuzia will remain with the Senior Center and on the advisory board for Elder Services of Berkshire County.

"The Senior Center is my first love," she said.

Running unopposed for Kuzia's three-year seat is Debra LeFave, former board chairman who stepped down two years ago to apply for the town administrator's post.

William Schrade is running unopposed for the final two years of former Selectman Carl McKinney, who also stepped down to apply for town administrator.

All other offices are also unopposed: Ernest Dix, tree warden, one year; Bryan Tanner, moderator, one year; Linda Hurbut, library trustee, three years; Joseph Bushika, War Memorial trustee, three years; Jeffrey Levanos, School Committee, three years; and Audrey Matys, Planning Board, five years.

There is no candidate on the ballot for a three-year seat on the Board of Health.

The last day to register to vote in the town election is Wednesday, May 7. Special voter registration hours will be held on Wednesday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 8 p.m. at Town Hall.

The annual town election will be held on Tuesday, May 27. The polls will be open from noon to 7 p.m. at the Clarksburg Senior Center.

Any questions on registration, contact Town Clerk Carol Jammalo at 413-663-8255 or ClarksburgTClerk@gmail.com.



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Astorino, Ciskowski Win Seats on Cheshire Selectmen
By Jack Guerino On: 08:19PM / Tuesday May 06, 2014

CHESHIRE, Mass. — Incumbent Paul Astorino will hold his selectman's seat and Robert Ciskowski will join him for a one year term.

Astorino defeated political newcomer Richard Scholz by narrow victory of 47 votes. Astorino had 288 votes and Scholz had 241.

Scholz plans to run again in 2016.

"I will continue my effort to expand the select board to five, change the culture of town government, and run for a three-year term in 2016," Scholz said.

Cheshire native and former Selectman Robert Ciskowski defeated James Boyle and Karmen Field-Mitchell with 275 votes, more than half of all the votes cast in the race. Boyle garnered 164 and Field-Mitchell had 86.

Ciskowski will hold the chair for one year and replace the retired Selectwoman Gloria Lewis.

Michael Biagini Jr. won a two-year position on the Board of Health and defeated James Geary, 273-244.

Biagini’s son, Michael Biagini, ran for water commissioner, but was defeated by Rick Gurney 304-217.

The total number of registered voters was 2,245 and 544 registered voters, or 24 percent, cast ballots.



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State Primary
Tuesday, Sept. 9

Voting is from 7 to 8 p.m.
Deadline to register or change party affiliation is Aug. 20; only unenrolled voters may select which primary to vote in. More information on registering can be found here.

Candidates on the ballot in a race for their party nomination; all others on the ballot are unopposed

Republican
  Governor: Charles D. Baker & Mark R. Fisher

Democratic
  Governor: Donald M. Berwick, Martha Coakley & Steven Grossman
  Lieutenant governor: Leland Cheung, Stephen J. Kerrigan & Michael E. Lake
  Attorney general: Maura Healey & Warren E. Tolman
  Treasurer: Thomas P. Conroy, Barry R. Finegold & Deborah B. Goldberg
 

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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.

2010 Special Senate Election Results

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