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Alcombright, Boucher Talk Budget, Basics at Debate
By Tammy Daniels On: 11:22PM / Friday October 21, 2011

Incumbent Richard Alcombright, left, and challenger Ronald Boucher take questions on stage at the MCLA Church Street Center on Friday night. The debate can be heard here.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Spectators hoping for fireworks at Friday night's mayoral debate were likely disappointed as the candidates stuck to their scripts while landing a few light blows on each other.

Challenger Ronald Boucher said the city is not as attractive or lean as it could be and was failing to grow under a visionless leader with poor management. The incumbent, Richard Alcombright, ribbed Boucher for failing to see downtown improvements and thriving businesses or acknowledge the budgets cuts and savings made during his tenure.

The event at Massachusetts College of Liberal Art's Church Street Center was well attended, if not filling quite as many seats as last election's face-off that saw Alcombright elected. This time Boucher, the City Council president, is hoping to topple the incumbent.

The two took turns answering questions posed by North Adams Transcript Editor Michael Foster and Senior Reporter Jennifer Huberdeau. The debate was sponsored by the newspaper and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Boucher has taken issue in particular with Alcombright's description of the city's finances as "a little less than horrible" as quoted to a Boston Sunday Globe reporter in a story earlier this year.

"The image of a community, I think that plays a very big part in everything. It's how you sell your community outside this area," he said, chastising the mayor for not putting a more positive spin on the city and allowing it to be described as the poorest in the state. "I think that businesss and people outside the area reading that article would get the impression that, hey, 'why would I want to come to North Adams to start a business?' "

Alcombright said he wouldn't apologize for stating facts for describing the city's finances: "We are in horrible financial shape but we're getting better, we're getting better despite many things."

He said the structural deficit he inherited has been reduced through a combination of cuts and savings. "In the FY2010 budget it went $3.2 million to just about $422,000 in two short cycles, so we're getting better," he said, continuing that he'd saved thousands by restructuring debt, cleaning up the health insurance, taking over the city water treatment plant.

Boucher said he didn't believe there was any significant saving from taking over the plant because it hadn't taken into account the pensions and benefits of the workers; Alcombright said those had indeed been part of the savings analysis.

Alcombright said he would continue to look at ways for savings and raising revenue to balance the budget.

"I do not think we can do one without the other, that doesn't mean I'm a tax mogul," he said. "Last year was an anomaly [when the city taxed to the levy and instituted a sewer fee]. This year, we may see taxes go up 3-3 1/2 percent."

While Alcombright said he'd look at raising fees, Boucher responded that he'd already forced the Board of Health to back off a fee hike claiming it would be "political suicide."

Alcombright admitted he had after the new bills had gone out to restaurants and other businesses. He described the fees as doubling and tripling. "They were huge and they were wrong ... and I asked them to roll them back," he said.

"If you're going to empower boards to do their job, let them do their job," retorted Boucher.

Boucher also claimed there was "a lot of fat still there" in city governement and "we need to do more with less." Alcombright got a laugh when he claimed the only fat left in City Hall "is in the mayor's office."

The candidates agreed on a number of items, including supporting the arts, getting tourists downtown from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts, community policing, and not quite knowing how to capitalize on the new MCLA science building yet.

They continued to differ on long-vacant Mohawk Theater, with Boucher insisting it should be sold to a for-profit venture as a way to generate tax revenue and bring people to the city for concerts, live-streamed events and plays. A for-profit would be able to tap into the $2.5 million historic tax credits available, he said.

Alcombright said he is working on a plan for MCLA to take over management of the theater to use it as a learning lab for its fine and performing arts department as a way to bring students and other into the downtown. His proposal, he said, would cut the estimated $12 million development in half, making the tax credits insignificant.

In a back and forth about the Fire Department, Boucher indicated he'd be open to changing the department's structure from full-time staff to a core staff with paid volunteers.

"There's a presumption out there I'm out to cut the Fire Department," he said. "That's not the truth."

However, he said the city's population had significantly dropped and it was worth looking at options that could be instituted "5 or 7 years down the road."

Alcombright said he remained committed to a fully staffed department because even if the population dropped, the aged buildings, and college, hospital and high-rise remained. He also objected that because the population had shrunk, it didn't mean it wouldn't rise again.

While Alcombright touted the relationships he's built with the local communities and regional organizations like the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Boucher said he'd keep the BRPC at arm's length, claiming it had sunk the Lowe's deal on Curran Highway with onerous environmental demands (a claim also made by the former mayor John Barrett III in a radio interview the day before).

"Lowe's might have been here if they hadn't gotten in the way," said Boucher, adding that recent news the home improvement chain has once again scaled back its store openings means the city will never see one.

Alcombright said he was more convinced it was the low traffic volume and economy that induced Lowe's to step back, not the BRPC. With the Super Walmart coming in, that may change, he said.

"What I'm hearing with a statement like that is 'back to basics' really means back to past practices," said Alcombright, taking a shot at the challenger's campaign motto.

"Again you're a fan of them, I'm not," said Boucher.

The 75-minute debate will be aired on Northern Berkshire Community Television, Channel 17, on Saturday at 5 and 9 p.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Check listings for further airings.



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Bianchi Lays Out His 'Plan For Pittsfield'
By Andy McKeever On: 07:13PM / Friday October 21, 2011

Dan Bianchi said he wants to review the city's charter and look for ways to restructure it to become more efficient.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayoral hopeful Daniel E. Bianchi's "Plan for Pittsfield" calls on as many citizens as possible to help run the city.

Bianchi laid out his plans to a large crowd at the GEAA on Wednesday, focusing on taxes, city services, education, economic development and job creation, expansion of open government and public safety.

"If you have a difference of opinion, you're marginalized. If you have an idea that doesn't match with the status quo, you are put down for it, you're marginalized," Bianchi said. "We've got to be a lot more open and a lot more inviting to people. I want everyone to be involved. You don't have to have a Ph.D.at the end of your name to serve on a board or a commission."

Bianchi said that if elected, he is committed to filling boards and commissions regular people, creating office hours for residents to just walk in and meet with him, host periodic ward meetings and upgrade the city website for residents to better interact with city government. Those plans are aimed to take the "politics" out of government operations.

"Far, far too often in our history we've seen a government that has been tied up and dominated by politics. It makes the operation of government inefficient," Bianchi said. "We're a 21st-century city with a 19th-century form of government."

Bianchi is calling for formation of a charter review committee to re-examine all aspects of the city's governmental structure, including the role of mayor. To help keep tax increases down, Bianchi is calling for another committee of retired professionals who will review the budget every year and look for ways to be more efficient and for annual  re-examination of the roles of retiring employees instead of automatically replacing those positions.

"You can't always reduce things but you can making things better," Bianchi said. "We have an opportunity every year to review positions as people retire. It shouldn't be an automatic 'well, Joe retired, we've got to replace them.'"

Bianchi said he wants to plan the city's capital expenditures years ahead of time so that residents are not surprised by the annual bill. All investments should be handled in a more "scientific way," said the city's former finance administrator.

While Bianchi told the crowd that he believes the city can be managed better, he promised that he will not take office and begin firing department heads or other employees.

"I think with good management there is no need for layoffs, especially in an economy where we've got large numbers of unemployment and underemployment. The last thing I want to do is to be mayor and make it worse," Bianchi said. "There will be plenty of firefighters and, if I have anything to do with it, all the stations will be open, all the guys will be employed. That goes to the police officers, too."

Open government and long-term management strategies will allow the city to invest in education and small businesses, he said.

"I think we are on the verge of redefining ourselves as a community from the old manufacturing to the new community of the 21st century and it's going to be an exciting place to be," Bianchi said. "We've got to do what we can to really encourage the growth of our small businesses in the city ... What I'd like to do is create a pool of dollars that will help small businesses."

The city could not only loan money to small businesses from the free cash account but Bianchi said he would also like to take between $500,000 and $750,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and make it available for small business owners. Also to grow economic development, Bianchi said he wants to form a development advisory committee and designate some areas of the city as state-recognized business improvement districts to allow small-business owners to access additional state grants and loans.

While supporting local businesses is one goal, Bianchi said he wants to establish a marketing plan to attract businesses outside of the area — particularly in emerging green technologies.

"We need to always being thinking green. I would like us to be the green city that can actually attract from the green industry," Bianchi said.

Bianchi joked about the number of committees he'd like to form, throwing out an idea for a multi-unit homeowner commission to help examine the state of the city's housing. From code enforcement to light ordinances to even the amount of available affordable housing, the commission would discuss all aspects to improve housing for business that are interested in moving their operations to the city.

Encouraging businesses to move here will also mean improvements in the school system. Bianchi said the "uniqueness" of the schools needs to be emphasized so that students will start staying in Pittsfield schools instead of choosing other schools.

For the re-building of the schools, Bianchi said he supports a two-school system and said he will advocate the state of pay for renovations of both Pittsfield High School and Taconic High School. He said he will also encourage a significant study into vocational education to see if there could be a regional trade school. But whatever school system comes to fruition, Bianchi said he would support a debt-exclusion vote for the renovations.

Bianchi also said the schools need to look at sharing services, particularly with administration and technological support, and stressed shared services across the county.

"We've really got to start thinking beyond just the city of Pittsfield," Bianchi said. "I am confident that we can come up with shared services that will make sense and save money."

Bianchi said he would like to meet with boards of selectmen and find ways to help each other. For example, Bianchi said that both North Adams and Pittsfield have engineering departments and the two cities could find ways to split those costs. Once again, Bianchi called for retired businessmen and engineers to provide their own ideas of how to "streamline" services.

But it is not just the senior sector he wants involved in government;  he's also advocating for the the formation of a youth commission that can weigh in on city matters. The young people will not only have a say but he wants them to be voting members on boards and commissions.

Those plans also depend on fighting crime, he said, and he would like to work with Sheriff Thomas Bowler to establish citywide neighborhood watches and establish October as National Crime Prevention Month, which could help the city secure extra grant funding to put more police on the streets, he said.

"There are some things that we need to do. We need to have proper planning and that is why, after talking with many of you, after knocking on doors, I've gathered the opinions of a lot of people and put together with my own... that's how my plan was developed," Bianchi said, add as the meeting ended, "When I prevail, I'm going to have a lot of people ready to work... I'm encouraged with their commitment, not with my campaign, but to the city."


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Sellers Announces Candidacy for North Adams City Council
Sellers Campaign On: 01:48PM / Friday October 21, 2011
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The following was submitted by Gail Kolis Sellers, a candidate for North Adams City Council:

I am running for the North Adams City Council because our community has to work together for a better city. I was born and raised in Adams and went through the Adams public school system. As a teenager, I worked the cash register at the Adams Supermarket and framing at Gazzaniga's Wallpaper and Paint Store both in North Adams.

My family was not rich, I needed to work to help put myself through college. We made some hard choices together and in the end I learned the importance of hard work and compromise to get the results everybody wants. With the help of my family, I attained my goals. I have a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Kansas City Art Institute and a masters in education from Cleveland State University.

After graduation, I married my college sweetheart and started my career. I worked for 30 years as a middle school art teacher, raised two children with my husband of 41 years, and now have five grandchildren. I have coached girls' high school soccer as well as middle school soccer and girls' basketball.

In 2003, while in North Adams on a family reunion, we saw the Eclipse Mill project and knew this was the place we wanted to be. Together with my husband, we made the decision to move our family and our 30-year-old business here to North Adams. River Hill Pottery has been operating successfully in the Eclipse Mill ever since. We've had some lean times but we've never regretted our choice.

The assets of this small city are immense. A major art museum, a wonderful college, beautiful natural resources, a newspaper, radio station and public access TV —  we have a lot to offer. We have a lot of resources in each other, we have a lot of hidden strengths. People from all over the world come into this city, we have a lot of opportunities.

I have heard firsthand what wonderful things visitors say. And I can tell you, they're right. We have a beautiful city with a thriving population that only needs a little cooperation to make it great.

My experience in North Adams is that community is like family, and family supports each other and works together to be successful. I believe that my approach to government and life experience will bring energy to the council, and I am asking the voters for their support on Nov. 8. If anyone has questions or concerns, they may contact me at Gail.KolisSellers@gmail.com or stop by our pottery studio, I would love to talk with you.


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Pittsfield City Council Hopefuls Outline Positions
By Joe Durwin On: 11:55AM / Thursday October 20, 2011
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The six candidates for City Council at-large seats moved briskly through their positions on some current council issues on Monday at the latest in the series of Pittsfield election debates co-sponsored by Berkshire Community College, the Pittsfield Gazette and Pittsfield Community Television.

Incumbents Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin Sherman, former councilors Anthony Maffucio and Richard Scapin, 2009 mayoral candidate Nicholas Caccamo and local accountant Barry J. Clairmont appeared out of the total eight candidates seeking election to the four at-large council seats voters will decide on Nov. 8.

Churchill Cotton, who is also on the ballot, was not able to be present at the debate for medical reasons. According to PCTV debate moderator Shawn Serre, Cotton was admitted to Berkshire Medical Center on Monday for "precautionary tests."

Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols, who is mounting a write-in campaign for one of the at-large seats was not included in the debate because only candidates appearing on the ballot were invited.

Nichols, who placed third in the preliminary election for mayor on Sept. 27, is one of two councilors seeking to remain on the council through write-in campaigns. Peter White, who was edged out of the Democratic nomination for 3rd Berkshire District representative, is campaigning as a write-in candidate against Kevin Morandi for the Ward 2 seat.

More about the candidates' positions on their websites

Melissa Mazzeo
Kevin Sherman
Churchill Cotton
Joseph Nichols

No websites found for Anthony Muffuccio or Richard Scapin
The candidates at Monday's debate expressed a great deal of agreement on the need to return to an in-house city solicitor to replace the system of outsourcing for legal services instituted during the Ruberto administration, an issue which has been a point of frequent discussion throughout the municipal campaign season.

Candidates also leaned in favor of advancing a review process to look at updating the city charter, an idea which has gained interest over the last year. Mazzeo said she believes a city charter commission should be comprised of volunteers who come forward from the community, not chosen by the mayor.

"I definitely think we need an overhaul," she said. "It's going to take a few years, we have plenty of other communities [going through charter reviews] to watch."

Sherman, who has advanced the petition to begin a charter review commission, envisioned something based on the model of Northampton, which has moved forward rapidly with the process. He described a scenario involve a drafting commission with one citizen from each of the city's seven wards appointed by the City Council, along with two mayoral appointees.

The six contenders differed on the question of whether there should be a shift in tax burden off the commercial tax base onto residents. Sherman, Clairmont and Caccamo said yes, that they supported at least some shift off local business. Maffucio and Scapin said no, and Mazzeo described herself as "in the middle," and that while she doesn't want to put more burden on residents, nonetheless echoed Scapin's contention that higher taxes on businesses cost residents anyway in the form of higher prices for goods and services.

Though unable to attend the debate for health reasons, Cotton spoke to iBerkshires last week, at which time he indicated that educational issues, such as the high school problem, were a major factor in his choice to run for council this term. The current School Committee member said he'd been pleased with Superintendent Jake Eberwein's presentation on the progress of the School Building Needs Commission.

"It's important for residents to understand that no decisions have made yet, they're not going to be made without them," Cotton told iBerkshires.

Voters may choose to cast a vote (or write-in) for up to four of the eight candidates at the general election on Nov. 8. The four top vote recipients will become the four at large city councilors for the upcoming term.


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Council Veteran Marden Seeking 13th Term
Marden Campaign On: 04:30PM / Wednesday October 19, 2011
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Alan Marden has submitted the following letter announcing his candidacy for City Council.

To the Voters of North Adams:

I am pleased to announce my candidacy for another term of the North Adams City Council. It has been my privilege to have served you for the past 24 years and with the challenges, and opportunities, facing my beloved city I wish to continue to be involved in moving North Adams forward.

I do not like talking (in this case writing) about myself. The phrase "who you are speaks so loudly I can not hear what you say" says it all. But a candidate needs to list his/her qualifications for office. 

I believe my campaign slogan "Common Sense — Uncommon Experience" is appropriate. As noted I have been a city councilor for 24 years, have served on all the major council committees, most as chairman, and have been the council president seven terms. I have been involved in community and economic development in North Adams and the Berkshires, both professionally and as a volunteer since I arrived here to run the Chamber of Commerce in 1967.

I owned a small business, employing some 25-30 persons, that produced corporate and special events around the country. I administered a U.S. Department of Labor grant for the Berkshire Regional Employment Board for two years and for the past nine years have worked at the Alton & Westall Agency in commercial and residential real estate sales.

One last point regard my qualifications … no one will out work me. I do my home work. I take my civic duty very seriously.

On Nov. 8, I hope you will "Give One Vote for Al."


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Where to vote in Berkshire County

State Election
Tuesday, Nov. 4

Voting is from 7 to 8 p.m.
Deadline to register or change party affiliation is 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.

U.S. Senator
Edward J. Markey, Democrat
Brian J. Herr, Republican

Governor/Lieutenant Governor
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 

Attorney General
Maura Healey, Democratic
John B. Miller, Republican

Secretary of State
William Francis Galvin, Democratic
David D'Arcangelo, Republican
Daniel L. Factor, Green-Rainbow

Treasurer
Deborah B. Goldberg, Democratic
Michael James Heffernan, Republican
Ian T. Jackson, Green-Rainbow

Auditor
Suzanne M. Bump, Democratic
Patricia S. Saint Aubin, Republican
MK Merelice, Green-Rainbow

Municipal Elections

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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