Economic Talk Dominates Williamstown Selectmen's Race |
By Stephen Dravis On: 03:49AM / Monday April 21, 2014 ||
The four candidates for two seats on the Board of Selectmen focused on jobs at an election forum last week moderated by Anne Skinner.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The men who want a job with the Board of Selectmen think it's the job of that board to help bring jobs to the region.
If that sounds a little repetitive, then so was a candidates forum hosted Wednesday by the Williamstown League of Women Voters.
The four men vying for two open seats on the Board of Selectmen shared a platform built on economic development during air time on the town's community access television station.
The event, which ran for a little more than an hour and was moderated by chapter President Anne Skinner, focused almost entirely on how each of the candidates would help revive the local economy.
Hugh Daley, Gary Fuls, Andrew Hogeland and Jack Nogueira are on the ballot for the May 13 town election. Two of the four will win three-year terms on the five-person board.
Three of the candidates hit on the theme of economic development in their opening statement, and Skinner pressed them for more details about their ideas in that area with her first question of the night.
Hogeland suggested a collaborative approach that brings more voices from the town's business community and takes advantage of the successful strategies being employed in neighboring communities.
"We don't have a game plan for Williamstown at all to survive [population decline]," Hogeland said. "Anything we do has to be coordinated with our neighbors in North Adams and Pittsfield. I think if we do more branding, cross marketing, cooperative stuff throughout the area, we'll have a better chance."
Hogeland specifically identified the tourism and hospitality industries and talked about the town capitalizing on its two main assets: Williams College and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Daley agreed that tourism is a mainstay but argued there is a place for manufacturing in the town.
"Another Sprague Electric is not coming back," Daley said, referring to the North Adams industrial giant that was a mainstay of the local economy for generations. "But small niche manufacturing has a place. ... My company [Meehan Electronics in North Adams] is a small, 20-person shop working in the aerospace industry."
Daley said the Selectmen needs to start an economic development committee akin to other volunteer committees in town addressing specific issues, like agriculture and affordable housing.
"I would hope to be appointed to it," he said. "We have a ton of creative people in Williamstown. Everyone wants the same thing. We just have to tap into them and organize them."
Daley said the town needs to reach out to summer tourists and Williams alumni to try to get them to make Williamstown their home. He suggested the town partner with the college to promote economic opportunities in town in its alumni magazine.
"We are a company town," Daley said. "The company happens to be Williams College."
Fuls and Nogueira agreed the town needs to take a strategic approach and said it needs to look well beyond the town line to build the economic base.
"We need to come up with a marketing plan, an advertising plan not only for Williamstown but for Pittsfield, Lenox, North Adams and Adams to let people around the country know what we have to offer," Nogueira said. "If they come to Lenox, have them come a little further north and come see Williamstown."
"Right now, the Berkshire County Chamber of Commerce is working on bringing North County and South County together," Fuls said. "Again, you have to have a plan where if you have people coming to Lenox, you tell them, 'Hey, if you drive 40 minutes, you can go to the Clark or you can go see Williams College and walk around the campus.' "
Daley said the town has a strong potential partner in North Adams. Hogeland said Williamstown's neighbors to the east and south have the right idea.
"This town needs to spend more of its time and its personnel on economic development," he said. "You look at our neighbors, and they actually have people hired with job titles that have the words 'tourism' and 'development.'
"We need to put together a broad team of people from different disciplines. For me, that would be the prime initiative."
Part of that solution includes looking at ways to recruit "satellite businesses" that could partner with the town's two big non-profits, Hogeland said.
Even when Wednesday's forum turned to other topics, the conversation seemed to come back to jobs.
The closure of North Adams Regional Hospital and the uncertain future of health care in Northern Berkshire County is a hardship for town residents, the candidates agreed. But part of the solution may lie in creating new ways to access health care, some of the candidates said.
"I don't think we'll ever see a hospital in Williamstown ... but the town and the college needs to come together," Nogueira said. "They have a facility that serves their students. Maybe the town and the college should come together and put together something that serves the residents, too."
Fuls picked up on the idea and noted that new private practices or an urgent care clinic in North County would be, "another way to bring business here."
Likewise, the subject that has dominated the town's political conversation for the last two years — affordable housing — has an economic development dimension.
"We need to welcome people to come to Williamstown," Nogueira said. "I think this is what affordable housing is going to be doing ... allowing people who can't afford half-million dollar homes to come or the ones who are here and thinking of leaving Williamstown because they don't think there's anything here for them to stay."
Nogueira said Williamstown does not have enough space to develop a strong manufacturing base, but it should work with North Adams and Pittsfield as they grow their economies and create housing options in the Village Beautiful for those who take jobs in other Berkshire County municipalities.
And the future of Mount Greylock Regional School figures into the local economy, too.
"I've been thinking a lot about sustainability of the local economy and population changes," Daley said. "I believe we must focus on ways to stop the shrinking population and hopefully bring people back.
"That means creating an economy that has a job for them, a housing market that has a place for them to afford and an education system where they want to send their children."
If Mount Greylock goes ahead with a new or renovated building — or even if it doesn't — the cost of infrastructure at the school promises to be a challenge for whoever wins the Selectmen's races. That's a point not lost on Daley.
"At my core, I believe we should invest in schools, but we should balance that with the ability to pay," he said.
Adams Candidates Hold Forth at Maple Grove Forum |
By Tammy Daniels On: 03:11AM / Monday April 14, 2014 ||
Candidates attending Sunday's forum were, from left, Edward Driscoll, Melissa McGovern-Wandrei, George Haddad, Michael Ouellette, Barbara Ziemba, Kelley Rice and Jeffrey Snoonian; not pictured, Edmund St. John IV.
ADAMS, Mass. — Candidates for the town election pitched their platforms at the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday afternoon.
The club annually offers up one its monthly meetings at the PNA as an open election forum for any candidate wishing to attend.
Candidates running for selectman, Planning Board, town moderator, School Committee and treasurer/collector spoke this year.
Two-term incumbent Michael Ouellette is being challenged by newcomer Jeffrey Snoonian for a three-year seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Ouellette is a lifelong resident and property owner; Snoonian considers himself an "adopted son" who recently chose to settle here permanently after many years of visiting.
Ouellette has been active in a number of civic capacities, including 18 years as a town meeting member and currently as a delegate to the Metropolitan Planning Organization and member of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority advisory committee.
A retired GE engineer, he's also worked in real estate development, including subdivisions in Adams and Lanesborough.
"I'm a working selectman, I'm not a rubber stamp," he told club members. "I look at everything before I vote."
Oullette stressed that he does his research before casting a vote to ensure actions are in the best interest of the town.
He also said he's been very active in seeking tenants and developers for the Memorial Middle School and Greylock Glen, and in advocating with state and federal officials, including the governor, on behalf of town projects.
"I do my homework and I put my heart into it, trying to make the best decision I can," he said.
He thinks the town should divest itself of properties when it can, including the middle school, work with school officials to make school budgets educationally as well as fiscally sound, and promote the development of the Greylock Glen, and possibly a disc golf course at the glen.
"I want to drive for regionalization where ever it is in the best interests of the town," he said. "We need to look at each aspect of it. It can provide better services at a cheaper cost."
Snoonian is a native of Lawrence who attended the University of Massachusetts with an Adams roommate who introduced him to the town more than 20 years ago.
"When I decided I where was going to spend the rest of my life I chose Adams," he said.
He has not served on civic committees or boards but said he was "not afraid to talk" and expects to be an active member of the board. "I probably open my mouth too much," he said. "I have a plan for being called out of order."
His background is in construction, having owned one contracting business and been a partner in another one. That has given him experience in fiscal responsibility, he said, as well as union negotiations.
"Adams biggest asset is it's a nice place to raise a family," he said. "There's a ton of cheap real estate here. Once you fill them, then people start looking to fill businesses."
Snoonian said he sold off his businesses because he felt government was intruding enough to make it difficult to operate.
"People have told me Adams is really a quagmire to open a business," he said, hoping to make it more business-friendly.
He, too, believes the town owns too much property and the middle school should be sold, but said he did not know enough about what the current situation.
Kelly F. Rice and Melissa McGovern-Wandrei are both running to complete the two years left on treasurer/collector post being vacated by Holly Denault. Both said they would expand some evening hours to accommodate residents.
Kelly F. Rice
Rice currently works in the community development office and has worked as an administrative assistant in various capacities for the town for 14 years.
She has been a resident for 31 years and property owner for seven, and a town meeting member and member of the Events Planning Committee.
"I think I have the qualifications for a smooth transition," she said. Rice did, however, say she would need more learning and time in the post to become a certified treasurer, which can take several years.
She said she is acquainted with the town's financial procedures and accounting software, does the payroll and records the bank statements for grants, among other duties.
In response to questions, she said she was familiar with the town's issues with the IRS (over misfiled pension documents) and a large backlog of unpaid taxes.
"I am a town resident and I'm very concerned about that also as a taxpayer," Rice said, but added she has to follow the state process to foreclose, which can take years.
"I look forward to strengthening the town any way I can," she said.
McGovern-Wandrei was raised in Clarksburg and is currently the appointed treasurer/tax collector in Clarksburg and the president of the Berkshire County Collectors & Treasurers Association.
She and her husband now live in Adams and their children attend the schools and they have been active with the football boosters.
McGovern-Wandrei was the elected tax collector for 15 years in Clarksburg; when several elected offices were in the process of changing to appointed, she worked as assistant treasurer in Lanesborough to begin certification in pursuit of the Clarksburg post.
She said the town could move quickly to collect delinquent taxes by placing liens at the beginning of the fiscal year to put pressure on homeowners and banks. It also prods homeowners into making repayment agreements.
"Put the lien in and explain that you won't act on the lien unless they don't make the payments you agree upon," McGovern-Wandrei. "Then you know if people really want to keep their house.
"We have a 3-5 percent collection rate in Clarksburg, which is very good."
She said there have been recording issues from the treasurer's office in Clarksburg predating her tenure that have been cleaned up.
"I love Adams and I would love to come in and help you straighten this out," she said.
Dennis A. Gajda and George J. Haddad are running for the three-year seat on the Board of Assessors. Only Haddad attended Sunday's forum.
Haddad said he was approached by several people asking him to run and decided to after speaking with the town assessor about the commitment.
"I think I can handle what could be done," said the former six-term selectman and interim town administrator.
Haddad said he was willing to take whatever classes or seminars required. "Whatever we're supposed to do we will do," he said.
Running unopposed are Edward Driscoll for moderator, Barbara Ziemba for a five-year term on hte Planning Board and Edmund R. St. John IV as the Cheshire delegate to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee.
Each spoke a little about their duties and answered questions. Ziemba, who's served as a planner for 27 years, said two other members of her board have been on a similar length of time.
"I do not doubt there would be some vacancies sooner or later," she said, urging "new blood" to run for office.
Maple Grove officer Jeffrey Lefebvre thanked the candidates and asked voters to turn out for the election.
"I hear a lot of people griping, but when you get 15-20 percent voting it seems 80 percent are content and I know 80 percent are not content," said Jeffrey Lefebvre.
The town election is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday, May 5. The deadline to register to vote is by 8 p.m. on April 15 at Town Hall.
The forum was also recorded by Northern Berkshire Community Television; check the schedule for show times.
Green Rainbow Party Places 3 Candidates on Statewide Ballot |
By Andy McKeever On: 10:11AM / Sunday April 06, 2014 ||
Both Daniel Factor and Ian Jackson gave stump speeches at the meet and greet event.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Green Rainbow party is putting three candidates on the statewide ballot.
Last week, two of the three rallied party members at the Rainbow Restaurant, just a few weeks prior to when the campaign officially kicks off.
Attorney Daniel Factor of Acton is seeking election as the secretary of the commonwealth. Factor says he is running to spread ideas currently unheard under the current, mostly Democratic, government.
"We're at a point right now in Massachusetts where basically there is only one party running the show. But when we have conversations with people all over Massachusetts, there is a very wide diversity of views but those view don't end up being represented," he said.
Factor wants to shift the focus of elected officials and policies from catering to large corporate interests to focusing on human rights.
"I am against having a society and a commonwealth that is based on corporate greed. There are things we can do if we recognize that every person in Massachusetts has basic human dignity, respect and love."
One idea Factor poses is that the state ends foreclosures altogether by using eminent domain to take the properties from mortgage holders.
"We can take the real estate from the mortgage company and guarantee that everyone has the right to remain in their home. It is these types of ideas that people have that aren't reflected in our elected officials," Factor said.
Meanwhile, he says job creation needs to be a focus and workers need a "living wage." He calls for a creation of an "economic bill of rights" guaranteeing people have enough to live.
"One day there will be a state that eradicates poverty. I'm not talking about tolerating poverty or ameliorating it. What we need to do is talk about eradicating it," he said.
He supports a single-payer health insurance system, bans on fracking and nuclear power while moving toward more renewable energy, he opposes casinos and is calling for the creation of a "bank of the commonwealth." That bank will invest in creating more co-operative business ownership.
Daniel Factor of Acton is running for secretary of the commonwealth.
Further, from the secretary's office, he wants to change the way corporations are chartered by making any company prove they are working for the public good before earning the designation.
"Our policy has to be that people matter more than profits," Factor said.
Factor grew up in New York City before going to Northwestern University for his undergraduate degree in political science. He then went to Vermont Law School, where he earned his law degree with a focus on environmental law.
Ian Jackson, of Arlington, is hoping to win the treasurer's seat. His goal is to create a "bank of the commonwealth" focused making "investments we can be proud of."
He doesn't want the state to put their money into fossil fuels but rather invest in greener companies. He feels that won't just help with the environment but also makes "financial sense."
Jackson said he would also be pleading the case for a single-payer health care system to help save businesses and the state money. Further, he wants the state's money to be allocated in helping "the common man."
"We need people who will be for the common man and try to restore us to a commonwealth where we are trying to do for the common good," Jackson said.
The treasurer sits on the Massachusetts School Building Authority board and Jackson says he'd use that seat to help streamline the building of new schools.
Ian Jackson of Arlington is running for state treasurer.
"My town like many other towns are going through the process of building a school. I'm sure there are plenty out here in the Berkshires. Half of the schools go through the process more than once. Something is wrong with the process. I believe most school committees, when they get together are reasonable," Jackson said.
"I'm sure the superintendents have better things to do than filling out the application a second time."
He earned a business management degree from Clark University and then his master's degree from Northeastern in computer science. He currently works as a software engineer while also investing on the side.
Jackson opted to run for the seat after the Green Rainbow party helped his son. He is now lending his time in hopes to help the party.
His son, Frank, got involved with the party when he was working as a residential assistant at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
"He realized he was making less than minimum wage. When he brought that up to the administration, they wouldn't help him. Nor would the people in Boston," Jackson said. "He organized as a union with some of his fellow students and with the help of the Green Rainbow party candidates was able to get enough money so that the students could live."
M.K. Merelice is also running for auditor but she was not in attendance at the meet and greet.
The Green Rainbow party is still a small but growing sector of voters. Locally, L. Scott Laugenour, a member of the party's state committee and former Green Rainbow party candidate, says the party is growing.
When he first joined the party, only eight registered voters in Lenox were Green Rainbow. Now, there are 34 and as the warm weather comes, the party will be out there growing the membership even more.
Laugenour says people feel "disempowered" with politics and the Green Rainbow party is hoping to turn that around. He says everybody agrees that money and politics should be separate and the best way to send that message is to vote for the Green Rainbow party candidates, who do not take in corporate donations.
Having candidates on the ballot every year helps spread the word about the party as they seek to become larger players in state government.
"We like, as a party, having statewide candidates because it gives every voter in the commonwealth an opportunity to vote Green Rainbow and to think about 'hey, politics can be different,'" Laugenour said.
Statewide Candidates Queried on Mandates, Hospitals |
By Andy McKeever On: 05:49PM / Sunday January 26, 2014 ||
Candidates for lieutenant governor and governor attended Sunday's forum.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Candidates running for the Democratic nominations for lieutenant governor and governor fielded questions from the audience on Sunday as part of a forum hosted by the Berkshire Brigades.
The local Democratic organizing arm had invited the candidates to introduce themselves in the run up to the local caucuses and the state Democratic Party Convention in June. The primary election is in September.
The candidates were first allowed 5 to 10 minutes to talk about themselves and their platforms, after an address to the group by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, and later mingled with the crowd.
Read by Brigade member Lee Harrison, the lieutenant governor candidates were asked about their relationship with whoever is elected governor while the gubernatorial candidates were asked about access to physicians and unfunded mandates.
All of the gubernatorial candidates said any state mandates on municipalities should be coupled with dollars to fund them.
Joseph Avellone said mandates dig into unrestricted aid, which is aimed to help towns reduce their property tax burdens on residents.
"The state has a very important role in helping to fund local government because of our property tax set up. But it can't come with a lot of unfunded mandates," Avellone said of unrestricted, local aid.
Donald Berwick called the mandates "unfair" and said "the responsibility should lie with those who pass the mandates." He called for a "realistic revenue policy" that includes lowering health-care costs, closing tax loopholes and switching to a progressive tax.
"We've got to look at this as a whole," he said.
Martha Coakley simply said any mandate requiring funds must be supplemented by the state or not done at all.
"I don't like them. I think they should end. If the state is going to mandate something — and I'll add the caviad on that costs money, some mandates don't but most have a pricetag attached — the state either has to provide ways to supplement that or not do it," Coakley said.
Steven Grossman particularly said circuit breaker accounts for special education need to be fully funded. It isn't just mandates, he said, it is issues like road infrastructure that burden towns as well.
"That may not be an unfunded mandate but it is a requirement that we fix the roads and bridges. As governor, I would make sure we provided at least the $300 million the Legislature decided to do and all of the money would be released by April 1 so the cities can bid them out."
Juliette Kayyem said unfunded mandates signal a lack of transparency in government. She also called for towns to work cooperatively and invest in regional planning and investments.
"I think they are wrong generally unless they have a separate revenue source," she said of the mandates.
As for access to hospitals, Kayyem, a security expert, said she would "give a little tough love" as governor to increase safety. She also said she would invest in first responders and medical staff. Further, she called for changes to zoning bylaws to protect individuals from natural disasters, which was part of a two-part question of hospital safety.
Grossman said he'd implement a program to send new medical school graduates to so-called Gateway Cities and rural areas for a few years and, in turn, the state would forgive their loans.
Berkshire Brigades President Sheila Murray introduces the candidates.
Coakley expanded on access to health care, citing its particular importantance to Berkshire County, saying she wants to use case managers for people and families facing chronic health issues. That should brought into the schools as well, she said.
Berwick began his career in rural areas as a doctor and says he knows the issue well. The solution is to strengthen the overall system and "re-engineer" to one that is focused on patient outcomes instead of pay-for-service. The rural areas are in a better position to make that switch, he said.
Avellone agreed with medical loan forgiveness programs but also added that there needs to be more opportunities for residencies. He also said loan forgiveness would be extended to other practitioners and not just doctors.
As for the relationship with the governor, the lieutenant governor candidates all said they would form a team with the elected leader.
"What we've seen with the Patrick-Murray administration when the lieutenant governor was still serving was a partnership," Lake said, referring to former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray who resigned nearly a year ago. "You need that level of partnership and commitment."
James Arena-DeRosa said the lieutenant governor role would be to bring together public and private sectors for long-term planning.
"Too often politics is about the next election," he said.
Jonathan Edwards said the role would be to help roll out and implement policies the governor crafts. Knowing the issues in all of the towns, the lieutenant governor can help to "sell" the plan.
"I'm nothing but a wingman. I'm a leader but also a wingman," Edwards said.
Steven Kerrigan, too, said he would be a partner with the governor in helping to make sure that the government is "efficient and effective." He says the role would also be building trust between the administration and the voters.
"We can work on job No. 1, which is building back a gap in trust between the voters and the government," Kerrigan said.
7 Make Case For Pittsfield At-Large Council Seats |
By Joe Durwin On: 10:58PM / Wednesday October 30, 2013 ||
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Three incumbents and four challengers outlined accomplishments, experience and positions as they compete for four at-large seats on the City Council, to be chosen by voters of all seven of Pittsfield's wards next Tuesday.
Incumbents Barry Clairmont, Churchill Cotton and Melissa Mazzeo laid out their records and positions against those of hopefuls Kathleen Amuso, James Conant, Mark Miller and Donna Rivers in a debate held at Berkshire Community College on Monday, ranging over issues such as school budget, new business development, and the future of some city buildings.
In statements, each sought to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field of candidates, all of whom are well-known figures in local politics.
"I think I've had life experiences that give me a different perspective from most of the other panel members," said Cotton, who said he was seeking re-election "So that everyone has an opportunity to be represented at City Hall."
"I hope you all take the time to think about what is important to you, your family, and your community," said Mazzeo, who highlighted herself as being without ulterior agendas, in contrast to others on the City Council. "And ask if we really have been doing our job, or if it's time for a change."
"I have proven results," said Amuso, who pointed to a 12 percent increase in graduation rates during her tenure as chairman of the PIttsfield School Committee as an example. "Being a member of the City Council will give me an opportunity to use my expertise and knowledge to work collaboratively to move Pittsfield forward."
"I have the experience and working knowledge of city government, as I have served on board and committees in Pittsfield for the past then years," offered Conant, a former parks commissioner who currently serves on the School Committee and as chairman of the Conservation Commission.
"I'm the outsider in this race," said Miller, a longtime newsman and 2011 state representative candidate, who highlighted his knowledge and extensive education in political science, journalism and management against the others' governmental experience.
"I'm running because I believe it is time for us to embrace a new way of looking at old problems," said Rivers, a local business owner and radio personality. "I'm running because a lifetime of experiences has lead me to this very moment."
Candidates offered varying takes on a currently controversial proposal to develop big box retail
at the quasi-public-owned Williams Stanley Business Park.
Cotton suggested it was premature to say categorically there should be no retail at the former General Electric site, while Mazzeo and Amuso spoke strongly against the current proposal, and Conant said retail should only be considered after all other possibilities have been exhausted. Miller proposed that regular tours to showcase the mostly vacant, fenced-off industrial park be held by the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority that oversees it.
Opinions also differed on another hot-button issue over the past term, that of the City Council's handling of school budget issues
. Cotton said the council's responsibility was the same as within any budget: "To review, ask questions and then accept or reject it. But to try and pick and choose which things should be taken out I don't think is our responsibility."
"The School Committee and the superintendent should be allowed to do their job," answered Rivers.
"Expecting accountability is not opposition," said Clairmont, "It is unreasonable to expect an unquestioned budget."
Opinions were also polled on what should be done with regard to two dormant city-owned buildings, the former Hibbard School and Springside House
, which just began a process of assessment through a recent grant from the state.
Several candidates favored rehab of the Newell Street school to return it to an educational purpose. Conant strongly emphasized the need to return it to use as an alternative high school for students who would not succeed in the mainstream high schools, with which Miller voiced agreement. Rivers suggested that it could be looked at as a home for the Adult Learning Center, whose relocation last year
was a matter of considerable municipal debate.
Clairmont, Cotton, Rivers and Amuso all spoke fervently in favor of restoration of the Springside House for its value as a potential historic and educational asset to the city. Conant expressed skepticism about its condition and said the study of the house needs to be completed before any further funds are invested. Miller believed restoration of the house should not be a priority for any major funds, suggesting instead that a new more modern building could be constructed there to enhance use of Springside Park.
The seven contenders will appear on ballots in all seven wards in Pittsfield's citywide election on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The four top vote recipients will become the at-large members of the 11-member City Council for the upcoming two-year term beginning in January.
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Cheshire: Election, May 5;
Clarksburg: Election, May 27, noon to 7; town meeting, June 18
Williamstown: Election, May 13, 7-8; town meeting, May 20, 7 p.m.
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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