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.