Christopher Connell, left, Ozias 'Chuck' Vincellette and James Brosnan on stage at the Boland Theatre at BCC on Monday night. The three men are vying for Ward 4 council seat being vacated by Michael Ward.
PITTSFIELD, Mass.— In the second of the series of election debates sponsored by the Pittsfield Gazette, Pittsfield Community Television and Berkshire Community College, three Ward 4 residents of varying backgrounds vied for the council seat left open by Michael Ward.
Candidates include Ozias "Chuck" Vincelette, who served as Ward 4 councilor until being ousted by Ward in 2005, Christopher J. Connell, who lost a bid for the seat against Ward in 2009, and newcomer James Bronson. The three will be winnowed down to two in the Sept. 27 preliminary election.
Over the course of the 50-minute debate, the three fielded questions from PCTV's Shawn Serre on key municipal issues, many of the same ones that would be raised again in the mayoral debate that followed.
The residential taxes for homeowners set in the last budget was one subject of concern that the candidates approached from different angles.
Vincelette said the residential rate was too high, blaming the City Council for failing to make cuts while adding to the capital budget. "The budget as passed was in many ways a failed budget," he said.
Bronson said he was generally opposed to further increasing residential taxes, and that it was the job of city councilors to look for ways to reduce spending without sacrificing quality-of-life services.
"There's nobody out here who can tell me we don't have a couple extra dollars ... maybe some waste, or duplication, that we can find use some synergy or creativity to make those dollars stretch," he said.
Connell said he thought most Pittsfield residents probably felt uncomfortable with the current tax rate, and that there are several areas for budget expenses that could be cut to balance this.
"The first thing is ... I firmly believe the city should hire a city solicitor ... instead of paying legal fees of $185,000 on the city side, and $150,000 for legal," he said.
Like many involved in Pittsfield politics, all three Ward 4 hopefuls also took issue to varying degrees with Mayor James Ruberto's controversial appointments of "acting" directors for city departments.
"Certainly the mayor of any city has the right to get advice from the people that he or she feels are best qualified," Bronson opined. "That said, there's certainly been an awful lot of cronyism very recently with some of the people hired ... Suddenly, we have all these new 'czars' put in positions in government that I don't really think are necessary, especially at the end of an administration."
Miss the debate? Go to PCTV's CityLink channel for rebroadcast times or to watch in online.
Michael Ward is introducing the candidates to his constituents. Check out the "Meet the Candidates" section on Ward's website.
"Until we go through a charter commission, and look at everything that's in the city charter, the City Council needs to actually approve the appointments," Connell answered. "The acting appointments are a way to circumvent the council, and I think that's something to really look at."
Vincelette said he too supports the idea of a charter commission, noting it was first proposed a decade ago.
"Having said, I do think Peter White came up with the absolutely correct compromise in terms of acting appointments," he continued, referring to a petition by White for a 90-day limit to acting appointments of department heads, with one 90-day extension possible, before the appointment must be approved by the City Council. "That was a reasonable compromise."
In their opening and closing statements, each candidate focused his reasoning for why he made the best candidate for the job. Vincelette cited his long career experience as a teacher and local banker, as well as previous experience in the Ward 4 seat as his credentials, while Connell stressed his current involvement in civic affairs, including roles on the Traffic Commission and YMCA board, and "experience working with over 30 communities." Bronson pointed to his fresh perspective and business experience managing hundreds of employees in his years as food and beverage manager at Jiminy Peak Ski Resort.