This is the second of three ward debates filmed Monday, Aug. 31, at Berkshire Community College. Wards 2, 4 and 7 all have three or more candidates; their numbers will be winnowed down to two each in the preliminary election scheduled Sept. 22 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Christopher Connell said he'll bring management experience to the ward.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The conditions in Ward 4 are good, bad or mediocre, depending on which candidate was speaking at last Monday's debate.
Moderated by Dan Dillon and sponsored by The Pittsfield Gazette, the conversation amongst incumbent Michael A. Ward and challengers Terry Kinnas and Christopher Connell ranged from public safety to the functioning of the city's waste-water treatment plant.
The three men are vying for two spots on the ballot in the Nov. 3 general election. Their debate Monday, Aug. 31, was the second of three at Berkshire Community College and broadcast on Pittsfield Community Television for the Sept. 22 preliminary election.
There are four races on the preliminary ballot and only two of the seven wards have uncontested seats, which prompted Dillon to query the candidates as to why so many people are running. The answers reflected in part their reasons for running — and the reasons voters should choose them.
Ward, who believes he's delivered on his promises of communication and consensus building, said the national economic crisis is affecting the way people are looking at local government: "They're more prone to look for change, to look for solutions."
After listening to a few hundred citizens, Connell said it's not the economy. "People have a very negative feeling about the city," he said. "They feel they're getting shorted on a number of city services they should have for what they've been spending."
Kinnas said focus should be on the schools, both in safety, spending and out-of-date facilities. "My frustration [is] with what does not get done, the lack of transparency that happens and what I call an abuse of power by elected officials."
Kinnas, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat two years ago, has focused much of his campaign on the schools, pointing out that four of them — Herberg Middle, Egremont and Williams elementary and Pittsfield High School — are in Ward 4.
Parents are creating traffic jams during pickup and drop-off times because of fears for children's safety walking to and from school, said Kinnas. "[I] developed a 'safe sidewalks program' to create a more secure safety network."
Incumbent Michael A. Ward says he'll continue communication and consensus building.
Connell and Ward agreed there was some concern for safety, but questioned the extent of the problem in the ward. All three agreed that speeding on Holmes Road continues to be a problem; Ward pointed to success in getting the speed limit reduced near Miss Hall's School.
There's always going to be minor crime in the city, said Connell, and the Police Department is doing a good job compared to other communities. However, he said, "we should get some more community involvement or crime watch" to raise the level of awareness.
"A year ago I asked about if anyone was interested in a crime watch and got no response," said Ward. "I asked the same question in May and 29 people responded."
But most of the crime the ward is seeing — breaking into cars and homes — can be prevented with simple actions such as locking car doors ad first-floor windows, he said, suggestions provided by police officers in several meetings with ward residents.
Ward said more awareness has to be raised about the causes as well as the crimes. "We really have to look at the broader picture, at the root cause of crime," he said. "It's lack of opportunity and substance abuse. ... Police do a fine job dealing with it once it happens but we have to address it at the source."
Kinnas called for better technology to aid police in their work, such as equipment that would allow residents to sent cell-phone video transmissions to the police station. Money being spent on the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority might better be spent on public safety needs, he said.
Ward disagreed, saying the funding for the Williams Stanley Business Park is "precious" and should be used to develop jobs.
All three are in favor of recycling and an expansion of the bottle bill but differed on whether to institute changes in the city's trash system, such as a proposal to charge four-unit residential properties for waste pickup.
Connell, who has investment properties around the county, spoke against the fee proposal at a City Council meeting — unless it also included two- and three-family units. Rather than a $70 fee for four-units, he asked, why not a $10 surcharge for all investment sizes?
"Even though that would affect me personally, as from a business standpoint," he said. "It's a fair way to approach the matter without actually hitting the single-family homes."
Ward said he he wanted reform, but wasn't convinced with some of the proposals, including the idea of a 64-gallon "trash tote" for homeowners.
"It's right to reform system. Our system is overgenerous and untenable and leads to abuse," he said. "Why should we have a Cadillac waste-collection system and a Ford school sytem? ... This is a cost that can be reduced."
While he supports the bottle bill to promote recycling, Kinnas said he doesn't agree with any other fees, including the rooms and meals taxes. The city wasted too much time discussing trash options that couldn't be implemented, he said, rather than looking for ways to cut costs now and focusing on priorities like business development.
Retired Terry Kinnas said he'd be on the job full time.
"If we don't get the jobs here, the trash problem is going to accelerate if you do not expand the tax base to pay for it," he said.
Fees drive business and people away, he said, even if it's only a couple dollars a night at a hotel. "It starts adding up very quickly," said Kinnas. "There's a breakpoint where it does not become cost effective to operate your business ... you're driving your commercial base away."
Connell also was against the meals tax, but wanted more information on how a 2 percent local rooms tax option would affect vacancy rates, noting North Adams has already adopted the local tax. "It may be something we want to do to put money in the coffers so we're not taxing bsuiness and homowners so much."
No meals tax, said Ward, but added "I'm still open to consideration of the lodging tax." He wanted to do more research before making a decision. (The City Council is expected in October to take up the rooms tax, passed in June as a sop to municipalities after massive cuts in state aid.)
And with the city having to close a $6 million deficit for this year, the challengers say they have ideas on how save money.
Kinnas claims Pittsfield could save some $750,000 consolidating city and school departments in areas of information technology, human resources and procurement, "regionalizing" school administration so as to cut staff. He also suggested looking at redefining and consolidating school maintenance.
Some expenditures are repeated throughout departments, said Connell, and could be consolidated to save money. He also took issue with the amount of overtime built into department budgets, saying savings could be realized by hiring full-time workers instead. "We need to hold the department heads responsible."
Ward countered that the overtime is calculated for brief, intense periods — such as a murder that requires extra police work or a snowstorm that needs hours of plowing: "You don't just ramp up your staff and have all the associated costs."
"I find it a little bit presumptive for anyone running for office to know the best way to conoslidate and cut" better than the city's highly paid professionals, he said.
PCTV will telecast all three debates frequently over the next few weeks. Visit pittsfieldtv.org for schedule updates.
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