North Adams School Project Will Go to Ballot

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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City Solicitor John DeRosa ran a red light getting to City Hall to help the council figure the voting process.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council tried to sidestep a vote Tuesday on rescinding authorization for bonding on the $30 million school project, leading to a hasty entrance by City Solicitor John DeRosa who'd been watching the deliberations on television.

In the end, the council did vote unanimously to uphold its decision on Conte — thus automatically sending the borrowing to a ballot vote — but not without some confusion getting there.

"We're in new territory here," said Council President Michael Bloom.

The reconsideration of the borrowing order, passed on Feb. 5, was forced by a citizens' petition filed two weeks ago with more than 1,300 verified signatures calling for the council to rescind the borrowing or send it to a ballot vote.

The city had gone through nearly three years of planning before settling on renovating the former middle school into an elementary school. The state School Building Authority approved the project in the fall with an 80 reimbursement, or about $23 million.

Bloom first called for a motion to adopt the order to rescind for discussion, but nobody wanted to touch it.

"Who'd like to make that motion ... anybody?" asked Bloom, waving the paper. He was greeted by silence.

Councilor John Barrett III wondered what the motion should be; Councilor Keith Bona then motioned to file, which was passed 6-2, with Bloom and Councilor Jennifer Breen voting no. Councilor Alan Marden was absent.

But then the question became whether they could set a date for an election on an order they hadn't actually voted on.

"We have to vote on rescinding it, up or down," said Councilor John Barrett III.

Bloom called a recess to call the city solicitor, who was already on his way to City Hall. He was in such a hurry, he was stopped by police for running a red light.

The solicitor's concern was that the council had filed the order rather than follow the process as required by the city charter.

"It is good to be conservative and do exactly what the statute says," DeRosa told the council. "If you want to start deviating from that I suppose you can, and we can make rulings along the way but I think that's really not the prudent approach."

DeRosa explained that the borrowing order had been stayed as soon as the petition had been certified. The council now had to vote to yes to rescind the borrowing, bring the entire process to an end, or vote no, sending it to a ballot vote.

Breen was unhappy that someone "can force us to put on the floor something we don't want to do." Bona asked if "by filing it, doesn't that basically say we're not in favor?"

"You all are free to vote one way or the other," DeRosa said. "Statutorily, to move it forward, you have to reconsider it.

"I think it is your duty reconsider it."

Bona at Bloom's request withdrew his motion to file and the council unanimously voted no on the order. Based on DeRosa's opinion, the council voted to hold the election on April 30, the same date of the U.S. Senate primary, saving the city some $6,000. The Conte question will be on a separate ballot.

Breen said she wanted to make clear to those who hadn't see the petition that its language was deceiving by listing the entire $29,692,594 for the project but not that the city's portion was $6.5 million.  

"I think we made a sound decision and I think it was vetted and I don't think we should throw $23 million away," she said.

Councilor Nancy Bullett said so much information on the project had been made available, the petition "just doesn't make sense to me. ... Please get more information before you go to the polls to vote."

The fact that some 1,400 people had signed the petition "showed that not all their questions had been answered," said Barrett, who had voted against borrowing for the project.

Tags: Conte School,   school project,   

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