NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city welcomed "fresh faces and ideas" on Wednesday as the newly formed City Council was sworn into office.
The new council has five freshman, four of whom have never served in city government: Eric Buddington, Benjamin Lamb, Kate Merrigan, Joshua Moran and Wayne Wilkinson, who has served on both the Planning Board and Mobile Rent Control Board.
Incumbents taking the oath were Lisa Blackmer, Keith Bona, Jennifer Breen and Nancy Bullett.
Both Mayor Richard Alcombright and Blackmer, newly elected council president, said the new councilors would be a benefit to the city in terms of their willingness to serve and their broad experiences.
"As we embark on 2014, we say goodbye to seasoned veterans and welcome fresh faces and ideas," said Blackmer. "I expect we will be thoughtful and respectful in our deliberations. We will not agree on everything, but we must work and compromise toward the best solutions."
The mayor, after being sworn into this third term by City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau, said he looked forward to working with the new body of councilors "to achieve many wonderful things over the next two years."
"Some have expressed concern that the number of new councilors might be problematic. I fail to see the problems but very specifically focus on the many opportunities," said Alcombright. "What this council lacks in municipal experience is made up for in professional experience in so many sectors — education, retail, health care, engineering, management, law, real estate, human services, art, technology — all of these sectors so aptly bundled into what you all bring to this new council."
The mayor said he was working with Blackmer to set up workshops to aid the new councilors in their duties.
The council and mayor took their oaths of office in the biennial Organization of Government meeting traditionally held on New Year's Day that also included the swearing in of School Committee members Heather Boulger, Mark Moulton and John Hockridge and McCann School Committee member Paul Gigliotti (fellow member Gary Rivers did not attend.)
The audience of family and friends was somewhat smaller than in the past but enthusiastically applauded the new officials and took pictures throughout the ceremony.
Blackmer, beginning her fourth term, was unanimously elected as president and Bullett as vice president.
"I hope we have proactive committees, I hope we can get some more funding from the state and that we can actually get rid of the structural deficit and start planning for the future," Blackmer said as she began her term.
Gomeau, in remarks to the council, asked that they deliberate "in a civil manner" and draw compassion and courage from each other.
"I ask you not to close your eyes but keep them wide open to the problems that we face in the city with your talent and insight you can lead this community to a better future."
The Rev. David Anderson of First Baptist Church, in giving the invocation, asked citizens to support and encourage the people they had elected "may we believe that the challenges in front of us today are in no way insurmountable in the face of who we are."
The benediction was given by the mayor's son, the Rev. Matthew Alcombright of Mary, Mother of Hope Parish in Springfield, who joked that "this father's speech is shorter than that father's speech." He asked that the council "always seek to preserve peace, promote happiness and continue to bring us blessings of liberty and equality."
Afterward, Buddington, whose fifth try finally earned him a seat, said there was a long list of things he needed to learn.
"It's a little intimidating but I'm looking forward to it," he said. "It's exciting but I don't expect it's going to be easy. Although I am really happy with the other councilors, as a group, that we will be able to work together in a civil and I think an intelligent manner."
Alcombright, in his speech, said he saw himself as the chief executive office of a $36 million concern with 13,000 shareholders, but a concern that has still has difficulties to overcome, including not only the city's financial health but the that of the North Adams Regional Hospital, as well as issues with crime and looming capital projects.
"There are many things that come at me day to day," he said. "The most frustrating thing for me is the city budget and my quest to close the gaps, balance the budget and begin building reserves.
"We cannot continue chasing our tails, spending so much time and effort managing the books that we lose focus on the only thing that will fix this problem and that is growth."
Alcombright pointed to the developments along Route 8, such as the new Walmart Supercenter, the additional work force at Crane & Co. along with future developments, vowing to do "whatever I can to preserve our business base and to help it grow.
"That could mean more aggressive public sector incentives tied to private sector investment. Things like special tax agreements and the sale of public buildings with the reward being the creation of jobs and the strengthening of our tax base."
On the bright side is the ground breaking for the $31 million Conte School renovation, the redevelopment of Western Gateway Heritage State Park into Greylock Market, movement on the revival of the Mohawk Theater in collaboration with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the creation of tourist rail and the completion of the 2030 master plan, he said.
"Today, right now, I feel a renewed sense of spirit, a renewed sense of pride, a renewed sense of commitment, and a renewed sense of ownership, a renewed sense of ownership," said the mayor.
"Today, right now, I am confident that we are on the right path and that we have and will continue to see great things happen."
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