The new North Adams Council met on Tuesday and approved new Rules of Order that will allow greater participation from citizens.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The new City Council began the year by reinstating an old rule that will allow visitors to speak on agenda items.
The council, with no discussion, approved the Rules of Order from council President Lisa Blackmer that dispenses with the "hearing of visitors" instituted a year ago in an attempt to curb what the past council felt were unruly debates. Attendees were limited to speaking on agenda items at the beginning of the meeting and general comments about the city at the end of the meeting.
The new Rule 10 states "every member shall have the right to debate. Meeting discussion shall be open to member of the Council, The Mayor, and invited officials directly involved with the issue, and visitors at the discretion of the President. Visitors will each be limited to a two-minute statement on agenda items."
Faithful meeting attendants Robert Cardimino and Mark Trottier strongly denounced last year's changes but were not in the audience to comment on Tuesday night. In fact, the small group that had regularly attended meetings for the last several years were absent from their usual seats.
The councilors also got an update on the city's efforts to comply with the U.S. Justice Department order to conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act from Mayor Richard Alcombright and Administrative Officer Michael Canales.
The city's first annual report to the DOJ was submitted in November, a month late at the request of the federal agency because of the government shutdown earlier in the fall. The mayor said the full report was more than 500 pages and includes designs, technical drawings, photos, receipts and bid documents for the Phase 2 of the sidewalk compliance project.
The City Council last spring approved a borrowing order of $250,000 begin the immediate, or "green," items on the list. Canales said the city is moving faster and at a lower cost than expected so some of the "yellow" items, which require more design and possible bidding, may also be done. The "red" items, including the public safety building that prompted the complaint the caused the DOJ's audit, will require more study and more money.
The mayor said the city had three years to comply but the DOJ works with municipalities showing good progress. However, he said discussion about the public safety building need to begin this year.
The councilors spent some time determining when it should hold workshops offered by the mayor's office to familiarize the five new councilors with department heads and city functions. Several of the dates put forward by the mayor came the day after Monday holidays and one during a school vacation that Blackmer thought could cause problems for councilor's schedules. Other councilors also noted they had obligations on certain days.
Councilor Kate Hanley Merrigan urged citizens to also attend the public workshops to learn more about their city.
The issue was resolved when Councilor Eric Buddington suggested the mayor throw out dates and the councilors raise their hands if they could attend: the winner with the highest number was the the third Tuesday of each month at 7:30, the same time as council meetings.
Councilor Keith Bona wondered if the new councilors would be able to tour some of the city's departments, as had happened two terms ago, "to visit these buildings and really see what the departments are dealing with."
The mayor said the intent "was to actually bring the departments to you" through the use of PowerPoint or other presentations. He said tours would be possible but some areas, like the aqueducts, may be more difficult to bring people through.
Blackmer said the workshops would have to be posted in accordance with Open Meeting Law, although there would be no discussion from the public. The first workshop, a meeting with department heads, will be Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers. The February workshop will cover infrastructure and the March meeting finance and budgets.
Councilor Kate Hanley Merrigan urged residents interested in learning about city government to attend. "I think this information ... on the one hand it's readily available how our city operates, how its organized, on the other hand, people don't necessarily know how to access it all the time."
In other business:
• The council approved by roll call vote bonding levels for certain city officials: the city clerk at $15,000, the assistant city treasurer for $62,500 and the city treasurer/tax collector for $250,000.
• Approved a license for Heath Buffin of River Street to drive a taxi for Tunnel City Taxi.