Economic Talk Dominates Williamstown Selectmen's Race
|The four candidates for two seats on the Board of Selectmen focused on jobs at an election forum last week moderated by Anne Skinner.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The men who want a job with the Board of Selectmen think it's the job of that board to help bring jobs to the region.
If that sounds a little repetitive, then so was a candidates forum hosted Wednesday by the Williamstown League of Women Voters.
The four men vying for two open seats on the Board of Selectmen shared a platform built on economic development during air time on the town's community access television station.
The event, which ran for a little more than an hour and was moderated by chapter President Anne Skinner, focused almost entirely on how each of the candidates would help revive the local economy.
Hugh Daley, Gary Fuls, Andrew Hogeland and Jack Nogueira are on the ballot for the May 13 town election. Two of the four will win three-year terms on the five-person board.
Three of the candidates hit on the theme of economic development in their opening statement, and Skinner pressed them for more details about their ideas in that area with her first question of the night.
Hogeland suggested a collaborative approach that brings more voices from the town's business community and takes advantage of the successful strategies being employed in neighboring communities.
"We don't have a game plan for Williamstown at all to survive [population decline]," Hogeland said. "Anything we do has to be coordinated with our neighbors in North Adams and Pittsfield. I think if we do more branding, cross marketing, cooperative stuff throughout the area, we'll have a better chance."
Hogeland specifically identified the tourism and hospitality industries and talked about the town capitalizing on its two main assets: Williams College and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.
Daley agreed that tourism is a mainstay but argued there is a place for manufacturing in the town.
"Another Sprague Electric is not coming back," Daley said, referring to the North Adams industrial giant that was a mainstay of the local economy for generations. "But small niche manufacturing has a place. ... My company [Meehan Electronics in North Adams] is a small, 20-person shop working in the aerospace industry."
Daley said the Selectmen needs to start an economic development committee akin to other volunteer committees in town addressing specific issues, like agriculture and affordable housing.
"I would hope to be appointed to it," he said. "We have a ton of creative people in Williamstown. Everyone wants the same thing. We just have to tap into them and organize them."
Daley said the town needs to reach out to summer tourists and Williams alumni to try to get them to make Williamstown their home. He suggested the town partner with the college to promote economic opportunities in town in its alumni magazine.
"We are a company town," Daley said. "The company happens to be Williams College."
Fuls and Nogueira agreed the town needs to take a strategic approach and said it needs to look well beyond the town line to build the economic base.
"We need to come up with a marketing plan, an advertising plan not only for Williamstown but for Pittsfield, Lenox, North Adams and Adams to let people around the country know what we have to offer," Nogueira said. "If they come to Lenox, have them come a little further north and come see Williamstown."
"Right now, the Berkshire County Chamber of Commerce is working on bringing North County and South County together," Fuls said. "Again, you have to have a plan where if you have people coming to Lenox, you tell them, 'Hey, if you drive 40 minutes, you can go to the Clark or you can go see Williams College and walk around the campus.' "
Daley said the town has a strong potential partner in North Adams. Hogeland said Williamstown's neighbors to the east and south have the right idea.
"This town needs to spend more of its time and its personnel on economic development," he said. "You look at our neighbors, and they actually have people hired with job titles that have the words 'tourism' and 'development.'
"We need to put together a broad team of people from different disciplines. For me, that would be the prime initiative."
Part of that solution includes looking at ways to recruit "satellite businesses" that could partner with the town's two big non-profits, Hogeland said.
Even when Wednesday's forum turned to other topics, the conversation seemed to come back to jobs.
The closure of North Adams Regional Hospital and the uncertain future of health care in Northern Berkshire County is a hardship for town residents, the candidates agreed. But part of the solution may lie in creating new ways to access health care, some of the candidates said.
"I don't think we'll ever see a hospital in Williamstown ... but the town and the college needs to come together," Nogueira said. "They have a facility that serves their students. Maybe the town and the college should come together and put together something that serves the residents, too."
Fuls picked up on the idea and noted that new private practices or an urgent care clinic in North County would be, "another way to bring business here."
Likewise, the subject that has dominated the town's political conversation for the last two years — affordable housing — has an economic development dimension.
"We need to welcome people to come to Williamstown," Nogueira said. "I think this is what affordable housing is going to be doing ... allowing people who can't afford half-million dollar homes to come or the ones who are here and thinking of leaving Williamstown because they don't think there's anything here for them to stay."
Nogueira said Williamstown does not have enough space to develop a strong manufacturing base, but it should work with North Adams and Pittsfield as they grow their economies and create housing options in the Village Beautiful for those who take jobs in other Berkshire County municipalities.
And the future of Mount Greylock Regional School figures into the local economy, too.
"I've been thinking a lot about sustainability of the local economy and population changes," Daley said. "I believe we must focus on ways to stop the shrinking population and hopefully bring people back.
"That means creating an economy that has a job for them, a housing market that has a place for them to afford and an education system where they want to send their children."
If Mount Greylock goes ahead with a new or renovated building — or even if it doesn't — the cost of infrastructure at the school promises to be a challenge for whoever wins the Selectmen's races. That's a point not lost on Daley.
"At my core, I believe we should invest in schools, but we should balance that with the ability to pay," he said.
North Adams to Elect Mayor, Councilors on Tuesday
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There will be a change in government in the city by Tuesday night, and how different it will be depends on which chief executive voters chose.
Polls will be open Tuesday from 9 to 7 p.m. at St. Elizabeth's Parish Center (Wards 1, 2, 3 & 5) and Greylock School (Ward 4.)
It's a duel for the corner office between longtime friends Richard Alcombright, the incumbent, and Robert M. Moulton Jr., the challenger.
Alcombright is running for a third term for mayor on the progress he's made over the last four years, and his intention to continue along that course. He has pointed to a growing Main Street, the retention and expansion of jobs at Crane & Co., regional partnerships with law enforcement and municipalities, and two landmark initiatives: the Conte School renovation and the privatization plans for Heritage State Park.
Moulton, however, insists that the city hasn't prospered enough and says the incumbent hasn't done enough to combat crime. He is calling for hiring more police and personnel for other city departments, including inspection services, and creating a city-operated charter school, although he has not detailed how those would be funded. He also said he would not support the current deal to privatize the Heritage Park and would instead look for different investors.
No matter who's mayor, one thing is certain: The City Council for 2014-15 will have a very new, likely very younger, face than it has had for years. Links to candidate profiles and forums can be found here.
Five of the dozen candidates are under the age of 35; nine are under the age of 50. The oldest candidate is age 77. Still, differences between the candidates are more a matter of degree than distinction.
Four of the candidates are incumbents, with Keith Bona, 45, having the longest tenure. A local businessman and McCann Technical School graduate, he is running for a third term but spent eight years on the council in the 1990s, making him the veteran with 12 years total.
Incumbent Lisa Blackmer, 49, is seeking a fourth term. She has served as vice president of the council, represents the city on the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and works in accounting and human resources at Wheatleigh.
Incumbents Jennifer Breen, 34, and Nancy Bullett, 58, are each seeking a second term. Both are city natives who operate their own practices: Breen is an attorney and former assistant district attorney and Bullett is a physical therapist.
Past candidates trying again for a spot on the council are Eric Buddington, 40, Michael Hernandez, 42, and Robert Cardimino, 77.
Buddington works in information technology and is a musician and musical instructor, Hernandez is a real estate agent, and Cardimino, a retired GE worker, is a part-time landscaper.
The newcomers include Benjamin Lamb, 28, Joshua Moran, 31, Kate Merrigan, 34, David Robbins, 33, and Wayne Wilkinson, 62.
Lamb is assistant director for student involvement at Williams, Moran is a civil engineer, Merrigan is a program coordinator for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and Robbins is a National Guardsman and property manager. Wilkinson, a commercial assessor, is new to the council but not to City Hall, having been a longtime member of both the Planning Board and Mobile Home Rent Control Board.
The candidates are in general agreement that the city should continue the master planning process, that the Conte School renovation is a done deal and that they support plans to privatize Western Gateway Heritage State Park. The exception is Cardimino, who believes privatization should not be done at the expense of the nonprofits, including the city's history museum, currently in the park.
All agreed that crime is a serious concern and that more attention needed to be paid to preventative action such as community organizations, education and drug use. Breen, Blackmer, Moran, Lamb, Bona and Cardimino agreed that hiring more officers would also be helpful, although there would have to be a plan for how to pay for them.
The top nine vote-getters will be seated on the next City Council.
Alcombright, Moulton Spar in First Mayoral Debate
|Robert M. Moulton Jr., in red tie, and Richard Alcombright shake hands after a debate at McCann Technical School. The moderator was retired Adams Town Clerk Paul Hutchison.|
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayoral candidates spent 90 minutes sparring in a debate Wednesday that was to focus on economics but turned on crime and the incumbent's record.
Richard Alcombright, running for a third term, said he had "made tough decisions that didn't always make me popular" over the last four years, but vowed to continue efforts to revitalize the city.
Challenger Robert M. Moulton Jr., a local businessman and former councilor, repeatedly attacked Alcombright's record and said he "will get the city moving in the right direction again and make sure the middle class of North Adams is a voice again."
The debate, the first of two prior to the election, was held at McCann Technical School with an audience of about a 200 and was sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
Moderator was Paul Hutchinson, retired Adams town clerk. The candidates were allowed an opening and closing statement; questions were asked by a panel of media — Gabriel Kogel of the MCLA Beacon, Jennifer Huberdeau of the North Adams Transcript, Megan Duley from WNAW radio and Tammy Daniels, editor of iBerkshires. The candidates were given 2 minutes to respond, 1 minute for rebuttal, and then 30 seconds for more.
The candidates agreed on little other than that the city should do more to partner with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and that repeat violent offenders should be jailed, not let back on the streets.
They disagreed on virtually everything else, including how to manage the wave of break-ins and violent behavior that's hit the city this summer.
"We need more police, we need more police, we need more police," said Moulton.
"Four years ago when you ran, it was your No. 1 priority, since then it's gotten drastically worse, drastically worse," he said to his opponent. He said the city's violent crime rate was 40 to 45 percent higher than the state's and that 1 in 218 residents had a chance of being a victim of violent crime, but did not say where he got the statistics.
Alcombright said he recognized the fact that crime has gone up. "The biggest thing we've done since April is engage with the district attorney's office and the state police," he said, which has resulted "in many more arrests."
Putting officers on the beat isn't the only answer, he said, because the city has addiction, social and mental health issues that must be addressed. "Crime has grown because of many social factors," said Alcombright. "The root cause of these problems is addiction, is poverty and is joblessness and we're working all of those issues."
Moulton said he'd "failed miserably." "I walked the streets and I thought taxes would be No. 1," he said. "Overwhelming, overwhelmingly, 2 to 1, it was crime."
Alcombright said pointed to the jobs he'd brought in or helped keep here, including the 120 jobs at Crane & Co. that were set to leave four years ago but which have now doubled, the nearly 100 new jobs at Walmart and the low vacancy rate in the downtown.
Moulton said more needed to be done to bring in jobs and increase the tax base. He did make clear that he would not stand in the way of the demolition of St. Francis' Church, which has been eyed as a site for a national drugstore chain.
Alcombright has opposed the church's destruction as a historic building and an iconic view integral to the city, backing an ordinance that would delay demolition for historical review. But he pointed out that the proposed buyer could have applied for a permit in the past three years and, at this point, have taken the building by now.
They also sparred over Alcombright's most recent initiative, the privatization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
The incumbent touted the recent agreement with developers to invest some $6 million into the park, including a MassWorks grant, and a flat lease payment of $750,000 for 20 years.
Moulton said the original proposal 20 years ago failed. "Economically it wasn't feasible and I think the economy is worse now," he said, and thought the another request for proposals should be issued since only two had been received. "It's kind of a one-shot deal and we might want to this right the first time."
He also called into question how much the lease agreement would mean since the city used $150,000 to buy the Sons of Italy.
Alcombright said he had been working for 2 1/2 years to bring private development into the park.
"The public sector should not be operating a retail establishment," he said. The city had been able to get $1.6 million investment to leverage nearly $4 million — and a total of $10 million when the Berkshire Scenic Railway comes in — to get the park back on the tax roles, he continued, and the $150,000 had been from a Redevelopment Authority fund and had nothing to do with the project. (The money had initially been approved for repairs.)
"I don't live in the world of what happened 20 years ago, I live in the world of what will happen now," said Alcombright. "It's a different economic climate."
The inevitable albatross of mayoral elections — the fate of the Mohawk Theater — was again brought up.
"We have wonderful plans, we don't have money," said Alcombright. Standalone theaters, he said, "are not a sustainable model."
He has been in talks with the college to take over operation of the Mohawk as part of its fine and performing arts department, which will also further connect the downtown to the school.
Moulton said the city should find an investor for the theater and take advantage of credits and grants.
In fact, he saw grants as a possible solutions for many of the city's issues, including the looming capital projects such as the police and fire station and the water and sewer infrastructure, saying that "millions of dollars" could be available.
"Economically where we are right now, I think we're bumped up the ladder because of our economic situation," he said.
Alcombright said if there was a grant for building a police station they would have found them by now. "Take a ride folks, look around, there is so much to be done here," he said. "The only way we're going to get capital projects is to borrow."
The city's borrowing debt will fall significantly in 2019, said Alcombright.
The two also differed over the master planning process, with Moulton touting the nearly 20-year-old Hyatt Palma downtown report as perfectly suitable while Alcombright pointed to the ongoing North Adams 2030 master plan as being more inclusive and modern.
As for taxes, Moulton accused Alcombright of reneging on a promise not to raise taxes or shift the commercial rate lower; Alcombright denied he had ever made such a promise.
Alcombright said Moulton as a councilor had voted in the past to raise taxes, which had averaged a 6 percent increase a year as state "Taxes have increased because basically we needed to fund things," he said. While the city's budget has increased about 1.5 percent the last four years, state aid had dropped
Moulton said Alcombright had been left with a $2 million reserve: "the money you were left with is not there anymore."
Alcombright said it was because he'd also been left with a $2 million deficit, which has been whittle down to about $300,000. He defended again his attempt for a Proposition 2 1/2 override two years ago, saying the city would have been better off in balancing the budget for the long term rather than "mercilessly" cutting school programs.
"This is still the cheapest place and least expensive place to live" in the Berkshires and compared to similar communities, he said. "The average tax bill is a little over $2,600."
Moulton said the middle class was hurting because of the fees but at one point in the debate described the tax rate as "pretty affordable" in terms of buying housing here.
The two agreed of the importance of the MCLA to the city, with Moulton suggesting a liaison to City Council and Alcombright describing his frequent communication with its leaders. In answering how can the city attract college students downtown, Alcombright said it had been a topic for years and Moulton asked Kogel, the questioner, "What are you looking for?"
Moulton said there was nothing downtown except for dinner and a movie; Alcombright that there were clothing and sports stores but the they needed to stay open later.
Both were cautious about medical marijuana dispensaries, agreeing they need to be very regulated. Moulton said needed to do more research; Alcombright was going to ask the City Council for a six-month moratorium to review the issues.
The debate was taped by Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp. for replay on daily on Thursday through Wednesday, Oct. 24-30. The candidates will also debate on Wednesday, Oct. 30, from 9 to 10 live on WNAW radio.
Absentee Ballots Available for North Adams Election
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city clerk's office has posted the times and dates for voter registration for the municipal election on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Last day to register to vote is Wednesday, Oct. 16. The city clerk's office will be open from 8 to 8 that to accept voter registration or changes to voter information.
Absentee ballots for the November election are available now in the city clerk's office.
Those unable to vote on election day may stop by the office and vote any time during office hours, Monday through Thursday from 8 to 4:30 and Fridays from 8 to 1:30 p.m. Those who are physically unable to come into the office can have a ballot mailed, but must allow extra time for mailings. Ballots must be returned to the city clerk's office before the close of polls.
Absentee ballots are available until noon the day before the election.
To register to vote, one must be 18 years of age or older on or before election day, a citizen of the United States and a resident of North Adams.
Four Indicate Interest in North Adams Mayoral Run
Update on Aug. 2, 2013: The city could see a lively mayoral preliminary election if the four potential candidates all return papers.
Ronald Boucher, former City Council president who unsuccessfully challenged Richard Alcombright's re-election two years ago, took out nomination papers on Friday. He joins potential candidates Richard David Greene and Robert R. Moulton Jr., a fellow former councilor who backed Alcombright at his first election and Boucher two years ago.
So far the only candidate to return the required nomination papers is Alcombright, who will be running for a third two-year term. Three candidates would have to return papers for a preliminary election on Sept. 24.
Five more people have also taken out papers for City Council and six have returned papers to get on the ballot.
Robert F. Cardimino of East Quincy Street, David R. Robbins of Cady Street, Kate Hanley Merrigan of East Main Street, Benjamin J. Lamb of the Townhouses and Joshura Moran of Catherine Street took out nomination papers between last Thursday, July 29, and today, Friday.
Those five and Edward Lacosse, Richard Lacosse Jr., MaryAnn C. Benoit-Albee, Eric Buddington and incumbent David Bond have not returned papers.
Incumbents Jennifer M. Breen, Nancy P. Bullett and Keith J. Bona have all returned papers; Anthony M. Sarkis Jr., Wayne J. Wilkinson and Michael Hernandez will also be on the ballot.
Incumbents who not taken out papers so far are John Barrett III, Michael Bloom, Marie Harpin and Alan Marden.
If all the potential candidates so far return papers by the Tuesday deadline, there will be 17 names on the ballot.
Taking out papers for North Adams School Committee are incumbents John Hockridge, Heather Putnam Boulger and Mark P. Moulton, and newcomers Michele L. Vareschi of E Street and Stewart Burns of Holbrook Street. None of the potential candidates had returned papers as of Friday.
Both Gary F. Rivers and Paul A. Gigliotti have returned papers for McCann School Committee. The incumbents will run unopposed for the two seats.
The deadline to submit papers with the required 50 signatures by registered voters 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6.
|So far, three candidates have indicated interest in running for mayor and a dozen for City Council.|
Original post: July 26, 2013; 7:22 p.m.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — With less than two weeks to the nomination deadline, three people have taken out papers for mayor and 12 for City Council.
The deadline to submit nomination papers with the signatures of 50 registered North Adams voters is 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 6. Papers are still available in the city clerk's office.
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright has already indicated his intention to run for a third two-year term and took out papers on June 24. Also taking out papers were Richard D. Greene of 611 State Road, Holy Family Terrace, and Robert R. Moulton Jr., a former city councilor, of 985 Massachusetts Ave., on July 24 and 25, respectively.
None of the mayoral candidates have yet returned papers.
City Council incumbents who have taken out papers include Lisa Blackmer, Keith Bona, David Bond, Jennifer Breen and Nancy Bullett. As of Friday afternoon, incumbents John Barrett III, President Michael Bloom, Marie Harpin and Alan Marden had not.
Past council candidates computer programmer and musician Eric R. Buddington of 23 Warren St. and real estate agent Michael J. Hernandez of 160 Eagle St. have taken out papers, as has Planning Board member and Mobile Home Park Rent Control Board Chairman Wayne J. Wilkinson of 120 Oak Hill. Papers were also taken out by Edward LaCosse of 98 Brayton Hill Terrace and Richard LaCosse Jr. of 85 Brayton Hill Terrace; they were the first to pull papers for election, both on May 1. Also in the mix are frequent council attendee MaryAnn C. Benoit-Albee of 16 Rand St. and business consultant Anthony M. Sarkis Jr. of 453 Walnut St.
Of the council candidates, only Breen and Hernandez had returned signatures, although they had not yet been accepted.
All council seats are at large with the nine highest vote-getters being elected.
Should all three (or potentially more) mayoral candidates return papers, there will be a preliminary election, as occurred in 2011, to narrow the field to two. There are currently 12 people indicating interest in a council run; 19 would be required for a council preliminary election.
There are three seats up for election for School Committee, currently held by Heather P. Boulger, John Hockridge and Mark Moulton; and two seats on the McCann School Committee, Paul Gigliotti and Gary Rivers, both of whom have reportedly pulled papers.