Patton Hopes to Bring Compassion, Reason to Selectmen
|Jane Patton, seen here at a Selectmen's meeting last fall, hopes to focus attention on family issues to the Selectmen. She and Selectman Ronald Turbin are running for the two three-year seats on the board.|
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In all likelihood, Jane Patton on Tuesday will earn a spot on the town's Selectmen without a contest.
It may be the least contentious thing that happens with the panel this year.
Patton seeks to join the five-member board at a time when the town is deeply divided over the issue of whether to use a portion of currently conserved town land to develop affordable housing.
The five-month debate over the fate of the so-called Lowry property is not the reason Patton decided to get involved in town government. But she recognizes the debate likely will continue to be a focus for the Selectmen in the months ahead.
"In talking with the other selectmen, they tell me that sometimes [town government] is all rather mundane," Patton said last week. "All this has some meat to it. And it's going to have some lasting impact."
Patton is unopposed for one open seat on the Board of Selectmen. She is seeking to replace Selectman Tom Costley, who chose not to seek re-election after two terms. The ballot for Tuesday's town election also includes Selectman Ronald Turbin, who is seeking a third term on the board.
In all, there are 12 positions on the ballot, and 12 residents have filed papers to fill those seats.
The dearth of contested races normally would be a harbinger of low turnout on Tuesday. But the balloting also will include the statewide primary to narrow the field of candidates for the special election to fill the unexpired term of former U.S. Sen. John Kerry. The Democratic primary has U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey on the ballot; the Republican, Gabriel Gomez, Michael Sullivan and state Rep. Daniel Winslow.
Williamstown is one of several in the state that moved its town election to coincide with the primary.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Williamstown Elementary School. The results of the town election will be confirmed at the May 21 annual town meeting.
Patton, a businesswoman and mother of two, said she decided to make her first foray into town politics because she wants to give back to the community.
"I want to dig in, be part of the community and try to be somebody who can have some kind of positive impact," she said. "I have no agenda."
Patton first moved to Williamstown in 2000 but left to live in New York City before returning 4 1/2 years ago, she said. She and her partner decided to put down roots in the Village Beautiful because that is where they wanted to raise their now 4-year-old twin daughters, Patton said.
"Emily is a Williams graduate and always thought she wanted to raise kids here," Patton said. "What a great place to raise kids. Everybody knows your kids, and you're all looking out for each other.
"We're constantly taking them to football games, or we're headed to the softball games (at Williams) this afternoon after a birthday party. There's always something to do."
In addition to helping to raise the couple's children, Patton does marketing and public relations for Hops and Vines Beer Garden and Brasserie on Water Street. She also serves on the boards of the Berkshire Humane Society, Williamstown Film Festival and Sand Springs Recreational Center.
Patton's professional experience includes a stint doing sales and marketing for Victoria's Secret in New York, where she was responsible for a billion dollars worth of inventory, she said.
"I'm a businesswoman who multitasks — like all moms," Patton said.
She hopes to bring both perspectives to the Board of Selectmen, where one of her focuses will be addressing issues that affect families in town.
"I'm certainly interested in anything that involves families and kids," Patton said. "I've certainly been paying attention to what's happening at the high school. That's why I'm involved with Sand Springs."
And, like any civically aware citizen in town, Patton has been following the issues involving subsidized housing. And she agrees with the current board's recommendation to last week's special town meeting that it table the articles dealing with the Lowry and Burbank properties.
"I've paid attention to what's going on with the housing discussions," she said. "I'm not an expert. I fully support making well-rounded, thoughtful decisions expeditiously.
"We can't be, 'ready, aim, aim, aim, aim ... .' I'm all about making sure we know what the best options are and really want to make sure we're understanding from the Spruces folks what their needs are and showing respect for the folks who are passionate about conservancy.
"I believe there is a workable solution to every situation. ... That's how I conduct myself really with everything. I want to make sure I have the facts and keep emotions out of it, which is challenging. I want to be compassionate but not emotional, if that makes sense."
Blanchard In Third Campaign For Adams Selectmen Seat
Richard Blanchard says he will be an independent voice for the people of Adams if he is elected to the Board of Selectmen.
ADAMS, Mass. — Richard Blanchard wants to do what is best for Adams and not for any particular group.
The retired military man is seeking a spot on the Board of Selectmen in his third campaign for a seat. Blanchard, a guard at the Silvio O. Conte Federal Building in Pittsfield, is looking to bring an "independent voice" to the board.
"I am an individual and I would vote that way. I am more concerned with Adams than I am with any special group," Blanchard said on Wednesday.
Blanchard said the town is financially in a good place but the taxpayers are not. He hopes that to join the board to increase the number of businesses and residents to spread out the funding required to run the community. To do that, he feels that the board should get more involved with other organizations.
"It's a military thing, these are team things and we need to get everybody on the team," he said.
He used the school district as an example. School officials are trying to lobby for an overhaul of state legislation that mandates how charter schools are funded and increase Chapter 70 funding. Blanchard said the town should get involved with that effort because it helps it in the end.
At the Greylock Glen, he supports the town's efforts in building a campground, amphitheater, educational center and conference building but wants the local colleges and towns to help. If Adams can attract somebody to the amphitheater, then maybe they'll want to visit Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams after, he said.
"Working together is different than follow the leader," Blanchard said.
He likes the idea of the town branding itself as a recreational center and can envision concerts at the Glen drawing people to the downtown.
"They need a reason to move here. You have to have something to draw people," he said, adding that the various recreational activities can spur niche businesses. "You have to create the market."
But beyond pushing those developments, Blanchard feels there is more to be done to support struggling taxpayers now and make it easier for businesses to move to Adams.
"We don't need to own as many buildings as we do," Blanchard said. "We're not in the land management business."
A few years ago, Blanchard said he found that the town owns some 15 unused lots in desirable locations but they have yet to go on the market. Adams needs to look at selling off land and buildings, he said, instead of having every department have its own building, some departments can work in leased space, he said.
That includes the Adams Visitors Center, which the town had taken over when the Berkshire Visitors Bureau moved out. He says the town has already spent money to repair the heating system, change out a wall and the roof is leaking. If the town can sell it and either move the Council on Aging somewhere else or lease that space from the new owner, they wouldn't have to worry about capital repairs.
"Our town departments don't have to be in town-owned buildings," he said.
However, the Memorial Middle School isn't even worth selling. With somewhere between $3 million and $5 million in repairs needed, Blanchard says the town should just give it away.
"I don't particularly care for the way it is going. If someone has an idea and a dollar, give it to them and see what they can do with it," Blanchard said.
He thinks the town should go outside of the region and market the town buildings for sale. But additionally, he wants to make it easier for a company to move to Adams. He said a company was recently interested in a vacant paper mill but the town required a sprinkler system above state codes and the company backed away.
Blanchard says he doesn't want to jeopardize safety but the town could be "less rigid" when it comes to the requirements they put on buildings.
Meanwhile, he says the town's Highway Department vehicles need to be replaced and should be a priority, but recognizes that those are big-ticket items. He questions if the cruiser replacement schedule of the Police Department could be scaled back to open money for other purchases.
The 48-year-old is in his third campaign for the seat. He fell short in the last two elections and this time is one of four vying for two seats. He is running against Michael Young, Donald Sommer and Joseph Nowak.
Blanchard said he has been interested in town politics but it wasn't until he retired from the military that he had the time to dedicate to it. In recent years, Blanchard boasts that he has sat in on just about every Board of Selectmen meeting.
"I always loved Adams and I want to help move it along," he said. "I just want to do what I can for the town."
This is the third in a series of profiles for the candidates for the selectmen in Adams.
Sommer Seeking Return To Adams Board of Selectmen
Donald Sommer is looking to return to the Board of Selectmen with hopes of having the Community Development refocus.
ADAMS, Mass. — Since being off the board, former Selectman Donald Sommer has been keeping an eye on town politics and he doesn't like what he sees.
He sees the town spending money on studies that just become shelved, selectmen who don't seem to delve into issues and ask questions and businesses opting to open shop in neighboring towns instead of his own.
"I don't think there is one big problem in Adams. I think there are a lot of small problems," he said on Wednesday.
With his children taking over more and more of his business affairs, the 79-year-old is vying for a seat back on the Board of Selectmen to finish what he started and jumpstart a serious push to reel in more businesses.
Particularly, a $50,000 warrant article at this year's town meeting is asking for voters to hire a consultant to create a formal reuse plan for Memorial Middle School. But Sommer says officials already know what the school needs — and know that it is best to just give it away to a business that will bring jobs.
"All of these $50,000 studies don't amount to anything," Sommer said. "We know what has to be done, we don't need another study."
Sommer says he would like the town to take that $50,000 and hire a consultant who will go out of the region and try to "sell" the building. There are biotech and other industries that could use the classroomlike spaces, he said, but the town has not aggressively sought them out.
"Just give a company the building and let them bring in 30 or so jobs," he said.
The town is currently seeking short-term leases with the Youth Center and Ooma Tesoro's marinara sauce maker but neither of those will bring in the number of jobs Sommer envisions for that property.
The marketing person could become a town position that could focus on one building at a time with the old Community Center being the next.
"The town needs somebody to go out and talk to people and show them the comfortable living," Sommer said, adding that the new high school is a good selling point to attract people to town. "Every other town is doing it."
Sommer also doesn't like the way the Department of Community Development has been utilizing funds. Recently, the town tore down garages behind the former Albert's Hardware and put in a parking lot on Summer Street. A streetscape project was also completed on Summer.
But Sommer, who owns the Halflinger Haus restaurant on Commercial Street, says that money should have been focused on Park Street instead. Summer Street shouldn't be ignored, he said, but it has businesses that serve the neighborhoods while Park Street is the attraction.
"I think Community Development needs to refocus," he said. "The town can't support two business districts... I don't think we should start trying to attract people to Summer Street until we've filled Park Street."
The school and the Community Center are going to be a "serious problem" for the town to maintain and Sommer wants to see them back on the tax rolls somehow.
"We need to get rid of those buildings and get them on the tax rolls," he said.
Sommer says there are too many empty storefronts and too many businesses have opened and failed. If the town can put its effort into Park Street, if only one small shop can survive, that will start a snowball effect for the entire street.
"If one makes it, then maybe the one next door can make it," he said.
But that isn't to say that he thinks the town hasn't done good things too. Sommer supports the Greylock Glen project, particularly the plan to build an amphitheater. And the recent agreement with Berkshire Scenic Railway to run scenic train rides out of the Visitors Center had worked well in South County so that will be a boost to downtown Adams, he said.
"I think the rail trail is the best thing they've done in a long time. So many people use it," he said.
Sommer also supports the work of the Thunderbolt Ski Runners to revitalize the annual ski race. Efforts like that help make Adams a destination, he said, and that will grow with the Greylock Glen project.
He also hopes to finish what he started with a farmers market, which could attract people to the downtown. He said he started the process while on the board in the past but it never came to fruition.
While those major projects can help the business and tax base, Sommer said there are little things the town could do to help save money. During his three years on the Board of Selectmen before losing his seat in 2010, he said they went through every budget line and cut what they could. So much, that there isn't much left to cut.
But, he says working with Cheshire and North Adams could prove to lower material costs. He used asphalt milling machine, which reuses pavement, as an example. While the town may not be able to afford it alone, if it partners with other towns, the cost would be reasonably small.
"We don't need all of our own equipment," he said.
Going in with other towns to make bulk purchases of material — such as road salt — could also save money, he said.
Sommer is the oldest of the candidates seeking two spots on the board. He is running against Richard Blanchard, Michael Young and Joseph Nowak in the May 5 election. But, being the eldest of the candidates is what he says makes him a better one.
"I think age and successful experience helps," he said.
Sommer has a master's degree from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and has been in business for 40 years, after turning Greylock Apartments from a failing company to a successful one. He was on the School Committee for seven years, chaired the Redevelopment Authority for seven years and was on the Finance Committee for nine years. He served three years as selectman.
This is the second of four profiles of the candidates for selectman in Adams.
Nowak Seeking Seat on Adams Board of Selectmen
Joseph Nowak is a lifelong Adams resident who is embarking on his first campaign for the Board of Selectmen.
ADAMS, Mass. — Joseph Nowak remembers when he returned to Adams with a master's degree and struggled to find a job.
"I had a master's degree and I was mopping up locker rooms," he said. "It took me a while to just get a job with the state."
He stayed and worked his way up with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation because he loved the Adams community.
But, things haven't gotten much better in the last 40 years with the major manufacturers moving out of town. There aren't many incentives for a young family to stay.
Now there are run-down apartment buildings, vacant storefronts, farms are going out of business, and there's a transient population and aging infrastructure.
Nowak, with his degree in land use and a history working with the Democratic Party, is running for one of two vacant selectman seats to help Adams return to the quaint New England town that it once was.
"We need a community with a vision. It's a balancing act, we need to promote the town's history as well as look to the future," Nowak said on Wednesday.
It will take a long time for Adams to solve all of its issues but Nowak wants to be part of starting that process by helping to create an "identity."
The biggest problem, he says, is that a simple Google search shows that Adams is cutting its school budget while still having one of the highest tax rates in the county, which is not very attractive to families looking to relocate to the Berkshires.
"We're not able to get people to come to town," he said.
The 61-year-old says the town needs to help get Topia Arts Center up and running. The center has the ability to be an anchor of the downtown, spurring new development, he said, but leaders of the nonprofit are "discouraged." They have not been able to complete the project to renovate the center after investing $1 million of their own money into it. They want the town's help in reeling in state grant money.
"We'd be foolish if we don't try to work with the people who own Topia," Nowak said.
The Greylock Glen has long been seen as the keystone to the town's futures and Nowak wants to support that, too. Hiking trails, an educational center and campgrounds will help draw people to the Berkshires, he said and cited 22 years of working in state parks to show that he has seen the type of draw natural resources have.
However, he is concerned with the plan to build an amphitheater because that would increase traffic on the side streets and cause light pollution. Additionally, he said that if the Glen is developed, there will need to be some type of officer there to keep it from being vandalized.
"I worry mostly about the traffic," he said.
While those two projects should be priorities to start turning Adams around, Nowak said there are "a lot of little things" that he'd like to see to build on what the town already has — such as placing signage promoting that Adams is the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony.
While focusing on the projects already begun, the town needs to continue to look for other businesses to bring in, he said. He said there is a need for a slaughterhouse, a medical marijuana facility and train depot that could work in Adams and town officials should look toward finding those businesses.
"I will promise the people of Adams that I would be creative and innovative," Nowak said. "We have a long path ahead and there is no one big thing that will happen. But we need to get people on the street."
As a member of the Conservation Commission and one of the founders of the Agricultural Fair, Nowak is also very concerned about the future of farmers. There are only two remaining dairy farms in Adams and he would like to set policies to help farmers stay in business.
Those efforts will help broaden the tax base and set the town up for future growth, but he isn't sure if there are immediate ways to lower the tax rate. Town buildings are needed to be repaired and the school needs more funding, he said.
"You are between a rock and a hard place," Nowak said. "If you own property and it is in disrepair, you have to fix it."
Nowak says the town should look to move relatively quickly with tearing down a portion of the Memorial Middle School to alleviate the maintenance costs and build a park area for children at the Youth Center.
The reuse of portions of the building by Ooma Tesoro's and the Youth Center are good fits for those portions of the building, he said, but the rest of the building is too costly to repair.
"It's beyond its life cycle," Nowak said. "It'll be an albatross around the town."
With the Youth Center now leaving the Community Center vacant, Nowak wants the town to move quickly on that, too. If a buyer doesn't appear soon, Nowak wants a salvage company to come help tear the building apart and save what they can.
If the town doesn't start moving in this direction, Nowak fears things will only get worse — particularly with the new Walmart SuperCenter opening in North Adams.
"They don't mind putting people out of business," Nowak said.
Nowak is one of four vying for the two seats on the board. Also running for the position are Donald Sommer, Richard Blanchard and Michael Young. The election is on May 6.
Clarksburg Elects New School Committee Member
Toting up the votes at Clarksburg Senior Center on Tuesday.
Some 285 voters turned out to for the polls in Tuesday's annual town election. The only races were a two-way for a three-year seat on the School Committee and a three-way battle to complete the final year of a three-year term on the Selectmen.
The biggest shakeup was on the School Committee. John Solari, a retired Drury High School principal polled 150 votes to David Berger's 120. Berger, who works at Williams College, has served on the board for 18 years. Solari, who has spent some 35 years in education, retired in 2006 but still works part-time in tutoring.
Debra LeFave's comeback attempt to finish out her term on the Board of Selectmen came to naught as longtime colleague Carl McKinney won the one-year term with 127 votes. Lefave, who served with McKinney for more than a decade on the board, quit to pursue the town administrator's post, later withdrawing her name from consideration.
McKinney won with 126 votes; Gary Bellows, an engineering technician, polled 85 votes and Lefave, 65.
Jeffrey Levanos, owner of Jack's Hot Dog Stand in North Adams, easily earned 256 votes running unopposed. Levanos will also continue on the School Committee to finish out his second two-year term on that board.
All other posts on the ballot were unopposed and no seat was left vacant, said Town Clerk Carol Jammalo. However, there were a lot blanks and more single write-ins than usual. In some cases, voters checked two candidates for the one-year term on the selectmen, canceling out both their votes.
Jammalo described the turnout, at about 28 percent, as good. "It's one of the biggest ones we've had," she said.