Cascade's Request For Street Name Rejected
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Community Development Committee on Tuesday voted not to recommend a change in name for a section of Grimes Street.
Cascade Paper Co. of 1 Brown St., which has been operating on Brown and Grimes street for more than 80 years, had asked to change the name of Grimes to Cascade Way from the intersection on Brown Street to the point where it takes a turn toward State Road.
The business's offices are on Grimes Street, not Brown Street, said Todd E. Shafer, vice president. "It's little bit misleading because it's not our address."
While the company doesn't get a lot of traffic, "we put our street address on different things and to me it adds a little status to have the street named after your company as opposed to something else," he said.
"I'm pro Cascade," said committee member David Lamarre, who said he worked there as a teenager. "But from a general manner of principal, I'm opposed to renaming city streets. I don't see a real value, I don't see a necessity in it for the company."
The address change would only affect Cascade; all the homes are on or after the turn. However, several neighbors objected, saying it would change the historic and residential character of the neighborhood.
"It is a family-oriented neighborhood, not a business zone," Garry and Mary Robert of 2 Grimes St. wrote to the committee. They were concerned that a new name would indicate the company owned the street and change the character of the neighborhood.
John Larese, who owns his grandfather's house at 4 Grimes St., said the neighborhood had been named in honor of a family that had done much for the city in the 19th century. "There is a lot of history there."
Lamarre said he understood how it might be more attractive to have a street address with the company name but didn't believe it would "make or break Cascade after 80-plus years in business."
Committee Chairman Lisa Blackmer said unless it involved a public safety issue, such as the confusion over addresses on Barbour Street that resulted in part of that road being renamed Brayton Hill Terrace. "I really don't think renaming this street is a good idea."
The committee noted it had also rejected the idea of renaming part of Summer Street for horticulturist Lue Gim Gong.
Shafer said he had hoped that renaming part of the street would continue to honor the Grimes while also recognizing the Wells family's committment to maintaining Cascade in the city even though they have moved away.
"I thought it would be a nice thing for our company; the company's been there for 80 years, and I thought the owners would like it," he said. "The owners live out of state, they are not involved in the day-to-day operations but they are very proud that they keep business in North Adams."
Larese said he would support signage at the four points on Brown and Grimes street indicating the business and the location of its offices.
The committee suggested Shafer contact the Historical Commission to see if that board had any ideas on how better to recognize the company and its history in the neighborhood.
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North Adams Budget Slashed Again
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The mayor will present his "Plan B" budget to the City Council next week that includes nearly a half-million in cuts from the already passed fiscal 2012 budget.
That brings the fiscal 2012 budget to $35,074,495, down nearly $900,000 from last year's budget and $50,000 less than fiscal 2009.
"We know that the Prop 2 1/2 was defeated; by virtue of that, the voters challenged me, and us, to come back with a document that meets the needs of the city without an override," Mayor Richard Alcombright told the Finance Committee on Monday evening. "We've made significant progress but not without pain."
The committee will recommend a further fiscal 2012 reduction of $457,011 that includes $250,000 in cuts passed last week by the School Committee. That still leaves the city with a structural deficit of $423,739 that the mayor is hoping to close with an increase in anticipated state aid and by dipping into the city's depleted reserves.
The mayor had pushed for a Proposition 2 1/2 override of $1.2 million to balance the fiscal 2012 budget. Over the past three years, the city has lost $3.2 million in state aid and was carrying a structural deficit of more than $1 million heading into the fiscal year. The school department has cut some $4 million over past few years that included the closure of Conte Middle School.
But voters, already pinched by property tax hikes and sewer and water fees instituted last year, rejected the override last month, forcing city officials to find more cuts.
Still, property owners can expect an increase of up to 41 cents per $1,000 valuation as the city taxes to the full levy capacity. Alcombright said the increase comes to just under $60 more a year for a home valued at $150,000.
Included in the cuts is a reduction in seasonal workers for highway and parks and not filling one highway position; the transfer of $38,500 in police salaries to a Verizon 911 grant; a reduction of more than $20,000 in pensions approved by the Pension Board and based on recalculating the funding schedule; elimination of funds for the Historic, Human Services and Youth commissions; $5,000 from the tourism department and $10,000 from insurance.
That is on top of the 10.5 teaching positions and elimination of a curriculum director included in last week's school cuts.
Finance Committee members expressed concern over the cuts being made in the school system, with Chairman Michael Bloom questioning the loss of a kindergarten teacher and curriculum director.
"We cut 10.5 teachers, if you figure each teacher interacts with 20 kids, we have to do something differently with 200 children," said Superintendent James Montepare, who noted school choice funds are being used to cover underfunded salary and residential placement accounts. "But if you look at what we had to cut to get where we did, we had to cut bodies."
He said ideas had been floated about instituting fees for sports or for full-day kindergarten, for which parents are being charged anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 a year in other communities. But the task of collecting the money, and the fact that the city's high poverty level would make most students eligible for discounted rates, made the cost savings questionable, Montepare said, at this point.
"We have substantial enough reserves now to get into our budget cycle," said Alcombright, who is hoping the proverbial "pennies from heaven" will appear from the $65 million more allotted this year to cities and towns by the state. "Let's say they level fund us ... that could be another $175,000, another $200,000 that could reduce this deficit ... I think we're in a good place with this budget."
The city's reserves, once in the millions, now total about $530,000 not counting free cash — the funds left in accounts from fiscal 2011. Those funds cannot be touched until the state certifies the accounts this fall. The city will also be closing out the $800,000 medical insurance trust fund, which could bring another $50,000 or so.
Alcombright said his contacts with the state Department of Revenue have been positive and encouraging.
"We are doing all the right things," he said. "In December of 2009, the council — and I was one of them — moved $1.8 million from reserves to lower the budget, to pay debt; last year, we used $1.2 million in reserves to pay debt. This year, we're going to use $423,000 in reserves and we may not have to if we get additional state aid. ... We've made tremendous progress."
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Guest Column: Policy and Procedures During Council Meetings
Editor's Note: Mark Trottier of North Adams read this statement aloud as an agenda item at the North Adams City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Mr. Trottier expressed concern over what he felt was the inappropriate silencing of a citizen's right to express himself at a council meeting last month. Because of the length of his statement and the number of inquiries we received about it, we asked him permission to post it in full as a guest column. We have added links to the court cases he cited.
I am not a expert on Constitution issues, nor an attorney, or even a speaker, just a average citizen who believes that "two wrongs don't make a right."
I am not here to defend anyone, nor chastise any councilor regarding there remarks or actions, I think you all can do this very well on your own. There is nothing that I'm going to say that's not already a part of the record, I just want a level playing field under the law, and for all of you to think outside of the box.
After watching the last few meetings on TV, I have come to the conclusion that some of the councilors are "Out of Order" and a pattern of actions are taking place again & again, This matter was put to bed earlier this year but the old boy network is back again.
The public must respect the council and the councilors must respect the public's opinion, and work with them.
The City Council operates under two types of public forums, one being a designated public forum where the government designates certain types of subject matters on there agenda, with vigorous debates back and forth on the subjects by councilors; the public must be silent, and doesn't have a right to disrupt the councilors, it is their arena. At the end of each subject, the council president looks to the gallery for any comments from the public and may recognize a citizen to speak; there again, it's still their arena and rules, the council may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech as long as those restrictions are content-neutral and are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.
In other words, the government could impose a 15-minute time limit on all participants as long as it did not selectively apply the rule to certain speakers, or it would violate the First Amendment.
Now when it comes to the "Public Comment or Open Forum" time for citizen commentary on issues, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals explained in its 1990 decision White v. City of Norwalk: "Citizens have a enormous First Amendment interest in directing speech about public issues to those who govern their city."
These meetings, particularly the "Open Forum" period, are at the very least a limited public forum, during which free-speech rights receive heightened protection.
An Ohio Appeals court refused to dismiss the lawsuit of an individual who sued city officials after being thrown out of a city commission meeting for wearing a "ninja mask." In City of Dayton v. Esrati (1997)http://is.gd/XcTGe9, the Ohio Appeals court reasoned that the individual wore the mask to convey his dissatisfaction with the commission. "The government may not impose viewpoint-based restrictions on expression in a limited public forum."
In the 1964, U.S Supreme Court decision New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, Justice Brennan wrote "the question before us is whether this rule of liability, as applied to an action brought by a public official against critics of his official conduct, abridges the freedom of speech and of the press that is guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
"The general proposition that freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment has long been settled by our decisions. The constitutional safeguard, we have said, 'was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.'
"The maintenance of the opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that change may be obtained by lawful means, an opportunity essential to the security of the Republic, is a fundamental principle of our constitutional system, and this opportunity is to be afforded for 'vigorous advocacy' no less than 'abstract discussion' ...
"That erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate, and that it must be protected if the freedom of expression are to have the 'Breathing Space' that they 'need ... to survive' ...
"The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with "Actual Malice" - that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not ...
"We conclude that such a privilege is required by the First and Fourteenth Amendments."
In Edwards v. South Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of protesting students, "saying that the First Amendment does not permit a state to make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views.'"
The June 14 meeting was a travesty of justice. A citizen was granted the floor by council president during the designated public forum. He stated he believed that the council violated the state law regarding the vote and would "check it out with the state tomorrow"; after, a councilor criticized him by trying to use the "bully-pulpit" on him, by saying "Quiet," he hopes you would tell the state about your "Vote No on Prop 2 1/2 shirt and sign that was brought into the chambers against our wishes." Please councilor, you know that this is perfectly legal, as long as one doesn't "Disrupt or Disturb the council."
I only used this as an as example, it's a citizens' right to speak out on issues. And work with his elected officials for the betterment of the community.
Unfortunately, many situations arise in which citizens are silenced because of the content of their speech or because they have disagreed previously with government officials. This raises the specter of censorship. Government officials may not silence speech because it criticizes them. They may not open a "Public Comment" period up to other topics and then carefully pick and choose which topics they want to hear. They may not even silence someone because they consider him a gadfly or a troublemaker.
It is equally clear that council concerns and interests in proscribing public commentary cannot outweigh the public's fundamental right to engage in "Robust Public Discourse on these Issues." When the government decides to offer a "Public Comment" period at an open meeting, it provides that citizens may exercise their First Amendment rights. The government may not silence speakers on the basis of their viewpoint or the content of their speech. The government must live up to the values embodied in the First Amendment.
This is America, we live in a free country where one has a right to question and debate their public officials at any time.
The council might use Robert's Rules of Order, intended to be adopted as a parliamentary authority for use by a deliberative assembly, but also must apply some common sense.
My information came from, First Amendment Center, The Library of Congress, The Ohio Appeals Court, The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. And a little common sense.
I Thank You.
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'Plan B' School Budget Reduced By $250K
The School Committee on Wednesday voted to reduce the school budget by another $250,000.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Wednesday approved a pared-down fiscal 2012 budget that includes another $250,000 added to nearly a quarter million in cuts and the loss of a director of curriculum.
Superintendent of Schools James Montepare presented a budget of $15.29, nearly a half-million below last year's budget, at the noontime meeting.
The most recent cuts are on top of $233,000 in reductions in the budget approved by the City Council on on June 14, a give-back of a 1 percent salary raise by the teachers and the use of $360,000 in school-choice funds to ensure programming.
Superintendent James Montepare said the reductions include the elimination of a director of curriculum.
That budget was built on hope that a Proposition 2 1/2 override would be pass; it didn't and Mayor Richard Alcombright will have to present a "Plan B" budget to the council on July 26 that covers a $1.4 million deficit.
"[The school reductions] all comes out to about $1.3 million worth of cuts this year because when we start this process and put everything in, we topped out at about $16.54 million," said Montepare. "So to get to ground zero, we cut about $700,300."
The school system could only cut about $340,000 this round before running afoul of state-mandated minimum spending. "We're right on, we wouldn't want to go any closer," said Montepare of further reductions.
Some $36,000 has been cut out of the operational side, including automobile expenses for the superintendent and business manager and reducations in contracted services and maintenance.
The bigger hit was in salary reductions, with the elimination of the curriculum director ($66,752), a tech teacher at Drury ($58,182), Sullivan kindergarten teacher ($45,000), and a science post ($45,000) at Brayton. Added back in are a Drury High physical education teacher and a speech pathologist.
Committee member Mary Lou Acetta expressed concern about taking resources from Brayton School. "It's the largest population and a population that needs a lot of services."
Montepare said when the budget review started, "we really tried to make sure that all of the bases were covered, and I think we juggled some positions around to accommodate some of the higher-number classrooms."
Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said the budget he will bring before the Finance Committee on Monday shows a lot of compromise.
The budget reflects the loss of 10.5 teaching positions, three administrative positions, four teaching assistant posts, a custodial job and a half-time tutor. Some of the posts are being left vacant because of retirements, some staff members are being moved into grant-funded positions or having hours reduced, and about six are losing their jobs.
At the same time, the schools "are bursting at the seams," said Montepare, despite a state study that forecast a drop in enrollment.
"I don't see it going down," he said. "They said we'd have 1,300 kids three years from now; we're at 1,600. We're not going to lose 300 kids in three years."
Committee member William G. Schrade Jr. noted that Montepare was taking on yet another role with the loss of a curriculum director; he's down three administrative positions.
"I appreciate everything you've done and support it ... but you're wearing about 17 different hats as superintendent," he said, adding the schools will have to start refilling those positions because "at some point you're going to want to retire."
Editor's Note: We had our amounts backward and have fixed them.
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Council OKs BYOB But Eyes Regulations
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Big Shirl's Kitchen was given the go-ahead to allow its customers to bring in their own beer and wine but the City Council will be looking at ways to regulate the practice.
The council on Tuesday referred a request to create an ordinance related to customers bringing their own beer or wine to dining establishments to the General Government Committee. The issue was brought to the council by Mayor Richard Alcombright on behalf of big Shirl's owners Renee and Mark Lapier.
The Lapiers have recently extended their hours to offer dinner and want to allow BYOB, or "bring your own bottle." The city solicitor said the practice is legal and the License Commission said it does not fall under its purview. The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission limits BYOB to eating establishments that do not have alcohol licenses.
Renee and Mark Lapier's plan to let customers bring their own bottles (of beer or wine) during dinner service; their restaurant won the qualified endorsement of the City Council.
"I would like to see this go to committee and move along as fast as possible," said the mayor. "They don't want to do it without the blessing of the city in some form. ... They're looking for guidance here."
Alcombright said he'd looked into other municipalities that had put conditions on brown bag or BYOB ordinances.
Councilor David Lamarre, former chairman of the License Commission, raised the question of who would be responsible and why the Lapiers didn't go through the more formal licensing process.
"You're moving way too quickly on this ... there will be a whole lot more to this issue than meets the eye," he said, adding a license should not be hard to get. "Historically, there have been very few problems with issuing a license to a requester."
Mark Lapier said his 40-seat restaurant was too small for the coolers necessary to stock beer and wine and that he didn't want to be a bar.
"I'm asking for convenience for my customers for 12 hours," he said. "The more we do in business is more taxes for our city. ... We have a high-end clientele; nobody's going to throw down a 30-pack."
Renee Lapier said they would be willing to pay a fee for a permit or registration and that the waitresses at Big Shirl's all had TIPS, Training for Intervention Procedures.
President Ronald Boucher said Pittsfield has no ordinance and has had no issues with BYOB.
"I don't have a problem with it," he said. "We should maybe put some language in place to protect ourselves down the road in case other venues want to do it."
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