Williamstown: Fuls Looks to Build Consensus
|Gary Fuls has a personal stake in the three major issues facing the town in the coming years: affordable housing, public safety facilities and the high school.|
Editor's Note: Each of the four candidates for two open seats on the Williamstown Board of Selectmen sat down with iBerkshires.com to talk about the issues facing the town. This week, we are running excerpts from those conversations.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Gary Fuls lays claim to being the only selectmen candidate who has a stake in all the major issues facing the town.
As a call volunteer firefighter for the last 12 years, he understands the needs for a new police and fire station. As a father of four daughters at Williamstown Elementary School, he is invested in the future of Mount Greylock Regional junior-senior high school. As someone who has family members looking to move to Williamstown, he is concerned about affordable housing.
As a budding entrepreneur who plans to open his own real estate business this spring, the Amesbury native and MCLA graduate also has economic development on his radar.
Q: Your website (www.selectgary.com) does a really good job of explaining your priorities, and with all the big capital projects mentioned in there [the high school, the police station, the fire station, affordable housing], can the town afford to do it all?
A: Well, one of my thoughts was the figures before a year or so ago, when they estimated what it would cost for a the police, fire and new school, they said it would be, what .. $500 per person it was going to go up? But the past two years, taxes went up, just on my itty-bitty house, $400 two years in a row. So if it's going to happen anyway, why not get the school, police and fire?
Q: Well, it would go up twice that amount, wouldn't it?
A: But at least we'd get something from it. We'd have something to show for it.
We're going to have to sit down and look at the numbers again. Let's get the real numbers from the real people. Look at the people we have in this town. We could figure out anything. Look at the economists, the environmentalists. With everything we have between the high school teachers, the professors, all the business people, the attorneys — we have everything we need. We are so fortunate with the resources we have just in our town.
We're unique compared to most places anywhere in the Berkshires, let alone the state. I think we need to use the people we have a little bit more.
Q: Do you have specific people in mind who you'd want to see brought into the conversations on town committees?
A: There are some awesome people in there already. I don't want to call people out because it's mean to do that before you talk to them.
Q: But are there people you would go to?
A: Oh, yeah, there are so many people. Think of the people who have started companies in this town. They've been through this — some of them on a much bigger scale. Why not use the resources that we have?
When you hear about all these committees and commissions coming in and it's a third-party outside source, it drives you nuts because you know this town would have a better commission or committee than most. When everything is said and done, the town should create its own commission and rent it out to other towns — bring some revenue back [laugh].
Q: Do you have a sense there's a disconnect between the fire district and the town?
A: I think it's more of a perception thing that people think that. I think anytime we need something — and by 'we,' I mean the Fire Department — such as a truck or equipment, it's either from a grant or money that's been saved over years and years. We don't take out a bond or the long-term loans. We pay for it. I don't think people understand the ability the Fire Department has as its own district.
But if someone can prove that it works better as a model for the Fire Department to be within in the town, prove it. That's what people are missing a lot: If you have a better idea, bring it forward. People need to hear it.
If you think the police and fire station should be together or separate, wherever you are, just prove it. Show the numbers. No emotion, just facts. That's all you need.
Q: Do you think they should be together or separate?
A: I'm not sure where the chiefs stand on that. I would have to see what comes out with the new study. But it's the same thing with the school: Let's get all the facts on it. What numbers do you really need? Is there space? Is there not space? The engineers are going to figure out that stuff, and it's tough to say, 'Oh, it should be this.' I don't have that report yet to say whether it should be together or not.
Ideally, I think if you're driving into town on Route 2, and you saw where the [Williamstown] Financial Center was, and that was the police station, just a beautiful looking building, that would be pretty impressive driving in. And then if you went down and — whether it's the Lehovic property or wherever — and there was a nice new fire station. And then you get to the college. That's pretty impressive. It shows you're professional. It shows you're a real community.
But I don't know if makes sense to be all in one. I don't have that report. Like I tell everybody: Prove to me why it should be together or prove to me why they should be separate. Facts, not emotion.
You've got to look at everything from both sides. That's what drives me nuts. People have this tunnel vision. Listen, you love what you love and you have a passion for it. I get that. But, you know what? There are other people out there who can help you, and you can help other people at the same time. I just think people need to look at things from both sides and get the facts. That's what drives me nuts.
Q: And then of course the other piece is the high school, which brings in another, potentially large expenditure.
A: I don't know where they're going for that. ...
You've got to remember, next year, my oldest daughter goes to Mount Greylock, and for the next 16 years after that — no kidding — I will have at least one daughter going to that school. So the high school is kind of a big deal for me, as it is for 80 percent of the people here.
Again, the tunnel vision. People think because you're a firefighter, all you care about is the Fire Department. That's not true. The school is kind of important to me.
Low-income housing — my dad is moving here in less than two weeks. I've been fortunate that Allen Jezouit has given me an incredible deal to help my dad get up here and situated in one of his rentals. And Allen's running Hugh's campaign.
Again, that's the reason why you stay here — the people you get to know, like Allen, and all those guys.
Low-income housing — we need more than we have right now.
The guy running my campaign, Dylan [Stafford] is on the Affordable Housing Committee. We're all entwined. Everybody wants affordable housing for people. But what's the need? What's the cost? We can Monday morning quarterback all we want about what happened a couple of weeks ago, but this is what we have now, deal with it.
Why can't we turn that building into a template for all the new ones? Williamstown has a chance to take the bull by the horns here and create some incredible low-income housing, and that could be a template for the next low-income housing project and make it easier to pass. We could say, 'This is what we did. Look at this.' It could be a template countywide. Why not be the pioneers on this?
Q: You mentioned Monday morning quarterbacking, and I'm going to ask you to do a little of that now. Has there been anything — and it doesn't have to be what happened two weeks ago, but it could be — where you looked at a decision the town made and thought you might have done things differently?
A: Everyone agrees we want more low income housing. Everyone agrees we shouldn't kill polar bears. But it's a question of what extent. Should there be 85 units or should there be 64. I didn't get to see all the reports and have all the information they did in making their decision. ... So if I agree they should have gone the way they did, I'm not for affordable housing? Or am I? If I don't agree with what they did, now I'm supposed to go on the record disagreeing with someone I'm trying to work with [Ronald Turbin, who voted with departing Selectmen Jane Allen and David Rempell on the affordable housing RFPs]. It's a Catch-22.
You don't want to Monday morning quarterback. They made their decision with the information they had at that time. When I come in, this is what we have. Deal with that and go forward. That's just how it is.
But we're fortunate we have something passed. Now that we have this opportunity, why not go crazy and get it done.
We're in a good position. It sounds like the school's shaping up. Those guys on the School Committee kill themselves. So do the guys on the Affordable Housing Committee.
Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Select Board would be your first town government position?
Q: One side of that is it gives you a fresh perspective. The other side is the question of inexperience. How do you address that?
A: Well, from everything I've ever heard from people on the Select Board, they'll tell you how fantastic Mr. Fohlin is. Whether you agree with everything he says or not, he seems to be a pretty darn good leader, and people love him. I think to learn under him would be an incredible opportunity.
No matter who gets in there, there's going to be a learning curve. I don't think anyone else running has been a selectman before. They may have been on other groups. But it's just different skill sets and different areas.
I'm unique in that every issue is my issue.
Q: You mention Mr. Fohlin. One thing that whoever is elected to the board more than likely will have to deal with in the next three years is helping to find his replacement.
A: Or convince him to stay, one or the other. One of the most important things for the board, is you need to be in charge and keep the leadership. That means keep him if you can. What's another 20, 30 years? He'll be fine.
Q: I don't think that's going to be the Select Board's decision to make.
A: I know.
Q: And he's dropped many a hint that he is not going to be town manager forever. What would you be looking for in the next town manager?
A: I think you're going to have to have somebody who is going to understand there are two sides to every story and someone who is not afraid to speak out and say, 'Lets' get the facts.' Again, that's the theme to everything: facts, not emotion. Bring everybody together and get things done, for whatever project it is.
Definitely you need someone with the leadership skills who will say something when needed. It's about bringing people together. You can see from the votes that we're not that far off on many things. When you lose a vote by 14 votes, for whatever it is, that means you weren't that far off.
Engage other people. ... What are their concerns and questions? Those questions could be the key to saving a whole lot of money. You want people to be coming to the board — more people, more ideas. Just take a step back and listen to everybody.
Q: You're the fourth candidate I've talked to and the first one I didn't ask this question at the beginning of the conversation: What more can the town be doing to support economic development?
A: Again, that's a tough one because I don't think anyone has all the answers just yet. But again, look at the people we have in town in terms of the economists and entrepreneurs and everyone.
Q: Well, you're an entrepreneur.
A: I'm getting there. I'm not at the same level as others. But that's the goal, to have more people be working and self-sufficient. Why aren't we reaching out more to the leaders in our town. Wouldn't that be the first step?
Like manufacturing with Hugh [Daley]. I don't think we're going to be a manufacturing hub. I don't think anyone does. But look at what he's done. Look at the other people who are succeeding. Get these points of view with a logical time frame and a logical sense of where we're at and what we can do. We have the people, that's the thing. We can create the jobs. We just have to figure out where we want to go.
Q: Where do you want to go?
A: Initially, let's use what we have in terms of the tourism and the Williams alumni, the people who come back. ... I think we're going to have reach out to the other communities and do some ventures back and forth, whether it be South County or North County — North Adams, Lanesborough, Hancock, whatever we've got to do. We're going to have reach out, because we're pretty small.
Q: There are a lot of groups — the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, etc. — does the town need to be more involved with those agencies?
A: I would think so. I'm a little biased by being in the [Berkshire Chamber's] Berkshire Leadership Program. The Chamber is a huge bonus for our county. They do so much. I think we need to get them to focus up here a little bit more. But all we've really got to do is ask.
I'm going to try to help out, when things settle down in a few weeks, help out the Mount down there with some different ideas and marketing. Why aren't we trying to cooperate more among the different museums and MoCA and everything to get people to visit and circle around to all of them.
And then, what are we doing to tap into the college? The people coming out of there — what are we doing to inspire them to stay here? Everybody leaves the Berkshires, and then they realize, 'Oh my God, why did I leave? I've got to go back.' But we're losing that gap where we could have had so much productivity and great ideas from them.
That's a big theme for the Berkshire Leadership Program: What are we going to do to keep them here? The biggest workforce in the county is 65 and over. We've got to change that. Why not start in your own backyard? It's simple steps. Start something, let it grow and bring it to other people.
That's the nice thing with the Leadership Program. I've met so many people from throughout the county who say, 'You guys have an opportunity here.'
Q: How long does the Berkshire Leadership Program last?
A: It's one class a year. It goes for 10 weeks, and you go and meet the biggest leaders throughout the county in health and education or whatever one day a week.
Economic development? We can come up with it, but I think it has to be a collaborative effort.
Bring people together, that's all we've got to do. And that's what I'm doing. I know everybody in every group. Why not help bring everybody together?
Q: One of the wedge issues in town that prevented people from coming together was the Lowry property and whether it could be developed. And that's really binary — it's either developed or it's not.
A: From what I've seen, hasn't that issue been going for 20-something years? It's never been approved [for development] and it's not going to be.
Q: So it's time to give up?
A: Why are we looking at agricultural land? Maybe we have to, but I don't have every report that other people had. What is our need? What are our exact numbers? What do we need? How many homes, how many rental properties are vacant right now?
Q: The impetus for the most recent debate, as you know, was the idea of recreating something like the Spruces in an area you could have a cluster of small, individual homes. There is no other part of town close to town water because the water line doesn't extend — as you well know.
A: I'm painfully aware of that.
Q: So that's what you're left with [Lowry]?
A: That's going to come up over and over again. I don't see that ever going away.
Q: And when it does, it creates division.
A: It does, but at the same time, what are we doing and who are we working with among people in town about what else we have for housing that has not been utilized. Maybe we have options we haven't even considered. Maybe someone's willing to do a land swap. Nobody's asking people these things, I don't think.
For all I know, maybe they have, and the answer is no. But we need to have people asking the questions.
It's communication. It's always communication. Any industry, any job. My house with four daughters in it, trust me, things can go awry quickly if you don't communicate.
The annual town election is Tuesday, May 13, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Williamstown Elementary School.
Williamstown: Hogeland Looking to Step Up to Selectman
|Andrew Hogeland has served on a number of town boards; this election he's trying for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.|
Editor's Note: Each of the four candidates for two open seats on the Williamstown Board of Selectmen sat down with iBerkshires.com to talk about the issues facing the town. This week, we are running excerpts from those conversations.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Andrew Hogeland has served Williamstown on its Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Finance Committee and the recently formed ad hoc Public Safety Building Study Committee.
This month, he hopes to add Board of Selectmen to that list.
The recently retired attorney and Williams College graduate says his experience in town government will be an asset as the board faces a number of capital improvement projects. And his experience as a Williams alum who came "home" to finish his career is one he hopes the town can encourage other alumni to duplicate.
In Hogeland's case, his career path took him to New York University for law school, private practice and six years in the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and, finally, General Electric and Sabic in Pittsfield.
The Philadelphia native and his wife, Anne, another Williams alumna, put three daughters through Williamstown's schools.
Q: Are your daughters all around here?
A: One's in Pittsfield. One is in Colorado and one is mostly in Seattle. We had a remarkable year last year. They all graduated from something, and they all had jobs within a week, so that was a pleasant surprise.
Q: And that leads to the next part of our conversation. A pleasant surprise that at least one of your daughters was able to find a job in her career in Berkshire County?
A: Yeah, in nursing, for her, which was good. For the other two, I think leaving here didn't have anything to do with the job situation. I think it was other things going on.
It wasn't the economy that made them leave.
But for segue purposes, yeah, I think it would be great if the town paid more affirmative attention to economic development. I assume the Chamber of Commerce does some, but they could probably do more. I don't think the town as a town has done much focus on that.
The hope would be to come up with a plan and a schedule and a program for trying to lure more people and businesses to town.
Q: Do you see that as the town working more closely with some of the existing infrastructure that is there, like 1Berkshire or the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission?
A: I think probably part of the initial phase would be to understand what organizations like the chambers of commerce do and see what we as a town government can do to add to or supplement that process. The first part for me is learning what's already out there and how we can add to it.
The other leveraging part for me, besides the chambers of commerce, would be talking more specifically with the college about using their contacts and their alumni to see if we should suggest their alumni come back to town or stay in town.
The college alumni are people who, in many respects, are pre-screened, in that they already know what Williamstown's all about. The idea is if they like it here and like to come back for reunions at least, maybe they should come back and do something permanent.
Q: And do it before they're of retirement age?
A: Yes. I think the benefit to the town is to have people whose jobs are not geographically limited, but who can work out of an office or work on a computer. Why not work here in this pleasant environment rather than wherever they happen to be today.
Q: Of course, telecommuters don't necessarily bring other jobs with them.
A: Not necessarily, but I think there are a few cases where people have worked for a company for many years, and the company allows them to work out of Williamstown out of their house. I'd rather have that in the house than someone who is looking for work in that house. It's partly adding a job, but it also means that person will be spending their money in the neighborhood. They'll be going to restaurants. They'll be buying tickets to movies. They'll be buying cars, whatever. So it's the ripple effect of having people here with income that would help the town longer term.
Q: And the other piece is the tourism side of economic development, which I think everyone was pretty much in agreement about at the League of Women Voters forum. Some will say that the tourism jobs are not necessarily always good-paying jobs and often times they're seasonal jobs. There's some question of whether that's the kind of economic development the town ought to be pursuing.
A: Part of the reality is a lot of the economy today is based on tourism. Since we have that, one direction is to build on that.
Another direction is to look for jobs like ... I think I called them 'satellite jobs.' So what other industries or businesses would want to be near an academic center or near an arts center.
I think I gave the example of there used to be the Roper Public Opinion Research Center, which was housed at Williams College, which brought some number of jobs. It wasn't a college job or a tourist job, but they worked with the faculty.
The other example is the conservation lab at the Clark. There's no reason for an art museum to need a conservation lab, but happily they do, and there is some number of jobs there.
So part of the effort would be to talk to the people at the college and at the Clark about what other jobs might want to be located near them.
I don't think either one of those institutions is really in the business of job creation, but if they think about it differently, they might find a way to advance their own programs that creates jobs in the community as well.
Q: Let's move away from jobs for a moment because there was a lot of talk about economic development at the League of Women Voters forum. What are some of the other priorities that you see for the town or some other issues you see coming up in the next three years that the Select Board is going to have to address?
A: I think a big need is going to be intelligent financial planning on the three proposed capital projects: police, fire and high school.
I think it would be difficult to pay for them all at the same time, so part of the challenge is to look at the timing and sequencing of those three projects to see how we can mitigate the impact on the tax rate.
Q: In the last, say, five years have there been any times when you thought the town took a wrong turn?
A: I think initial focus on affordable housing got off to a bad start, but I think that over the last year, that effort recovered and they were doing an intelligent analysis and an RFP process on two different alternatives.
I think that was a positive improvement over where we were a year ago.
But nothing else comes to mind.
Partly we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the town manager, who has been able to keep the town running on a tight budget for many years, so we're in a good cash position. We have a lot of levy capacity left if we happen to need it. So that's helped to smooth out a lot of potentially rough paths.
Q: The town manager position might be one of the big challenges the Select Board faces in the next three years.
A: I think it's the unspoken agenda item, which is we may be asked to replace Peter Fohlin sometime, soon, whenever he decides to retire. As you know, he's hinted broadly that some time in the not so distant future, he may do that. I expect there's a good chance that some time in the next three years, we may be asked to hire a new town manager.
Q: And as one of the people who might be asked to conduct those interviews and that search process, what would you be looking for in a town manager?
A: I think the baseline skill set has to be a high level of competence and experience in the subject matter.
But I'd also be curious to see what the town manager candidates have in the way of economic development experience. At least from looking at the papers, other towns have people who do this job. We don't, and maybe there's a good reason for that, but I'd be curious to ask candidates what they have done or could do for that kind of development.
Q: I asked a moment ago what in the last five years the town may have done wrong. Can you point to anything that's happened that we haven't mentioned that the town has really gotten right in the same time frame?
A: I think what the town's done right is to be on a very fiscally responsible path in terms of keeping budget increases to a tolerable minimum and running the place efficiently.
Q: All but one of the candidates for Select Board is sitting on at least one town committee. Why is that kind of experience important?
A: I think several of the bigger issues facing the town are around the three building projects, and I've worked on all three. So in terms of being up to date and engaged in what's going on, I think that would help me significantly, I think, if I take the position.
The other experience I've been lucky to have is sitting on the Finance Committee for three years. That's been a great way to understand better the finances and especially the long-term debt picture of the town. So i think my learning curve will not be as steep if I didn't have all these experiences.
And longer ago I was on the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission, and I think it will be helpful to understand what those boards do.
Q: You already alluded to where the town was a year ago in terms of the housing issue and the rancor and all that. I'll take some of the blame for this, but you've been identified with the 'timeout' idea. Did that work?
A: I think it definitely worked. I think for the next year, the housing committee organized steps to issue requests for proposals, they did listening sessions throughout the town. They got two proposals, both of which they thought could do the job. And it's led to a decision. So I think as a process, taking that timeout gave us a much better informed basis for a decision.
Q: But the town never did use that time to fully look at the Lowry property. The Select Board asked the Conservation Commission to look at it and a month later withdrew the request. So, from that standpoint, and to the extent that building on Lowry was the lightning rod issue, was it a success?
A: I think the issue should be phrased in practical terms, which is where do we have the best chance of building affordable housing. The housing committee decided they had a better chance of building on Water Street or Photech, and they — I think correctly — decided that they would focus their attention on those two properties.
The Lowry property, for me, presents a large practical concern, which is it's not currently available. And you could lose many years of money, time and resources in trying to determine whether or not it is available.
So if I was in a position of looking at three properties and one had a much more difficult set of challenges, like Lowry did, in even getting it to be available, I'd rather spend my time on the two that have a better chance of success.
Q: Do you have specific thoughts about the major capital projects the town is facing?
A: I think maybe the other thing to point out on the school and the police and fire department issue is we're going to be asked to pay for something on those projects in the next two to three years. Coincidentally, the town's long-term debt has several bond payments which will end at about the same time.
So in 2017 and 2018, our long-term debt payments go down, by I think it's about $300,000, more or less. So coincidentally, that's an opportune time to ask people to incur new debt for one of these other projects.
So in terms of long-term planning, we're lucky there's an intersection coming up where our debt payments go down at the same time we're asked to maybe take on some new things. That would mitigate the tax increase, I think.
Q: And the feasibility study vote coming up with the high school?
A: With the feasibility study, what resonates the most with me is it's a chance that only comes around once every several years. To pass up this chance, you're basically asking to pay 100 percent of everything rather than 45 percent of everything. By voting for the feasibility study, you're getting the knowledge and also keeping alive the hope that someone else is going to pay for 55 percent of the school.
It's 55 from the state and 15 from Lanesborough [with the MSBA]. So in terms of opportunity leveraging, Williamstown is paying 30 percent of a huge project instead of 60 percent.
But I don't know what Lanesborough's going to do.
Q: What was your reaction to the town's decision on the affordable housing RFPs?
A: One thing I'd say about the housing decision is, I think it would be nice to orient ourselves toward making that decision effective.
I guess I was glad to hear the chairman of the housing committee, Van Ellet, last night speak up and say the housing committee is committed to making the Photech site a positive solution. Rather than revisiting the past on this, we should focus our efforts on making sure the Photech site is useful for a project that takes into consideration the design criteria around flood plains and neighbors.
The neighbors will need to be able to tolerate the final design. Their voices will need to be heard. As of today I'm optimistic we'd be able to find some solution that avoids flood plains and too many objections.
Q: Is the 'town-gown' relationship strong enough to help find solutions to Williamstown's economic issues?
A: The mission, if we could pull this off, would be to have both the town and the college think outside the box more about longer term economic development.
The college is primarily in the business of education, so it's not no their agenda to think about economic development. But I think they recognize, as the Clark recognizes that in order to attract employees to the area, it would be nice to have an area that has some economic vitality to it as well as good schools.
I think they'll recognize it's in their interest to support these areas. And then the conversation will be what can each of us do specifically to make all that happen.
The annual town election is Tuesday, May 13, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Williamstown Elementary School.
Few Candidates Submit Nomination Papers For Lanesborough Election
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Unless someone launches a write-in campaign, the pool of elected officials is going to stay mostly the same.
By Tuesday's deadline to submit nomination papers for the next election, only incumbents returned papers and there is no competition for any of the seats. And, there are a number of seats with no candidates.
For selectmen, only Henry "Hank" Sayers returned nomination papers. Sayers was elected last year during a special election to replace Robert Barton, who resigned after winning a seat on the School Committee. Longtime School Committee member Regina DiLego is also looking to return to that board.
Two Finance Committee seats are on the ballot, but only one candidate -— incumbent Christine Galib — submitted paperwork. William Steven's seat is also up for election but he did not take out nomination papers.
Planning Board is the same, with two seats and only one candidate. Ronald Tinkham returned papers for the five-year term while Robert Rubin did not submit papers for a re-election campaign.
Three Sewer Commission seats and a tree warden position also saw no candidates. However, the Board of Selectmen are proposing to move both of those posts to appointed positions because of a perpetual lack of interest in serving.
Robert Reilly submitted his paperwork to return as moderator. Jane Stevens and Prudence Barton are both running for re-election as library trustees. And Amy Szczepaniak is looking to return as a cemetery trustee.
The election is on June 17.
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.
Four Races on Cheshire Town Election Ballot
CHESHIRE, Mass. — There several races on the ballot this year for the annual town election, set for Monday, May 5, at the Senior Center on School Street.
The town has two races for two seats on the Board of Selectmen this year, with three newcomers on the ballot for one of them, ensuring at least one new face on the board.
James M. Boyle of Daniels Terrace, Robert S. Ciskowski of South State Road and Karmen B. Field-Mitchell of West Mountain Road are vying for the one-year seat.
E. Richard Scholz, of Stafford Hill Road, will challenge longtime incumbent Paul F. Astorino of Meadview Drive for the three-year term.
There is also a race for the two-year term on the Board of Health between Michael J. Biagini Jr. of Richmond Street and James Geary of Meadowview Drive.
For Water Commission, Michael J. Biagini and Rick Gurney of Greylock Road will face off for a one-year term.
Incumbents running for re-election are Moderator Edmund St. John IV, one year; Board of Health member Jeffrey B. Warner, one year; Cemetery Commissioner Neil W. Baker, three years; Water Commissioner Donald F. Rueger, three years; Planning Board member Christopher Walsh, five years; Planning Board member Daniel L. Speth, one year; and Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee, Cheshire representative Edmund St. John IV and Adams representative Regina Hill, both for three years.