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City Hall has been turned into a gallery. A reception will be held Thursday from 2 to 4.

North Adams Council OK's Delay on Commissioner Retirement

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco, right, and Police Director Michael Cozzaglio listen to the City Council debate Morocco's retirement.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council unanimously backed the mayor's request for legislative action to keep Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco on the job but not without debating the wisdom of maintaining the position.

The council passed the home-rule petition to the Legislature to override a city ordinance that appears to put Morocco in the uniformed division because his responsibilities are described as that of police and fire chief — and puts him in line for mandatory retirement.

The commissioner's impending retirement has been long considered by some the time to reconfigure the Public Safety Department in search of savings. But Morocco's not ready to retire just yet and Mayor Richard Alcombright agrees.

"It just leaves me with the idea that I thought we were going to have the opportunity to one, save money immediately and to plan long term and look at the issue," said Councilor Lisa Blackmer.

She and Councilor Keith Bona both said they had been approached by residents who wondered if it wasn't time for a change. "Over the past few years, there had been people talking about when he'd retire," said Bona, who waffled between eliminating the position to save money on one hand and Morocco's character and the mayor's need on the other.

Robert M. Moulton Jr., a former city councilor, added his voice, noting that only one other municipality, Springfield, a city of a 150,000, had a similar structure. "If you can find the mony go ahead but it's a good time for the council to look at the system and what else we have out there."

Alcombright said restructuring the department may happen but now was not the time to be doing it.

"If the Public Safety Committee at some point wants to take this and start to look at it I'd be happy work with them on it," he said, adding that losing the position would mean elevating the current directors to chiefs and promoting captains, which could wipe out any expected savings. "This is the model that we have until we as a community, as a mayor and as a council can take a look at what we want to do with public safety going forward."

Addressing councilors' concerns, Alcombright said the petition is specific to Morocco and will not change the ordinance should another commissioner be hired. It also doesn't have an end date, but "he doesn't intend to work forever."

Mayor Richard Alcombright said he was open to restructuring the Public Safety Department but it couldn't be done fast or easy.
Councilors Michael Boland, Gailanne Cariddi and Michael Bloom spoke in support of the petition, with Boland saying he trusted the mayor's judgment. "If the mayor is saying this is the person I need to ensure those [public safety] services are not compromised, my vote is an easy one."

Alcombright said Morocco's experience, leadership and administrative acumen are sorely needed at a time of budget cuts, an influx of young officers and firefighters, and a spike in property and drug crimes.

"My personal request for this is the commissioner position brings a ton of continuity back to my office," said Alcombright. "He can clearly see the needs of both departments, he can clearly be that tiebreaker. He's a tremendous grant writer."

Besides, he said, should Morocco retire he would have to hire a new commissioner. That was enough to decide Bona's vote; Councilor Alan Marden, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said his committee would look into the issue of restructuring.

"I think Commissioner Morocco is good for a few more years. He's not even gray yet," said resident Robert Cardimino. "Let's keep him around for awhile until he gets real gray and then get rid of him."

In other business:

►The council heard an update on the reconstruction of the Hadley Overpass, and the paving and streetscape projects.

► Heard a petition from resident Rachel Branch to ban cell phones while driving. Branch's petition detailed her sufferings after a car accident caused by someone driving while talking on a phone. The council had looked into that possibly more than a year ago but found that such regulation of motor vehicles is under the purview of the state.

► Approved the intermunicipal "veterans benefit district" agreement already adopted by the Williamstown and Adams selectmen. The agreement shares the city's veteran service officer with the two towns, which will be charged proportionately and in advance for the time the agent spends in their towns. He's scheduled to work mornings in North Adams and 2 1/2 hours for two afternoon in each town but will be available to all veterans during any office hours. The rest of his 37 1/2 hours will be spent in North Adams. His salary is just over $26,000, more than $6,000 of which will be paid by the other two towns. Alcombright said Clarksburg and Florida are considering joining the agreement.

► A matter on the disabilities commission was postponed to the next meeting for language and as was a sewer contract between Adams and the city. 

► Heard from Susan Lefaver of State Road about what she said have been violations of special permit conditions and contamination from an abutting business. The matter was referred back to the mayor's office and to the Planning Board.

The agenda with Branch's petition can be found here; the veterans services agreement here and the petition to the Legislature on Morocco's behalf here.

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MCLA Considering Temporary Homeless Housing on Campus

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is considering turning the vacant Berkshire Towers dorm into a temporary homeless shelter.
President James Birge said on Friday that the college is considering a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development that would supply needed housing for 50 homeless families.
"I look at the mission of the institution, and we talk about educating students to be responsible citizens," Birge said. "I think this models that mission."
Birge said residents would be mostly younger families. He assumed 50 families would generate 25 school-aged children in the Berkshire Towers.
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