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The City Council voted to postpone a decision on the Mohawk Theater until the next meeting.

North Adams Councilors Postpone Mohawk Theater Decision

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Superintendent Barbara Malkas asks the council for approval to submit a statement of interest for Greylock School. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council postponed once again an order authorizing the mayor to sell the Mohawk Theater. 
 
The decision follows a meeting of the Community Development Committee last Wednesday that drew dozens of attendees and focused on the council's ability to impose conditions on any sale. 
 
"What identified as our ideal course of action would be to postpone this paper until an RFP process has been concluded by the mayor's office," said City Councilor Benjamin Lamb, chairman of the Community Development Committee. "I do know that the mayor is waiting on legal counsel to review that suggestion to make sure it is in compliance everywhere it needs to be in compliance."
 
The order will be back on the agenda in two weeks. 
 
Mayor Thomas Bernard proposed last month to dispose of the landmark but long-vacant movie house and in line with the actions of the previous administration in trying to divest the city of "surplus" properties. 
 
The theater, however, incurred far more angst among officials and residents than previous properties like Notre Dame church and the old City Yard. It has been in part driven by nostalgia but largely by a hope held for years that the dormant property can be transformed.
 
The council spent two meetings debating the matter before sending it to committee, where residents, councilors and state Rep. John Barrett III, the mayor who acquired the property, weighed in. 
 
 "It was the consensus of the committee that this is such an important property, we would prefer to see concrete options before adopting this order," Councilor Eric Buddington, a member of the committee, said. "That was the reason for recommending postponement."
 
Councilors have wanted to ensure there are restrictions or limitations placed on the sale to avoid losing the marquee or allowing the structure to deteriorate. The City Council would have some say — voting for or against — if the bid proposal selected by the mayor was below the assessed value at $446,400. But anything over that would leave the selection to the mayor's discretion.
 
The question is whether the council has the legal ability to restrict or limit the mayor's executive power to dispose of property the City Council has determined surplus, or unnecessary. 
 
Stephen E. Marsters Jr., an associate with the city's solicitor, KP Law, told the committee last week that certain restrictions could be placed in a purchase-and-sale agreement but not to the detail of a lease agreement. 
 
"If it goes above assessed value, then I think that you've already authorized the mayor to sell the property with the existive ordinance," he said. "The sale of a city property requires the City Council to authorize the mayor to sell the property and to the extent that you made that authority contingent upon something, I think the council could legally have the ability to do that."
 
But, he added, there is an issue because it gets into the administrative duties of the executive in the city charter. 
 
Bernard, who was at the Drury boys' basketball game in Springfield on Tuesday night, had agreed with Marsters the week before. 
 
"I believe there are charter issues in this conversation that need to be brought up," he said at the Community Development meeting. "I won't speak to if the substance of an order were to be in violation of the charter. I don't how that would have to be resolved."
 
The mayor also took umbrage at the time at councilors' suggestions he might not bring forward all proposals that might be received, noting he had done so in the past. (All bids received on municipal projects are by their nature public.)
 
Council President Keith Bona at the committee meeting noted the council was could be making a precedent.
 
"We're setting something up that down the road that they can say, that's the way they did it then," he said.
 
In the end, the Community Development Committee recommended that the order authorizing the disposal of the Mohawk be postponed until the RFP process was completed, a recommendation that was accepted with little discussion on Tuesday night. 
 
The city solicitor is also expected to review any legal issues. 
 
The council also approved the submission of a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Authority. Superintendent of Schools Barbara Malkas presented the request in the mayor's absence. She pointed out that submitting the SOI, which the city has done annually for more than a dozen years, does not require the city to enter into any agreements. 
 
The SOI and the supporting documentation of the votes of the City Council and the School Committee must be submitted by April 6. The School Committee has already approved the submission.

Tags: community development,   Greylock School,   Mohawk Theater,   

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