PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Michael Merriam is looking to become part of "team Pittsfield" to help get things done collaboratively.
And right now, he's not seeing that in his current ward councilor. Merriam is now challenging Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell for a seat on the dais. Merriam said he feels the ward hasn't gotten the service that it should and believes he has the ability to work collaboratively to deliver that better.
"I feel like there has been a lack of representation in Ward 4. Basic things like streetlight repair and road repair, it just doesn't seem like anybody cares to get things done," Merriam said. "I figured I'd throw my hat into the ring. I want to help my neighbors and residents resolve issues."
Merriam feels that the incumbent Connell hasn't taken a team approach. Merriam believes the way Connell has treated department heads during council meetings have not done him any favors and feels Connell has been opposing items because of who presents them, not what is best for the ward.
"I've seen the way certain department heads are treated when they come before the City Council, totally unprofessional and a lack of respect, which is unacceptable in my opinion," Merriam said.
"The department heads don't work for the council, I get that, but it is a team. It is team Pittsfield and you need to treat each other with respect. If you don't treat department heads with respect, they are less likely to help you out when you need help with issues."
Merriam is running his second campaign for a council seat. Two years ago he ran in Ward 2 but had since moved to Ward 4. He's a Pittsfield native with two children in the school system and has been interested and involved with city government for years.
"I've always been involved in city government. I worked on numerous campaigns from state reps to city councilors. I've known [City Council President] Peter Marchetti for over 30 years and I've worked on every one of his campaigns with the exception of maybe one, and that was when I ran. I have a desire to serve," Merriam said.
"I was born and raised here. I have young kids. I'd like to see this a community where when they get older they want to return to. I'm definitely all for making this the best place it can be."
For the last eight years, he's been working for FedEx as a delivery driver, so he's been on just about every street in the city and has had plenty of conversations with residents. He feels he has a good sense of the things really care about and many of those, are the basics.
"I hear people say there are three things in the city I want. I want my roads plowed, I want my garbage picked up, and I want my kids to go to school," Merriam said.
That's why he's seeking a ward seat instead of running at-large. He feels addressing those items are particularly where he can excel.
"In my opinion, a ward councilor's top priority is the constituents in the ward. Obviously, I would be voting on all city issues but my main focus would be to take care of the residents of Ward 4," Merriam said.
Right now, he is hearing a lot of complaints about the roads. That'd be one of the first items he'd look to address. He said he'd be an advocate for adding additional staff to the highway department, possibly hiring seasonal workers, using workers from other departments, or a combination, to address potholes immediately in the spring.
"As soon as the weather breaks for the potholes and the [asphalt] plants are open, let's get a team and maybe we can take some of the Parks Department people and if we had 12 employees to fill potholes we could knock the city off in a couple of days as opposed to two or three months," Merriam said.
"We need to be better and need to be more efficient. Filling potholes in the middle of June is probably not ideal."
Raising two children - Shane and Hannah - with his partner Jenn, Merriam places a high value on supporting the city's education system. He said he'd be protecting that from financial cuts and look to find other areas in the city budget to shift more money to improve the schools where possible.
"My No. 1 priority would be to be a strong advocate for schools. Everybody I've talked to wants good schools, they want the best we can absolutely do. If that means we have to allocate a little bit more money, then I am for it," Merriam said.
"But, at the same time, we have to balance our education needs with our available funding. There are other priorities that we have but education has to be a top priority. We can't cut money out of the school budget just to cut money. That's not acceptable."
Crime is also a concern and Merriam said he would be supportive of fully staffing the Police and Fire Departments. He said that will keep overtime down, reducing the likelihood of officers or firefighters being injured on duty, and improve public said.
"We need to make sure our police and fire departments are fully staffed. That does a couple of things. One, it keeps the overtime down which is very costly and number two, you are less likely to get hurt because you aren't overworked," Merriam said.
"Police definitely, we have somewhat of a crime issue, I'd like to see more cops on the street doing similar things to what Officer [Darren] Derby does, community outreach and building those relationships. You can't do that with five or six police officers on a shift."
He'd like to see the fairly newly created Traffic Bureau be expanded. He said he often hears complaints about speeding but the bureau isn't that big so the hours and locations for patrol are limited. He'd like to see the state approve traffic cameras and have those installed at certain intersections to both improve enforcement and generate some revenue.
Merriam has different views on a number of recent hot topics than his opponent. Merriam supports the parking meters on North Street, saying it has been freeing up spaces and generating revenue for maintenance. He supported Mayor Linda Tyer's toter plan for trash pick up. And he supports the mayor's At Home in Pittsfield program. All of those issues Connell has voted in opposition.
The words "rubber stamp" have already been thrown around on social media about Merriam's candidacy. But that is "totally false," he said.
"The mayor and I have agreed on issues and we have disagreed on issues. Just because you agree on an issue doesn't make you a rubber stamp. You have to have a bigger vision and I feel like a lot of times my opponent has been objecting to something because of who proposes it," Merriam said.
"People have already said 'oh, you are a rubber stamp for the mayor.' That's not true. We have agreed on some stuff and disagreed on some stuff."
Merriam said he was originally against the toter plan when the mayor proposed it. It was only later after various community meetings, hearing alternatives, and weighing the issues that he was swayed to support it. He said he'd push to find ways to reduce the cost of trash collection and removal.
Merriam also said he doesn't support the proposed pickleball courts at Springside Park, but would if another location was found. The mayor believes in that location.
"If they can find another spot for it, I'd support it 100 percent. I think it is great people want to get together and play the game. I'm just not sure if Springside is the right place for it," Merriam said.
Merriam said he'll work with anybody on any issue and will vote based on what's best for Pittsfield and what the constituents in the ward think.
"It doesn't matter who proposes something, I am willing to look at it with an open mind and if it is good for Pittsfield, support it, if it is not good for Pittsfield, not support it. That is just doing your job," Merriam said.
Whether it is reducing the cost for items in the budget like trash collection, or finding ways to more efficiently provide services, to reaching out to local businesses and finding ways to support their growth, it is a "group effort" for Merriam and he feels he can serve an important role in that group.
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