PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Jay Hamling starts by listening.
And his patient will tell them what's wrong and then he'll try to figure out not only what is causing the problem and how to fix it. It's what's he does. He's a nurse.
But he also has a background in sales. So, it's pretty easy for him to just strike up a conversation with somebody he doesn't know. And he has a background in broadcasting so if he has something to explain, he feels he can do it effectively.
Together, those are the tools Hamling believes will make him an effective city councilor. Hamling is running for an at large seat on the council.
"I don't think anybody gets into politics to do a bad job. I don't think anybody runs with the intention of doing a bad job. But I think there are some things that could be done a little bit better," Hamling said.
The 37-year-old Pittsfield native has always had an interest in politics and has been closely following city government for some time now. He sees the council as a position where he can help as many people as possible in the city.
"I've just always been really involved with, or at least following, city politics as much as I can. I just want to try to make a difference," Hamling said.
Hamling hasn't run for office before, nor has he helped with other campaigns - which he says shows that he doesn't have any specific allegiances to anybody currently involved. He thought about running in the past but he was raising a young son on his own and his mother was sick. But, those personal issues no longer stand in his way.
One thing he's realized in talking about city government is that the decisions aren't always fully explained. He said often he'd question a decision and people in local government would attribute what happened to a private conversation that was held.
"That bothers me. I really believe in transparency. If there is information out there, I think we should all have access to that same information and have that same conversation. It shouldn't be a private conversation, especially if it has to do with our money," Hamling said.
He recognizes that not everybody in the city will be happy with the decisions being made. But that's where he feels his past experience in sales and broadcasting comes into play. He feels when a decision has been made, he has the ability to go back to the residents and clearly articulate what happened.
"You can't please everybody but to do what is right for the most folks, to what is best for the majority of the people that are living or working in the city, is what we have to get down to. That's a balancing act," Hamling said, adding that he'll be looking to go to sleep at night knowing that whichever side he stands on regarding an issue is the one that will help the most people.
He says he brings the ability to stay level headed during a discussion, the ability to take a wider look at an issue, and the critical thinking skills to think through all aspects of an issue and get to the root causes and fixes are skills he brings to the dais. But, his political motivation stem from a more personal place.
"I'm a father so I need to worry about if my kids are going to go to school, are they going to be safe in school? Or can they go to the park and play and be safe in that park from other kids who may be antagonizing other folks, safe from finding a syringe on the ground, safe from anybody else who may be in the park? Safety is a big concern of mine," Hamling said.
"Overall I do feel safe in the city and overall I think we are doing a pretty good job. But one example is the children that were recruited to gang up on some people. And then to find out that Reid Middle School did not have a school resource officer for some time, that alarmed me."
He worries about his father who is 70 years old and struggles to balance medical costs with utility bills with property taxes. He worries about his cousin who finds use syringes on the ground in the neighborhood frequently.
Young and old and all in between, Hamling sees the city council seat as a place to help solve concerns for all.
"I think I've always had a desire to help as many people as possible could and find a way to do that," Hamling said.
When it comes to safety, Hamling believes the city needs to look at ways to further recruit new police officers. The city budgets for 99 officers but has not been able to fill all of those jobs.
Hamling would like to bolster recruitment programs, possibly recreating what the schools are doing in partnership with a university in North Carolina to attract new teachers, or by adding to the existing police explorer program to get more local children interested in becoming police officers.
"I do think we need to look at where we are going to get officers from. Is it new recruits? Is it maybe trying to woo some folks from other areas?" Hamling said.
Infrastructure is something that he believes is something all can agree on. He said he'd like to place a focus on getting a better bang for the city's buck by purchasing higher quality materials upfront and making road repairs that will last longer.
"Everybody wants the same things overall. Nobody wants to drive on a poorly paved road. Nobody wants to have to worry about a pothole. Everybody wants to be able to see the lines on the road. Everybody wants their roads paved and sanded and salted in the winter time," Hamling said.
And for his father, he knows taxes can become a burden. Hamling says he doesn't believe the taxes can be lowered at this point but thinks the money collected should be prioritized on making sure the basics are done well.
"I don't want to increase our taxes. I'm not going to say lower taxes because I think the services that are rendered and the services that are necessary to be rendered, there needs to be a way to obtain those funds and that's through taxes. But it is the quality of the services that we are receiving for those taxes," Hamling said, specifically eyeing the taxes brought in from marijuana sales as a revenue booster to help make those additional investments.
Another priority for Hamling is jobs. He said the vocation programs and equipment at the newly built Taconic High School will pay dividends in making sure the students are trained to take the jobs and he'd like to see that grow. He said job training programs should be a focus to build the economy. He'd like to see programs for health care and for computer science, programs that will help create a pipeline of skilled workers to take jobs at local companies and even attract new employers.
"Growth from within is an excellent way to go," he said.
That extends to helping people who are looking to change jobs, just as he did. He started his career in sales and he worked part-time as a radio personality years ago. He jumped around on various sales jobs but it didn't feel right, it didn't feel like it was what he wanted to do.
His then brother in law got sick, really sick. He realized that if somebody in the family just had a little bit more medical knowledge then the signs could have been noticed earlier. It was the push he needed. He took his money in his savings and put it toward going to Mildred Elley in Albany, N.Y. for nursing. He eventually got a job with Berkshire Health Systems, has worked his way up in the company, and now works at Williamstown Commons.
"I do genuinely love to help people and nursing is a way I can do that on a daily basis," Hamling said.
Meanwhile, he has been active local, mostly with the schools. He's coached youth football and Little League. He serves on the Williams School 5th Grade Committee. But he feels he can do more and has the background to do it.
"I can walk the walk but I can also talk the talk," Hamling said. "I just want to help move Pittsfield in the right direction."
Hamling is one of five candidates currently certified to be on the ballot. A total of 10 people have taken out papers for four at large seats so far, which could lead to a crowded field in the election.
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