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Auron Stark is seeking an at large seat on the council.

Stark Looks to Create 'Sustainability' With Pittsfield Council Run

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A key word for Auron Stark is "sustainable."
 
Stark believes there are plenty of ways for the city to become financially sustainable and not be so dependent on property taxes and outside businesses. He sees a lot of problems in the city, he has seen the struggles of many in the community, and he believes the city can easily address a lot of those challenges.
 
But he doesn't see the current City Council doing so.
 
"I've been a part of the seedy underground. I've been a part of higher society. I've worked for millionaires. I've worked for corporations. I've had a full spectrum of life. When I look at the City Council I see a bunch of people who don't understand the majority of the people in our city," Stark said.  
 
"We have 40,000 people in Pittsfield and the majority of them are under the poverty line. They are hard-working, lower middle class, and poor class people. I don't see anybody up there that represents them. I don't see anybody up there that understands them."
 
Stark is running for an a-large seat on the City Council. He had pulled papers to run two years ago but ultimately a job offer meant he wouldn't have the time so he never returned them. But now, he's closing on a deal to own a business in downtown Pittsfield and wants to bring his experiences in life to benefit the people.
 
"I see a lot of people struggling for a lot of different reasons and I feel like a lot of those reasons are things we could easily deal with as a community. It is to the point where everything is falling apart in every direction and the only way that we are going to correct these problems is if we all come together," Stark said.
 
Stark grew up in Dalton and Hinsdale and had a tumultuous upbringing that ultimately led him to leave his home at the age of 16. He graduated from Wahconah Regional High School and then, on merit and scholarship, went to Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. There he studied photography and glass blowing in its art program. 
 
"I left school to try to make it as an artist in New York. That lasted about six months before I came back to the Berkshires. I moved to Las Vegas when I was 21. I spent 10 years out there," Stark said.
 
He's always kept hospitality as a job but he keeps busy with a sole proprietorship for his artwork. He ran his own photography business for a few years. Then he got into holistic medicine consulting and has been teaching reiki for 15 years. His life had some ups and downs. He's had times when he was doing well financially, times when he was homeless, and times when he resorted to selling drugs to survive.
 
He is gay. He is a libertarian. And he is in that odd demographic where he is just a bit too old to be a millennial and just a bit too young to be a Gen Xer. He believes all of those experiences have given him compassion for all residents. 
 
"I don't have to like you to respect you as a human being. I don't have to like you to respect your rights. I don't have to like you to support and legislate things in our city that will benefit you," Stark said.
 
He always kept an eye on politics, particularly on the federal level. In 2012, he became a huge supporter of Ron Paul's presidential bid, which pulled him even further into paying closer attention.
 
"I had been very disillusioned with federal politics. I was a big Ron Paul supporter when he ran for president and that was the first time I got really involved in politics on a larger level. I was just very disillusioned. I was one of those people, I complained a lot about all of the shit that was going wrong with our country and I had this epiphany one day that you can complain about shit all you want but at the end of the day, you have to do something about it," Stark said.
 
Shortly after he moved back to the Berkshires. Stark knew he wasn't in a position to influence national politics but he could do his part locally. He tried to get involved in the local level and ended up on the Hinsdale Finance Committee.
 
"I ended up running impromptu for selectmen that year. I lost by less than 50 votes and got written-in to the Finance Committee. I served just under a full term there. I was again disillusioned that the Finance Committee did not have any authority, it was all recommendations," Stark said.
 
He moved to Pittsfield and now manages Uncorked Wine & Beer Lounge and is looking to purchase the business. He made the decision that he wanted to run again and has been keenly on top of local issues debated by the City Council, has had conversations with various people in city government and hopes to bring a perspective he feels the council currently lacks.
 
"I have a lot of interesting knowledge and perspective that people here don't have. When I look at the City Council I see a bunch of people who represent a small demographic of our city," Stark said. 
 
He has a particular focus on sustainability for the long-term. For example, he said he doesn't see a reason why every city-owned building doesn't have solar panels to help generate electricity or why the city couldn't pass an ordinance to require churches to install solar. He believes in creating such things as food forests to help feed families.
 
Stark has an idea of taking vacant spaces and building greenhouses and small homes. The city could lease the building at an affordable cost provided the person takes care of a crop. Those crops are then sold at an affordable price at the farmer's market, helping to address issues people have with food security while providing revenue to the city.
 
"We could rent these spaces out for super cheap with the stipulation they maintain and qualify whatever crops are on that property. Now if we do that with 10 properties and every property has two crops, that's 20 crops of food that the city is growing year round that could then be retailed," Stark said. "The city could be selling this food to local people, Pittsfield city people, at a discounted price, providing extra food to the homeless, extra food to families in need, and providing organic food to our city's citizens. On top of that, that money becomes revenue for the city because they are the ones who built the facility."
 
A dog park is another example. He said the city needs one to solve issues with dogs off-leash and can do it in a financially prudent way.
 
"If we had a dog park where let's say you can only get into if you had a swipe card and that swipe card is what you get when you went to Ctiy Hall, register your dogs, and paid an extra $10 to get access to the city dog park. Well, if there are 15,000 people with dogs who do that, at $10 a pop, that's $150,000 the city just made on a project somebody else paid for," Stark said.
 
He has watched the city fill the same pothole in his neighborhood multiple years in a row. His experience on the west coast has led him to support the benefits of industrial hemp and said there are building materials that are stronger and more durable that can be used to fix the hole for the long term and in a more cost-effective manner. 
 
Part of the reason the city's businesses are struggling, he said, is because of the high commercial tax rate. He believes if the city found more ways to be self-sustaining, those rates could be reduced.
 
He also has compassion for those who are homeless and places ways to help them as a top priority. When he was on the west coast, he was involved with Food Not Bombs in which they'd collect food from grocery stores and the like that were being thrown out and going to waste and cook it and feed the homeless. He thinks the city needs another place in the community for the homeless to go.
 
"We could be fiscally not spending a lot of money to build facilities or re-establish facilities that could help the people," Stark said. "More often than not people look at the homeless and look at the destitute and they look down on them. They think 'oh, you got there because of your bad choices.' A lot of times that is true but I can personally say that the three times I was homeless were circumstances out of my control."
 
With the city's demographic struggles, he sees the Berkshire Flyer passenger rail from New York City eventually evolving into an everyday bullet train to and from New York City. He said if that gives people the ability to commute to work in the city -- especially with many jobs able to be done by laptop on a train -- that would significantly boost the city's population. He said there are many people who would move here and immediately save a lot of money in housing and other costs by commuting. In turn, they will be spending money here and supporting the local economy.
 
"I am passionate about seeing this city improve for everyone, not just for the wealthy, not just for summer tourists," Stark said.
 
At the same time, he sees winter tourism as receiving a boost through the train service. He remembers clearly a time when he was working at Hotel on North when some guests from New York City had come to ski. But the weather was terrible and they couldn't. They had planned the trip far ahead because that is when they could rent the car and drive. If they could have done it on shorter notice, when they knew the weather was good for skiing and could come up in just a couple hours by train, more people would. He also said most in New York City don't own cars but do make enough to take a weekend trip for something like skiing if they could get here.
 
"We could stabilize our local economy just by advertising to renters in Brooklyn," Stark said.
 
Currently, he thinks there is a lot of miscommunication between the government and the residents. He said councilors have not been effective in communicating all factors of an issue with the constituents. He said as he's looked deeper into issues of pickleball or mosquito control and saw what the residents believed about the issues lacked important facts. 
 
He is also frustrated when he sees councilors asking questions at a meeting when they should have already researched and known the answers.
 
"Being a city councilor to me isn't about being at every public event. It is not about advertising the things the city is doing. It is about understanding and legislating our city into a better place," Stark said. "We are the legislative body of the city. It is our job to write, pass, and strike down laws, rules, and regulations for the betterment of the city. And that is going to be my main focus."
 
Overall, Stark said he is "cursed with the ability to see potential" and he hopes a seat on the council will give him an opportunity to help the city become more sustainable and helping the residents.
 
Stark is seeking one of four at large seats. The other candidates are Alexander Blumin, Jay Hamling, Yuki Cohen, Richard Latura, and incumbents Earl Persip, Peter Marchetti, and Peter White.

Tags: city election,   election 2019,   Pittsfield city council ,   


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Pittsfield School Committee Concerned With Teacher Retention

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The latest personnel report has the School Committee concerned about keeping teachers in the city schools. 
 
The reported was shared by Superintendent Jason McCandless at last Wednesday's meeting. School Committee member William Cameron noted that some of the exiting employees were only hired at the beginning of the school year.
 
"There was a group called Buffalo Springfield and they had a song called 'For What It's Worth' and the opening lines were 'There's something happening here, What it is ain't exactly clear,'" he said. "We have resignations here a month into the school year from a number of people that may have started at the beginning of the school year can you tell us what is going on here?"
 
McCandless said there are some retirees within the group of outgoing employees but there are also recent hires who found a better opportunity elsewhere or who were not up to some of the challenges the school district faces.  
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