PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Kenneth Warren still has the old files from when he was sitting on what was then known as the "asbestos committee."
Asbestos was found throughout the city's elementary schools and parents were rightly concerned. They wanted to know what city officials would do to keep their children safe.
"This is a salute to members of the Pittsfield City Council and to lame-duck Councilor Ken Warren in particular for their apparent success in diffusing the confrontation with Allendale School parents over the asbestos removal issue. Mr. Warren's five-point plan adopted unanimously should not only resolve the Allendale problem but also serve as the basis for heading off similar problems in schools," Warren read from an old newspaper clipping on Friday.
And he then said, "even back then, I would look at a problem and try to come up with some type of gameplan and try to put it into play."
Warren served two terms on the City Council in the 1980s, following a term on the School Committee. He's been in the background of community and politics since, volunteering for community cleanups or taking part in such things as the opposition to a methadone clinic on Stoddard Avenue a few years ago or sitting on the Democratic City Committee.
"At some point you just let other people run. You don't necessarily have to run. You can do other things behind the scene. You can be active without necessarily putting your name up," Warren said.
But now, he's reinvigorated. He had been paying attention to city issues but about a year ago, he started getting more into public conversations. Debates would rage on social media or out and about somewhere and he'd have questions. But no one would have an answer.
"I found out that I have to go to a meeting because the questions I was asking, nobody seemed to know the answers. I started going to meetings and it got me rejuvenated. The council did certain things that I thought should have been handled differently, I figured people should have stepped up," Warren said.
Warren is now putting his name on the ballot. He's seeking a seat on the City Council as the Ward 1 representative. He'll be against incumbent Helen Moon. Warren said his attention to details, ability to problem solve, and independence is what will make him a good city councilor.
"There are people in Ward 1 who want their councilor to just be focused on Ward 1 and city issues, not being involved in other things. I don't want or expect to get endorsements from any other elected official in or out of the city and I think that is good. It shows I am not part of any of the cliques, large or small cliches in the city of Pittsfield that I think is holding us up. I'm beholden to nobody," Warren said.
"I'll be able to take independent stands on a lot of these issues."
Warren's community involvement began when he graduated high school. At age 20, while he was working and attending college, a seat opened on the School Committee and he ran in that special election.
He lost but it got his name out there. Two years later, he ran again and won. In just one term, the committee took on the tough issue of closing schools because the population had declined.
"We sold a lot of the unused school buildings to help the city of Pittsfield," Warren said.
A little over midway through his term, a seat opened on the City Council for Ward 2, where he was living. There wasn't much interest being generated in the seat but the School Committee had plenty of candidates. Warren opted to seek the Ward 2 seat and was ultimately unopposed.
He sat on the City Council for two terms during the inception of Proposition 2 1/2 that dramatically changed the city's operations. But he also pointed to the adoption of the layout for Morningside Heights, which two previous councilors rejected, and the water treatment center build-out as big issues he was involved in. He sat on the Cable Commission and was part of the negotiations that expanded community television from one station to three.
During Warren's second term, he got married and bought a house. That house, however, is in Ward 1 and is where he currently lives. He couldn't seek re-election to the Ward 2 seat then so he tried for an at-large position, only to fall a bit short. He then served on the former County Commission for four years.
Warren ran unsuccessfully in a couple of races following that before deciding to move behind the scenes. Professionally, he continues to work as a sole practicing attorney as he has for the last 35 years.
"I was a trial attorney so I did a lot of criminal, diverse, paternity, child custody issues. I did juvenile court. I was in all of the courts. I was on all of the court-appointed lists. I handled a lot of the serious cases in juvenile court because I was what was called a youthful offender eligible attorney. District Court, I've been in Superior Court and in Probate Court," Warren said.
"I've done a lot of trial stuff but I do a little bit of everything. As a sole practitioner around here, you have to do a little of everything now."
His rejuvenated focus on city politics included him sitting through a meeting regarding the forgiveness of debt for the Beacon Cinema. He had his own questions about it and wasn't happy to find out that Richard Stanley still maintained ownership in the seats. And yet, the council still agreed to the plan.
"I would have ended up voting the same way as the council did but I would have held off until we got the purchase and sales agreement to see what was happening with those seats. I don't hold him responsible in any way but on the other hand, we put a ton of tax money that went into that. Since he was going to walk away with a clean slate, he shouldn't gain from it," Warren said.
"I'm sure he did well over the years. He's a very good businessman. So I didn't think he should profit because there was a significant amount of money that was being waved or transferred down the road."
He felt there was a lack of transparency with that issue. He feels the same about a recent meeting at the close of the fiscal year. The city had to settle a lawsuit with a former police officer and the council was unable to get terms of that agreement. Warren said the City Council should absolutely have been privy to that information.
"I disagree that the non-disclosure was for the City Council. It is for outside parties. The City Council is part of the city of Pittsfield so they would be entitled to know that. I think it is clear they are entitled to be informed about that," Warren said.
"When I was on the City Council we were informed of every matter such as that so we could accurately make decisions. When they were told they couldn't be told, they just dropped it. I wouldn't have dropped it."
He said he would have been aggressive in pushing for that information, even if it meant coming back for a special meeting. The council had passed it at the time the city was trying to close the books, so time was short to hold that second meeting and the amount of information they'd be given was unclear. Warren is now looking to file a petition regarding non-disclosure agreements so that information on settlements is given to the council.
Warren supported the intent behind the administration's At Home in Pittsfield program but disagreed with the use of the Economic Development Funds. He filed a petition looking to bring together a group to find an alternative — and he even proposed one. Four councilors later did the same and a group was formed.
But yet, as the year moves along, nothing has been brought back and thus losing a year of potential home improvement projects. He said he'd support even taking just a little bit of money and getting it going to see the outcome, which may switch the votes of the councilors.
"I'm thinking people are sitting back and thinking certain councilors didn't vote the way we wanted, we are going to wait until the election. You can do that but I think we are losing an opportunity," Warren said. "I would have been pushing because sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease."
While he has his opinions on those matters, he hasn't made up his mind quite yet on issues to come. But he's researching and getting prepared for various items he sees coming Ward 1's way. That's what he believes he brings to the table — the ability to analyse an issue in depth.
"There are issues coming down the pike that I think we need to look at to see what their impact is on Ward 1," Warren said. "There are all sorts of issues that will have an impact on Ward 1 and I think we need to be planning for them a little better."
He's already digging into the municipal broadband issue and developing a pathway to make that happen — though he says he'll need to see the cost estimates before he decides whether or not he'll support it. He filed a petition calling on the City Council to urge the state to build a new courthouse in the city, and down the line, he said those buildings could be sold and redeveloped.
"I think it is very rare that there'd be a matter I would vote on principle, that there is no room to move. I think with most problems there is some room where you can bring the sides together. Sometimes you might not get everything you want but it at least gets it moving. You can always tweak things. If certain things that you've done won't work, then you can change them," Warren said.
Warren had taken out papers for both at large and Ward 1 but ultimately decided to run in the ward. He said he wanted to keep his options open as the candidate field filled out and ultimately felt Ward 1 gave him a positive response and at least gives options. Warren believes in contested races and the at large field shaped up enough to create one while no one else returned papers to challenge the incumbent.
"I think every councilor should have an opponent. The good councilors will still get elected but they get a chance to get out and sell themselves. It makes them accountable," Warren said. "I think this is good for Ward 1 because no matter who wins, the ward wins."
Warren said many of the people he talked were favorable to him running and he's ready to let the ward decide who should be there.
"My approach to Ward 1 is what is most important right now. I am one of those people who if you give me a problem, I try to solve it. I try to look into it. I try to research it," Warren said. "I will be aggressively advocating for them."
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Berkshires Beat: Berkshire Equestrian Center to Host Horse Show Benefiting Berkshire Humane Society
Benefit horse show
After 25 years of hosting the Berkshire Humane Society Horse Show, Overmeade Farm has passed the reins to the Berkshire Equestrian Center in Richmond. Through the support of the Hart Family and Overmeade Farm, the horse show has raised more than $250,000 during the lifetime of the event. Berkshire Humane Society is excited to begin a new partnership with Berkshire Equestrian Center.
This event is recognized by the Western New England Professional Horseman's Association. Riders participate in hunter and equitation classes, both on the flat and over fences. The show offers riders of all ages and skills an opportunity to compete while helping raise critical funds that support the programs and services of Berkshire Humane Society. BHS has provided care to thousands of homeless animals over the past 27 years, and the horse show is one event that makes this lifesaving work possible.
Divisions to be held include: Short/Long Stirrup, Baby Green Hunter, Low/Adult Hunter, Novice Hunter, Pre-Children’s/Adult Equitation, Junior/Amateur Hunter, Children’s Equitation, Pony Hunter, Children’s Hunter Horse, Modified Junior Equitation, Junior Equitation, Adult Equitation, among others.
"We are so excited that the horse show has returned," said John Perreault, executive director for BHS. "This event is a great way for people of all ages to combine their love of horses and their compassion for all companion animals. We cannot thank Overmeade Farm and Berkshire Equestrian Center enough for their support. The Hart Family has made this event what it is today, and we’re thankful that Sarah Hogue at Berkshire Equestrian Center wants to continue this summer tradition that celebrates horses and helps homeless pets."
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