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Bernard Seeks Second Term to Continue Momentum

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Thomas Bernard is seeking a second term in the corner office to continue the foundational work begun over the past two years.
And because he loves it.
"First and foremost, because I love the job, I love the work," he said. "I'm proud of what we've done in not quite two years and I want to keep going and building on momentum. ...
"The first year is just learning the ropes, getting to know people, feeling your way into some things — fumbling and stumbling — but I feel like we've started to hit our stride and get a good record to build on and go from there."
Bernard points to the relocation of the School Department to City Hall and the streamlining of the zoning map recently passed by the City Council as changes that will benefit the city. If elected, he's looking at doing a similar more user-friendly revamp of the city budget and begin preparing for long-term sustainability issues.
"I'm going to steal a national phrase, but big structural change is a lot of the work that I've been doing with the team on really foundational work," he said.
Capital issues are his priority for a second term, Bernard said. "There's no choice in the matter. I'm going to do it the way I've approached all these other things — in as thoughtful, plan-ful, inclusive and transparent a way as we can make it so that people understand when we're talking about the need to invest."
Five years ago, the former administration was presented with capital needs totaling $60 million — at least a third of that in the water system alone. Bernard acknowledged that the costs for those projects have probably risen and said it will be critical to prioritize items and present plans that residents can support.
A major problem is the deteriorating Public Safety building. The 60-year-old structure is outdated and has significant issues. The city is also under a U.S. Department of Justice decree to address its deficiencies regarding accessibility.
"Our folks work hard, they deserve a space that's respectful," Bernard said. "There's a lot of things that are 5-10-20-30 years in the making that are coming to a head and coming to some really critical decision points."
Some of it is deferred maintenance, some of them structural, he said. And some date to the implementation of Proposition 2 1/2 that severely limited municipalities' abilities to raise revenue.
"No one ever imagined that you would be having these conversations, right, about flirting with your [levy] ceiling and and what that means," Bernard said. "It's something that we have to confront head on, we can't avoid it."
But some projects have been tackled, he said, noting that a new terminal building for Harriman & West Airport is about to come online and that the city continues to invest its Chapter 90 state aid and MassWorks grants in roads and paving.
"One of the things we've talked about is how do we use our Community Development Block Grant funding differently," the mayor said. "We've used it as a match for other capital projects and that's been great. ... I'd like to see us putting more of that into streets and sidewalks and things in neighborhoods where we know there's a need. That's a funding source that we have reliably."
The CDBG funding has been used more recently on the multi-phase Armory renovations and matches with the state Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities funding for major upgrades at Noel Field Athletic Complex and Brayton Park.
Bernard says it's now time to focus that reliable funding source toward neighborhood infrastructure where eligible. He's also looking at the needs of Historic Valley Campground, one of the few revenue generators for the city. That facility will need investment — particularly in the electrical system and wireless network — to continue to attract visitors.
"People expect that even if they're out in the wild that they've got access to these amenities, and all of the other things that come with being in a place like North Adams in the summer, where you've got SteepleCats, you've got concerts, you've got the Downtown Celebration, you've got outdoor recreation," he said. "The ability to take advantage of that from a mobile base of operations is a really good resource."
He's bully on the investment and "wave of entrepreneurship" flowing into the city. Even if they don't all pan out, he said it's telling that investors both local and from out of town are willing to try some ambitious projects. Greylock Works is working through its 10-year plan to redevelop the former Cariddi Mill into event, housing and commercial, while David Moresi is fast filling up the Norad Mill with a mix of small commercial outlets. Tourists Inn has been garnering national and international attention, the recently opened HiLo nightclub is pulling in name acts and Stanley Engineered Fastenings (Tog) recently invested $3 million to expand.
"The role of the mayor is to support development in a variety of ways," Bernard said. "First of all, it's to be the cheerleader in chief for the city of North Adams, but it's also to partner strategically with developers. Dave Moresi started [Norad] before I  came in — but when the time is right in the project maybe we will want to do with him what we did with Stanley Black & Decker, which is to find the right TIFF, or special tax agreement, that helps him to succeed. ...
"The mayor's job is to be the conduit and to help that businesses and entrepreneurs with access to public and the community resources that are available to them." 
"I would love to have a dedicated business development position but I just have not cracked the code of how to  fund it," he later added. "It's a position that will, hopefully, in a fairly short time pay for itself because it's helping to attract additional investment, additional capital."
He's also hoping to sell off properties that the city no longer needs or are being held in tax title. North Adams hasn't had good luck in divesting its excess property so far — only the old City Yard has changed hands. Bernard is still optimistic that the Notre Dame property will sell to a group seeking to develop a hotel, saying there have been delays in financing and because of the staff changes in the Office of Community Development. The Windsor Mill deal fell through because of contamination findings but Bernard said the city is using brownfields grant funds to do an assessment so the next buyer will know what they are getting into. 
The next round of requests for proposals will have more clearly defined deadlines, he said. "We're going to be really extremely disciplined with those."
In terms of blight, the mayor pointed to the stepped up enforcement of the junk vehicle ordinance, improved inspections, and allowing for sales of nonconforming lots to abutters (with City Council approval).
"We have a population that has dropped from its peak but the physical infrastructure is the same, the number of houses," he said. "So there are going to be more empty properties just on the basis of numbers, but what we have also is places where there is some neglect and some distant disinvestment or we have situations like the fire on Houghton Street, which was a fluke incident but it highlights what happens if you have an unmotivated owner."
He's interested in discussions with other communities about more shared services, such as inspection services, is pushing forward with a new website that will offer increased accessibility for residents and employees, and said education will continue to be a priority.
"One of the things I'm really proud of is the work that I've done, and the team working with me and City Hall's done, is to bring new people into boards and commissions and really diversify boards in an intentional way," he said. "And it's not an approach that you ever say, 'OK, we've done it.' But every time I look at boards and membership, I really try and make sure we're being as representational as we can."
If elected, he sees finances and infrastructure as the city's biggest challenges. 
"It's going to be the budget and the long-term financial management," Bernard said. "We are approaching our levy ceiling and that is going to influence everything that we do over the next four or five budget cycles. ... I think the important shift ... is going to be understanding that even though we're talking about the constraints of our budget, I don't want us thinking about a race to the bottom and only talking in terms of economizing austerity."
Rather, he said, North Adams should be thinking in terms of a startup and considering creative ways to use the resources it has. Sometimes, it will have to take the "responsible rather than the visionary decision" but still keep that broader long-term visions in mind. 
"We're going to continue to lead, we're going to attract business, we're going to improve neighborhoods, we're going to continue to build on our schools," Bernard said. "We're going to continue to tackle public safety and build on that."

Tags: city election,   election 2019,   mayor,   

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MCLA Welcomes Four New Faculty Members

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — MCLA welcomes four new faculty members to campus for the fall 2021 semester: Andrew Best, Assistant Professor of Biology; Rebecca Relyea, Assistant Professor of Radiologic Sciences; Yavuz Ceylan, Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry; and Sean Scanlon: Visiting Assistant Professor of History. 
"I look forward to welcoming these new faculty to the already outstanding group of educators I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the summer," said Richard Glejzer, MCLA's Vice President of Academic Affairs. "They will be joining a community of dedicated and talented teachers, scholars, and artists who have persevered and guided our students with great care through an unprecedented pandemic over the past year and a half." 
Andrew Best, Assistant Professor of Biology 
Andrew (Drew) joins the MCLA Biology Department as Assistant Professor after 15 years of teaching high school biology.  He recently earned a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from UMass, emerging as an expert in the evolution of human sweating. Currently Drew is collaborating on a project exploring evolved energetic limits to human endurance. Undergraduate students will have opportunities to participate in these projects as researchers. Drew lives with his partner Michaela and their dog and cat, and spends much of his free time trail running and mountain biking.   
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