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Candidates Keith Bona, left, Lisa Blackmer and Roger Eurbin are running for City Council.

North Adams Council Candidates: Bona, Blackmer & Eurbin

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The first in a series of five candidate articles profiling the 14 City Council candidates running for the nine at-large seats on the North Adams City Council. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. All wards vote at St. Elizabeth's Parish Hall. 

Roger Eurbin

Eurbin is taking his second run for City Council, although he also mounted a last minute write-in campaign in 2015. He has been a member of the Cemetery Commission, the veterans graves officer and spearheaded the creation of the Hill Side Cemetery Restoration group that has restored and straightened hundreds of stones at historic Hill Side Cemetery. 

Roger Eurbin
He holds a bachelor's degree in secondary education from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and spent eight years in the Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant, and served two tours in Vietnam. He earned a commendation for saving his department over a quarter-million dollars during ship overhaul and went on to spend 32 years with Fortune 500 company training and managing employees and overseeing multi-million budgets.  
"I think one of the things that I would do is go over the budget with a fine-tooth comb and see if there's any fat in the budget," he said. "If there's any place that we can reduce the budget ... [but] it's a difficult proposition in these days, because all prices of everything is going up and this city has to buy things."
He thought the city should be thinking in terms of future enterprises and making North Adams more attractive to companies to come here. People come here and find it not only an attractive place to live but a place they can bring their business, Eurbin said. 
"I think one of the things we need to educate the public on is we're never going to get another Sprague's here," said Eurbin, referring the electronics manufacturer that once employed nearly 3,000 workers in its heyday. "We're never going to get a GE here. But we might get small technology companies, small medical devices and things of this sort. ...
"So I think that's one of the things we should try to look at. When I say we, you know, we have to involve the powers that are in the mayor in trying to develop this type of business. We certainly have the space for it."
If elected, he would want to do more to get public input and to educate citizens about their city -- and involve MCLA more as a community participant and an asset. 
"One that comes to my mind immediately because of what I've been doing is historic preservation," he said. "We have a lot of history in this area, and people don't understand it and don't know it." 
Eurbin is concerned that too many residents aren't aware of issues or things that are happening within their own city. That may in part because they're not being communicated by the media, he said, but also because they aren't always paying attention, such as watching City Council meetings.  
"There are people who feel disenfranchised," he said, feeling that public forums could address some of that lack of communication. 
"I think councilors have to be aware that the public should be able to contact them, should be able to talk to them and lecture them in some cases, but be open to this, be receptive to it," he said. "There's more than to being a councilor, I believe, than sitting in the council chambers. 

Lisa Blackmer 

Blackmer is seeking to return to the City Council after two-year gap. She was first elected in 2007 and served for 10 years, including as president and vice president, before stepping down in 2017 for an unsuccessful run for state representative. She is a member of the Planning Board. 
She holds bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and a master's level certificate in municipal management from Suffolk University. She has worked in municipal finance and administration and is currently the treasurer/tax collector of Buckland. She also is a past president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association and had been a member of its policy committee, on which she worked on issues important to the city.

Lisa Blackmer
"For the last 33 years, I've worked in public administration and finance and municipalities," she said. "I've worked in retail in the private sector, and I've worked in nonprofit organizations."
As former Finance Committee chairman, Blackmer doesn't think there's much fat to cut in the budget. When the governor made cuts in 2009 during the Great Recession, communities like North Adams that depended highly on state aid were the most affected, she said. 
"I think the problem is the revenue side," she said. I do think that we have to grow the tax base. ... That's the only way we're going to solve our [financial problem]. We can't cut our way out of this. We have to grow our way out of it."
Blackmer said there was some streamlining done to at least show the steps for a business to open where in the past it had "seemed very arbitrary to people." She thought one of the best ways for councilors and residents alike to attract people and business is to talk about the city's recreational, cultural and natural beauty whenever possible. She recalled how the city lost out on a mattress business, possibly because of the vicious social media comments on the company. 
"There's a disconnect between the skills of our workforce and the skills needed, and we need to work on that," she said, calling McCann Technical School and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts significant resources. 
Blackmer also acknowledged that solving the city's estimated $60 million in infrastructure needs -- especially the need for a public safety building -- will be a heavy lift, but, she said, "We have to get back to it."
In terms of the role of the City Council, she said some councilors do come with an activist mentality and may feel like they don't have a seat at the table because they can't get the things they want done. 
"They don't understand their seat at the table is not a seat at the executive table," Blackmer said. "It's a legislative body and they don't really understand that. ... I think there's a real difference between constituent services and doing the business of the council."
One of the things she would look to do if elected is push for a polystyrene ban. "I think it's less invasive, and less expensive," she said than an earlier attempt at banning single-use bans. Many of the chains are already making changes because of bans in surrounding communities. "It's the smaller [businesses] I'm a little worried about. But we passed one in Buckland, and we've got 1,900 people."

Keith Bona

Bona is running for his sixth consecutive term on the council, of which he is currently president. Although elected in 2009, he also served for several terms in the 1990s. 
He is a graduate of McCann Technical School and owns Berkshire Emporium and Bona Marketing & Printing on Main Street. He holds a bachelor's degree from  Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology in graphic design and communications. He has sat on local business, social and arts boards, including Elks Lodge 487. 

Keith Bona
"I was one of the founders of the United Neighborhood Organization," he said, referring to the grassroots neighborhood group that is now part of Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. "I would say that was really the spark that got me to jump into City Council."
Bona is running again because he thinks it is beneficial to have councilors with experience to balance out the board. 
"There's nothing wrong with having new blood and fresh energy constantly coming in," he said. "So I think that's a positive thing for the council to continually have that rotation. But right now we have a young council."
Many of the councilors are looking at a second or third term and there will be at least three new -- or returning -- faces come January. 
"I mean, when you go back 10 years ago, it was not pretty and we had to make some tough decisions," Bona said. "You do need councilors on there that can't just always be happy thoughts ... there have to be times you got to make tough decisions that people will get angry with us."
He said the city needs to build its tax base but that it wasn't as easy as just inviting companies to come here -- companies that might be competitive with existing businesses. Rather, it might make more sense to have a "business-friendly attitude," Bona said, and tackle a commercial tax rate that is the highest in the state. 
"I still feel we can streamline in making the process easier for businesses but I don't know if that's actually going to bring in more business," He said. "You know, we're competing with a lot of communities that are doing the same thing."
Bona said capital projects will continue to be a concern in the next term, listing the public safety building and the questionable status of Greylock School because of the declining population. 
"We're putting a new roof on the police and fire stations, the public safety building, but in reality, we need a new public safety building," he said. "I'm not sure where they're at with it or how seriously they're out there looking for new space. So I'm concerned that the new roof is really going to be a Band-Aid that's going to say ... We're OK now for several years."

Tags: candidate interviews,   city election,   election 2019,   North Adams City Council,   

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McCann Class of 2020 Urged to Highlight the Positive

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff

Valedictorian Vanessa Harrington urges her classmates not to define their high school experience by the pandemic. See more photos here.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — McCann Technical School's class of 2020 did not want to make its graduation about COVID-19.
Valedictorian Vanessa Harrington told the 117 members of the class that she scratched her original speech that had been about the effects of COVID-19 and switched to talk about the some of the more positive things in the world 
"It has taken over our lives and has become the topic of every conversation," she told the hundred or so attendees gathered on the football field on Thursday night. "So rather than dwelling over events that unfortunately will not change I figured I would take this time to highlight the good and remind us of everything positive that is happening."
Instead of talking about the challenges the global pandemic has created for the class, the country, and the world, Harrington talked about some of the class's successes and thanked all those who helped along the way. 
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