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North Adams Council Candidates: Hopkins, Lamb & Sweeney

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The fourth 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. 

Paul Hopkins

Hopkins is running for his second term on the City Council. He was a longtime member and vice chairman of the Planning Board and is chairman of the Redevelopment Authority and has sat on the board of a number of nonprofit and community organizations, including Louison House and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. 
 

Paul Hopkins
He came to the area nearly 40 years ago to work as a radio host on the former WNAW and was director of community relations at the former Northern Berkshire Healthcare and later communications coordinator at Berkshire Health System's nursing home division before recently deciding to strike out on his own. He holds a degree in economics from Middlebury (Vt.) College.
 
"I came here, not really expecting to live out this many years here, but I fell in love with the place," Hopkins said, adding that "between professional positions and volunteer positions, it gave me insight into community needs. And honestly, the boring stuff like budget processes, and I think it all kind of gelled two years ago and it made sense to run for City Council."
 
Hopkins pointed to his time on community boards as helping him to understand some of the underlying issues the city is facing. 
 
"How many how many of us know that there are people who are lacking a place to sleep?" he said. "It's our duty as citizens in North Adams that when when we can help that we say, absolutely. Just tell me when to be there and where. And we'd like doing it."
 
If re-elected, Hopkins would like to see movement on the Mohawk Bike Path and the Ashwillticook Rail Trail that will connect the city with Williamstown and south to Lanesborough. 
 
"It's a multi-use recreation path, it's going to connect communities. It's going to make it possible someday, and I hope I get to see it, to get on a bike in Williamstown, and ride to Pittsfield," he said. "Of if you wish, you can commute from Williamstown to North Adams on a nice day."
 
Blight is another topic he wants the council to tackle, noting it literally hits close to home for him because of the fire-damaged house at the bottom of his street. 
 
It burned when, was that a year ago? It's been sitting there, the landlord has shown no interest in doing anything with it that I have seen," he said. "People are sick of it. ... When you see that every day as I do, I pass at four or five times a day, I get angry four or five times a day about it. We need to do something about it."
 
Blight issues will mean finding money to deal with them, he acknowledged, and didn't think there was a lot that could be trimmed from the city budget. Meanwhile, Hopkins though the $40 per $1,000 valuation tax rate for commercial was more of a psychological barrier than a financial one, mainly because the cost of commercial space is so much cheaper in the Berkshires. But taxes are still a burden on residents.
 
"How do we attract new investment? How do we get new properties on the tax rolls?" he said. "And that's where we're going to have to focus because that's pretty much our only [revenue] source right now."
 
Finally, he thinks the city should continue talks to rejoin the Northern Berkshire Solid Waste Management District. 
 
"My guess is that's going to make a lot of sense to do. But the world is changing around us and we need to anticipate those changes and make some good decisions so that we don't get caught literally holding the bag," he said. 
 

Benjamin Lamb

Lamb is running for his fourth term on the City Council, over which he has presided as president. He is a member of the NAMAzing Initiative and spearheaded the initiative's Eagle Street makeover and the upcoming Ashland Street corridor project. He's also been instrumental in the city's participation in the Small Business Revolution and North Adams TEDx, now entering its third year, and has been a member of several other community groups, including Men Initiating Change in North County, a violence prevention group.
 

Benjamin Lamb
Also a transplant, from Upstate New York, Lamb graduated from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in 2007 and returned after working in ventures in Belize, Alaska, Virginia and New York. He has worked for the North Adams Public Schools and Williams College and is currently director of economic development for 1Berkshire. He is working on his doctorate in higher education leadership at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. 
 
"It's really exciting to be able to look back and say, you know, to see what the community was when I when I got here," he said, "but then to see how its evolved and grown while also retaining the charm that really drew me here in the first place and has kept me for all these years now."
 
Lamb said the City Council's role is fairly cut and dry in relation to budgets and ordinances but engaging in community activities informs the council's discussions and help it in being the voice of the community.
 
"You're able to bring more of that outside insight into the actual actions that impact the city as a whole," he said. "And so while I would not consider those to be part of my role as a city councilor, I think that they very much so informed my actions, they they keep me energized, they keep me activated within the community."
 
Lamb said he was "incredibly proud" of the work the council did on keeping the gun range open. It was a difficult conversation balancing the expectations of gun owners and neighbors, and strained between the councilors and an administration that felt it was easier to shut down the range rather than seek insurance coverage. 
 
"As the chair of the committee at that time, Public Safety, navigating that and being open to having very public dialogues in that respect, that is a core piece of our democracy," he said. "And for me, being a part of that and being able to facilitate that was enormous."
 
An effort the city needs to continue is a new or renovated public safety facility, Lamb said. Touring the shared police and fire building brought home the real deficiencies in the building.
 
"We went upstairs and we knew that there was that tarp issue in the the big main room there, but there was pup tent over one of the beds, and it was almost as if they were camping inside the building," he said. "It was raining in the actual room that these guys are sleeping in when they're there to protect us in case of fire. When you see that, I mean, it's a travesty to think that we would allow our public safety folks to operate out of a building like that."
 
The council can be supporting the mayor in finding and pursuing whatever funding and mechanisms available to alleviate that situation, Lamb said, as it can also be supportive of in other initiatives. One of those is the opportunity zone in the downtown that's not been take much advantage of because the city needs to create structures to support incentives for development, he said.  
 
"I think we sometimes can get into these very narrow corridors of what economic development is, and I've really tried to take this wraparound economic development approach," Lamb said. "And when I do, where you look at everything, so that includes everything from having enough child care for the children in your community to fighting blight, so that it is an attractive investment opportunity to stackable credential opportunities for potential development."
 
Plus, he said, you also have to take into account the health of the region in terms of addressing the opioid crisis and the fallout from the loss and trauma that's affecting families. 
 
"To me, that is part of this economic development piece as well as a public safety component," he said. "So if I were to put two tags, it would be public safety and economic development."
 

Jesse Sweeney

Sweeney came to North Adams to attend Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and stayed after graduating in 2007. She is a founder of Common Folk artist collaborative and founder and, until recently, executive director of the Roots Teen Center on Eagle Street. She also worked with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, first as an intern and then with its youth development and neighborhood development programs.
 

Jesse Sweeney
"I feel personally that I have a sense of obligation to be here in the City Council chambers," she said."I bring a unique voice to City Council. I represent a younger demographic generally, which my work throughout North Adams and the surrounding towns has allowed me to connect with very closely."
 
She said she felt a "deep calling to dive into this community and embrace the incredible sense of growth" that has been emerging. "I've been proud to contribute to this growth in the 12 years I've lived here and often if I'm not giving more to North Adams and taking from it," she said. 
 
Sweeney said she echoed many of the concerns that other candidates have brought up but emphasized her priority would be to bring more voices into local government.
 
"I'm really passionate about bringing the Youth Commission back into focus and I've already done some work to lay the ground for this with [Mayor] Tom Bernard," she said. "I believe that young people have a valuable perspective that should be heard here. And I believe that empowering young people is the best way to have better community health outcomes, strengthen our community, build resilience and begins and cycles of poverty and substance abuse."
 
She said she learned working at Roots that young people were often at the center of organizational development and that they are doing "really amazing" work. She pointed to the forum at which she was speaking that was organized by the political science class at MCLA. Young people were also the advocates for the skate park and she feels there are more opportunities for young people to make a difference. 
 
In terms of questions on blight and "inclusive development," Sweeney said she is on a working group sparked by conversations at NBCC (Lamb is also on this group). 
 
Inclusive development, "that's something that is really interesting to me thinking about how anyone, all walks of life can live here and feel like they belong here," she said. "I think that is a very essential thing to economic development."
 
Sweeney feels community input is essential in working through how a community lives and grows together. 
 
"It's really important to think and look at how traffic moves within this community and how we are supporting businesses staying open to support that traffic," she said. If people spend the day at Mass MoCA, they then got to dinner and afterward want to browse a bit. 
 
"What is open? Common Folk Artist Collective, a business that I run, is one of the few retail stores that is open to 8. We've been capturing visitors and tracking data. And just in the springtime, we haven't finished calculating all of our summertime, 30 percent of our businesses happened after 4 p.m. 
 
"It's an astounding number. And that's something I think we need to think about is how people are moving around."
 
Sweeney said councilors need to be willing to hear constructive criticism since they are representing a wider community and have an open-door policy.
 
"I think it is important to embrace nuance that a lot of solutions don't always work for every single person," she said. 
 
"It's hard to express all the reasons why I feel like I'm worthy of representing you all. But in short, I'm already doing the work," Sweeney said. "I'm already deeply involved in this community and and made great strides to build structures and support here that directly impacts you and your families. I look forward to the opportunity to serve you."

Sweeney did not do a Conversation with the Candidates. Her responses were taken from a forum held by MCLA professor Samantha Pettey's "State and Local Politics" class on Oct 23 at HiLo.


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

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How Can You Prepare for the 'New Retirement'?

Submitted by Edward Jones

A generation or so ago, people didn't just retire from work – many of them also withdrew from a whole range of social and communal activities. But now, it's different: The large Baby Boom cohort, and no doubt future ones, are insisting on an active lifestyle and continued involvement in their communities and world. 

So, what should you know about this "new retirement"? And how can you prepare for it?

For starters, consider what it means to be a retiree today. The 2020 Edward Jones/Age Wave Four Pillars of the New Retirement study has identified these four interrelated, key ingredients, along with the connected statistics, for living well in the new retirement:

Health: While physical health may decline with age, emotional intelligence – the ability to use emotions in positive ways – actually improves, according to a well-known study from the University of California, among others. However, not surprisingly, retirees fear Alzheimer's and other types of dementia more than any physical ailment, including cancer or infectious diseases, according to the "Four Pillars" study.

Family: Retirees get their greatest emotional nourishment from family relationships – and they will do anything it takes to help support those family members, even if it means sacrificing their own financial security. Conversely, retirees lacking close connections with family and friends are at risk for all the negative consequences resulting from physical and social isolation.

Purpose: Nearly 90 percent of Americans feel that there should be more ways for retirees to use their talents and knowledge for the benefit of their communities and society at large. Retirees want to spend their time in useful, rewarding ways – and they are capable of doing so, given their decades of life experience. Retirees with a strong sense of purpose have happier, healthier lives and report a higher quality of life.

Finances: Retirees are less interested in accumulating more wealth than they are in having sufficient resources to achieve the freedom to live their lives as they choose. Yet, retirees frequently find that managing money in retirement can be even more challenging than saving for it. And the "unknowns" can be scary: Almost 70 percent of those who plan to retire in the next 10 years say they have no idea what their healthcare and long-term care costs will be in retirement.

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