New City Council President Paul Hopkins oversees the organization of the council for the two-year term.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — North Adams entered the new year — and its 125th anniversary — with a look back at progress over the past term and a call to focus on challenges in the years ahead.
"As we renew that challenge for the city of North Adams going into 2020 we will do so by focusing on the priorities that President Johnson laid out in the Great Society address: our city, our countryside, and our classrooms," said Mayor Thomas Bernard in his second inaugural address.
The biennial organization of government on Wednesday morning also saw the swearing in of a new City Council for the next two-year term and of the School Committee and representatives to the Northern Berkshire Vocational School District. The officials were sworn in by City Clerk Deborah Pedercini, who was overseeing her first organizational meeting.
Taking their seats as newcomers are Lisa Blackmer, Robert Moulton Jr. and Jessica Sweeney; returning from last term are Keith Bona, Marie T. Harpin, Paul Hopkins, Jason LaForest, Benjamin Lamb and Wayne Wilkinson.
Hopkins was elected president of the council on a nomination by Sweeney and a second by Bona, the outgoing president. LaForest was elected vice president on a nomination by Lamb and second by Moulton.
Moulton was also sworn in as the newest member of the School Committee and Peter Breen, George Canales and William Diamond took the oath to represent the city on the McCann School Committee.
Moulton and Sweeney were selected to invite the mayor into the council chambers to be sworn into his second term. Bernard was greeted by his wife, Jennifer, daughter, Alexandra, and mother, Jane, and city personnel, Police Chief Jason Wood, Fire Chief Stephen Meranti, councilors and state Rep. John Barrett III. Also attending were Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer and Pittsfield City Councilor Helen Moon, who was representing District Attorney Andrea Harrington, for whom she works as director of special projects.
Bernard referred to President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society several times during his address, quoting that Johnson new his vision wasn't a "safe harbor" but "a challenge constantly renewed."
The city had laid out its vision six years ago in the Vision 2030 master plan that is now being revisited to tick off accomplishments and set future priorities.
"What is clear is that the plan has provided an effective blueprint for progress over the past five years, with a number of developments intentionally supporting, or fortuitously aligned with, its goals," the mayor said. "These efforts and others are helping to build and promote a robust and diverse economy for North Adams."
Over the past few years, the city has seen a $65 million public and private investment to build out Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, including the opening of the massive Building 6. The world-class museum now draws some 250,000 people to the city.
He also noted the retention and expansion of Stanley Black & Decker (the former Tog Machine) and Crane & Co., and the role of McCann Technical School as a "vocational education powerhouse." There has also been the openings and ongoing expansions at Greylock Works, the Norad Mill and the acclaimed Tourists resort that have continued to draw visitors and businesses to the area.
All of that has produced some measurable progress in the city: business establishments up by 16 percent, monthly employment by 9 percent, wages overall by 18 percent and weekly wages by 9 percent. The revenue being generated for the city has also risen, with rooms taxes up 37 percent and meals taxes by nearly 28 percent.
Housing has been flat for years, but Bernard said it appears to be changing with 86 high-end and market-rate units being planned by private investors.
"These investments in residential real estate will increase our tax base, attract new residents, and revitalize city neighborhoods," the mayor said. "While I won't be fully satisfied until we see some of that housing production on Main Street, helping support downtown revitalization, this is an incredibly positive indicator."
The city's also seen a revitalization of greenspace and recreation with the construction of a spray pad, skate park and sports courts at Noel Field Athletic Complex and the opening of the UNO Community Center and its park and the privately owned Sunshine Park. Tourists, meanwhile, is planning a trail system through its 30-plus acres in the West End.
"The city will be a partner in the planning of this ambitious project that will make the hotel and the city a destination for natural resource-based tourism, and help create a pathway into the city from the West End," Bernard said.
The school system has also seen a progress in rising scores and addressing student needs, and will be determining the future of Greylock School in the coming year as a part of a feasibility study with the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Bernard thanked the city's staff and employees for their dedication and its partners in the local, state and federal government. He choked up when talking about the support from his family and the teachers who "had kindled my love of learning, challenged me to reach my potential, and inspired my passion for history, politics, and public service."
Both of the mayor's parents are retired educators and his voice broke as he talked about his father, Thomas, who was watching from home.
"Over the years I've heard from many of his former students, and their experience mirrors my own: Mr. Bernard made history come alive for them," he said.
Hopkins, in taking the president's seat, said looking around the council chambers that morning he could "see talent across the spectrum" that, along with "a boatload of common sense," will be needed in the coming years.
"I don't have to tell you that the City Council and this city has a busy agenda," he said. "How to make it work to keep the amazing momentum that North Adams is experiencing right now, how we continue to grow economically and as a community, all while balancing the many interests of the people who live here, never mind balancing the budget: It's not a job for the faint of heart."
The councilors also serve as ambassadors for the city, Hopkins reminded them. And everywhere he goes, he said, people are "aware of the waves that this little community is making."
He reminded the audience that the city had a stake in the 2020 Census, which is a determinant for funding and representation, and that North Adams will be marking its 125th year as an incorporated city. "Let's make sure we celebrate that milestone," Hopkins said.
He also made committee and liaison assignments, referred Rules of Order for the term to the Jan. 14 meeting and selected Lamb and Wilkinson to do the drawing of seats.
Pedercini thanked outgoing Councilors Eric Buddington, Rebbecca Cohen and Joshua Moran for their "outstanding" service to the community. "My tenure here as clerk has been a short one," she said. "I've enjoyed working with you all and wish you the best."
The ceremonial meeting took about 45 minutes, with the invocation by the Rev. Mary Frances Curn of All Saints Episcopal Church and the benediction by the Rev. Dariusz P Wudarski of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church.
"Standing here two years ago, I had the luxury and comfort of being a new mayor," Bernard said in closing. "While the novelty of being 'the new guy' wore off for me during our first snowstorm, I continue to learn about this job and our city every day. I know I will continue to do so during every day of the next two years, alongside everyone in this room and people throughout this amazing city we all love so well."
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Berkshire Food Project Recognizes Hours Put in by Volunteers
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
Three generations of volunteers with Linda Palumbo, left, Cindy Bolte, Alicia Rondeau and Cassandra Shoestack.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Five days a week a troop volunteers helps the small staff of the Berkshire Food Project feed hundreds of people.
On Monday night, the tables were turned.
More than 30 volunteers and attending family members were served up a choice of beef wellington and potato, salmon and rice, or a vegetarian meal, along with appetizers, dessert and beverages.
"Just from 2018 to 2019, [we served] 10,000 more meals, right, a 28 percent increase in 2019. So the numbers on the stove, same amount of counterspace. The only thing that changed is the capacity of our volunteers. So thank you, guys," said Executive Director Kim McMann.
The volunteers have been crucial in making that happen, she said, and thanked them for rolling with the changes the organization has implemented — some of which have worked and some that have not.
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Mark Steele-Knudslien, 49, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of his wife. Judge John Agostini sentenced him to life in state prison, with parole eligibility in 25 years.
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After a few days in the icebox, temperatures will be turning above freezing going into the weekend and there's a chance of snow — or more likely rain, as a storm system moves north of the Berkshires.
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The Finance Committee took a tour of the building on Tuesday afternoon to get a better sense of the condition of the J. Stanley Sullivan Elementary School as the City Council has been weighing an offer on the property made more than two months ago.
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