NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Public Arts Commissioner Bryan Sapienza was voted 5-3 onto the nine-member City Council on Tuesday.
Sapienza replaces Paul Hopkins, council president, who resigned two weeks ago because he is moving out of the area. The council held the special meeting Tuesday to elect a new councilor and Sapienza opted to be sworn in and seated immediately.
He was one of three candidates who submitted letters of interest, the others being Ashley Shade and Ronald Sheldon. All three have also run for the office in the past and expect to be on the ballot in November.
The council had debated whether to solicit letters of interest or to simply go with the next highest vote-getter in line from the 2019 election. The councilors voted to request letters but in the end the majority voted for the next candidate in line as they had the last two times they replaced councilors.
In this case it wasn't for the 10th candidate but for the 11th. Sapienza is the second replacement councilor; Peter Oleskiewicz, the 10th candidate, replaced Robert Moulton Jr. who resigned in 2020.
Sapienza is making his third run for council this November. He was appointed to the Public Arts Commission in 2018 and has worked with commission on amending its ordinance and developing an arts master plan.
"I'm a regular attendee of City Council meetings and have been an active participant in many of those meetings," he said. "Along with my participation and attendance at many committee activities, including Finance Committee meetings. My intentions are serious. I have a genuine desire to serve the city that has been my home for so many years."
He said his goals were to help move the city forward on a new public safety building, make sure the schools are properly funded, and the city's infrastructure is maintained and improved. He thought his technical background would offer a different solution to problems.
"My promise to all citizens is that I will work hard and to the best of my abilities and the circumstances of our great city as a city councilor," Sapienza said.
Sapienza was nominated by Councilor Wayne Wilkinson and seconded by Councilor Peter Oleskiewicz. Both had been voted on to the council as the 10th candidate.
Shade was nominated by Councilor Marie Harpin and seconded by Councilor Jessica Sweeney. She received a third vote from Councilor Benjamin Lamb.
Councilor Keith Bona noted the council in years past has used different ways to deal with empty seats, including leaving the empty. But, he said, he would take into consideration that the vote difference between the 10th (Oleskiewicz) and 11th candidate (Sapienza) was less than 20 votes.
"There are seven months left to this term, there's a lot of work to be done," said Councilor Lisa Blackmer, feeling that the council could not go seven months with an empty seat. "We have to get a budget through by the end of the month, we have a lot of work to do."
Wilkinson has advocated for filling vacant seats by going back to the election totals, believing anyone who sits on the council should have received votes from the electorate.
Some councilors were influenced by voters' 2019 preferences but others viewed the slate of candidates as an opportunity to elevate different viewpoints. Shade has served on the Human Services Commission, the Inclusivity Diversity Equity and Access Working Group and on the board of directors of the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition.
As an LGBTQ activist, she said she could bring a different experience to the council on this first day of Pride Month.
"We have an opportunity tonight, an opportunity this November, to have new voices that we've never had an opportunity to hear from represented in our government," she said.
Sheldon, who uses a wheelchair, spoke to his priorities improving accessibility in terms of housing and sidewalks, and the need to address public safety issues such as the fire hydrants and to clean up the city's junkyards as a safety issue.
In his run for council in 2019, he said he wanted represent the disabled people in the city who often do not have a voice and who have difficulty maneuvering with the community.
"We have spent tons of time focusing on how we can elevate voices of underrepresented bodies in our community," said Lamb, adding that one of the reasons he is not running is to give space to others. "I, in my gut need to go with where my heart is going, and I believe that we need to be bringing diverse voices underrepresented voices to this table."
Harpin, who nominated Shade, said prior to the vote that she "was a very strong advocate for diversity and that's an important issue that I have spoken on and advocated as a city councilor."
Sapienza received votes from Wilkinson, Oleskiewicz, Bona and Blackmer and Shade from Harpin, Lamb and Sweeney. Council President Jason LaForest cast the final vote for Sapienza.
All the councilors thanked the candidates for coming forward and urged them to run for office. Wilkinson promised all three a vote in the November election.
This was the first time the council had met in person since March 24, 2020
. City Hall opened on Tuesday following the lifting of pandemic restrictions statewide on Saturday. The meeting did not have Zoom access but it did have technical issues when the sound didn't work for the first minutes of the meeting.
City Council will meet in chambers next week with a full nine-member board. Other committee meetings are still being done over the Zoom platform.