North Adams Mayoral Candidates Debate at MCLA Forum
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The two candidates running to be the first woman mayor of North Adams debated for the second time at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Thursday.
This debate was sponsored by iBerkshires.com and the MCLA Political Science Club, and hosted by the MCLA. It was held at the Church Street Center and attracted a robust audience of more than 150 people.
Lynette Bond, director of development for grants and research at MCLA, and Jennifer Macksey, assistant superintendent for the Northern Berkshire School Union, were asked questions by panelists iBerkshires Executive Editor Tammy Daniels, WAMC News Berkshire Bureau Chief Josh Landes, Berkshire Eagle staff writer Greta Jochem, and MCLA Political Science Club member Miranda Maciejowski.
Questions were also solicited from a community survey and some were asked by Adams Town Moderator Myra Wilk, who moderated the event.
Macksey and Bond largely spoke about diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, housing issues within the city, and the current administration.
This debate was more contested than the first, as the two candidates aimed to distinguish themselves from the other on multiple topics.
Both candidates have present or past involvement with MCLA, as Macksey previously worked in the college's finance administration and Bond has worked there for five years.
Bond said being a member of a mixed-race family makes issues of diversity and inclusion close to her heart. She also recognizes that they are important to the city.
"We need to bring diverse voices to our city, we need to be a welcoming community, we know that we have struggled with population for many many years, many decades, so it is this inclusivity, it is bringing in newcomers who will be welcomed into our community that is quite important, we can do that through diverse hiring, using those best practices, we know we need to bring in more people," she said.
"North Adams was built by immigrants, immigrants who built the city who worked in our mills and we know that they wanted the best for their families, just like we all want the best for our families, so we want everyone to be invested, to come and work for the city, to open businesses to enroll in our schools to invest in our community and to share in the tax burden so we need to be welcoming and inclusive."
To amplify the voices of people who are underrepresented, Bond would like to see diverse panels on city boards and commissions.
Macksey said she spent a lot of time on the MCLA campus working with students who weren't sure that they fit into North Adams.
"As part of my administration, everyone will be welcome, everyone will have a seat at the table, I will be a mayor that represents all voices, I want to ensure that there is equity in our community, I spent a lot of time on this very campus working with students who weren't sure that they fit in here in North Adams," she said.
"I worked hard to make them feel comfortable, I embraced them, I invited them to be part of the community to even sit and have breakfast with my mother and I. I know how to make people feel welcome and I will continue that through my administration, and lead with kindness and compassion, and inclusion and I think it's important as a community, we all do that as well."
Macksey said she would encourage inclusion by meeting with different groups and talking to the community. She reiterated the importance of leading with kindness and compassion.
When asked if there should be changes to the Police Department in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the two agreed that the police need a new public safety building but did not agree on the proper way to police substance abuse.
Bond said we live in a racist society that needs to be addressed and she considers racism a public health issue. To support the police, she suggested giving them suitable facilities and supporting them with specialists when responding to mental health and substance abuse cases.
Macksey agreed, emphasizing the need for a compassionate response. She later spoke of her support for a no-tolerance drug policy.
"I know I can't stop it completely, but I'm going to work very hard to slow it down, and how I'm going to do that is I'm going to try to convince [District Attorney Andrea Harrington] that we can't be letting people off for $40 bail so they're back on the streets dealing again, and we're not going to tolerate people dealing drugs on our playgrounds or to our students," she said.
"And at the end of the day, it is going to require more work for the Police Department, but I'm going to support those efforts."
Bond responded by saying the city cannot arrest its way out of the problem and that more police officers are not going to solve it. "People are trying to help themselves and we need to provide the resources to do that," she said, adding she would work with organizations such as the Brien Center and Berkshire Health Systems to provide those resources.
Macksey said she didn't think the answer was arresting everyone, "the solution is for those who need help to get them into the system and provide them resources."
Both candidates support a temporary solution for the city's public safety building. The city has $1.2 million earmarked in a state capital bond bill toward design and engineering for a new facility that has yet to be released and some are worried about the building's current condition in the meantime.
Macksey said the city needs to get funds released by Gov. Charlie Baker to run a feasibility and engineering study. She would like to provide a funding solution that doesn't cause a tax burden and suggested being creative with state and federal monies or using private investment.
Bond said securing that $1.2 million and constructing a new public safety building project are a top priority of hers.
On the topic of housing, both agreed that something needs to be done to address the city's stock but not on the way to do it.
Bond emphasized the city's Smart Growth program and the use of Community Development Block Grant funds to address housing.
Smart Growth zoning, under the state's Chapter 40R legislation, allows the opportunity for the development of high-density housing with a minimum of 20 percent remaining as "affordable." The entire overlay would have a maximum of 60 percent with the balance as market rate.
Macksey said the program is great, but it is better to preserve what the city already has for housing and to work on blight.
She later addressed Bond about the Smart Growth program, saying she didn't understand why the administration moved forward with 40R to encourage growth when the city has infrastructure needs that may not support that growth, specifically citing the non-working fire hydrants that recently had to be fixed.
She added that reinstating a homeownership program in the city is important.
Bond, a member of the Planning Board that recommended the adoption of the zoning overlay, said the city was getting $600,000 from the state and another $3,000 per unit to address those very issues.
When asked how North Adams should welcome new people and encourage MCLA students to stay, Bond said housing is the No. 1 component to making the city an admirable place to live.
In addition to housing, she would like to see internships available for students at City Hall.
Early in the debate, Bond addressed Macksey about a campaign letter that suggested Macksey did not welcome the support of those who were supportive of the past two administrations.
"What I meant by that statement was, there's been a lot of good work done in North Adams, but there have also been things that have left out there, things that haven't been accomplished," Macksey said. "And we can do better for downtown, we can do better for our neighborhoods, my priorities look different than the past administrations, and I hope your administration will look different to if you were successful."
The candidates had been given the opportunity to ask each other a question, with Macksey quizzing Bond on Smart Growth. Bond in turn asked Macksey about her term as city treasurer when an independent report determined the city failed to pay its fair share of public employee insurance premiums costing $1.1 million from 2008 to 2010.
"I do think it's important that we bring this issue to light because that is the thing that people keep coming to me and talking about and I know after you left the city had to pay out over a million dollars, so this was a huge sore point for the city and I don't think anyone wants to see something like this continue if something like this happened again," Bond said.
"So it's important that we understand your role, we understand what happened because the city lost a lot of money that was a big, big mistake."
Macksey said she happy to answer the question, as it has not been asked so far during the campaign.
"As treasurer collector, I do not have the ability or did not have the ability to appropriate money, so if anyone claims by misappropriating funds, you're just wrong," she said.
"Every bill for health insurance was paid during my time, and no one ever had their health insurance canceled, many times I advocated for rates and benefits for all employees. So for anyone to think that I did not work in the best interest of the employees, you're just a fool."
The two were asked their opinions on Mayor Thomas Bernard's administration. Bernard is stepping down after two terns in the corner office.
Bond is supportive of Bernard and admired the work he has done to keep the community safe during COVID-19. She reiterated that where the administration can do better is in housing.
Macksey also likes Bernard but has been disappointed with his lack of responsiveness. She added that staffing levels at City Hall are low and there is "hardly anyone there."
When asked how the city can be more transparent, she said having meeting minutes posted in a timely manner and a more robust website would be improvements.
When queried on how to stabilize the city's political climate — there have been four resignations from the City Council elected in 2019 — Bond recognized that whenever there is a group of concerned citizens emotions can run high.
"It's difficult, I know just running for this office is difficult and emotions can run high but we are here at the table because we believe that we are the best people for the job and for those who are serving in our government or on boards and commission, in our city council, they are doing it with their best intention," she said.
"So we need to remember that people, I believe are coming to the table with the best intention in mind, but we know that honest debate is hard, and there's a deliberative process, so we want to provide an open forum to have that debate to have that that communication."
Macksey said elected officials have to have respectful debate, professional demeanor and act in the best interest of the community, adding she won't be keeping score.
"We don't have to be best friends but we have to be leaders to move this city forward," she said. "... When people talk about toxicity on the City Council, I think it's really embarrassing. I don't see it completely. I just think it's a bunch of people with different ideas, some vocal, some not."
The two also weighed in on the $3.8 million American Rescue Plan Act funds the city is receiving.
Bond would like to see it dedicated to water and sewer improvements. She recognizes that the ARPA funds are community money and its spending should be discussed in an open format with hybrid meetings that accommodate people in person and online.
Macksey would like to see a long-term and short-term capital outlay plan that includes water and sewer improvements and flood control.
She would also like to see the funds go toward a feasibility study for broadband access in the hopes of attracting more businesses.
The candidates also answered a number of short-answer lightning round questions.
Neither supported vaccine mandates for city employees or North Adams having a single tax rate. Both support Black Lives Matter and a bike path in the city.
When asked if there should be roundabouts on Main Street, Macksey said "no" and Bond said "yes."
Macksey jokingly added that roundabouts are her worst enemy.
Northern Berkshire Community Television recorded this event for later broadcast and it will also be uploaded to iBerkshires' YouTube channel.
Tags: debate, election 2021, municipal election,