North Adams Planners Respond to Open Meeting Complaint

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board met briefly on Monday in a special meeting to respond to an Open Meeting Law complaint filed against it by two city councilors. 
The complaint dealt with the board's voice vote on a proposed open-air marijuana grow facility on Ashland Street on March 14 and follows an appeal filed against the board in Superior Court by Mayor Jennifer Macksey. 
Applicant Rustin Kluge has said publicly he will withdraw his application but has not yet done so. 
City Councilors Jennifer Barbeau and Marie T. Harpin joined Diane Gallese-Parsons, Alice Cande and Thomas Cary in filing the complaint that states the vote should "null and void" and the special permit rescinded. They also call for the board to take additional Open Meeting Law training. 
The emergency protocols for holding virtual meetings implemented during the pandemic and extended by law until July 15 require votes to be taken by roll call. The Planning Board has been meeting virtually since the start of the pandemic in 2020. 
During the meeting of March 14, a voice vote was taken on the special permit, which passed 8-1. 
In its response, the Planning Board noted that it did not meet within the timeframe of 14 business days because the complaint was unsigned, undated and not sent to the chair of the board. 
The complainants attached a signature sheet they signed on March 22 but not a date on the form itself and then sent it to the attorney general's office rather than to the board. 
Board Chairman Brian Miksic said he received it on April 14 at 5:27 p.m. 
The response states that the city clerk had apprised the Planning Board and other boards and commissions that they are required to take roll call votes during video meetings and that the board has done so since.
Planning Board member Lisa Blackmer asked that it also state they were going to move to in-person meetings and "that we will follow the law moving forward in any remote participation."
Board member Robert Burdick thought comment on the complaint being unsigned and undated "sounded a little heavy handed." He suggested softening it by adding "although the complaint was unsigned, etc."
Miksic said he wanted to make clear that the complaint was not filed in the proper manner and so delayed the board's response. 
"I think it's important to clarify to file with the proper body and I don't care how it sounds," said Blackmer, who added it's not the first there have been issues with complaints being filed wrong. 
The board could soften it and but "still making that point abundantly clear," Miksic said. 
Planners had decided at their last meeting on April 11 to move to a hybrid situation after the mayor asked all boards and commissions to consider returning to in-person meetings. 
Miksic said he was not opposed to going back into chambers but wanted to make sure the technology was available to continue a hybrid version so both applicants and public and interact. 
"I've been on the board for over a decade now and I've never seen as many people be able to sit in the gallery on a regular basis than have been able to come during these video meetings," he said at the last meeting.  "I think the more that people can get at this, the better."
The planners agreed a hybrid version would be workable, particularly for people could not be in the city, but Kyle Hanlon said they should check as to whether it would require a quorum to be physically in the building. 
"I may be mistaken on that, but I'm pretty sure that's how I interpreted the last time I had this discussion," he said. 
Planner Lynette Bond made the motion to return to in-person meetings with hybrid capability and said she would do some research on the guidance for those types of meetings. The roll call vote was unanimous. 

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Mass MoCA, North Adams Seek Study on Downtown Connections

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Getting people from Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to the downtown has been a goal since the museum opened more than two decades ago. 
But despite bringing in millions of dollars every year, the massive museum's ability to revive Main Street has been tepid at best. 
Now the city and museum are "thinking big" on a federal grant to see if they can make a connection that's frustrated past arts and community leaders for years. 
"I think you all are aware that it's not enough to just put up a sign that says downtown's that way in the hopes that a global audience will find their way there," said Jenny Wright, the museum's director of strategic communications and advancement. "There are actual physical and psychological barriers that put Mass MoCA on one side and downtown on the other side of the highway. We're bifurcated by infrastructure."
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