North Adams Taxi Service Could Face Suspension

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Police Chief Jason Wood looks through documents during Tuesday's public hearing on OTT Taxi's.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The police chief is asking the City Council to suspend the license for OTT Taxi over a number of violations of city ordinance. 
 
Police Chief Jason Wood told the council at a public hearing on Tuesday night that the taxi service had registered vehicles improperly, that owner John Lord was stopped with a fare and later seen driving taxis despite having a license restriction and that a 16-year-old driver had been stopped by police and found to have a suspended license.   
 
"We're not watching OTT Taxi like a hawk, but we routinely get complaints from the citizens," said the chief. "This isn't necessarily the police instigating this investigation, it was kind of thrown into our lap."
 
Lord said on Tuesday that it was a matter of misunderstandings, clerical errors and simply not knowing the regulation. 
 
In a letter explaining the violations to the council, he wrote, "I offer this to confirm that I was not trying to mislead anyone, or do anything incorrectly and have now corrected these concerns."
 
Wood said OTT had registered incorrectly registered the cars as livery vehicles.
 
"We learned that the required insurance is higher and more restrictive for taxi fleets," he said. "So this was brought to Mr. Ward's attention and the vehicles were eventually brought to compliance."
 
Lord said he'd misunderstood the registration and had immediately worked to get it fixed. In terms of the other violations, he said the teenage driver, Joseph Pini Jr., was not operating the vehicles as taxis or accepting fares. 
 
Pini did dispatch and cleaned and maintained the taxis, and was allowed to drive them as needed. The suspended license was a clerical error, Lord said, and they had gone to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
 
"The next day he was on the road and he was driving his own vehicle," he said. 
 
Wood said Pini had been summonsed but did not believe that the case had gone forward yet. The business was not cited for the violations, which is why the chief said he requested the hearing.
 
Some councilors were perturbed about the personal use of the taxis, especially by Pini.
 
"I found it odd that you just let Mr. Pini drive around his friends," said Councilor Lisa Blackmer. 
 
Lord said maybe Pini gave his friends a ride on occasion but he would be driving with his girlfriend, who is a licensed taxi driver, on the weekends. 
 
"It was something they commonly did in the morning. On Saturday and sometimes on Sundays," he said.
 
He took issue with Wood's interpretation of the city ordinance on who should be allowed to drive the vehicles. 
 
Division 3, Section 23-13 states "No person shall drive a taxicab, and no owner or person having the care or management of a taxicab shall employ or suffer any person to drive the same, other than a person licensed by the City Council." 
 
Wood said his interpretation was that "if you are not licensed by the City Council to drive a cab, you shouldn't be driving that cab whether it be for business for personal reasons."
 
Lord objected that the vehicles were his since he owned the business, and if he was not picking up fares, it shouldn't be an issue.
 
"My interpretation is even though it's my vehicle, it's a business vehicle, I should be able to drive the car, whether I have a taxi license or not," he said. 
 
Councilor Keith Bona responded that owning certain equipment doesn't mean you could use it if you weren't licensed to, using the example that someone who owned 18-wheelers couldn't drive them without the appropriate license.
 

Taxi owner John Lord says the violations were the result of misunderstandings. 
He asked if Lord had gotten a legal opinion on the issue and Lord said no, it had just been raised. 
 
"I would think you would need to get clarification from a legal [opinion] and again, your insurance," Bona said. 
 
The council set a meeting for next week to vote on how to proceed. 
 
"This will allow us time to consider what the chief and what Mr. Lord has told us and if we have to do any more homework or get any more answers, we will able to give it a thoughtful consideration before we ever move forward with any kind of suspension and revocation," said Blackmer. 
 
Then the council approved four drivers for OTT: Brian Rennell of the town of Florida, Kenneth Porter of Pittsfield and Lindley Wright and Kenneth Adams, both of North Adams.

Councilor Wayne Wilkinson questioned why they were moving forward with the approvals since the their need may be made moot next week. 

"I don't think we've ever been a council that hinders the business," said Councilor Marie T. Harpin said "He still needs to have taxi drivers to run this business. So we're not there yet."
 
Blackmer agreed, noting one of the issues at the service had been a lack of drivers and that residents needed the service. 
 
"People need to work for a living and I don't want to stop somebody from making a valid living," said Councilor Bryan Sapienza.
 
All four passed with Wilkinson voting no and Bona voting no on one application because it did not state the year of driving under the influence charge. Bona noted that the form was clear in terms of dates and other information. Councilors Jennifer Barbeau and Michael Obasohan were absent. 
 
The council also referred a request from Mayor Jennifer Macksey to review the taxi ordinance and update the language to the Public Safety Committee. 
 
 "I've also requested of the city clerk to work with the Police Department to update those forms," she said. "They're ugly and I don't think they do give you the information that you need to make a sound decision."
 
Editor's note: updated at 11:37 a.m., Jan. 25, 2023, to note Bona had voted no on one application, not an abstention.

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Adams COA, Town Seek Funds for Memorial Building Bathrooms

By Brian RhodesiBerkshires Staff

ADAMS, Mass. — The Council on Aging is still waiting to transition its programming from the Visitor Center to the Memorial Building and is looking to the Community Development Department for help. 

The COA has been waiting for additional bathroom facilities to be completed for the facility, but the council and the town have so far been unable to obtain grant or other funding for the work.

 

COA Director Sarah Fontaine said they are working with Community Development to find funds for the bathrooms and other small improvements, including increased entrance accessibility, renovations to the former music room and fixed windows. 

 

"I had voiced my concern. It's a very extensive list, I don't expect that it will all be done before we transition over. The only need is the bathrooms," Fontaine said. 

 

At last week's Board of Selectmen meeting, Community Development Director Eammon Coughlin said he looked into using Community Development Block Grant funds for the project. He said, however, that the Memorial Building is ineligible.

 

"The guidance we received from [the state Department of Housing and Community Development] has basically told us that the building is ineligible for funding because we already received funding in 2018," he said. "There has to be five years between the application for senior-center type projects. So based on that guidance, I don't believe Memorial School is eligible for funding."  

 

Fontaine also mentioned the auditorium in the building, which the town plans to renovate separately as a future capital project. 

 

"It would be nice as a senior center to have the auditorium available for guest lectures and other things like that," she said. 

 

Moving staff to the Memorial Building now while keeping programming at the Visitor Center, Fontaine said, is not an option. She noted that the Hoosac Valley Regional School District had previously expressed interest in using the second floor of the Visitor Center for its office space. 

 

"I was very firm in saying, logistically, it's hard for us to manage things just being upstairs. It's going to be very difficult if we're off site to try and manage programs downstairs," she said. 

 

In other business: 

 

  • The Council on Aging is looking for volunteers to fill vacancies on its advisory board. It filled one of the vacancies on Wednesday, appointing Barbara Ziemba. Ziemba, an active participant in the COA, had already filled out the paperwork needed for her appointment. 

 

"I have attended many COA activities, volunteer, and am a member of the Friends of the Council on Aging and attend meetings. I have been interested in being a member of the Board of Directors for some time. Please consider my appointment to the board," Ziemba wrote, explaining in her paperwork why she was interested in the position.           

 

The group also discussed two other vacancies on the board and potential candidates to fill them. Two members have been unable to attend recent meetings for health reasons. 

 

  • The board voted to approve updated bylaws. The bylaws were revised and written primarily by Board Member Elizabeth Mach. 

 

"I just wanted to make a comment, or rather an appreciation, for Liz for taking this project on," Fontaine said. 

 

The new bylaws have a provision to allow honorary members. Fontaine said there are currently no honorary members. 

 

The board appointed Bruce Shepley as the board's chair to replace Barbara Lagowski, who filled one of the now vacant member seats. 

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